In the Money Corner

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

Black Hat methods also seem to combine well with vaguer, more New Age interpretations of the tradition. The current feng shui best seller is Karen Kingston's Creating Sacred Space With Feng Shui, which unites the purportedly Balinese art of "space clearing" with use of Lin Yun's Bagua Map. Forthcoming books include The Feng Shui Cookbook, Celtic Feng Shui, and -- inevitably -- Feng Shui Astrology for Lovers.

Book sales alone would qualify Black Hat feng shui as a cultural phenomenon. Then there are the various accessories required to implement its "cures." The most complete source of these in North America is the Feng Shui Warehouse in San Diego, run by two men with close affiliations to the Black Sect, James Moser and Seann Xenja. Not that anyone needs to shop there, necessarily -- you can pick up a bagua mirror or a faceted crystal pendant in almost any New Age shop these days.

In general, classical feng shui masters seem to take the attitude that if moving some furniture around and hanging a crystal in the window makes people happy, there's no harm in it. And even his avowed enemies have to admit Lin Yun has done more to popularize feng shui than anyone else.

"I think for now it's OK because the flakier people kind of get siphoned off from the ones who really want to study it seriously," says one former disciple. "I couldn't say Lin Yun is motivated in any kind of negative way. I think the people who follow him genuinely get something out of it."

Black Sect Tantric Buddhist feng shui, she adds, very definitely emphasizes material gain. "As far as that religion goes, one of the things they're very open about is that there's nothing about being spiritual that precludes prosperity. And that's the way their feng shui is supposed to work too. For them, everything is to get money. I had problems with that because it's not what my life is about. But you know, it works for them."

And it's worked for Lin Yun, right?
"My God, he's the American Dream!" exclaims Cate Bramble.

I had been researching this story for several weeks when Bramble called to tell me a former Black Sect disciple was worried about my safety. On the phone, the ex-disciple nervously requested anonymity on the grounds that Lin Yun might otherwise put a curse on her. "I have to say I do think he knows some magic," she said, a little apologetically. "They have ways of knowing things. He's a pretty powerful guy and I wouldn't want to go toe to toe with him."

Should I be worried? "I don't know ...," she answered, hesitating.
The whole thing seemed just a little far-fetched to me. Or did, until I inexplicably broke out in weeping sores all over my right leg and developed a fever of 101.

Spooked, I considered performing some sort of tantric exorcism, or at least hanging a crystal in my health corner.

It was only after appointments with a succession of mystified doctors that I realized what must have happened: Climbing around the ruins of Lin Yun's burned-out Oakland Hills home, I'd gotten a severe case of poison oak.

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