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The San Yuan System

Sunday, December 31, 2006
By: Joey Yap

In a previous article, I wrote in-depth about the two schools or 'pai' of Feng Shui, San He and San Yuan. San He and San Yuan are if you like, the Oxford and Cambridge (or Yale and Harvard) of Feng Shui - they are two different schools or approaches to Feng Shui.

All systems and methods of Feng Shui can be classified under either one of these two schools. I then delved into some of the technical details regarding San He Feng Shui, which is also known for it's emphasis on Luan Tou Feng Shui.

This week, I'm going to delve a little more into the San Yuan system. At the beginner level, most people would have come into some contact with San Yuan Feng Shui - this is because popular systems like Flying Stars Feng Shui (Fei Xing), Eight Mansions (Ba Zhai) and Xuan Kong Da Gua are sub-systems of San Yuan Feng Shui. San Yuan is much more focused on deriving a Qi map of the property being evaluated through calculation, with forms being secondary. By contrast, San He is much more focused on formations, with Qi calculations being used to support the landforms.


San Yuan: What in Three Cycles?

Let's explore some of the basics of San Yuan because there's often a lot of confusion about San Yuan's basic concepts, in particular, the concept of San Yuan itself, which means 'Three Cycles' in Chinese. The phrase 'San Yuan' is popular in many Chinese writings, aspects of life, philosophy and history.

For example, San Yuan in the days of the Imperial Court, referred to the three Imperial positions: Zhuang Yuan, Bang Yan and Tan Hua. In Taoist philosophy, San Yuan refers to Heaven, Earth and Water. For students of metaphysics, the three divisions of time itself - the 180 years sequence into the upper, middle and lower cycles and 60 Jia Zi, is known as San Yuan. In the study of classical Feng Shui, the cosmic trinity of Heaven, Earth and Man is also known as San Yuan. Hmm....., so what does San Yuan mean?

Those of you who have dipped into the Chinese readings on this subject may have heard the argument by certain Feng Shui writers that San Yuan refers to Time, Yin and Yang, and Location. This is a common mistake that many people, including professionals, make about San Yuan. Why?

Because ALL systems of classical Feng Shui are grounded in the basic concepts of Time, Yin and Yang, and Location. San He also considers the aspects of time (by virtue of the 28 Asterism, Sun Position and other planetary positions), whilst Yin and Yang are reflected in the principles of Mountain and Water, and finally, San He is definitely focused on Location as far as location of the Meridian Spot (Long Xue) is concerned. So how can San Yuan alone refer specifically and only to Time, Yin and Yang, and Location?

In fact, the answer is quite simple. The basis for San Yuan Feng Shui is the concept of cycles. Cycles, or Yuan, permeate in all aspects of the application of San Yuan Feng Shui. For example, the Parent and Sons Hexagram Formation (Fu Mu Xie Zi) - this is known as the San Yuan Xuan Kong Hexagrams, where the 64 Hexagrams are categorised into heaven, earth and man groups. Each Yuan, or cycle, in this case, takes on 8 sub-directions; four of which are Yang Guas and four of which are Yin Guas, thus yielding 64 Hexagrams.

Another example of cycles in San Yuan is how San Yuan perceives time. Time is analysed in cycles of 20 years. There are 9 Periods of 20 years, which make up 180 years, hence every 20 years we have a capital change in the Qi that influences the world. The 9 periods are further subdivided into 3 levels: upper, middle and lower cycles. The entire cycle of time, in San Yuan Feng Shui, spans 180 years.

San Yuan Who's Who

One of the challenges when it comes to San Yuan Feng Shui is the issue of the classics. Historically, San Yuan is quite a 'young' school of Feng Shui although this could be argued is due to the fact that the fascination and fixation with 'schools of Feng Shui' or 'pai' is a relatively modern development in the world of Feng Shui. In particular, it has become more prominent since Hong Kong masters made the move to start teaching Feng Shui to the public, rather than strictly adhering to the master-disciple system.

Those of you who have dipped into classical reading will be aware of the claim that Huang Shi Gong's Green Satchel Classics (Qing Nang Jing), along with Grand Master Yang Yun Song's Heavenly Jade Classics ( Tian Yu Jing) and Green Satchel Commentaries (Qing Nang Aiyu) are founding classics of San Yuan, containing the key theories of San Yuan. However, Grand Master Yang himself never actually classified his work as being part of the San Yuan School. It was only later masters who classified the Green Satchel Classics as being a part of the San Yuan School.

Probably the classical Master who can be said to have 'founded' or gave prominence to San Yuan as a school of Feng Shui was Master Jiang Da Hong, a Feng Shui master of the late Ming, early Qing Dynasty era. Master Jiang popularized Xuan Kong Feng Shui and he also wrote a commentary text, Di Li Bian Zheng, that is today, regarded as a key text by most San Yuan Feng Shui Masters.

Di Li Bian Zheng is not to be confused with another book, Di Li He Bi, which is a sort of collection of academic theses and commentaries written by various Feng Shui masters from the Ming and Qing dynasty, focusing mainly on the Flying Stars system.

People often confuse the two books or assume that Di Li He Bi was written by Grand Master Yang Yun Song - it was not. Master Jiang Da Hong's text remains the definitive San Yuan text that is a 'must read' for all those seeking an appreciation of San Yuan.

Why am I harping on about the classics and who started the school or 'pai'? It is important to understand who the 'founding father' of a school or 'pai' is because sometimes, it is the foundation for a practitioner's or master's claim of lineage. Hence when it comes to San Yuan, any practitioner who claims to come from a long lineage of San Yuan masters, is probably exaggerating the claim a little since San Yuan's lineage itself, is quite short, beginning at best, in the late Ming era.

The hallmarks of San Yuan

The calculation of Qi, with reference to time, is the main focus of San Yuan Feng Shui. The changes and influence of time and its impact, are tracked to determine how the Qi has changed during the course of the period. Formulas, derived from the mathematical model of the Ba Gua, He Tu, Lo Shu and 8 Trigrams, co-referenced against the North Dipper 9 Stars, is the foundation of San Yuan Feng Shui.

Whilst San He has a greater emphasis on the external forms, San Yuan has a more balanced approach to internal and external Feng Shui. San Yuan also considers time as a more important factor, when compared to San He's approach to time. San Yuan also places a great deal of emphasis on the 64 Hexagrams in its application. Amongst the more popular San Yuan techniques include Xuan Kong, Eight Mansions and Dragon-gate Eight Formations. These are full-fledged systems in their own right, but are seen as being 'allied' with San Yuan.

The popularity of San Yuan can be said to be due to the popularity of Flying Star Feng Shui and Eight Mansions, both which are systems allied with San Yuan and which are relatively easy for beginners to learn. San Yuan is also preferred these days because it is a more dynamic form of Feng Shui and suits the demands of modern society, which is for quick quick quick results. Which system is better? Both have their strengths and it depends a lot on what your goal is. San Yuan technically is better for quick, short-term outcomes whilst San He is better for long-term set-ups (like say, if you are building a castle or planning for an empire!).

I would suggest that in today's modern world, a good Feng Shui practitioner is one who is neither dogmatic about practice (in other words, knows BOTH San He and San Yuan just as well) and understands that at the end of the day, the systems don't really contradict each other at an advanced level. It is not a case of which is better or more popular than the other, but rather, which system suits the needs of the client and the demands of the property.

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