Last updated on October 30, 2022

If you haven’t noticed, feng shui can be quite different depending on which expert you talk to.

Some “western” feng shui practitioners advocate a more “modern” approach to the practice of feng shui. They claim that some traditional concepts and use of feng shui should evolve according to our modern life-style.

On the other hand, some traditional feng shui practitioners argue that the “modern” approach is a western philosophy instead of real feng shui. They claim that classical feng shui is the “authentic” approach, preferring to stick to documented texts and scripts passed down from ancient times.

Both perspectives have valid points. This made me wonder: How is feng shui “supposed” to be used and practiced? Is there a correct or superior way of practicing feng shui?

First, let me walk you through where feng shui came from and how it is used today. Then towards the end, I will circle back to answer these questions.

How Feng Shui was Used in Ancient Times

It is commonly said that feng shui dates back to thousands of years. Exactly when it started is highly debated.

According to Professor Stephen Field of Trinity University, the earliest reference to a practice similar to feng shui was mentioned in the Book of Odes, also called Shijing or Classic of Poetry. The book mentioned the use of cardinal directions to establish cities and early human settlements.

Location for City Establishments

The textual reference of the Book of Odes mentioned that Chief Gong Liu led an exodus of his people to the fertile lands in the year 1796 BCE. He was said to be conducting a geophysical and astronomical survey to establish a settlement for his people.

Chief Liu was measuring the shadow of the sundial to determine the cardinal directions. He was determining which side of the hills received most sunshine during winter as well as the proximity of the settlement to sources of water.

Ming sundial ancient observatory beijing - Does Using “Authentic” Feng Shui Really Matter?
Sundial was used to measure the cardinal directions for city establishments.

Oracle bones were also quite common during that time. Royal diviners interpreted cracks appearing in heated animal bones to determine the efficacy of a particular time and place for city establishment.

Oracle bones shang dynasty - Does Using “Authentic” Feng Shui Really Matter?
Shang Dynasty Oracle Bone, c. 1600 to 1050 BC. Image credit: British Library Board.

Why would he go through all those troubles of selecting a location to establish a city? It’s because surviving in the ancient times was a lot more difficult compared to today.

Our predecessors needed protection from enemies, where mountains and hills can serve as a natural wall for protection.  They had to grow and gather food and prepare for winter, so they needed to be somewhere close to a water source. If the land ceased to provide, then starvation will ensue and migration is imminent.

The ancients lacked the modern technology and know-how’s that provided us with the abundance we have today. They needed to go with the flow of nature so they can survive and prosper.

But how did this knowledge and experience of city establishment evolve into the feng shui we apply to our homes today?

According to Professor Field’s observations, it was these factors used for city establishments that gave rise to the two major schools of feng shui. The astronomical factors (oracle bones, calculation of time) later evolved into the Compass School, while the geophysical factors (geological surveys of the land) evolved into the Form School.

But for now, just note that feng shui was used for selecting a location for city establishments so the people can survive and prosper.

Location for Burial Grounds

According to Professor Field, the earliest reference to the term “feng shui” was in the Book of Burial, which dates back to around 4th century CE.

Here’s a summary of what I understood.

Feng shui was used to select the location of burial sites, and the main criterion for selection is where the Earth’s Qi can be collected.

In the past, it was believed that a man’s life force is based on the Qi in the body. The assembling of Qi is deemed birth, and the dispersal is deemed death. When a body is buried, the Qi is returned to the bones. It was believed that collection and accumulation of Qi around the bones of the deceased can positively affect the lives of the descendants of the deceased.

The idea behind burial feng shui is based on mutual resonance.

The example given was that when a string of one lute is plucked, the same string of a nearby lute will vibrate simultaneously. In other words, objects within the same class in this natural world move each other mutually.

Here’s an amazing video that somewhat demonstrates this concept where energy, in the form of electricity, can move objects within the same class:

Using the same concept, it follows that the bones of the deceased (say, our grandparents) are in the same class as their descendants. When the bones of the deceased are energized by the accumulation of Qi, or the “life force”, the lives of the descendants are thereby improved or enhanced. Perhaps this concept can be validated when someone conducts a similar experiment on twins?

Thus, contrary to popular belief, it is not about appeasing or worshipping the spirits of the deceased. Rather, it’s about using Earth’s Qi to benefit the descendants of the deceased.

How Feng Shui is used and practiced today

Today, we live in a world of abundance, and we don’t have the problem of survival. Our technological advancements have allowed us to settle and prosper in otherwise inhabitable areas such as deserts and swamp land. We currently have the ability to change the feng shui of the land, for better or for worse, and residential development of land is largely determined by construction companies and builders seeking to profit.

mekong dam north of weixi lg 1024x683 - Does Using “Authentic” Feng Shui Really Matter?
The massive dam that began construction in 2012 in Laos could “alter the river’s ecology and disrupt the food supplies of millions of people in Southeast Asia.” – Joshua Zaffos, Published on Yale University website.

As for burials, most cities have regulations on cemeteries and burial grounds. They usually have zoning laws on where dead bodies can be buried. We cannot just find a random place with good feng shui and bury our loved ones there. Further, land for burial selection is limited, and most are being commercialized by businesses seeking profit as well.

Today, feng shui is commonly used on residential properties. Here’s a quick summary of the most common schools of feng shui that are practiced today:

The Form School of Feng Shui

This method examines the layout, much like how the ancients used geophysical survey to establish cities. When you hear about the size of nearby buildings, sharp objects, ceiling design, and furniture placements, the person is usually using this feng shui practice.

The Compass School of Feng Shui

This method uses the compass to determine how areas within your home pertain to parts of your life. It is big on cardinal directions and their representation of your health, career, love, and others.

The Flying Star Feng Shui

This method integrates time and space together to calculate whether a home is suitable for you. This practice is used when you hear about the use of astrological charts and year of construction of a building to analyze the positive and negative auras.

The Intuitive Modern Feng Shui

This method is more about modern western lifestyle and mental health. It is commonly known as space clearing or creating a healthy, sustainable environments that evoke positive feelings.

Black Hat Feng Shui

This method does not use the compass to determine the feng shui qualities of space. Instead, it uses more symbols, objects, and Buddhism. It is more of a spiritual approach than the other feng shui practices.

Is there a “right” or “authentic” approach to Feng Shui?

So after all this, do you think there’s a correct way to practice feng shui?

My answer is both yes and no, and here’s what I mean.

There is a “right” or “authentic” way if you compare all of the above practices with a con-master. But when you see Feng Shui Experts from different schools arguing about the merits or superiority of their practice, then no, you shouldn’t concern yourself about which is the correct feng shui practice.

If one were to insist that the traditional approach holds more merit, then he would defeat his own argument because the more traditional approach involves selecting location for city establishments and burials. Feng shui was not used for residential buildings in the utmost traditional sense. Its practice evolved to include residential houses at a later time.

fenghuang phoenix ancient town hunan china feng shui - Does Using “Authentic” Feng Shui Really Matter?
Fenghuang (“Phoenix”) Ancient City in Hunan Province.

Similarly, if one were to insist that the modern approach holds merit, then he would be negating the very basis and foundation that feng shui was built on.

If you look closely at all these practices, the purpose of feng shui is to help us prosper. In the past, it has helped us with our survival so we have the chance to prosper. It has also been used on the deceased so descendants have the potential to live a better life.

The purpose is still the same today. Whether it is the classical or the modern approach, both seek to better our lives by improving “luck” or by creating a better living space where we can enjoy in.

With that said, that is why the “right” way to practice feng shui is not important. Whether the Feng Shui Consultant’s practice is “correct” or not should be the least of your concern. Unless, of course, you’re faced with a con-master, in which case you should be smart about selecting a Feng Shui Consultant.

Most feng shui consultants who’s had proper training would use a combination of the knowledge from the different schools of feng shui. They will also try to correct any misinformation that you may have heard or read from questionable sources.


It’s easy to get involved in the debate of which feng shui practice is the “right” or “authentic” way. What I’m asking you to do is not to get hung up by these arguments. Let’s leave that to the masters, experts, and scholars.

Rather, focus on what benefits the practice has brought you and determine whether it has helped you in any way.

In most cases, feng shui can really bring the kind of luck that you asked the Feng Shui Consultant to work on, assuming there’s room for improvement. Other times, you would get a more comfortable home that you’ll come to love even more. Again, these are the type of benefits that you should be looking for. Or perhaps I’m just too driven by results.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts by commenting below!

Leave a Reply

  1. Alejandro

    Re: Burial
    What about those bodies that’s cremated? No more Qi?

    1. Victor Cheung (@vik1024)

      Hey Alejandro! Yes, it looks like Qi gathers in the bones of the deceased, so I’m guessing Qi cannot accumulate if the bones are cremated. Also, ashes and our bodies are not “objects within the same class”, so I would say that mutual resonance wouldn’t work that way. Hope this helps!

  2. Denise Martin

    I’ve actually been thinking a lot on the different forms and how I would use the information. I can understand how the original intentions have changed to fit with modern life for all those reasons you mentioned. The main issue I go back and forth on, is whether to use the bagua map with the front door being “go,” or to use the compass. Either one is ok with me, but it does matter. For instance, I need a new entry area rug; my front door faces directly east in real life which would be the New Beginnings/Family area. If I use the front door to place my map, it’s the Career area. So different shapes, different colors, different flow. What would you do?

    1. Victor Cheung Listing Owner

      Hey Denise, your question came at a right timing! I have a guest post by Howard Choy scheduled to publish next week that’ll help answer your question.

      From what I know, you need to integrate both readings into consideration, cross-check them with events in your life, and determine what’s right for you. I am in similar situation as you, and I am not that experienced to deal with many variations such as yours. So if I were you, I would consult with a master to be sure.

      Stay tuned!


  3. Minerva

    Living on a ssa benefits is very dificult to pay a master for help are there any schools in the Seattle area one can get help

    1. Victor Cheung Listing Owner

      Hi Minerva,
      Come back to this site in (hopefully) a month or two. I’m in the process of gathering these information.