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The myth behind lineage

Sunday, February 26, 2006
By: Joey Yap

With a booming demand for classical Feng Shui services and knowledge all over the world, the business of Feng Shui is becoming more and more competitive. Naturally, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the main source of much of today's knowledge in classical Feng Shui, are where some of the most intense competition is being felt.

In the past, subtle marketing tactics were used, but this has changed more recently. In attempting to draw and attract clients or pupils these days, the latest tactic used by some practitioners is to play the lineage card. For as much success as the respective practitioners may have had with this approach, it has led to even more confusion for the men in the streets or the innocent users of classical feng shui.

In fact, I get lots of questions on this very subject and considering the hype surrounding it, many of you may rightly be wondering, what is a "lineage" and what bearing does this have when you look for a qualified Feng Shui Practitioner or when you seek to delve deeper into learning classical Feng Shui?


The Stuff of Kung Fu Movies

The concept of a lineage has been popularized not so much by Feng Shui Masters but by Chinese Kung Fu movies. Those of you who are fans of these movies will know how the story usually progresses. It's a familiar scene: the dying Master usually summons forth his most loyal pupil or perhaps his most talented pupil and in a shabby hut, mossy cave or dark dank valley, hands over a blue covered book or withered scroll, containing 'the great secret' of techniques, or teachings. After a few muttered cryptic lines that are key to deciphering 'the great secret', the old Master dies.

Of course, if you notice, all these movies are set about 400 years in the past, where being a student meant you really were a disciple who would follow your sifu around for half your life and doing lots of chores for him with the hope of being taught on the job. Today, the concept of 'indoor disciples' is rare. Feng Shui education, like any other form of education, is about paying fees and attending lectures! It has become a free-market practice. And those blue covered books containing 'the great secret' are freely available at the corner Chinese book store. As for the cryptic lines that are the key to deciphering 'the great secret', most reputable Masters who teach and practice are quite happy to 'reveal all' to paying students.

Feng Shui Genealogy

Naturally, Feng Shui also has its own lineages - this is true. Some lineages are extensive and can be traced back quite accurately. So, it is always more impressive to belong to a reputable Feng Shui lineage - at least this is perceived to add creditability to the master's knowledge and skills. However, fast forward to today's modern world and you will find the term lineage has been used a little too loosely and flagrantly. It is an open secret that feng shui lineage can so easily be created and simply no one will suspect or question the origins of a lineage if a practitioner claims he has decades of experience by virtue of his age. Intentionally or unintentionally, the significance of lineage has been overblown when in fact lineage is the weakest consideration in the selection of a Feng Shui teacher or a Feng Shui service provider.
And just like some of the more exciting Kung Fu movies, you will hear of some of these Feng Shui practitioners claiming to be the sole lineage holder who has the 'secret' scripts passed down from their Masters who handed it to them just before they breathed their last. It's all very stirring and enthralling, but sadly, this is not always the true fact of the case.

What constitutes a Lineage?

If they really are of a particular lineage, they should be able to trace their roots of knowledge back to the original Ming or Qing Dynasty. That is what is known as a lineage. Simply being able to name one or two teachers you studied with is not what is traditionally referred to as a reputable and an authentic Feng Shui lineage. And furthermore, if you are a lineage holder, which ancient Feng Shui classics are you referring to? For example, student of the Wu Chang school of Feng Shui would have references to the original classical texts written by Great Grand Master Shen Zhu Reng and the founder of the lineage, Zhang Zhung Shan.

Some Feng Shui practitioners today even claim their decades of experience constitutes a lineage. This is not accurate, a proper system of lineage goes back hundreds of years and not only do the lineage carriers document all their cases, they also make it a point to document what works and what doesn't in practicing their system. In the present environment where anyone with gray hair can claim to be a lineage holder, it's important to verify their claims. If gray hair was a testament to grand lineage, then all the residents of the local old folks homes might very well be lineage holders as well!

Attending a class or a course with a Feng Shui school is not equivalent to being a lineage holder either. In today's environment of study and teaching, it is more likely that you paid a fair course fee to undertake a Feng Shui course with a Feng Shui practitioner or Master. Like any university or college you may have attended, you are a student of that school. You do not gain a lineage by attending a particular class; you merely receive certification or accreditation for having taken the course. A clear distinction needs to be made between the lineage concept and that of studying with a particular school or Feng Shui Master, otherwise, the lines become blurred and the layperson is easily misled by all this talk of inherited knowledge.

Another marketing tool?

Lineage today is partly a romanticized concept, but mostly, it's a marketing tool that is often used a bit too loosely to gain some commercial advantage. Though it may be reassuring to know that a Feng Shui practitioner is from a certain reputable lineage, the number of authentic lineages in the study of classical Feng Shui is actually quite few. The layperson may not always be aware of this, so don't always take it at face value when a Feng Shui practitioner claims to be of a certain lineage - ask him or her, politely and respectfully, the roots of his or her lineage. Who are their teachers? Who taught their teachers? Do they have the exact lineage tree?

Does Lineage Translate to Superior Knowledge?

Assuming that your Feng Shui consultant or your Master is an authentic lineage holder - are they better than or more superior to consultants who are not lineage holders? Well, the answer is NO, not necessarily so. Much depends on the individual himself - whether he himself is good enough to make the most out of the knowledge offered by his lineage. To put it more precisely, lineage can only be taken as one of the positive reference points for a Master but certainly not a deciding factor for making your decision to hire the services of that feng shui Master. The decisive factor is whether or not the feng shui skills of the Master work, whether his feng shui knowledge is sound, authentic (traceable to classical texts), practical, useful, effective and beneficial to the clients. The significance of lineage should therefore not be over exaggerated. Lineage means nothing if the practitioner himself is not good enough.

Clan Mentality - a barrier to knowledge

Obsession to lineage can also be a barrier to knowledge or an obstacle to learning. Their devotion and single-minded focus on only the texts of that one particular lineage, can sometimes lead to a dogmatic approach and ignorance of the effective techniques and theories of other schools of Feng Shui. For example, in the olden days, there was much debate over whether the San He school of Feng Shui was more effective or the San Yuan school of Feng Shui produced more measurable results. This resulted in both schools missing the obvious point - why not apply the theories from each other's school and achieve even more exceptional results? Devotion to lineage and fixation with the supremacy of their own theories lead to a lack of development in looking for methods to combine the theories effectively.
In today's learning environment, a lineage approach can prove to be a limitation in truly gaining effective knowledge in Feng Shui. Yes, it may be reassuring to learn from an authentic lineage holder in that it is a testament to the quality of the knowledge you receive. From a consulting point of view, however, it can be limiting and restrictive. If in today's world, computer programmers cannot simply learn one programming language, why should the expectations of Feng Shui be any different? In today's world, the more effective practitioners and teachers in Hong Kong and Taiwan are those who have studied multiple schools or systems of Feng Shui, Bazi and other Chinese Metaphysics studies. A professional practitioner is one who can integrate different systems, different schools and different practices in his work without conflict.
It goes without saying that expectations of loyalty to a certain lineage are a thing of the past. Today, students who learn Feng Shui are fee-paying students. They are not beholden to the Master or the school for anything. Again, let us look at a modern educational context. A person can be a proponent of Keynesian economics, but does that mean they forsake all other economic theories? How can there be growth and development in any science, if the dogmatic approach is maintained? Indeed, how can we know if one theory or approach is more superior to another, if we know nothing about the opposing theory?

So we come back to the question: does this lineage stuff matter? Does the pedigree of your Feng Shui master matter? After all, Deng Xiao Peng once said, it doesn't matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.
First, if you intend to pay for pedigree, then you should make sure that you are getting a pedigree. Researching and establishing a master's pedigree is important if you intend to learn and study from the person based on his or her claim of lineage, or if you are paying premium to this person purely for this claim. Having said that, the concept of lineage may not be applicable in today's teaching and learning atmosphere. Study all that the various schools of Feng Shui have to offer and apply that which is relevant to a particular situation - should an individual school not have a technique to cope with a unique Feng Shui requirement, look to the other schools who may have a workable solution. That is what I try and emphasize to my students in the courses that I teach all over the world.
If you are hiring a consultant, it is may be part of the considerations to ask questions on lineage, but perhaps it is more relevant to ascertain what systems of Feng Shui he/she practices and how well he/she knows those systems. In practice, Feng Shui consultants cannot afford to be pigeon-holed by lineage either. Feng Shui Consultants provide a service - we trouble-shoot for clients, solve their problems and help them achieve their goals. To rely on one method alone to achieve this aim is simply not practical or feasible any more. A good practitioner is one who can integrate different systems, different schools and different practices in his work without conflict.

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