What I Observed About The Chinese Metaphysics Industry In 2020

Posted On Last updated Jun 6, 2020 | Published on Jun 3, 2020

For my overseas readers, the “Circuit Breaker” is the Singapore government’s initiative to impose movement restrictions during this delicate period. It’s similiar to what some other countries are doing albeit with a different name.

I don’t think many people know although I did mention it once a long time ago that I represented Singapore for chess (Goe/Weiqi) before. I’m someone who likes to think strategically. If you’ve always wondered why I still function as a single-man business, it’s because it’s deliberate. I’m also always asking myself what I can do next and if there’s something new I can learn. The time freed up recently has really given me back a lot of my me-time and I guess I can give myself a bit of credit for spending it constructively.

This has what I’ve been up to:

  • I did a major revamp for my website as you can tell. I’m left with a few low priority pages but I’m taking my time with that. If you’ve been visiting my website for some time, you should notice that the cleaner look comes with faster loading too. I hope it gives a better overall browsing experience. I’m hoping this pays off in the long run.
  • I finally got the time to go back to my books. They aren’t new books actually. I’m just re-reading a lot of things and gaining new insights. The Chinese saying goes wen gu zhi xin (温故知新) which means to “review the old and know the new”.

But I think most importantly, I’ve been thinking about my career as a practitioner and also the industry as a whole. I wrote an epically long post previously which I realized was a bit too long for the reader to enjoy, so I’ll reiterate a few things while also sharing some of my thoughts. I’m not in the mood for writing anything technical for now.

What Recent Months Have Revealed About The Chinese Metaphysics Industry

I mentioned in my Instagram Live interview with Home & Decor that there’s suddenly a lot of advertisements put up by practitioners. I’m sure everyone has noticed this. It’s interesting because people whom I’ve never seen advertise before are starting to advertise, and if there’s one thing true about people, is that there’s always a motive behind their actions.

What’s more interesting are the content in these advertisements. There are suddenly discounts on readings and courses, and a lot of creative packaging on these products.

There’s nothing wrong with this and I’m not trying to bash others for trying to make a living. Running promotions to get more revenue is something every business does. At the same time, the current situation helps to reiterate and put into perspective, some of the things I’ve been saying over the past few years.

What I want to address (again) is some of the systemic issues in the industry and it’s not targeting any practitioner. It’s more of my personal opinion on how I feel the industry can be better. I’m not saying my way is the right way, and I am targeting a different demographic of clients after all. So to each his own.

Let’s Run A Chinese Metaphysics Business In Our Heads

Most business will naturally want to maximise profit. It is also assumed that the revenue you bring is a measure of the value you’re adding to the world although “value” can be quite subjective. The practical thing society did was to measure the economy and society’s progress using the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Because if you buy something, then surely it means some value is created for you to want to part with your money and someone’s life is better because of that.

Of course, no system is perfect and there are externalities that you cannot measure so simply using just the price on goods. External costs can stem from the consumption of good and services too, perhaps impacting health or the environment which we will all eventually have to pay for someday.

Let’s take this framework and apply it to Chinese metaphysics, but I’ll talk about the externalities later. Thousands of dollars are being spent on lessons and courses and surely we would hope there is some value there and I’m sure there is. But let’s not forget that there are externalities and also something called “diminishing returns”.

Let’s assume a practitioner has three people under payroll and with a salary of $3,600 which is the median starting salary in Singapore. That’s already $10,800 you have to pay each month. It’s a lot of money to most of us. You can bring your whole family for a luxurious holiday with that kind of money.

To justify that $10,800 every month, I’d assume this would be what the business-owner would try to achieve:

  • Let’s assume that the business is aiming for a 30% margin. To justify the hiring of three staff of $10,800/month, you will need to bring back $14,040. Bear in mind you haven’t even paid yourself yet.
  • There are also things like rental, which we can assume is $1,500 per office.
  • Virtual offices are more economic which cost around $200 a month.
  • For simplicity, let’s just assume that total expenses would be around $13,000. This is already a conservative estimate.

We can all agree that most people start businesses to secure their own financial freedom and they aim for a more comfortable life than what the corporate world can give them.

Let’s imagine that our hypothetical practitioner here wants to earn $10,000/month to enjoy an above-average standard of living, so he or she has to churn out $23,000 in revenue each month. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of this practitioner. Here comes the crux of what I’m trying to bring across.

In the context of the Chinese metaphysics industry, if you had a choice, would you:

  • Practitioner A: Make sure your expenses are kept at $13,000 and aim for the $23,000 revenue, or
  • Practitioner B: Overheads are at $60,000 and try to earn a $70,000 revenue

At the end of the day, you still end up with $10,000 profit.

Which sounds better? I’m sure most people would choose to be Practitioner A. The natural assumption here is that Practitioner B has a larger company and bigger reach, hence the higher costs and revenue. Personally, I would choose to be Practitioner A anytime and this has been a conscious choice right from the start. I think many people aren’t aware that overheads don’t come down so easily, but revenue does and the position Practitioner B is in is the reason why a lot of businesses close down the moment a bad year hits.

There’s hardly any good reason why someone would choose to be Practitioner B, because why would I want to make myself so tired by burdening myself with overheads and the additional stress? Just for the glory of running a big company? Yes, both scenarios give a $10,000 profit but you’re assuming revenue will always stay the same.

I don’t need a convention centre to reach people so I can ‘change their lives’ by sharing something on stage. My blog is here and it is free. I hope everyone can finally understand why I choose to keep my practice small and lean. If I were Tony Robbins, maybe I’ll do it that way. But I’m not. I’m a Chinese metaphysics practitioner who has to slap reality into people every once in a while.

If you read through my post on what the definition of a good life is, a lot of people actually end up being burdened by their businesses. It’s not actually making their lives better. The last thing I want as a business person and especially as a practitioner is to feel like what I’m doing is a burden and a trap. If I’m not handling my own life correctly, there is no way I’ll have anything valuable to add to my clients.

Some businesses inevitably end up being burdens, so don’t assume everyone with a business or running a big company will always have a good life. The laws of nature are impartial and calamity can exist in different forms. What most of us are seeing is only on the surface. The prime example right now would be Hyflux which fell from grace for reasons I can’t comprehend. What was once heralded as the epitome of the Singaporean dream is now a national disgrace.

Why You’re Seeing More Advertisements on BaZi & Chinese Metaphysics Courses

The reason why you’re seeing more advertisements by practitioners is very simple. Everyone is burning cash – especially the commercialized ones who are scaled their business and are laden with overheads.

The buzzword in business these days is “scale”, especially when you are in a start-up. A lot of business people who buy into this hype scale their businesses to a point they are over-leveraged. Yes, you get more revenue and that’s wonderful, but they forget about costs and the difficulties it brings, especially when you are unprepared. To me, this isn’t really scaling. You’re just running your business extremely inefficiently.

It’s not just about business, but your corporate life too. You will be put in positions where you have to choose between 1) Working 1x effort and getting 2x returns or 2) Working 10x effort to get 3x return. This is the reason why someone ends up getting promoted even when the BaZi chart clearly states it’s going to be a bad year. Does a promotion really mean a better life? Well, it depends on the kind of company you’re in and the kind of boss you have. Most people will be tempted by the 3x return but they are not prepared for the 10x effort required.

Imagine you are Practitioner B above with $60,000 worth of overheads. Practitioner A has $13,000 worth of overheads. But right now, both of you experience a 70% drop in revenue. Bear in mind both practitioners are profiting and saving at the same rate of $10,000 a month. Who do you think will be pulling out his/her hair?

The Chinese metaphysics industry has taken a serious hit too, so everyone’s assumption that business goes up during a period of uncertainty is definitely wrong. The month of May has been the slowest month ever for me which is why I even had the time to revamp my website. I will be transparent with everyone and share that volume-wise, it has dropped by two-thirds and I’m already one of the higher ranking websites, so can you imagine the stress the others are having?

A lot of commercialized practitioners are in an awkward position because:

  • You cannot retrench your team just like that because the pandemic situation will stop someday and you’ll need them again but you don’t know when this will happen.
  • You are contract bound by some of your physical spaces and overheads and these aren’t giving you a return on your investment during this period.

These are the ones that you see advertising a lot because costs need to be covered, but they will say they want to help you thrive during a period like this when you should actually be saving money.

Going back to the example above, the next big question is what needs to be sacrificed in order for Practitioner B to squeeze out $70,000 from the market? There are externalities too, especially when you are trying to sell the same thing again and again, to the same people.

Please do not be naive and think that the courses out there are enough. Mine included. No practitioner launches a course with the intent to turn you into another practitioner and lose out a piece of the pie. Those who really want to groom another practitioner will do it for free because he or she really wants someone to inherit the knowledge.

Scaling Chinese Metaphysics With ‘Promises’

This is really just a personal opinion, but I really feel that the Chinese metaphysics industry isn’t something meant to be scaled. Maybe a bit, but not too much, and for goodness sake please do it the right way too.

The best way to scale this business is really to just offer lessons and a curriculum for laypeople. You can target a lot of people at one go and finish what you need to do with one fell swoop.

I do it too actually, which is why I have an online school and I did think about running in-person lessons. But I made it a point to say that if anyone learns from me, it’s really just for your own curiosity and self-enrichment. It’s purely technical and no promises of changing your life. It is also not to turn you into a practitioner and I will never, ever endorse anyone or hand out certificates. Those pieces of papers are meaningless.

You will see that most commercialized practitioners focus on teaching instead of honing their craft because, in all honesty, it is really the best way to earn with the least amount of effort. Focusing on one client after another is actually very tiring.

If you were to ask me whether Chinese metaphysics benefits or harms more people these days, I’ll say it’s harming more people. It’s come to a point where Chinese metaphysics has become very misleading. It’s as though humans are suddenly placed above the Heavens and we get to call the shots instead.

Studying Chinese metaphysics helps you adapt to the Heavens, but it definitely does not place you above it. The ramifications here are your economic “externalities”.

Where The Value Of Chinese Metaphysics Is Lost

I do have students of my own, and I always tell them that if you truly are interested in Chinese metaphysics, then please go and read up on Chinese history and how everything began. Those are things that you need not go through a practitioner to learn.

Chinese metaphysics sells best when you package it as a short-cut. But the eternal question is still “Is this the right way of selling it?” What is gained and what it lost as a result of this?

People take lessons because it makes the initial steps easier, and if they want to exchange money for other people’s time, that’s fine. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about teaching Chinese metaphysics. It only starts to become wrong when what’s being taught starts to become a bit twisted which is exactly what is happening now.

Let me just simplify what I wish to say:

  • Teaching the technicals and how BaZi, Zi Wei Dou Shu or Qi Men Dun Jia charts are deciphered is done. That’s perfectly fine.
  • Teaching the core fundamentals and history, and helping the student appreciate Chinese history and philosophy. Even better.
  • But selling Chinese metaphysics and saying it will make your wishes come true. That’s something I’m against.

I’ve had a lot of clients who took BaZi lessons and whatnot before and some of them have really challenging charts. Some even tried to self-study. Has their life changed? No, it hasn’t. I’ve witnessed many people learning BaZi and finding peculiar ways to convince themselves that their charts are good or their turning point is just around the corner, only to have me lay down the hammer and tell them otherwise. This is the risk when you go into learning BaZi but yet, lack the resolve to follow through and go deep into it. Most people are only studying it to satisfy their own bias.

It is not the mere act of studying BaZi or Chinese metaphysics that changes you or makes your life better. It’s something else, and something more.

There Is No Need To Spin Chinese Metaphysics A Hundred Different Ways

When you study Chinese metaphysics, you are studying nature’s laws. There will come a point where you really run out of things to teach and it just becomes about practicing and getting experience although few people get there.

Every now and then, you’ll be presented with yet another BaZi course, or yet another Zi Wei Dou Shu, Qi Men Dun Jia course. In my opinion, these plethora of different courses are unnecessary and it’s really just a marketing gimmick.

The reason is extremely simple. If you know how to read a chart, it just means you know how to read it. Because you went into theory and history. There is no need to take 10 different versions on “How To Read A BaZi Chart?” or different ways to do a Qi Men Dun Jia forecast. If you know how to do it, you simply know how to do it. If your fundamentals are strong, you can apply it anytime you want and it really doesn’t matter if the economy is booming or crashing. The laws of Chinese metaphysics aren’t going to change.

The only reason why there’s always some new version of a course is because of what I’ve already explained. There are overheads businesses need to take care of. If someone wants to pay twice for the same product, most businesses wouldn’t say “no”.

You won’t believe the amount of nonsense pseudo-practitioners are spinning for the sake of dumbing the material down so that it can sell. For example, I recently heard of the following:

  • If a particular day’s elements strengthen your Daymaster, it’s a good day to use it for healing. So if I’m an Earth Daymaster, a Fire day is supposed to be good for my health.
  • Your “BaZi Noblemen” determined by the element that gives birth to your Daymaster.

These are complete, utter rubbish with absolutely no basis and these are from people who claim they want to help you during a time of crisis by getting you to part with your money just to teach you the wrong thing.

At The End Of The Day, What Is Your Intent?

I know this is very, very cliche. The whole saying about what your intention and where your starting point matters is true. I can appreciate it not just because of the line of work I’m in, but also because I’m speaking from experience. It’s like asking yourself if you would trust a doctor if his/her only motivation is money. I’m very sure you won’t.

A lot of prospective students come to me saying they wish to learn Chinese metaphysics for various reasons. For example, some say they wish to learn so that they can help someone, but the truth is that they can’t even help themselves. It’s harsh but it’s true. Most of the time, it’s also because they’re just looking for another career option.

This might may come across the wrong way, but please don’t misinterpret me. Helping someone needs to be done correctly too. There are people who want to help others as a means to get validation and attention – it is actually for themselves. To put it very simply: Just imagine getting a reading from someone who has only studied it for a few months from some watered-down course and he or she is all excited about it. This person claims he/she wants to help you, but ends up giving you a wrong reading that causes you to panic. Is that really helping someone? There is no point helping someone when you do it wrongly and this applies for both intent and execution. This is not an opinion of mine that I came up with. If you really went to read “Liao Fan’s Four Lessons”, that book on how to change your life explores this topic too.

Yes, the intent matters, but the execution matters too. That is your Yin and Yang balance right there. I often tell my friends and clients that having the right intent is great, but if they aren’t ready to execute it properly, then just sit still first and don’t cause more trouble.

Most people already get the intent wrong, so there’s no need to even talk about execution because Chinese metaphysics, in my opinion, is not something you’re going to be good at if your intent is wrong. I know Chinese metaphysics is very appealing and it’s like some magical tool that can solve a lot of problems, but please do not be blinded by that appeal.

Again, what is your intent? Let me do a quick experiment:

Does the above image excite you? Does it make you want to find out more? Would you be interested in the person who developed it and the history behind it? Why is there an Early Heaven Bagua and a Later Heaven Bagua?

If you find it a chore, then perhaps you need to ask yourself why you wish to learn this ancient art. The above is where everything started and I’m not just talking about Chinese metaphysics itself. The above diagram is the Chinese sages’ way of explaining how reality exists and unfolds. It has a law behind it. I don’t understand why anyone would want to learn something but choose to ignore the origins and history.

Another example would be exploring the saying 「太极生两仪,两仪生四象,四象生八卦」。In English, the primordial state is Tai Ji, which splits into the Two Statuses, Four Images and then the Eight Trigrams. This is Chinese cosmology – the origin and evolution of the universe. What’s so special about the numbers two, four, and eight? And why did the Eight Trigrams eventually evolve into the Sixty-Four Hexagrams? If this doesn’t fascinate you, then do you know there are 64 codons in the genetic code? Is the number 64 a coincidence or did the Chinese sages really find something? All these knowledge are free.

Whatever you see in the above image, the Chinese sages will explain it to you in very logical ways and these are conclusions formed from hundreds of years of observation by mythical, demi-god like figures in Chinese history. How many students of Chinese metaphysics even know who Fu Xi (伏羲) is? These images and numbers are not developed out of some fleeting thought or emotion.

What’s most mind-boggling aren’t these images, but the fact that people are willing to pay thousands to attend the same course that was spun another way. All these knowledge are free. But most won’t bother going into them because Chinese metaphysics is nothing but some tool to satisfy desires.

There is a reason why I always say not everyone has the affinity to benefit from Chinese metaphysics. And when I say “benefit”, it’s really not about making more money and having your desires met. “Benefit” means a lot more other things, but I’ll leave it to everyone’s own interpretation.

What I say here doesn’t just apply to Chinese metaphysics. It’s everything else. If you wish to get into business. Why? If you want a relationship. Why? If you cannot find good, meaningful answers to these, then you are not ready.

Why Study Chinese Metaphysics At All Then?

Good question, but for now, I’ll response with “I don’t know. You tell me.” Because if I start talking about this now, this is going to be another 10,000 word blog post and I wish to spare everyone the pain.

I think a lot of my other blog posts explore this question. You might be able to derive as an answer from there. Ultimately, you only have yourself to answer to. Maybe Heavens too. You don’t need to justify it to anyone.

I just hope that if you do decide to study it, it is for a good reason motivated by a good and pure intent. Not because your previous businesses failed and you need to start another easy business; not because you wish to feel important or outshine others; and definitely not because you want short-cuts to your life.

A lot of people doubt me when they know about my age, although it’s a lot better now over the years. Some still do, especially the older generation. When I say I read a lot and go into the history of Chinese metaphysics, I really do. I don’t talk about it much because I don’t see a need to try so hard to convince people. Everyone should be able to discern and think for themselves and, hopefully, see what I’m trying to do to make the industry better.

I do have a few students, and I always tell them to study Chinese metaphysics for itself. If you can do that, you will definitely become good at it someday. Your life gets better not because you can predict what’s going to happen. It’s because you understand what life itself is. But what I can tell everyone as a practitioner is that such students or people are rare because the motivation almost always comes from wanting desires to be met or some other egotistical reason.

I completely understand the initial draw and novelty of Chinese metaphysics. It can be really fun, and yes, it can even give you an edge over others. There is a sense of power you have over someone if you know their future better than they know theirs. But if this is what is motivating you, then please drop the idea of learning Chinese metaphysics because you’ll end up nowhere.

Also, I do wonder what is the intent of the commercialized practitioners who are indirectly encouraging and perpetuating this unhealthy trend. I guess the current situation is a reminder from the universe to perhaps consider taking another approach. Please don’t mind me speaking my mind, but to hear some of them saying they are offering discounts and coming up with special courses to help you cope and thrive in the current situation is a bit of a put off for me. They really are just trying not to sink.

In the end, many people are going to come out of these courses and nothing about their lives will change. I have yet to see a legendary figure being born from such courses. You will still be bounded by your natal chart whether you like it or not.

It’s not that I’m trying to be a difficult person and want to step on others when times are difficult. It’s just something I feel is systematically wrong in this industry and I wish to point it out.

At the end of the day, please believe me when I say it’s not about competition. If I wanted money, I would not be writing all this and I’ll just sell metaphysics the same way. My blog, my views, my opinions – they are mine and how I perceive my reality. It might be right, it might be wrong. It doesn’t matter. I will only say I won’t be shy about sharing my views, especially to my readers and prospective clients. I really do not envy the practitioners who are seemingly bigger, more famous or whatever and I do not aspire to be like them. They may be practitioners too, but the realities they and I function in are fundamentally different. The people they are targeting are not the ones I will want to entertain, and similarly, the people I’m targeting are the ones they don’t spend time on.

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Written by Sean Chan

Sean Chan is Asia's leading Chinese metaphysics consultant specializing in BaZi, Zi Wei Dou Shu, Qi Men Dun Jia, and Feng Shui. A thought-leader in the field, Sean's been featured on Channel NewsAsia, The New York Times Style Magazine and other local media. He blogs regularly about various topics surrounding Chinese metaphysics and aims to educate the public about the field.

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