With pens poised above notebooks, tape recorders and home video cameras rolling, the rapt audience seemed determined not to let a pearl of wisdom drop.
After the lecture Sunday at an Arcadia school auditorium, a human wave surged upon the master, parents thrusting children forward to be blessed, followers hoping merely to grasp his hands, businessmen seeking advice for success.
Lin Yun, one of the country’s most sought-after practitioners of feng shui , an ancient Chinese art of divining how the environment affects prosperity and happiness in home or business, seemed almost abashed by the adulation.
Founder of what he believes is the only Tibetan Tantric Buddhist temple in the West, the Beijing-born Lin has traveled worldwide to lecture on his mystical practice.
“I trust him,” 36-year-old Julia Wang of Arcadia said simply. Wang met Lin when she was a young woman in Taiwan. “Everything he tells me works.” Upon his recommendation, she has planted a tree in her yard to draw energy from the earth and has hung a bamboo flute in her Arcadia home; bamboo traditionally is a symbol of peace and safety for the Chinese.
She also believes he can predict the future.
“Once he told me I looked like a bride--I didn’t even have a boyfriend--and a month later I met my husband,” she said.
Wang had arrived before the rest of the crowd to secure a front-row seat at the 1st Avenue Junior High School auditorium. Close to 400 people jammed into the auditorium to hear Lin speak, even filling the aisles with folding chairs.
Attired simply in a black Chinese suit, a chain of crystal prayer beads draped around his neck, the cheery 55-year-old teacher described the elements that distinguish his brand of feng shui from thousands of others:
The first room seen as you enter your home will affect your character, he warned. His Mandarin was translated into English for the handful of non-Chinese in the audience.
Armed with a pointer and slides, he explained that if the bedroom is the closest to the home’s entrance, you will be lazy and never progress academically or in your career. The opposite is true if you see the study first.
Unlike traditional feng shui practitioners, Lin downplays the importance of the direction a home is facing. Instead, he focuses on the history of the previous property owners and omens such as a funeral procession passing when the buyer moves in or light bulbs blowing out on the first day.
The audience ranged from people who were looking for help in business to those who considered Lin almost godlike.
Pasadena real estate agent Phyllis Goddard was taking notes. She first encountered feng shui eight years ago when a couple rejected a home because of an unlucky number of stairs. Goddard admits she has felt moments of frustration trying to understand the rationale for the practice but uses what she knows in her business.
She doesn’t show homes to Chinese clients anymore where the back yard can be seen through the front door “because they feel uncomfortable.” She was at the school to learn more.
Many in the audience, like Angela Hsu of Laguna Hills, while not completely understanding the logic underlying feng shui, prefer not to chance bringing bad luck upon themselves by violating the rules.
Hsu, 42, said she will observe Lin’s words “for safety’s sake.”
Others consider him an authority on practically every topic and pressed red packets of cash, or hung bao, into his hands. Some passed slips of paper with questions that he answered after the lecture:
Question: The rocks in my fish tank are turning green. What does that mean?
Answer: That is good, as green is the sign of life.
Q: Is it all right if I help a friend in the chanting for a dead relative?
A: That is fine, just remember to visualize his soul leaving the body peacefully and happily.
Returning the money, Lin explained he would hold on only to the empty hung bao for good luck. Lin does not charge for consultations or public speeches, but his temple in Berkeley will receive at least $1,000 in donations for the Sunday appearance, said Min Mey Chang, who organized the lecture sponsored by the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce.
A mother nudged her teen-age son in front of Lin for a blessing, saying over and over again that he was a good boy. Closing his eyes and placing his hands on the youth’s head, the master softly recited a chant, “to open (the youth’s mind) to receive wisdom,” an aide explained.
Some believe the bubbly Lin is a buddhisattiva, a being emanating love and compassion who has attained a level of enlightenment between common human understanding and the possession of supreme knowledge.
Catherine Woo, professor of Oriental languages and literature at San Diego State University, respects him as a scholar.
“He’s a Renaissance man,” she said, pointing out that besides being an accomplished poet and calligrapher, Lin is recognized in academic circles for his knowledge of Chinese classical literature and philosophy. He received his formal education in Taiwan, where he completed a law degree.
“The Western world is just slowly discovering him,” she said. “In the Orient you cannot get close to him. Everywhere he goes the lecture room is packed and people are happy to see him.”
Now teaching feng shui at UC Berkeley, Lin has been a guest lecturer in Chinese classics at Stanford University. He has also been invited to conventions of interior designers seeking to understand their Chinese clientele.
About 80 to 100 Los Angeles-area residents invite him to conduct workshops twice a year.
Extra-Human Powers Denied
As he sat down for an interview after his lecture, about 15 followers settled around him. Tape recorders were whipped out, and the group listened intently from nearby couches and on the floor.
“He can see what others can’t see” when practicing feng shui , a disciple declared.
But the object of this awe protested, saying he possesses no extra-human powers, suggesting instead that he has merely cultivated innate abilities that most people leave dormant. He pointed out that feng shui also involves common sense and encompasses numerous disciplines, including physiology, interior design, psychology and environmental engineering.
Recalling his unorthodox introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, he described how he would throw rocks at a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing as a 7-year-old. The lama always managed to catch him.
“Since the lama couldn’t beat me--he was a religious man--he made me learn the chants for penance,” Lin said laughing. He continued his philosophical studies with another lama when he moved to Taiwan in his late teens, and in 1980 he established the Yun Lin Temple as a teaching base.
Lin, who said he often doesn’t get to bed until 4 or 5 in the morning because admirers are so reluctant to leave him, was hardly allowed to eat at a dinner attended by about 200 later Sunday evening.
He was showered with questions by guests such as the young couple starting a real estate venture in Rosemead who sketched their office plans on a napkin for his approval.
As he rose from the table, a crowd surrounded him for blessing, including a weeping woman confused by marital strife and another suffering from tension headaches. Lin believes he can channel positive energy or qi to others.
‘That Is Satisfaction’
“If someone’s qi is down, to give him qi and see that person revive and again have confidence in himself, to me that is satisfaction,” he said. Appearing exhausted at times, Lin once turned to an aide and asked playfully: “Why don’t you save me? I have no more qi left for myself.”
Henry Hames, 58, a furniture salesman from Montebello, was one of about 10 who knelt before Lin to receive qi. A Catholic, Hames said he felt “emanations from his body, like when you get an electric shock” when Lin touched his head.
Hames, who has known Lin for three years, said “he gives me inner strength to be successful not only in business but in life.”