The Three Auspicious and Six Inauspicious is an ancient ‘checklist’ for the practice of Feng Shui.  The purpose of which was to ensure that the consultant and their analysis were comprehensive.  This collection of 9 principles comes from the earliest and most important text on Feng Shui, the Zang Shu by Master Guo Pu circa 276-324 C.E.  Although known as the ‘Burial Book’ the content equally concerns dwellings for the living and the dead.

From the Miscellaneous Chapter (on Directions) lines 166 – 176:

 蓋穴有三吉﹐  Points have 3 auspicious,
 葬有六凶﹐  Burials have 6 inauspicious,
 天光下臨﹐  Heaven’s light looks down,
 地德上載。  Earth’s virtue is carried upward.

The ‘Point’ here is the site selected for a dwelling, it is the same term as used for an Acupuncture point.  There are three criteria for an auspicious site.

‘Burial’ concerns the dwelling built upon that site.  There are six inauspicious conditions with regard to the dwelling.

‘Heaven’s light looks down, Earth’s virtue is carried upward’ refers to the Feng Shui concept of ‘as above, so below’ or, ‘the microcosm reflecting the macrocosm’.  What occurs in Heaven, affects, and is reflected by Earth.  Therefore, when the three auspicious criteria for sites are followed, and the six conditions for inauspicious dwellings are avoided, Heaven and Earth will be unified and the occupants will receive the benefits.

 

The first three verses are to be applied to the site –

 藏神合朔﹐  Store spirits at the conjunction of the new moon,
 神迎鬼避﹐  spirits welcomed ghost avoided,
 一吉也。  first auspicious.

The conjunction of the new moon is when the sun and the moon converge, occupying the same asterism in the sky and the moon is not visible.  It occurs once a month and is the basis of the twelve Earthly Branches.  Welcoming spirits and avoiding ghosts implies rituals performed at this time.  This shows the importance of ritual in early Feng Shui, most likely something similar the popular ‘four corners blessing’, but certainly not ‘space clearing’ which is not, and never was, part of Feng Shui.

 陰陽沖和﹐  Yin and yang clash and harmonise,
 五土四備﹐  five soils four fully,
 二吉也。  second auspicious.

This suggests a good balance of opposites – the site should not be too yin or too yang, and it must have good soil.  The five soils are indicated by colours, corresponding to the five elemental phases – green, red, yellow, white and black.  They were likely originally observed as phenomena with regard to the lands of the four cardinal directions and centre of China.  The last, black – water was considered undesirable at a site, it suggested too much moisture in the ground.  The other four should all be present.

 目力之巧﹐  With vision skilful,
 功力之具﹐  and strengths implemented,
 趨全避缺﹐  tend to perfection and avoid imperfection,
 增高益下﹐  increase the lofty to benefit the lowly,
 三吉也。  third auspicious.

These lines discuss the need for the practitioner to be well trained in reading the environment to gain the most advantage from nature.  It is only when the original character of a site is respected and adhered to that it can change the fate of the occupant for the better.

 

The next six verses refer to the dwelling –

 陰陽差錯﹐  Yin and Yang in error,
 為一凶。  is the first inauspicious.

Yin and Yang in error, the meaning is to be out of balance.  Whilst this sounds similar to the earlier statement in the ‘second auspicious’ in this case it is being applied to the dwelling.  This could take on any number of meanings with regard to the configuration, forms or directions being incorrect (after all, elemental phases, trigrams, stems and branches are all just degrees of yin and yang).  It likely meant all of these and the need to take care in planning.

 歲時之乖﹐  Year and time contrary,
 為二凶。  is the second inauspicious.

Here we have a clear indication that date selection was applied in this primary stage of Feng Shui development.  The likely method was use of the 栻盤 Shì Pán ‘Divination Plate’ the forerunner of the 羅盤 Luó Pán. It was a popular form of divination at the time and the practice was called 堪輿 Kān Yú ‘Canopy and Chassis’ referring to the construction of a circular heaven plate over a square base plate.  This name was synonymous with an earlier progenitor of Feng Shi and its practitioners.  Its calculations employed the Heavenly Stems, Earthly Branches, Twenty-eight Asterisms and perhaps even Trigrams.

 力小圖大﹐  Strength small plan large,
 為三凶。  is the third inauspicious.

To be overly ambitious is the failing in this case.  If the intention is too grand and goes beyond one’s abilities, this can only result in misfortune.  The advice here is to exercise humility and play to one’s strengths.

 憑福恃勢﹐ Depend on fortune and rely on influence,
 為四凶。  is the fourth inauspicious.

This last condition can be interpreted one of two ways.  The conventional opinion in the commentaries is that it advises occupants not to ignore the Feng Shui and presume existing wealth with last.  A second interpretation could be for the practitioner not to count on fame or reputation alone, but again to be humble and work studiously.

僭上偪下﹐ Usurp the superior and compel the inferior
為五也。 is the fifth inauspicious.

Here the advice is not to show off with expensive designs so as to appear wealthier, but in the same respect not to be cheap with materials in order to save money.  To work within one’s means.  An alternative reading could suggest the practitioner shouldn’t boast about oneself or criticize others in the field.

變應怪見﹐ Changing what ought to be and the strange is seen,
為六凶。 is the sixth inauspicious.

The last possibility is somewhat cryptic but the consensus amongst the classical annotators is that this applies to extraordinary events preventing completion of a dwelling or a survey of such.  For examples – conflict, lack of finance, legal issues or death.   These are inherently often beyond the practitioners influence and without foreseeable remedy, but all the same are exceedingly unlucky and disruptive when they occur.

The line immediately preceding the three and six reinforces the importance of the relative auspiciousness/inauspiciousness of the site and dwelling –

經曰, The Classic says,
穴吉葬凶, a Point that is auspicious with a Burial inauspicious,
與棄尸同。 together with discarding the corpse are the same.

The modern understanding of this would be that a good site with a bad dwelling is equivalent to abandoning the occupants.  Ideally a good site and good dwelling is sought.  To achieve this, one only need follow the classical checklist –

SITE (Auspicious Criteria)

  1. Appropriate rituals conducted
  2. Balance of Yin and Yang with good soil
  3. Careful attention paid to the environment

DWELLING (Inauspicious Conditions)

  1. Measurements incorrect
  2. Date selection not applied
  3. Overly ambitious plans
  4. Ignoring the bad and relying on the good
  5. Not working within ones means

Inexplicable events