Tom Bender seems to have some quirky theoretical notions about qi, along with his ideas about sustainable building practices, and a whole lot more. He’s been pontificating about feng shui for several years and remains ignorant — no visible education, no reputable references, no outside corroboration.

Plus he suffers from the New-Age obsession with quantum mechanics.

What He Says Reality Check
Feng-shui ‘, as the practice is called, literally means ‘wind and water’, but is concerned with quite different things than the topographical and ecological considerations that we think important. … it is concerned with the flow of ‘chi’ or ‘prahna’ energy of the earth and atmosphere circulating through the veins and vessels of the earth. …The practice of feng-shui differed considerably in northern and southern China, influenced by the quite different nature of their topography. Bender does not know the definition of feng shui — that it is shorthand for “The qi that rides the wind stops at the boundary of water.” He is not aware there are two types of environments that are optimal: those that catch the wind, and those that retain water. All the blather about what Stephen Field calls qimancyis beside the point here.Bender’s Procrustean vision puts feng shui into the shape hewants — it must work with his unique concepts of qi. When some aspect doesn’t fit the vision, it’s erased.Bender sidesteps a lot of the facts about feng shui, especially the thousands of years of astronomy at the heart of feng shui.According to the Appended Words Commentary (c. 300 BCE), the ancients used astronomy as the basis for the symbols in the Yijing, including Hetu and Luoshu. Both bagua are ancient star maps. A page in “The Astronomical Phenomena” (Tien Yuan Fa Wei) compiled by Bao Yunlong in the 13th century shows the Luoshu as a star diagram.
First Bender says feng shui didn’t have anything to do with topography. Then he says feng shui in southern China was influenced by the difference in topography.You can’t have it both ways.
North China, with a much more uniform and regular landscape, developed a practice emphasizing the influence of astrological and astronomical considerations, involving the use of a complex geomantic compass to consider the relative direction and influence of various forces. In the south, with a complex and irregular topography, the relative importance of the influence of surrounding land and water forms was much greater, and brought about the development and refinement of practices involving dowsing techniques to locate and map the location of various kinds of energy and consideration of the shapes and position of various kinds of landforms which correspond with certain energy flows and concentrations. Dowsing — a western occult tradition— is the basis for feng shui in southern China? What forms of energy were being assessed, and which methodologies were used? What does Bender mean by “energy”?Excrementous!
The dowsing theory doesn’t fit the facts:

  • There were many advanced cultures 4,000 to 5,000 years ago in the valleys of several major rivers in China. The civilization in central China was not the most developed, but it apparently absorbed the cultures in the surrounding areas to form Chinese civilization. Just like the far-ranging Longshan cultures before them, the Shang traded heavily with the Dongyi and other tribes far to the south.
  • All capital cities modeled on Erlitou. All capital cities used the same orientation system, which involved some early form of feng shui.
  • The zhinan zhen and Luopan were used throughout China. The first liuren astrolabes were uncovered near Shashi, in Hubei (what used to be the kingdom of Chu).
  • Fujian is considered the area from where navigators first sailed with navigational compasses, which were built from a Luopan.

Extraordinary claims require extraordnary evidence. Let’s see some of the extraordinary evidence for this “dowsing” theory.

The influence of the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars, are also considered important, and bring into consideration the ‘pseudo-sciences’ of astrology and the I-Ching. This is an ignorant oversimplification to fit the Procrustean vision. Ask Bender which stars are considered important. Ask him how the moon is considered important. And which sort of astrologydoes he believe is involved?Are we talking about calendrical (hemerological) computations or building orientations?
The view of the cosmos upon which city location was based spoke symbolically in terms of four Gods — one dwelling in a stream to the east, one in a plain to the south, one in a highway to the west and the fourth in a mountain to the north. A site with these surroundings was felt suitable. A rectangular plan was made in the symbol of the cosmos, reflecting the rhythms of the sun and the seasons which most strongly affected the land. The Emperor was placed in the north, as he always faced the holy south in alignment with the growth-granting forces of the earth. Temples were built in the northeast to a guardian deity, as that direction was felt to be unlucky – devils dwell in the mountains (as well as enemy troops). Buddhist temples often were placed in the west, as it was felt that Buddhism had a tendency to proceed eastward. The entire geometry and detailed layout of the city reflected symbolically their understanding of the cosmos. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Too bad this is a fairy tale. It ignores tianyuan difang, archaeology and everything else.Consider the divination rite of puchan (crack-making) during the Shang. David Keightley’s1version begins at dawn, with the king in the “center of the four quarters” (the center of the temple, palace, or wherever the rite is being held).A taotie (the greedy, lustful beast associated with the Shang) is illuminated by the rising sun; evidently it faces east. Five prepared scapulae or plastrons are used for the divination (divination to the four quarters and Dao — here — the axis mundi where the king stands). As the Shang’s world was ya-shaped (a cruciform symbol), not square, this fivefold division is the ancestor of wuxing and much else we know from feng shui.2Early city sites are typically found on the banks of a river, and villages were often located on the terrace of the river or at river crossings. Some cities had rivers running right through them (Dongzhou culture, for example). Moats are also found around early Chinese cities and towns.

At Xinglongwa (6200-5400 BCE) the gate was in the northwest. Wangchenggang had only one gate — at the southeast. Bianxianwang had four, at the cardinal directions. At Banpo (4800-3600 BCE) there were ditches at the north, south, and east; at the southwest was a river.

Xishan (5300-4800 bp) was round and surrounded by moats. Chengtoushan (part of the Yangzi River civilization), was also round, with four gates at the four directions (and there were human sacrifices under some of the walls). These cities illustrate tianyuan difang just as the Temple of Heaven in Beijing does today.

Yanshi Erlitou (Xibo, c. 1900 BCE) has four intercrossing roads surrounding it. All later capitals were built on the Erlitou ideal. The Shang city at Zhengzhou (the city of Ao, c. 1600 BCE) also meets the criteria for a capital.

Yinxu. The cemetery Xiebeigang is to the north of the Shang capital. (Cemeteries are usually found north of settlements and cities, from the Neolithic to more recent times.) Shang palaces at Xiaotun lie ten degrees east of due north. Yin (Shang) graves are typically shaped like the character ya and aligned to the cardinal directions. The coffin is always placed at the center (for the dead can only lie quiet at the center of a ya). The head is typically placed toward the north (which is the direction of down as well as the land of the Dark Turtle-Warrior and death). Grave goods and retainers surround the dead.

This isn’t that much different from the tomb at Puyang which was built 2,000 years earlier — except there the tianyuan difang was more pronounced.

The Zhouli stipulates a capital city is square, surrounded by suburbs, and the palace is located in the middle. The ancestors’ temple is to the left (the yang side), the market is in the north, and the altar of Earth (Soil) is to the right (the yin side). There are nine gates, and nine streets east and west. (Quoting the Zhouli, the Shenzong emperor had a new city wall built for Kaifeng.)

A lot of the hocus-pocus Bender mentions here is Buddhist. Buddhism provided spells and incantations (dharani) much like traditional Chinese sorcery (wushu or wugu). For example, when some of the royal family was threatened in the past, they relied on the dharani of the Eleven-faced Guanyin.

Northeast as the home of devils, and unlucky? Don’t believe Bender. According to the Huainanzi, the circumference of the celestial circle was divided into the eight cardinal and intercardinal directions. The Earthly Branches called “the four seasons” (called by scholars “the four hooks”) are Zhou (northeast), Zhen (southeast), Wei (southwest), and Xu (northwest).

Northeast is associated with branch Yin and the first month of the Xia calendar, along with increasing yang. Northwest is Penetrating Cleft (what some call Hamlet’s Mill), where the Torch Dragon lives. This “dragon” is actually the Aurora Borealis, as shown in Tianwen: “What land does the sun not reach to? How does the Torch Dragon light it?”

In Huainanzi, and throughout Chinese cosmology, it is agreed that where Daiyin (Great Yin) is located, yin sits at its maximum and the omens are therefore of winter and quiescence. Moreover, the directional gods are the four primary asterisms (the Bird, the Dragon, the Turtle, and the Tiger).

It is no accident that the four hooks (seasons) identify the tilt of the ecliptic. This is based on the ancient tradition that the sun’s extreme risings and settings mark out a square. That is one reason why the earth plate on a Luopan is square, just as the liuren astrolabes are square. And the square symbolizes Earth, just as a circle symbolizes heaven. Together the Heaven and Earth plates of a liuren, shipan, and Luopan symbolize tianyuan difang.
Experts tend to agree that our ancestors first mapped the sky, then mapped the sky onto the ground. That is what the Chinese Classics say. From the research at Banpo it seems the Classics were not exaggerating.

Upon these considerations is based the elaborate and now time-encrusted practices of calculating the specific astrological influences on a place through the aid of a geomantic compass on which is diagramed the action of those forces. A Luopan has the 24 jieqi categorized by wuxing. On a San He, the “three harmonies” use wuxing with three seasons. There’s no “action of those forces” allegedly “diagrammed.” It’s a calculation of time as an angle.The 24 mountain ring uses five elements. The “universal five elements” uses 365.25 du (degrees) and tracks the xiu (lunar mansions) –another measurement of time as an angle. That’s not “action of those forces,” and it’s astronomy, not astrology! You have been treated to more of Bender’s “time-encrusted” extrementizing.
Subtle bodies, energy bodies, the chakras or places in the body where these are joined to the physical body are all combined into an integral view of the nature of life and of our universe which pervades their sciences and culture. …Various western investigators including Wilhelm Reich and Rudolph Steiner have formulated medical, agricultural, spiritual, educational, and other processes based on similar concepts of energy and organism which could well stand reinvestigation today. Ah, “subtle bodies” — that bau-biology and aura nonsense.

No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.-  -P. J. O’Rourke


  1. David Keightley. Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. pp. 1-2
  2. Allan, Sarah. The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art, and Cosmos in Early China. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991