How Do We Keep the Enneagram Alive Within Us?


Recently we’ve been captivated by an Enneagram, a nine-pointed star, that seems to be older than the Enneagram we’re familiar with. The familiar Enneagram is based on the mathematical principle of the recurring decimal.

The Enneagram of Three Triangles

Discovered in the fifteenth century and evolving from the concept of nothingness, which is represented mathematically by the number zero, the recurring decimal is a relatively modern invention. When you divide one by seven, the result is 0.142857142857. . . . Dividing every other digit lower than seven by seven results in the same sequence of numbers starting with a different integer. This sequence is the basis for the lines that create the six-sided figure that, along with the equilateral triangle and the circle, create the Enneagram as we know it.

Because the word Enneagram means “nine points,” any depiction of nine points around a circle connected in any way can be called an “enneagram.” Three equilateral triangles in a circle falls into this category, and it looks like the diagram that accompanies this paragraph.


Special Features

There are several special features to this three triangle Enneagram that augment the meaning of the nine types the Enneagram of personality describes. It is easily an older diagram than the familiar Enneagram, and therefore it has a higher probability of relating to the Enneagram’s ancient sources. Depictions of it in western literature date back at least to the thirteenth century (for example, see James Webb’s The Harmonious Circle (Shambhala, 1987) p. 519; Webb is one of the most thorough researchers in this field).

Some have claimed older origins of the Enneagram diagram we are familiar with (some say 600 B.C.E., others even 2500 B.C.E.), but they offer no proof or references of which we are aware. Also, its dependency on the recurring decimal lessen the probability that it is older than the fifteenth century. What is the probability of someone accidentally connecting these numbers in just the way the recurring decimal would — and recognizing importance in the figure — before that mathematical entity was discovered?

There also is an equality built into the three triangle Enneagram. Three equilateral triangles create a balance of energies that no other figure can.

Finally, when applied to the Enneagram of personality, each number is connected to a number from a different lead center, thus depicting the interaction among the three centers that is vital to successful living. By breaking the two skewed triangles so that 4 connects to 2 rather than 7 and 5 connects to 7 rather than 2, the familiar Enneagram creates confusion about one of the Enneagram’s basic life lessons: balancing the three centers is the path out of compulsion to freedom.


Intentional Inexactitudes

Both enneagrams have special features. However, one point that Webb covers adds intrigue to detail. He says that Gurdjieff, who is credited with bringing the Enneagram to western culture, often warned his students that his teachings contained “intentional inexactitudes” (p. 512). In other words, at certain points he deliberately taught false or incomplete principles to make his students think for themselves and force them to search beyond what they were taught to discover deeper truth.

Let’s not mistake Gurdjieff’s point here for playing games. All true teachers of inner wisdom know that students too easily take the truth of principles at the word of teachers instead of searching out meaning for themselves. However, only principles that are personally assimilated can make a difference in a person’s life.

Further, students easily project upon their teachers archetypes of perfection and wholeness instead of searching for their own inner experience of completeness or essence. For example, following this idea, Ouspensky told his students just days before he died, “I abandon the system!” and he encouraged his followers not to follow his teaching after he died but to abandon it and reconstruct it for themselves.

Could Gurdjieff’s Enneagram based on the recurring decimal be one of his deliberately incomplete teachings, meant to force his students to truths he dared not teach them lest they trivialize them? An indication of this possibility regarding the Enneagram is Gurdjieff’s description of his Enneagram as “an incomplete and theoretical form” (Webb, p. 512). Could this Enneagram be only one stage of wisdom that prepares the careful student of humanity’s inner growth for a second, more complete stage?

This is surely possible. All systems of inner growth rely on advancement in knowledge that is taught at different levels to people who have put previously taught principles into practice. Spiritual knowledge that is experienced is vastly different from knowledge that is grasped intellectually alone. You can always doubt intellectual knowledge, but once you have experienced the truth of a spiritual principle your confidence in it is unshakable.


Reversing Accepted Truths

Accepting the validity of two enneagrams requires us to be open and flexible in our thinking. This is another important principle of Gurdjieff’s Work. When ideas become rigid, they take the place of inner growth and actually stop growth rather than advance it. Dogmatism and those who insist on it are the greatest enemies of humanity’s inner evolution.

In this case, the Enneagram of three triangles undercuts the arrow theory. Because it moves the lines between the numbers, it abandons the arrows as we know them. By connecting 4 to 7 and 5 to 2, this diagram portrays an exchange of energies among the types heretofore not imagined by many Enneagram enthusiasts.

Yet intuitively it seems to have a ring of truth. Why would types 2, 4, 5 and 7 be connected to types with the same lead center? There’s no logical explanation. Yet there is a simple logic to connecting all the types to types with a different lead center. The message is clear: you need all three centers developed to be a full human being.

Webb also states that the arrows used in the modern Enneagram of personality theory were created by Ouspensky at least 25 years before the Enneagram of personality was invented (p. 517). Being created before the Enneagram of personality existed, the arrows as we know them may not fit personality theory at all. Or they may fit at one stage of understanding but not at another.

Thus, the three triangle Enneagram makes us think in a new way about the nine personality types of the Enneagram.

© 2001, Enneagram Resources, Inc. All rights reserved.
By Kathy Hurley and Theodorre Donson