By Sherri Silverman., Ph.D.
Vastu is a system of architecture, design, and sacred space. It is both architecture and the art of how to honor and fill the space enclosed within that form. Vastu's purpose is to align our architectural spaces with the beneficial effects of subtle laws of nature and earth and cosmic energies. Vastu works with prana, or universal life energy, to enhance the freshness, vitality, and life-supporting qualities of our environment. Vastu is the yoga of design, which enables us to live lives in harmony, balance and wholeness. Like meditation and yoga, Vastu is a part of our planetary heritage: it is universal and belongs to all of us.
Vastu design requires beauty, comfort and practicality; the use of natural materials; and attunement with nature through the honoring of the five elements and the nine directions. It contains guidelines for an extraordinarily wide range of arts and practical design, including the creation of vehicles, gardens, and dance. The Sanskrit word "Vastu" is translated as "energy," "the space that fills that form or dwelling," and "substance that exists eternally." "Vaastu" refers to the humanly built forms that are filled with that space energy. Vastu views a building as a living entity that harmoniously supports our lives. It has the potential to revolutionize lives by creating buildings that, as living organisms, fully support our health, growth, and happiness instead of being the cause of many of our problems, as we see with today's "sick buildings."
Vastu creates homes in which prana (subtle, sparkly, universal life energy, what in the Chinese system is called ch'i) flows freely and there are no structural elements that predispose us to illness or problems in life. Even existing health problems ease up and can clear from being in buildings constructed according to true Vastu. There are aspects of Vastu that can be applied to rectify energetic imbalances in existing homes, although building a new house according to Vastu principles produces a much more powerfully nourishing environment.
The main blueprint for Vastu homes is the Vastu Purusha Mandala, a square or rectangular grid pattern with a minimum of nine sections representing the nine directions of north, south, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, and the center. Each direction has its particular properties which, when properly honored, facilitate transforming any space into one that feels and looks better, that is more supportive of fulfilling our desires for peace, prosperity, health, and happiness. The Vastu Purusha Mandala represents the harmonious union of cosmic energies and earth energies, of masculine and feminine divine elements. This creates a lively, balanced wholeness.
Land is the foundation of a building and thus has a profound effect on the energy that will be embodied in the home or business contained in the property. There are specific guidelines for what it's next to (roads and other buildings), what its shape is, where the trees or any water on the property are. One traditional test involves digging a hole in the land and then refilling it with the same soil. If the soil fills up the hole or overflows, it is a sign of abundance. If the soil does not fill up the hole, consider looking elsewhere for a home site.
Vastu guidelines can also be used to rectify and enhance already constructed buildings. Vastu takes into consideration eight directions and the centermost point from which energy and prana pour forth: the four cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west; the intermediate directions of northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest; and the center. Something similar can be seen in other traditions, such as Navajo sandpainting and Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas. Each of these nine directions is important and has specific elements associated with it. Proper orientation with the cardinal directions aligns the built space with the energy grid of the earth and brings great harmonious benefit.
Vastu recognizes five elements of creation that, when honored and balanced, enhance the flow of prana within a home or other building. Honoring nature is always a sacred acknowledgement. It's clear that respect and care of our natural environment is a sacred contract - we have all seen the result of ignoring this. The five elements in the Vedic system are space, air, fire, water, and earth. Space is the subtlest of the five elements; earth is the most dense. It is traditionally understood from Taitiriya Upanishad that each element emerges in turn from the previous, less dense element, which is how material form develops out of the unmanifest space.
Each of these five basic elements is energetically associated with a particular direction.
These more concentrated, specialized energies are predominant in specific different sectors of the Vastu Purusha Mandala. By honoring the various elements and their primal energies, greater harmony and ease in life is achieved.
EARTH: bhumi or prithivi
The earth element is associated with the southwest direction, the best choice for the location for the master bedroom. Earth is a solid, dense, and grounded element in its effect. We all need a physical basis or foundation to survive in this world. Plants, trees, soil, rocks, and mountains represent the earth element.
Northeast is the direction where the energy waves of water element collect. This makes it the best placement for indoor and outdoor water features: swimming pools, fountains, ponds, waterfalls, and aquariums. Water is frequently used as a metaphor for pure consciousness in the Vedic tradition.
The fire element is predominant in the southeast, so that is the best placement for kitchens, fireplaces, computers, and other electrical equipment. Digestion in the body and transformation are also the realm of Agni. To add and honor the element of fire, light fires! Enjoy candles or a fireplace, indoors or outdoors, in the southeast.
The air element is most lively in the northwest, so put your fans, wind streamers, mobiles, wind chimes, and air purifiers here. The concept of movement in general is associated with this element and its direction. To reap the benefits of the prana in the air, practice pranayama breathing techniques, preferably with windows open enough to bring fresh air into the room.
This element is directly linked to sound and silence. Akasha is the expansiveness in the center of the architectural form and in the center of each room. The center of the building and each room is called the Brahmastan; honor it in each area by keeping it clean and open. Don't put heavy objects here.
Go by all the rules but neglect to create a beautiful building, and it is not fully Vastu; aesthetics must be satisfied as well. Without the element of beauty, the structure is not complete. This is evident in the Vastu texts that describe the creation of the world. Here is an apt excerpt from the Shilpa Vidya Rahasyopanisad: "The space became decorated and beautified with stars and other luminous bodies. The Earth also became studded and decorated with mountains, forests, trees and so forth." Vastu encourages you to imitate Nature and divine Creation by beautifying your own spaces.
- Silverman, Sherri. Vastu: Transcendental Home Design in Harmony with Nature. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2007.