June 3, 2016

Buddhist Enneagram

This site proposes a Buddhist Enneagram. As with so many other systems, the Buddha's teachings -- from various traditions -- can be arranged on the Enneagram. Doing so can generate new insight.

This page introduces the Enneagram and offers a summary of the Buddhist Enneagram. The website is organized as a clearinghouse on particular topics in individual posts ("EnneaBits"). The EnneaBits move through the Buddhist Enneagram teachings sequentially. Click on the first post -- "A: Buddhist Law of Three" -- and proceed from there.

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Enneagram Background

The Enneagram is an ancient wisdom technology. Its origin is unknown. It is thought to date back as far as Pythagorus and his esoteric school's emphasis on the tetractys. The tetractys is a triangular figure of ten points in four rows, and it is associated with planetary motions and music. This article further explores these themes.

Pythagoras_with_bells  tetractys     rosetta     768px-Religious_symbols-4x4.svg

The Enneagram is a kind of wisdom Rosetta Stone. Onto this powerful symbol can be mapped many different systems and sets of teachings. It can be used for organizing and translating teachings across traditions.

Today, the Enneagram is most popularly know as a highly effective personality typing system. From a Buddhist perspective, the Enneagram is a very precise map of our karmic patterns. It is a terrific tool, useful in combination with any spiritual practice.

The Personality Enneagram is used for counseling and coaching individuals, relationships, and business to cultivate greater awareness, communication, productivity, and compassion. Click here for Enneagram Life Coaching.

Overview of Buddhist Law of Three

The Enneagram's Law of Three is the engine generating the nine points and ennea-types. It is represented by the Enneagram's inner triangle connecting the 3 - 6 - 9 points. The Law of Three states that everything -- all phenomena -- involves three forces: affirming-active (Point 3), denying-receptive (Point 6) & neutralizing-reconciling (Point 9). 

The Buddha's Second Noble Truth is that there is a cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is a threefold movement of passion (greed), aggression (hatred) & delusion (ignorance).

Passion is moving towards something, expanding or enacting it, seeking to acquire it. Passion is the force of identifying with something by making it ME.

Aggression is moving away from something, resisting or analyzing or challenging it. Aggression is the force of dis-identifying with something by making it NOT ME (which makes an implicit hidden ME by negation).

Delusion is forgetting or going to sleep to the dualistic tension moving toward / moving away, acquiring / resisting. Delusion is the force of ignoring the problem of ME / NOT ME -- "to be or not to be" -- by escaping into dullness and pleasurable, comfortable sensate experience.

Buddhist Personality Enneagram

The Enneagram's Law of Three and the Buddha's Second Noble Truth map onto each other:  passion (Point 3, heart center) - aggression (Point 6, head center) - delusion (Point 9, body center). This mapping creates a Buddhist Law of Three.

The heart center (feelings & identity) seeks to acquire something to "be something" and it is closely related to identity.

The head center (wisdom & guidance) seeks to resist what arises by stepping back and reflecting on it as something that is "not me" and it is closely related to figuring out how things work causally.

The body center (vitality & will) reconciles this struggle by dampening down or numbing out, moving into sensuality, comfort and equilibrium. 

Each of the three centers and its core negative emotion are associated with one of the three forces:  active-passion (Heart - longing to acquire, to be something meaningful - sadness), receptive-aggressive (Head - stepping back to reflect, question, plan - fear) & reconciling-delusion (Body - finding balance, fairness, comfort - anger).

The forces also generate the nine ennea-points within the three centers, as indicated in the below chart. This threefold pattern and others likes it are seen throughout the Enneagram.

Overview of Buddhist Process Enneagram

The threefold path to liberation (virtue, concentration, wisdom), which groups the Buddha's Eightfold Path of the Fourth Noble Truth into three divisions, maps onto the inner triangle of the Process Enneagram (integration-9, conscious labor-3, intentional suffering-6). The result is a Buddhist Process Enneagram.

Conscious Labor at Point 3 relates to harmonizing body-heart-mind through the non-effort effort of relaxation and concentration. The running of the type pattern is dis-identified with through any number of spiritual or psychological practices acting a kind of circuit breaker. Calm concentration using a single object of meditation -- the breath being the prime example -- temporarily interrupts and suspends the running of karmic patterns (it is itself a new karmic pattern) and harmonizes attention.

Intentional Suffering
at Point 6 relates to relinquishment of the type pattern altogether by staying present with rising sensations, feelings, and thoughts no matter how difficult or unsatisfying. It is facing existential fear in whatever form that fear takes in the face of a deep recognition of impermanence and emptiness. Wisdom arises with insight into the three characteristics of phenomena taught by the Buddha: impermanence, suffering, not-self.

at Point 9 relates to both the beginning and end of the spiritual journey. In the beginning is comparatively undifferentiated presence, a kind of blanket unity representing some degree of fundamental ignorance. Virtue practice, including ethics, renunciation, & restraint, provides a 'gross level' foundation for moving into subtle concentration practices, gathering and integrating energy and intention. This relates to Point 9 moving into Point 3. At the end is a relatively more differentiated presence.

Awakening is awakening to the process -- freedom from suffering born in proportion to surrender to the process -- but the process itself is infinite, as reality moves infinitely toward greater differentiation within unity. After insight comes compassionate expression in the world as fundamental ignorance is dispelled (or recognized) in favor of fundamental wisdom. This is Point 6 moving into Point 9.

Threefoldness in Buddha's Story of Awakening

A Literary Analysis of the Noble Search Sutta (MN 26)


Threefoldness is a key spiritual principle across wisdom traditions. While not directly invoking the Enneagram's Law of Three, Trent's masters thesis explores the threefold structure of the most ancient story of the Buddha's awakening. When working on subtle levels of a faithful mind, the scripture invites bringing threefoldness together, at once, in realization.

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