The Enneagram is a system that offers powerful insights about our “personality types,” but I think we sometimes forget its transformational potential. The journey along our spiritual paths is automatically enhanced when we recognize both the self-fulfilling and self-defeating aspects of the illusory masks we call “personality.” However, we continue to remain unfulfilled to the degree that we abide by our nine conditional rules of habit: “I must…
…correct what is wrong.”
…take care of others’ needs.”
…achieve and get results.”
…regret what is missing in my life.”
…beware of potential problems/threats.”
…be positive, upbeat, look to the future.”
…be in control.”
…respond to others’ ideas and expectations.”
Each of these nine frames of reference shows up in a consistent set of behaviors or fixations which are motivated by a driving force or passion. In learning about our fixations most of us come to understand that none of us is totally separate from the other. Ones, for example, are identified by their passion for anger and their fixation on perfectionism (“I must correct what is wrong”). But who among us does not struggle with anger in some form, or have some perfectionistic behaviors? I believe we each can benefit from the lessons of the remaining eight.
I have become intrigued with the parallels between the Enneagram paths of transformation and the path of satori (liberation) in the Buddhist tradition. Both recommend–
- letting go of reliance on logic alone in the intuitive search for a new viewpoint,
- realizing that the world is not as we have known it to be, because our ordinary knowing has been conditioned by life circumstances,
- releasing our habitual behaviors and beliefs and coming to know that everything in the world is relative, conditioned, and impermanent.
In the Buddhist tradition, practitioners are advised to work on the paramitas (perfections) which must be cultivated in pursuit of satori. I am by no means an expert on Buddhism, but it appears to me that many of these qualities are also needed to fulfill the transformational Enneagram paths. Although all the paramitas are considered essential in our progress as human beings, there are some which bear an uncanny resemblance to virtues associated with particular Enneagram types.
I have relied on the translations of John Snelling in The Buddhist Handbook (with Pali equivalents, from the Theravada school, pp. 68-69): Dana–generosity, sila–morality, khanti–patience, viriya–energy, nekkhamma–renunciation, sacca–truthfulness, adhitthana–determination, metta–loving-kindness, upekkha–equanimity, and panna–wisdom.
This is not intended to be a comparison between the two systems in order to demonstrate sameness–and thereby seeking legitimacy. It is instead an invitation to use the wisdom contained in other systems to help bolster our ability to effect transformation, rather than merely enriching our intellect. For example, the key noble quality of determination or commitment to spiritual practice seems basic to Enneagram transformation. Below are nine other parallels I have drawn:
- The One is impassioned by anger and fixated on perfectionism–a path to satori is patience, the willingness to accept conditions that do not conform to one’s ideal.
- Twos have the passion of pride and are fixated on entitlement (when fixated, their caring for others is conditional)–a path to satori is loving-kindness, which is true compassion without expectation.
- The passion of the Three is vanity, their fixation is deception (the need to always see oneself and be seen as successful)–truthfulness, speaking from the essential self and not through personality needs, is a way to satori.
- Fours live with the passion of envy and the fixation of dissatisfaction–satori here can be sought through equanimity; seeing that all events are intrinsically neutral, that it is a desire that grades things as “good” or “bad.”
- Fives have the passion of hoarding, with a fixation on detachment (they seek information but keep themselves from emotional connection)–they can seek satori through generosity, giving freely of oneself so that energy flows in the other direction.
- For Sixes, fear is the passion (experienced as anxiety or hyper- vigilance), an accusation the fixation–satori becomes possible with morality; recognizing one’s own contribution to situations instead of playing “victim,” living with integrity.
- Sevens are driven by the passion of gluttony, with enthusiasm as a fixation (having fun and “the good life”)–a path to satori is the well-known one of renunciation, seeking moderation and letting go of materialism.
- The Eight fixation on power and control stems from the passion of excess—wisdom is a way to satori; a shift to more altruistic and benign modes of operating, a focus on service to the world.
- Indolence is the Nine’s passion; the fixation is self-forgetting (resulting from their other-directedness)–energy is a way to satori for Nines; the willingness to stay focused on their own purpose, without distraction.