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Feng Shui at Shaolin temple

Sunday, April 9, 2006
By: Joey Yap

One of the most fascinating and interesting aspects of studying Feng Shui is something known as 'Walking the Mountains'. In a modern educational context, 'Walking the Mountains' is like going for industrial training or practical training. It is when the theories and principles of Feng Shui are observed in application.

It doesn't matter whether or not a person is a proponent of San Yuan or San He Feng Shui - both these primary Feng Shui systems recognise the importance of observing and assessing the Landform in the environment, in tandem with the application of formula based assessment. Many Feng Shui classics, such as the Green Satchel Classics and Snow Heart Classics, talk about 'chasing the Dragon Veins', which shows the importance of Landforms in Feng Shui and the importance of understanding the Forms that influence the area.

So what do Feng Shui students do when they 'Walk the Mountains'? Feng Shui is part of the study of Physiognomy, one of the Chinese Five Arts. Physiognomy is essentially the science of observation. Accordingly, 'Walking the Mountains' essentially involves observing and studying the Mountains, learning to distinguish different types of mountains, recognising formations such as the Prawn Whiskers, Crane's Knee and Crab Eyes (and in case you're wondering, these are terminology for special contours on the mountain, not something edible) and identifying special formations, training your eyes to spot Dragons (Feng Shui code for Mountains and Mountain ranges), identify the Meridian Points (Long Xue) where the Qi concentrates and the movements of the Dragon.

It is a very physically demanding aspect of Feng Shui study - perhaps this is why Feng Shui masters see no reason to join a gym! I have certainly had my fair share of cardiovascular workouts in the course of 'Walking the Mountains' in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan with the Hong Kong Masters I studied with. But it is an essential aspect of the study of Feng Shui and integral to gaining a true understanding and appreciation of ancient classical texts such as Ru Di Yan (Entering Earth Eye Classics), the seminal text on Landform Feng Shui.

'Walking the Mountains' is particularly fun when you're doing it in the midst of amazing scenery or in the case of my subject matter for this week, Shaolin Temple, an incredible heritage and historical spot in China.

The Origins of Shaolin

Shaolin Temple is located in Mount Song, which is one of the five major mountains of China. It is located near the city of Zhengzhou, in Henan Province. Immortalised forever by the Jet Li classic kungfu epic, Shaolin today is not only a prominent tourist attraction, but remains very much the pre-eminent place to study, learn and train in Kungfu and Wu Shu.

The existence of the Shaolin Temple and movement dates back to 495 AD and despite having been burnt down several times, the Temple has managed to stand the test of time and the turbulent periods in Chinese history. Throughout its existence, even today, it has enjoyed both the patronage of various Chinese Dynasties, and also been vilified for its role in opposing the ruling dynasty of the day, in particular, during the Qing Dynasty.

Originally, Shaolin was established to propagate Zen teachings and the philosophy of Buddhist. Kungfu and Wushu only became associated with Shaolin much later on. In fact, during the era of the Ming Dynasty, the Temple was renown not only for martial arts, but as a center of learning, providing education on philosophy, mathematics and Buddhism.

The Feng Shui of Shaolin


What is it about Shaolin that has enabled it to not only preserve its existence through the centuries, through the turbulence of Chinese history, but become the foremost center of learning for Wushu and Kungfu? And why is it that Shaolin, which originally was formed as a center to propagate the philosophies of Zen and Buddhism, came to be known more for its Kungfu and martial arts, than its more philosophical and religious components?

If you have ever visited the Shaolin Temple, you might have noticed the mountains that surround the Temple. In fact, the Temple itself is set into the mountain. These are not too lush, green and beautiful looking mountains that make you think of having a picnic there. They are mainly hard, bony and tough. The mountains have very little vegetation; they are rocky and sharp looking. In Feng Shui, these types of mountains are regarded as emitting aggressive Qi.

When it comes to big buildings, complexes and large structures like Shaolin Temple, we do not look at the Flying Stars or Eight Mansions charts of these buildings. The scope and size of the area demands that Landform (Luan Tou) Feng Shui be used.

You might be wondering how Mountains and Qi are linked. In the study of Feng Shui, Mountains are formed through the magnetic pull of the stars in the constellation. The quality of the Qi emitted by the mountains is dictated by the stars thus the type of mountain formed is influenced by the type of star that formed it. Hence, the names of Landforms like Chastity Mountain, Military Arts Mountain, Sky Horse Mountain and Literary Arts Mountain are all derived from the names of stars. In this sense, you could say that Feng Shui is a form of land-based astrology.

The residents or people living in the vicinity of the mountains are in turn affected and influenced by the Qi produced by the mountains. In Feng Shui, there is a saying, Mountains Govern People, Water Governs Wealth. Certain areas with certain types of mountains are more likely to produce or support the upbringing of certain types of people.

Now, lest you think that you can make a mountain (the kind you buy from a gardening or landscaping shop), and create the Qi to turn yourself into an Emperor, you can't. Qi is a natural product of the environment and cannot be man-made. Feng Shui is about making use of the environment and what is natural and present in that environment. Thus, man-made objects do not emit Qi.

At Shaolin, what kind of Landforms can we see? The Temple itself faces the Bing (South 1) direction, with a river flowing in front of it from right to left at a specific directional entry and exit point that corresponds with the formation of the area. This river of course is now a dry river bed but in the past, Water would flow down the mountain contours (the Prawn Whiskers and Crab Eyes formation from the nearby mountains) and into the river that ran past the Temple entrance.

The mountain formation in the area is known as a Recoiled Dragon Formation. There is a Sun Rising Mountain Formation at the Pagoda Forest, which is Southwest of the Temple, which is a special type of Military Arts Mountain. The Table Mountain (An Shan) at Shaolin, which acts as a barrier to prevent Qi from escaping from the area, is also quite special. The Table Mountain at Shaolin is what is known as a Fu Bi Star, which hints at the area producing individuals who support nobles. The mountains are clearly what we call Military Arts (Wu Qu) mountains, which produces fighting Qi, suited for military endeavours or martial arts practice. The mountains behind the Temple have a very distinct flag shape, indicating strong Fire Qi, which is also suitable for martial arts practices.


These landforms explain many things about Shaolin. The mountains helped keep Shaolin's name and reputation strong and alive throughout the centuries while explaining why it was able to simultaneously function as a place of learning during certain periods, and also, a shelter for rebels during certain periods. The landforms also explain why a place that began as a temple for religious study and practice, ended up becoming more renown for its kungfu and martial arts prowess, than its religious reputation.

Seeing with Feng Shui Vision

Mountain and Water together form the backbone of Landform Feng Shui and an integral aspect of understanding of the principles of Yin and Yang work in Feng Shui. When Mountains meet with Water, Yin and Yang interact and the Qi is benevolent, growing and harmonious. Hence, it is always important, when looking at the Feng Shui of an area, to look for this simple combination of Mountain and Water.

Most of the time, people tell me that they don't 'see' the mountains around them. You might be wondering, how on earth can anyone 'miss' a mountain - it's so obvious surely? Not always - many of my students, after they Walked the Mountains in China with me, reported seeing mountains in their hometowns for the first time!

Just like people, each and every mountain is unique. Some have 'hair' (that's trees growing on the top), some are botak. Some are lush and beautiful, others are rocky and ugly. Some look healthy and vibrant, others look sick and dead. All mountains also have character: some are noble, some are fierce, some are solitary, some are powerful.

So the next time when you are driving around the Klang Valley, driving along the North-South highway to Ipoh, zipping along the Ampang Elevated Highway, visiting KLCC or going to the park in Taman Tun Dr Ismail - take a good look around you and you'll see the Mountain that was always there, but which you never really noticed!

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