Many Feng Shui students and practitioners nowadays think the Compass School is more important than Form Feng Shui, very few is aware that before the Song Dynasty, there were no Compass Schools at all because the Luopan compass was not yet invented.
During the Qianlong period of Qing Dynasty, the imperial court was so concerned that Feng Shui has deterioated to a point where the Compass School is beginning to overtake the Form School, that the members of the Imperial Astronomers Department, including the chief officer Gao Dabin 高大賓and his deputy Qi Kechang 齊克昌, banded together to write a book called, “Qin Tian Jian Feng Shui Zhen Lun 欽天監風水正論” – “The Imperial Astronomers’ Sound Arguments on Feng Shui”.
The aim was to point out and to correct the mistakes made by the prevant and fashionable Feng Shui practcices of the time and to make a distinction between the imperial court’s and the layman’s undestanding of Feng Shui. What do these imperial experts have to say about Form and Compass School of Feng Shui, which in Chinese are called Luantpou Pai 巒頭派and Liqi Pai 理氣派respectiveley？
The book repeatedly explained the real purpose to “Cheng Sheng Qi 乘生氣” or to “ride the Sheng Qi (that is to take advantage of the Qi that norishes and give life to things)” as mentioned in the first line of GuO Pu’s Zang Shu 葬書 or The Book of Burial, can be obtained by looking at the physical form of the land and not by calcualtions with a compass rerading.
I have translated the following line from their book to summarise their point of view in essence:
“The Liqi within the Yin and Yang and the Five Phase are to be found inside Luantou and not outside of it. Luantou (Form School) also has Liqi (Compass School) built within It”.
What they meant was the Sheng Qi mentioned by Gua Pu is hidden in the form, it is not in the Luopan compass, when the Dragon (mountain range) rises and falls vigoriusly it has Qi, and when it sinks low all the way and disperses, its Qi disappears; when the landscape floiws and meanders, it has Qi and when it become flat and stiff, its Qi is gone; lush vegetation has Qi and slow dying vegetation has no Qi. The Qi that was talked about by Guo Pu is this kind of environmental Qi with form and not the so-called Gua Qi 卦氣 (the Qi of the Trigrams), or Xing Qi 星氣 (Qi ofthe Qi of the Stars), or Shi Qi 時氣(the Qi of time) and Yun Qi 運氣 (the Qi of Cycle of Luck).
What the imperial astronomers wanted to say is the Form Schools had precedent over the Compass School, working with the tangible that has forms through observation and appearance is more reliable than working with the intangible that is formless by way of calculations. We tend to keep forgetting this and thinks that is the compass calculations that will give us the answers, whereas in practice form feng shui holds the key.