Compass or Doorway?
Much of the confusion that besets newcomers to feng shui arises because the ba gua (the feng shui energy map) can be used in two different ways depending on which style of feng shui is being practiced. Some practitioners use the ba gua according to the compass directions, while in Contemporary Western Feng Shui we align the ba gua to the doorway. Understanding the difference between these two approaches — and decided which method feels most appropriate to you — is an important first step in applying feng shui to your home.
I believe that all styles of feng shui offer insight and value, that no one method is more correct or better than the others: they are simply different. My choice is to practice Contempory Western Feng Shui, not only for the reasons give here, but because the contemporary method of working with the ba gua more closely reflects my perspective on how we experience what we call “reality.” (Your choice may be different, and that’s fine, too, although you may find much of the information on this site a less than perfect match for your practice.)
Comparing the Compass & Doorway Ba Guas
Compass-based practitioners who use the ba gua divide a space into eight wedges according to the compass directions. Sometimes a 9-unit grid is used, but the pie-slice method more accurately matches the compass sectors so I recommend it if you are going to follow the compass. Note that the feng shui compass shows South at the top and North at the bottom:
Contemporary Western feng shui places the ba gua according to the location of the entry; the space is divided into a nine-unit grid of equal areas without regard to the compass directions:
I prefer the doorway-oriented ba gua, especially for interior spaces. Here’s why:
Consistent Relative Location
The compass method assigns the FAME area (I’m using just one gua here as an example) to the south sector of a space. Because the compass directions have nothing to do with doorway location, you have to look at a compass to find out which part of a room that is. Here’s a diagram of a simple 4-room house. The black arrow shows North. The red wedges show the south sector of each room, and the green arrows show how you enter each room:
- In room 1, FAME is the area around the doorway.
- In room 2, FAME is at the far left corner of the room.
- In room 3, FAME is beside you to the left.
- And in room 4, FAME is all the way to your right.
With the compass method, it’s easy to see by looking at the floor plan that the ba guas for each room are all aligned to the compass the same way. The problem is that as you enter each room and move through the space there’s no consistency to the location of the FAME gua (or any other area) relative to your position. This means that you experience the locations of the guas differently in every room.
Using the ba gua according to the doorway solves this problem. FAME is always at center of the far side of the space relative to the doorway. Here’s the same example floor plan, this time showing the FAME gua for each room according to the doorway:
Here, notice that you experience the ba gua exactly the same way in every room: FAME is always in the center of the far side of the space relative to the doorway.
When we use the ba gua according to the doorway, the relative locations of the guas reflect our life experience in a symbolic way. With this method, when we step into a building or a room, “Wealth” “Fame” and “Relationships” (what we aspire to in life) are always on the far side of the room. We move toward these goals as we move into the space:
The Career area (which represents our life path or journey as well as the specific work that we do) is in the center of side of the room through which we enter, with Knowledge and Helpful Friends (things that help us reach our goals) on either side of Career providing a foundation for our progress:
As we move further into the space, Family and Children/Creativity are with us on either side, accompanying us on our journey and reminding us to strive for a balanced life:
Feng shui is about the impact of our space on our experience, so it makes sense to me that this key tool should be used experientially. The compass directions simply don’t offer this kind of metaphysical correlation between the areas of influence in a space and how we move through that space and through our lives.
The compass orientation is based on the assumption that we are affected in subtle ways by the geophysics of the Earth, such as the North-South magnetic polarity of our planet. While this is true, these influences are overwhelmed in most modern interiors by the electromagnetic fields of appliances, wiring, and wireless communication networks, and can be distorted by steel support beams, plumbing, and any underground utilities.
You may hear some feng shui teachers and practitioners say that Traditional Chinese Feng Shui is the “right” way and that the modern approaches to this ancient practice are “wrong” or “faux feng shui.” I believe that our world and lifestyles have changed dramatically over the past few thousand years and it’s reasonable to expect that feng shui would evolve to accommodate and reflect our contemporary cultures and attitudes. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to use the ba gua, just different ways. I don’t ignore the compass directions or methods in my practice, but I give the doorway ba gua the greatest consideration because that is my preference.
If you are new to feng shui, and have a strong intuitive pull to one ba gua method or the other then go ahead and follow your intuition. If you don’t have an inner sense of which method you’d like to use, then I recommend that you start with the doorway method first. If you are already experienced in feng shui and are accustomed to analyzing your space by the compass directions, you may want to take a look at what the doorway ba gua has to offer.