By Julie Deife
Think back to a time when you walked into a room and immediately felt something was wrong. Or maybe you’ve had the experience of working in an office where no one could get along, or you or your co-workers were always getting sick. The ancient science of Vastu Shastra tells us that it might not be you that’s out of whack; it may be your space.
Vastu means “dwelling, site or existence” and Shastra means “science.” Vastu Shastra is often referred to as the original green architecture. It can be esoteric, complicated, detailed, rigid and rule-driven. It can involve hard-to-understand grids and attributes of Vedic deities. Or it can be a sort of common-sense approach to designing space according to natural laws of nature. And, according to some, there’s a lot of superstition involved. All may actually be true.
Today, we all acknowledge that we have our own biorhythms and energy patterns. In Vastu, every building is considered to be a living organism possessing its own energy patterns or vibrations. The science of Vastu seeks to harmonize these patterns or energies so that the inner space of an individual and the outer space of the cosmos are in balance. On a very basic level, Vastu provides the means to adjust the vibrational frequencies within our homes and workplaces making it more likely we’ll find balance and harmony within them.
History of Vastu Shastra
Vastu probably predates the Vedas, going back as far as 7,000 years. The Vedas, considered to have no beginning and no end as well as no authorship, were vibrations from the universe picked up by the rishis (sages), the only mortals who had attained enough spiritual enlightenment that they could hear the pure vibrations of the universe. This is when the first oral transmission of vibrational qualities is thought to have occurred.
The primal sound AUM, or OM as it is more commonly known, is what we today identify as our connection to the distant beginnings of the manifestation of sound on the planet. There is no real yoga class that does not invoke OM as part of the teachings and practices and means nothing less than the essence of the Supreme Creator, the coexisting breath of the Paramaatma, Brahman.
Early on, the rishis had identified the five elements of space, air, water, fire and earth. Here, we are considering thousands of years of contemplation on the nature of existence, neither possible nor probable in the environment in which we live today. Yes, space was discerned as a subtle energy and dynamic element out of which all objects of nature come into existence and ultimately into which all disappear.
The rishis also determined that there is a higher Self (having heard the sounds of the universe, what would you expect?). In Hinduism this higher Self is referred to as ‘Brahma’ and there is ample mythology surrounding how Brahma first manifested. It may be metaphor, as is the case in every sacred scripture, but even today Brahma is used to denote the universal Self within all of us. The interconnectedness of all that is, “Tat Tvam Asi,” is a fundamental concept of all Vedic disciplines: Yoga, Ayurveda, Vastu, Jyotish (astrology), dance, art and music.
Vastu actively considers how it is possible to bring Brahma to form. And, the first Vastu structures were Indian temples in which the intention was to realize and honor the universal Self on a physical plane. A lofty goal, to be sure, for what we today call architecture.
The rishis also figured out that everything that exists is animated, alive, due to vibrational qualities. Even today scientists are still playing around with whether water molecules have specific vibrations. Wouldn’t this also apply to buildings? They exist, don’t they? If that is the case, then why not create dwellings that are perfect in terms of universal vibrations and which manifest all the aspects of the universe, based on the Supreme Self, the rising and setting of the sun, the influence of the planets and the aspects of the various deities?
How Does Vastu Work?
Vastu suggests particular placement for the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) and the five elements (earth, air, water, fire and space) on a rectangular grid that has as its center, the divine Self, Brahma. We as humans are manifestations of the divine Self. A primary tool that illustrates this view and is used to implement Vastu is the Vastu Purusha Mandala (See diagram p.36), a Vedic architectural blueprint in which the element of space is its center. Purusha means the unseen spirit or energy. The rectangle is considered the perfect shape. Says Kathleen Cox, Vastu expert and author of “Vastu Living,” “if we ignore the important principles conveyed through the diagram, we compromise our well-being and show disrespect for all creation.”
Entire structures, living spaces, work spaces and even individual rooms are assigned on the basis of energy zones in the Vastu Purusha Mandala. Architect and Vastu expert Michael Borden says in his Vastuved Design Course, “according to Vastu Science, a network of energy lines covers the globe of the Earth: an energy grid. The lines are conduits by which the energy concentrated at the center of the vital Earth flows out and spreads over the Earth.”
The center of the Vastu Purusha Mandala is always left empty, creating what is called the Brahmasthan. The Brahmasthan is the energy heart and lung of the house, and it should always be left open and free of obstructing elements. It is also best if this portion is in direct contact with the Earth and climate permitting, open to the sky so that the energetic space surrounding the Earth is attracted into the house. That’s why we see courtyards in the center of Indian homes and Indian temple design; the original examples of Vastu Shastra, forbids the actual use of the central space.
The intermediate directions occupy the corners of the rectangle; for example, Northeast is the corner between North and East. Each intermediate direction has a corresponding element: Northwest and air; Northeast and water; Southwest and earth; Southeast and fire. Space, of course, is in the center.
Specific Vedic deities are also assigned to the cardinal and intermediate directions. For example, the north belongs to Soma, the lord of health and the southeast belongs to the deity, Agni. Agni symbolizes the sacred fire and so the southeast quadrant acts as a purifier.
Applying Vastu Shastra
Often we can simply intuit some of the principles of Vastu. In the morning, which direction do you face to greet the sun? The direction of light, enlightenment and inspiration. In yoga, surya namaskar (sun salutations) is a universal practice. It is believed that the best rays of the sun come just before dawn, an ideal time to practice yoga for maximum rejuvenation. Vastu directs that the rays of the sun should filter into a building during the morning when sunlight is neither too bright nor too hot.
However, by understanding Vastu’s basic principles of the directions and the elements on the Vastu Purusha Mandala, more beneficial changes will occur. Michael Mastro, Seattle based architect and expert on the art and science of Vastu Shastra, says, “The house is a blueprint of your life.” If there is a missing Southeast corner in the home, for example, Mastro can tell almost instantly that the person is having trouble with their energy level. Diabetes or other health problems that are related to pitta (one of the three doshas in Ayurveda) may be occurring. Similarly, Vastu says that if the Southwest corner is given over to a child’s bedroom, the child will rule the home. The Mastros had that exact problem years ago with their daughter. As Mastro studied Vastu at the encouragement of Maharaji Mahesh Yogi, he and his wife, Robin, took the Southwest corner as their bedroom when they moved into a new home and the problem was solved in about six months.
Vastu addresses other common considerations besides who has control over the home or workplace relative to their space assignment on the Vastu Purusha Mandala. Questions about finances, health, relationships and career are those most frequently asked, says Mastro, who designed the first Microsoft office building in Kirkland, Washington. He did this without ever revealing he was using principles of Vastu. Today, many of his clients are young Indian Microsoft millionaires looking for homes, and their family members may have mentioned they should find someone with knowledge of Vastu to pick the appropriate house that’s going to have a good influence on their life.
Each ‘symptom’ that a client wants addressed can be viewed as a deficiency in the flow of prana within the space related to improper use of the space per one or more of the cardinal directions. Just as in yoga, we practice asana and pranayama to enhance the free flow of prana, so it is in Vastu that energy can be unblocked, moved and shifted. Says Mastro, “Like in yoga, we’re reducing stress. Not in the body, but in the environment. Getting energy to move that is stuck, wherever it is stuck, will have a specific influence.”
Michael Borden, however, is quick to point out that some problems can’t be solved, because a client may not be willing or able to make the changes recommended. These changes may involve cutting down a tree that is blocking the free flow of energy into their home from the North or moving the swimming pool from the Southeast, the abode of the element of fire. And then there is the problem of improper orientation of the house when it was built. Borden looks at the floor plan in relationship to the cardinal points of the compass. If the building is twisted, he believes it’s almost impossible to apply the principles. He does, however, assess in a very informal way, how people feel about their home. There is often disharmony created by mental activity if residents are worried about something in the home.
But almost any environment can be transformed into positive energies if people can gain ease about their existing situations and learn to honor their house, as a living being, with respect, and gifting it and caring for it. “Look at Nelson Mandela in prison writing beautiful stuff and inspiring the world.” “But,” he adds, “If I can’t help them, they should enter into a relationship with the house.”
Cox, who studied traditional Vastu in India for many years, hopes to empower people with Vastu. She believes they should “take hold of the one last thing that they completely control – their personal space – and use the power of that space in a positive way so that it increases their well-being.”
Urban apartment dwellers can apply the Vastu Purusha Mandala to their spaces, including individual rooms, and if they can’t exchange the bedroom location with the kitchen to put the space into proper orientation, she helps them work with what is there. That means making sure the center of a room is empty space and possibly placing a carpet there as well as honoring nature, both in the home or workspace. Cox emphasizes choosing organic over synthetic, for example. She has also seen that the presence of plants in children’s rooms lowers their stress level and calms them down. The shape of the table we eat at or meet at influences our behavior, too; there is faster energy in circular patterns so if the table is round, then the meal or meeting will be quick, but if it is rectangular it will be slower and calmer.
The environment is all that is, and we are inseparable from it. According to the Vedas, all vibrations of the universe are innately in perfect order and harmony, and if disturbed, they will result in chaos and disharmony. Even when we practice asana, pranayama and meditation diligently through yoga practice and care for our bodies and minds according to Ayurveda, all still may not be well in our lives. It is possible that the missing piece of the puzzle might be Vastu Shastra.
For more information about Vastu Shastra, the following are recommended.
“Victory Through Vaastu” by Sri Sai Kaleshwara Swami, 2003. Detailed floor plans and case studies included.
“Vastu Living” by Kathleen Cox, published by Marlowe & Company, 2000. Kathleen Cox’s website is www.vastuliving.com.
Michael Borden offers Vastuved Design Course (virtual classes in Vastu Archnitecture) at www.vastuved.com.
Michael and Robin Mastro, co-authors of the book “Altars of Power and Grace,” Balanced Books, 2004, can be reached at
Julie Deife is the editor of LA YOGA. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lord Brahma needed the perfect architect to design a perfect master plan. Since nothing could ever rival the creation of the universe, Lord Brahma gave all knowledge of Vastu to the Hindu god Shiva, who then passed it on to Vishwakarma, who was known as the celestial architect. Vishwakarma is mentioned in the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The first written discussion of Vastu appears in the Stapatya Veda, a part of the Atharva Veda, the fourth and final Veda to be codified. The Manasara Series written by Rishi Manasar in the tenth century AD and the Mayamata, produced by the architect Maya, a respected acharya (highly respected teacher), are the two most important compilations of Vastu found to-date.
Source: Vastu Living, Kathleen Cox, 2000.
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