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Feng Shui and Celestial Creatures Feng Shui and Celestial Creatures
by Valerie Sartor
2008-03-14 10:03:32
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From time immemorial Chinese culture has been loaded with symbols. They range from auspicious numbers, ancient Chinese characters and pictographs, colors and coins, dates and times - to animals, both fantastical and real. Of special interest are five charmed animals - the dragon, the tiger, the phoenix, the tortoise and the strange composite called qilin. Significantly, the first four are always associated with feng shui - 风水- China's ancient practice designed to ensure that human surroundings contain a flow of positive energy. Feng shui configuration bases itself upon cosmology and the physical environment. Along with the four celestial animals, it remains an integral part of Chinese consciousness.

 

Each of these celestial creatures has a corresponding season, color, element, and virtue. For example, the Green Dragon brings abundance and prosperity; the Red Phoenix represents opportunity; the White Tiger protects people; and the Black Tortoise provides support. Chinese view these animals as the four guardians of a home; in Buddhist literature they are represented as the four heavenly kings. Each also holds correspondences with the ancient Chinese theory of the five elements, a Taoist classification system that gave birth to traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui and other elements of Chinese philosophy.

 

Chinese also believe that five cardinal directions exist; four correspond to the seasons. The fifth point – the center - is China - the Middle Kingdom. Scrolls from the second century BC depicted four celestial animals guarding the four compass points: the dragon - east; the phoenix - south; the tiger - west; and the tortoise - north. Furthermore, each animal also corresponds to a particular color: the dragon is green and symbolizes Rebirth; the phoenix is red and symbolizes Fire; the tiger is a glittering white and represents shining Metals; the tortoise is black and symbolizes Night, and sometimes Water.

Although Chinese astronomy contains twelve zodiac signs they aren't related to these four animals – but the sky is partitioned into four areas just for them. Three are called lunar mansions: the dragon's heart, the tiger's stars, the Bird Stars for the phoenix and the black void for the tortoise. From the early Warring States Period onward all four animals were frequently painted on tombs and temples, and later placed in homes, in order to deflect and frighten away evil spirits. In earliest times only three animals were celestial. Tortoise, known as the Black Warrior, became the last, late addition to the group when he rose into the sky from the depths of the earth.

 

Feng shui theory states every home should be surrounded by these four spirits living together harmoniously. Of course, ideal surroundings are the most important factor in feng shui: a home should be situated on land that is sloping and well drained, with water in the front and a mountain in the back. If a river is in front, especially if the water flows slowly, then positive energy has the opportunity to settle and accumulate before flowing around and into a home, the cleaner the water the greater the owner's good fortune. If a home is backed by something solid and firm, such as a hill or mountain, the owner will have life long support . But because ideal conditions are extremely rare, especially for urban dwellers, the four celestial animals are solicited.

 

The Green Dragon is the most dominant. He epitomizes the emperor and heaven, therefore Dragon is the most celestial, representing spring: rebirth, long life, even immortality. His cosmic symbol is Jupiter; he's powerful indeed. Having dragon breath settle over a home (long chi - 龙、气) brings auspicious energies, attracting wealth, business luck and many children. Dragon should be put in the eastern part of a house. Known in Chinese as "qing long" - 青龙 – this mythological creature actually traces its origin to the Sanskrit family of serpentine creatures, Buddhist protectors called "Naga". From China dragon lore spread throughout Asia and unlike Western imagery, dragons are always considered benevolent albeit sometimes selfish and capricious creatures. Everything connected with the Chinese/Asian dragon is blessed, as opposed to Western dragon lore asserting dragons to be monsters and evil enemies.

In contrast the White Tiger, in Chinese "bai hu" –白虎 - stands in the western area of a home. Tiger protects people from harm; the Chinese feel that he is auspicious especially for high ranking officials and all kinds of politicians. Because he defers to the dragon his physical position should be lower than that of the dragon. The tiger is pure and righteous; hence he is white. He guards Buddha's teachings and mankind and also watches over the world with telepathic powers. His season is autumn; his cosmic symbol is Venus.

Donald Mackenzie's book: China and Japan- Myths and Legends, states: The White Tiger of the West, for instance, is associated with metal. When, therefore, metal is placed in a grave, a ceremonial connection with the tiger god is effected. According to the Chinese Annals of Wu and Yueh, three days after the burial of the king, the essence of the element metal assumed the shape of a white tiger and crouched down on the top of the grave. Here the tiger is a protector - a preserver. As we have seen, white jade was used when the Tiger god of the West was worshipped; it is known as 'tiger jade;' a tiger was depicted on the jade symbol. To the Chinese the tiger was the king of all animals and lord of the mountains, and the tiger-jade ornament was specially reserved for commanders of armies. The male tiger was, among other things, the god of war, and in this capacity it not only assisted the armies of the emperors, but fought the demons that threatened the dead in their graves."

The odd and rare qilin -" qi lin"麒麟 - is sometimes substituted for the tiger symbol by other Asian cultures. (In Japan he is called "kirin" and now serves as a logo for beer!) Qilin has other historical and mythological significance inside Chinese literature and history; Zheng He, famous Admiral Eunuch, supposedly brought back a qilin from Africa in 1423 as a gift for the emperor. (It was a giraffe.) This magical creature has the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the hooves of a horse, a body covered with the scales of a fish, and a single horn. Supposedly he appears only before the birth or death of a great and wise person and lives in paradise because the qilin represents everything good, pure, and peaceful. Qilins are not immortal but can live to be 1,000 years old.

 

The Black Tortoise is almost equal in importance to the dragon; he is placed in the north. This creature is said to help people in their careers, generate promotions and ensure happiness on the job and success in all kinds of business endeavors. This animal "xuan wu" -玄武- is always listening, so he knows all of the Buddha's teachings. The dark clairvoyant tortoise symbolizes winter, cold, earth, and faith. Traditionally representing long life and happiness, when he reaches one thousand years old, the tortoise can speak the language of humans. In Mackenzie's book: "In China the tortoise had divine attributes. Tortoise shell is a symbol of unchangeability, and a symbol or rank when used for court girdles. The tortoise was also used for purposes of divination. A gigantic mythical tortoise is supposed, in the Far East, to live in the depths of the ocean. It has one eye situated in the middle of its body. Once every three thousand years it rises to the surface and turns over on its back so that it may see the sun."

 

Finally, the Red Phoenix or "zhu que"-朱雀 - must be placed in the south. This bird brings fame and social standing. With magnificent plumage the phoenix corresponds to summer, thus symbolizing fertility and luscious growth. Being red it is hot and fiery; it also represents knowledge. The phoenix is often paired with the dragon: they are mates and stand for wedded bliss as well as conflict. In Chinese history textile designs, seals and patterns depicted the emperor as the dragon and the empress as the phoenix. Myths claim that the phoenix is too dazzling to look upon and that she sings wonderfully. According to legend this bird will only appear during times of great good fortune.

 

To sum up, feng shui subtly blends opposite energies, making them complement each other. Together, these celestial creatures signify a harmony of opposites – the ultimate Taoist goal. Yet no single path exists to achieve balance because life on earth is diverse and always in flux. Not surprisingly, many experts say that it is also possible to configure the celestial animals other ways: the red phoenix may go in the front of the house, the black turtle in the back, the white tiger to the right (inside looking out) and the green dragon goes to the left (inside looking out).

 

Staying in balance with the forces of nature and living in harmony with the environment is something clearly needed for survival, perhaps now more than ever. Feng shui contends that the universe holds powerful but invisible energy lines that must be respected and balanced. There is no doubt that arranging our homes to bring forth prosperity and harmony can act as a fundamental step toward arranging our lives toward a more gracious, non-threatening use of our environment and balancing our relationships with others. Feng shui is not a religion or a cult; it simply views the earth as a living organism, full of energy. Many builders and architects in China still practice this ancient Chinese method, with or without the magical support of the four celestial beings, in order to promote respect and appreciation for the opportunity to live on this wonderful place we call earth.


    
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Emanuel Paparella2008-03-14 11:29:59
I cannot but wonder what the current Communist leaders of China think of Gaia. Do they consider it a myth of some sort of naïve people with the mind of a child to be eventually eradicated at an opportune time and substituted with a more scientifically respectable Western political theory? Intriguing also that world “harmony.” Isn’t the whole of ancient Greek (as well as Italian Renaissance) culture based on the concept of harmony. Indeed, if Marco Polo went to China to discover it there, then he was abysmally ignorant of his own culture and would have been better off to stay home and learn it first before venturing out to learn that of others. But then again, he might have had only crass commercial goals in mind.


Sand2008-03-14 18:33:23
The common cliche´"crass commercial" is worthy of close examination. It is commercial goals which comprise one of the elements of activities which drive humanity to its tremendous creative efforts. It brought diverse cultures into active contact and saw to it that many of the skills and vital materials discovered and developed within isolated sectors of humanity spread throughout common civilization.


Emanel Paparella2008-03-14 19:53:21
This from today's news-report:

"Protesters Are Entitled to Freedom of Movement, Assembly, and Association
The Chinese, Indian, and Nepali governments should release detained Tibetans and permit them to demonstrate peacefully, Human Rights Watch said today.
March 14, 2008 Press Release"

Obviously "noble commercial goals" do not include letting people free to retain one's heritage and religious traditions. After all the Communist ideology is "scientific" as well as materialistic.





Emanuel Paparella2008-03-14 20:03:52
http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/10323/Default.aspx

The above link to a book review is predicated on the pridictable knee jerk response that can be expected by religion bashers, cultural philistines and bigots to the obscenity of persecution in the name of progress and political correctness. A sort of preentive defense.


Sand2008-03-14 20:20:14
Considering how totally unsuccessful the countries under communism have been commercially it is wildly humorous to accuse communism of being "crassly commercial". Only by abandoning state control and encouraging individual entrepreneurs has China become commercially successful. Anyone who cannot perceive this is wildly off course in understanding the nature of communism and why it has failed commercially.


Emanuel Paparella2008-03-14 21:48:15
I seeeeeee, Communism has changed its stripes. Really. You'd never know it from the ongoing persecution of Tibetan monks and the destruction of Tibetan culture in general. Here is another slightly different perspective:

"Let a man be stimulated by poetry, established by the rules of propriety, and perfected by music"

--Confucius (Analects)

"Religion is the opium of the people"

--Karl Marx

"Religion is poison"

--Mao (to the Dai La Lama)


Sand2008-03-14 22:13:15
Are you cross-eyed or cross brained? You surely haven't responded to what I wrote. I said not a word about religion.


Emanuel Paparella2008-03-15 00:16:51
The Chinese government has today accused the Dai La Lama of fomenting violence in Tibet.

THERE IS BLINDNESS AND THEN THERE IS BLINDNESS.

Plato's cave can be very dark indeed.


Emanuel Paparella2008-03-15 01:37:47
A follow-up to the above for the perceptive reader. From E. F. Schumacher's Mindfulness and Meaningful Work: Exploration in Right Livelihood (1994):

"...it is interesting to note that the modern world takes a lot of care that the worker’s body should not accidentally or otherwise be damaged. If it is damaged, the worker may claim compensation. But his soul and his spirit? If his work damages him, by reducing him to a robot–that is just too bad. Here we can see very clearly the crucial importance of metaphysics. Materialistic metaphysics, or the metaphysics of the doctrine of mindless evolution, does not attribute reality to anything but the physical body: why then bother about safety or health when it comes to such nebulous, unreal things as soul or spirit? We acknowledge, and understand the need for, the development of a person’s body; but the development of his soul or spirit? Yes, education for the sake of enabling a man or woman to make a living; but education for the sake of leading them out of the dark wood of egocentricity, pettiness, and worldly ignorance? {…} Materialistic metaphysics, therefore, leaves no room for the idea of good work, that work is good for the worker. Anyone who says, “The worker needs work for the development and perfection of his soul,” sounds like a fanciful dreamer, because materialistic metaphysics does not recognize any such need."


Alexandra Pereira2008-03-15 01:53:11
Again an interesting article, Valerie. Thank you. :) I wish western architects would more often be sensible to the surrounding nature and how much humans need a healthy relation with it. Some could learn much with these harmony principles. Harmonious environments help harmonious relationships to grow.
Besides these considerations, also western philosophy, for e.g., fails too often to recognize how much influential Taoism was, and how many western concepts were derived from its theories.


Sand2008-03-15 05:33:50
Human systems for influencing "the soul" such as the many religions have been in operation for well over a thousand years and the results in human relations progress are apparent today in Iraq, in the African Congo, and in the many incidences of terrorist suicide bombs throughout the world. Something does not seem to be working.


Emanuel Paparella2008-03-15 09:39:12
Undoutedly Ms. Pereira, the appreciation of beauty and harmony is universal but the ancient Greeks discovered the concept of harmony on their own since they had no contact with Chinese culture. Consider this by Dr. Olesky Stokhov in an essay on beauty and mathematics:

Throughout the history people aspire to surround themselves with beautiful things. At some point the question arose: What is the basis of beauty? Ancient Greeks developed the science of aesthetics as a way of analyzing beauty, believing that harmony was its basis. Beauty and Truth are interrelated: an artist searches for Truth in Beauty, and a scientist for Beauty in Truth.
Is it possible to compare the beauty of a sculpture, a temple, a picture, a symphony, a poem, or a nocturne? If a formula could be found, then the loveliness of a chamomile flower and a naked body could be measured and compared. The well-known Italian architect Leone Battista Alberti spoke about harmony as follows: “There is something greater, composed of combination and connection of three things (number, limitation and arrangement), something that lights up the face of beauty. And we called it Harmony, which is, doubtlessly, the source of some charm and beauty. You see assignment and purpose of Harmony in arranging the parts, generally speaking, different in their nature, by certain perfect ratio so that they meet one another creating beauty … It encompasses all human life, penetrates through the nature of things. Therefore everything that is made by Nature is measured by the law of Harmony. Also there is no greater care for the Nature than that of everything created by it to be perfect. It is impossible to achieve this without Harmony; therefore without it the greatest consent of the parts is disintegrated”. (continued below)


Emanuel Paparella2008-03-15 09:41:04
There are many well-known “formulas of beauty” such as certain geometrical shapes: square, circle, isosceles triangle, and pyramid. However, the most wide-spread criterion of beauty is one unique mathematical proportion called the Divine Proportion, Golden Section, Golden Number, or Golden Mean. The Golden Section and related to it Fibonacci numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, …) permeate the history of art. Examples of well known works, which exhibit this proportion, are Khufu’s Pyramid of Egypt, the Parthenon in Athens, Greek sculpture, the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci, paintings by Rafael, Shishkin, and the modern Russian artist Konstantin Vasiljev, Chopin’s etudes, music of Beethoven and Mozart, “Modulor” by Corbusier.



AP2008-03-18 03:05:38
Mr. Paparella, but our western aesthetic theories, for e.g., owe so much to Taoist concepts! And not only those, most man-nature balance concepts as well, ecc.


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