Thank you, my dear friend Helen, for inviting me to come along to the German-speaking tour of “Who is Who”, organised by the German Association, at the ACM the other day! For those of you who are not in Singapore, the ACM is the Asian Civilisations Museum, showcasing Asian antiquities and decorative art and highlighting the historical connections between the different cultures of Asia, and between Asia and the world.
After a brief introduction on the history of Hinduism and Buddhism our guide, Frau Angelika Kleffner-Riedel, led us to some select sculptures of deities and shared interesting stories and knowledge. I very much enjoyed hearing these, as some of these Gods also appear in the ancient wisdoms of Feng Shui.
Feng Shui is not a religion, but it does have a spiritual element, which explains why references to Gods of Hinduism or Buddhism are sometimes made and their images may be used in conjunction with Feng Shui applications.
Let me share a few of the most prominent figures and their Feng Shui connections:
Siddharta Gautama , the founder of Buddhism, was born as a prince in what is now Nepal, close to the border with India, during the 5th Century B.C. Legend has it that during the birth celebrations, a wise sage analysed the child’s future and predicted that he would either become a great king or a great religious leader. It is said that Siddharta’s father preferred the first option and therefore kept him enclosed in the palace walls from there on. Much like a golden cage really, where Siddharta as lacking nothing but was not allowed to see the real world outside the palace.
One day, when he was a young adult, Siddharta managed to escape in disguise and encountered an old man, a diseased man, and a dead corpse. He was shocked by all the human suffering he saw. He also saw an ascetic man who inspired him. This gave him a lot of food for thought. Although he returned to the palace unnoticed, he could not stop thinking about his experiences in the outside world and decided to leave the palace to live the life of a wandering ascetic. This is how his legendary life and his search for the answer to the problem of suffering began.
I don’t wish to repeat Siddharta Gautama’s life story here; suffice to say that his profound insights went on to inspire the whole world!
After hearing this captivating story, we looked at different Buddha statues and I found it very interesting how the features of the Buddha statues changed over time and also depending in which country the statue had been made. There is no “universal” image of “the” Buddha.
Since the wisdom of Feng Shui originates in China, home to the largest Buddhist population in the world, it is only natural that the symbolism of various buddhas is used. The most popular Buddhas are probably the Wealth Buddha, the Medicine Buddha, and of course the happy laughing Buddha with his big round belly.
This statue is believed to represent Buddha Vairocana. It was found in Cambodia and dates back to the 11th Century. Vairocana was the principal Buddha worshipped in Angkor Wat from the 10th to the 13th Century. Buddha Vairocana is also one of the 5 Dhyani Buddhas who are often pictured together, with Vairocana located at the centre. He is referred to as the “great illuminating one” or the “all-encompassing Buddha”.
In Feng Shui symbolism, Buddha Vairocana is one of many protectors. He is said to purify all negativities and protect you from diseases of any kind. He is also believed to protect against loss of income and helps you to make good and wise decisions.
Hanuman is one of the ancient Hindu Gods, who was born with the help of Vayu, the Wind God. He is one of the most widely worshipped Gods in Hinduism and is known for love, compassion, devotion, strength and intelligence.
Legend has it that Hanuman was a very energetic child, very restless, inquisitive and mischievous. Apparently, he loved playing tricks and had great fun annoying other saints and holy men who lived in the nearby forest. As an adult, he was reminded of his superpowers and used them to help Rama be reunited with his wife Sita, who had been abducted by Ravana in order to start a war. Turbulent battles ensued but eventually Ravana was defeated and Rama and Sita were crowned King and Queen of Ayodhya. Hanuman remained as Rama’s favourite general. Because of his bravery, strength, perseverance and devoted service, Hanuman is regarded as a symbol of selflessness and loyalty.
Due to his superior intelligence, the monkey – and often also the Monkey God – is widely used in Feng Shui as a symbol for education or career luck.
A monkey sitting on a horse is one such popular example. In Feng Shui, the horse is generally a symbol of power, strength and loyalty, while the monkey adds a touch of cleverness and flexibility. Together, the two become a symbol of quick promotion in your career. Taking the symbolism one step further is the monkey sitting on an elephant, which is said to help you reach the very top of the career ladder.
Ganesh, or Ganesha, is the God of wisdom, success and good luck and is one of the most popular deities in Hinduism. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati and the brother of Murugan.
Ganesha is known and worshipped as the remover of obstacles and is therefore often invoked before starting a new venture in the hope that the path will be smooth and successful.
I actually first heard the story of Ganesha many years ago, when we had first come to Singapore and I had joined a tour of some of the Hindu and Buddhist temples, and I couldn’t’ wait to retell the story to my children.
So why does Ganesha have an elephant head?
This is how the story goes: Ganesha’s mother Parvati was often left alone because her husband Shiva was very busy being away in battles. Feeling lonely at times, Parvati decided to create a child with turmeric paste from her body (which was used for bathing), breathed life into it, and so created Ganesha, her loyal son and constant companion.
One day Parvati was having a bath and asked Ganesha to stand guard at the door to ensure nobody would disturb her. Shiva happened to return home just then, only to find this strange boy refusing him entry to his own house! Enraged, Shiva started to fight Ganesha, not knowing that he was his son, and cut off his head.
Parvati was grief-stricken and Shiva realised that he had made a big mistake. He promised Parvati to set things right and set out to find a cure. He cut off the head of the first living thing he saw, which was an elephant. Bringing the elephant head back to his palace, he attached it to the body of the boy and thus brought him back to life. Ganesha was rewarded for his courage and made the lord of new beginnings and guardian of thresholds.
Many Feng Shui practitioners use a statue of Ganesha to help remove obstacles and attract prosperity, good luck and good fortune.
On a more general note, the elephant symbol itself is very popular in Feng Shui as a protector, where the elephant is featured with its trunk up, whereas an elephant with its trunk down is used to enhance fertility luck.
Kuan Yin is worshipped by both the Taoists and Buddhists all over Asia. In the West, Kuan Yin is commonly known as the “Goddess of Mercy”. She is usually depicted in a white flowing robe – white being the symbol of purity.
Kuan Yin is well known for her compassion and kindness. She protects sailors out at sea, she is said to take pity on the souls who suffer in hell and mediates for them, and she is prayed to by women who are longing to have children.
She is very much like Mother Mary in the Christian religions!
Being such a popular Goddess, it is no surprise that Kuan Yin has become a very popular Feng Shui symbol too. Practitioners display her statue to request blessings and protection, as well as happiness, wealth, and a peaceful life free from obstacles and spirit harm. She is also a powerful symbol used to enhance fertility luck.
Kuan Kung was not included in the museum tour, but we ended right next to this larger than life statue and I couldn’t help admiring him and snapping a photo (which was allowed by the way as long as no flash was used) because I recognised him instantly.
Kuan Kung was a “real” person who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. He was a great military general and loyal servant to the warlord Liu Bei. He is well known for his loyalty and righteousness and is still worshipped by many Chinese people today. Often you will see Kuan Kung’s image on the doors of Chinese and Taoist temples. He is known as the “God of War”, a vital protector to emperors and his armies, which in more modern days expanded to include politicians and business leaders. His strong commitment to justice makes him a favourite amongst policemen and -women all over Asia.
You can recognise Kuan Kung by his fierce, red face and his long, flowing beard. Usually, he carries a guandao (a traditional Chinese weapon) named “Green Dragon Crescent Blade”. It looks like a curved blade on a long stick and is said to be very heavy.
In Feng Shui, a figure or image of Kuan Kung is often used in the following situations in order to use his powers:
- Facing your main entrance – to protect against burglary and violence.
- In an office – to protect the business from getting cheated, to shield you from office politics and to protect you from physical danger. He will also motivate you with his warrior spirit, helping you to navigate competitive, relentless or hazardous situations.
- In the NW of the home or business premises – to support the patriarch of the home/business or to attract a mentor or helpful person into your life who will support you if needed or who could open a new door for you.
- In the office, placed behind your seat at your desk, to offer protection and support.
- Kuan Kung riding a horse is a popular symbol to attract success and victory luck.
- Kuan Kung is NEVER to be placed in a bathroom or bedroom. He must be in a place of respect but praying to him is not required.
It was such an enjoyable morning out of the office, soaking in the sunshine and the beautiful neighbourhood along the Singapore River, and a truly inspiring visit to the museum. I will be back!
30 May 2023