In the Money Corner

How a Berkeley-based religious sect sold feng shui to the country

The literal meanings of the trigrams, or characters, around the edges of the Later Heaven Pa Kua (on which the Black Hat Bagua Map is based) are hum (water), ken (mountain), chen (thunder), sun (wind), li (fire), k'un (earth), tui (lake), and ch'ien (heaven).

On Lin Yun's Bagua Map these characters also symbolize (in the same order) career, self-knowledge, family, wealth, fame, marriage, creativity, and helpful people. And, breaking further with traditional feng shui systems, Black Hat discards the idea that actual compass directions are relevant: The side of the Bagua Map that contains the helpful people, career, and self-knowledge life stations is always aligned with the front door.

By superimposing the Bagua Map on a floor plan of a person's house, the Black Hat practitioner claims to be able to ascertain what areas of that person's life need attention. Someone living in an L-shaped apartment, for instance, may be missing the marriage corner on the Bagua Map, and thus be doomed to unsavory one-night stands. Clutter by the front door may indicate career trouble. Or, if the bathroom is in what's designated as the money corner of a house, the owner's money may be literally going down the drain.

Black Hat fixes for such conditions most commonly involve crystals and mirrors, both of which are scorned by many traditional feng shui practitioners. Cures may also include symbolic, New Agey redecoration recommendations.

In one Lin Yun feng shui video, for example, a woman is advised that she must move her exercise bike out of the marriage corner of her bedroom. "You're saying that your relationship is a workout!" the practitioner, Deborah Gee, exclaims merrily.

Though Lin Yun became feng shui's point man in the United States almost overnight, according to his official biography he was always destined for success.

Born in Taiwan, he moved with his family to Beijing as a child. When he was 6 years old, he was playing with friends on the grounds of a lamasery when one of the lamas approached them. The other boys ran away, but Lin Yun stayed and was invited to study under Learned Monk Ta-Teh, who immediately discerned that his young pupil had a spiritual calling.

In 1977, while teaching Chinese to private students in Hong Kong and practicing feng shui on the side, Lin Yun began instructing a young American journalist named Sarah Rossbach in Mandarin. Rossbach became interested in feng shui after accompanying Lin Yun on some of his consulting rounds, and her 1983 book Feng Shui: The Chinese Art of Placement introduced the subject to a Western audience.

But it is Rossbach's 1986 follow-up, Interior Design With Feng Shui, that is credited with beginning the feng shui craze in the U.S.

Lin Yun himself wrote the book's introduction. But more significantly, Interior Design With Feng Shui was the first volume to introduce his now-ubiquitous Bagua Map, along with a slew of suggestions for enhancing various areas of one's life by hanging, say, crystals and wind chimes in the areas of one's dwelling that correspond to the map's life stations.

Want a raise, a new lover, more energy, better grades in that night-school course, more friends? In short, want it all and want it now? Move your furniture around -- and buy some mirrors.

Needless to say, the book sold well.
The same year it came out, Lin Yun moved to the U.S., purchased his future temple property in Berkeley, and incorporated Black Sect Tantric Buddhism as a charitable organization in the state of California.

His workshops on feng shui were instantly popular, and publishing companies, eager to capitalize on the trend, were quick to hand book contracts to Lin Yun graduates. "People were taking a half-hour seminar, then hanging out a shingle [as a feng shui consultant], then writing a book," hyperbolizes one ex-disciple.

(According to Ray Langley, a former Lin Yun student who's now a classical feng shui practitioner in Sacramento, the Black Sect certifies students as masters after a six-day course, which cost $900 when he took it several years ago.)

By 1987 business was apparently so good that, along with the CEO of the temple -- an attractive young woman named Crystal Chu -- Lin Yun was able to purchase a mansion high above Claremont Canyon. The charming 1920s-vintage home was nestled back into the hillside and featured a beautiful reflecting pool.

Sadly, however, all the feng shui expertise at Lin Yun's disposal couldn't prevent the house from burning to its foundations in the 1991 Berkeley-Oakland Hills fire.

"Actually, it was really strange," comments one neighbor. "The fire got to that side of the street and just stopped. This house and all these other ones were fine."

But at least the property's wealth corner wasn't affected by the fire: The bare lot recently sold for close to its asking price of $350,000 after just over a month on the market.

In 1992, Chu bought her own home less than a mile away on an exclusive Claremont cul-de-sac. Currently assessed by the county at just over $1 million, the large gray-green house is undergoing a complete kitchen remodel, presumably in accordance with Black Hat feng shui principles, which place the kitchen in Chu's marriage corner.

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