The Enneagram and the Silent Tradition

by | Dec 12, 2011 | Enneagram Articles

Essay, 1995

The Realization of Truth

“The Way does not require cultivation – just don’t pollute it. What is pollution? As long as you have a fluctuating mind fabricating artificialities and contrivances, all of this is pollution. If you want to realize the Way directly – the natural Mind is the Way. What I mean by the natural mind is the mind without artificiality, without subjective judgments, without grasping or rejection”
– Chan Master Mazu –

Who could deny the obvious truth expressed by Mazu? The question has always been how to achieve this exalted state.

The great gift of the Enneagram is that it gives us a reflective surface for the artifices of mind to be displayed. Pollution, or the fluctuating mind, is revealed to be generated by character fixation. Grasping, rejecting, subjective judgments and artificiality are the hallmarks of fixation. Character fixation is a crystallization in mind-stuff of aeons of desire waves, or fluctuations. This crystallization is experienced as, “me and my past.” The waves are thoughts of, “me and what I want.”

Once the subtle structures of mind-activity are realized, you can stop making waves and the mind can rest or surrender. Surrender is the giving up of making waves or fluctuations in the mind-stuff. Surrender is the ego willing to self-destruct in the service of realization of the Way. The Way, or Tao, can also be called Self.

The result of this surrender is at first Peace. Not some calm, not numbness or blankness, but deep true essential Peace. Peace is realized as total fullness overflowing Itself in blissful stillness. Love is immortal Being conscious of Itself as both subject and object, and the transcendence of subject and object. In this realization you directly realize, “I am the unnameable One!”

Direct realization of immortal Being appears around the world in different cultural forms. Two of the oldest transmissions of this realization come from India and China. Chinese culture and Indian culture seem so different and apart. Yet both cultural streams lead to the same source of direct personal Self-Realization. Not a belief system, not a religion, not a practice, although all these form around the edges of the source’s revelation like slag. True revelation points to direct immediate Self Realization. This is the goal of life, the possibility of fulfilling the true potential of a human birth. In China, the unknowable totality that is beyond name or form is called Tao, sometimes translated as the Way. In India, that which God, souls and the universe appear and disappear in is called Brahman or Self.

When we speak of self today, most refer to the physical body with its attendant thoughts and emotions. Yet all of this is the fluctuation of mind that blocks clear perception of truth. Clear perception is only possible when there is no pollution. When there is no pollution the mind is silent. This silent mind is the goal of all spiritual practice. It is the path to realization and its fruit.

The great dilemma then, is how to silence the mind, thus ending mind pollution and directly realizing the truth that you are Self, you are pure undifferentiated consciousness. The insight of this realization is most eloquently expressed in the Advaita classic, the Avadhuta Gita (the Song of the Free.)

How shall I speak of the Whole which is non-dual?
How shall I speak of the Whole which is of the nature of duality?
How shall I speak of the Whole which is eternal and non-eternal?
I am the nectar of Knowledge Homogeneous Existence, like the sky.

This realization, expressed by Jesus when he declared, “I and my Father are One!” is the rarest and most precious gift bestowed by Grace on humanity. Many have tasted the sublime sweetness of Silence. Not relative quiet as opposed to noise, but the transcendent roar of silence that gives birth to and supports both relative quiet and noise.

St. John of the Cross expressed the realization quite beautifully when he writes:

I entered into unknowing
And there I remained unknowing
Transcending all knowledge.
That perfect knowledge
Was of peace and holiness
Held at no remove.
In profound solitude
It was something so secret
That I was left stammering
Transcending all knowledge.

Many people in our time and culture have by now had a taste of the truth beyond form. Whether through meditating, near-death experiences, psychedelics or watching a sunset, many have experienced the descent of grace and the taste of the holiness and purity that is at the core of all. The question remains how to make this often fleeting glimpse the permanent view, undistorted by the pollution of fluctuation. Many practices have been tried with varying degrees of success in relatively quieting the mind. Still, for most, the final cut has remained elusive at best.

The Zen solution to the final cut is the tradition of sudden awakening. Zen is actually a Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese ideogram Chan. Chan, or no-mind, comes to China from India and is the Chinese pronunciation of Djyan (Dyana) which in Sanskrit means both meditation and no-mind.

The sudden school of no-mind in China starts with Bodhidarma and passes to Hui Neng. Hui Neng was an itinerant, illiterate woodcutter. One day, on delivering a load of wood, he overheard the Diamond Sutra being recited. With this, he woke up. Eventually, he was seated as a Chan Patriarch and recognized as the founder of the Southern School of Instant Enlightenment.

However, in my experience of Zen, both here and in Japan, it has largely crusted over as an endless practice. In Japan, the Zen Temple has become a father to son enterprise, ensuring family security and a steady supply of Zen priests for funerals and other occasions.

I experienced a profound awakening at a Zen monastery in the mountains outside Kyoto. It was witnessed by the head of the monastery who announced it at dinner. In celebration we stayed up drinking beer and singing songs until after midnight. We were allowed to sleep in until six the next morning. Still, the next morning the old mind had returned. The stillness was fleeting.

Self-Inquiry: discovering the mind’s Source

It was not until I had passed through many spiritual traditions and lineages, meeting many gurus and saints did I finally come across the pure transmission of immaculate Realization. In the vast universe of spirituality where claims and counterclaims, cover-ups and frauds run rife, there is one who is universally respected as a true Self-realized one who did no harm. His devotees called him Ramana Maharshi. He said, “You cannot acquire happiness and bliss. Your nature is happiness and bliss.” He also said,

The personal entity which identifies its existence with life in the physical body and calls itself “I” is the ego. The physical body, which is inherently inert, has no ego sense. The Self, which is pure consciousness, has no ego sense. Between these two there mysteriously arises the ego sense, which is the “I” thought. This ego, or personal identity is at the root of all suffering in life. Therefore, it is to be destroyed by any means possible . . . . This is Liberation or Enlightenment, or Self-realization.

Ramana’s suggested method of cutting the egoic knot is called self inquiry. This is the essence of the innermost teachings that originate in the Indian stream and later give rise to the Buddha’s same realization and suggested method. This method can be best characterized as a silent mind discovering its source. A silent mind is a mind free of entanglements. A silent mind has given up the struggle to be right, to know, to do and to have. In the depth of realization all entanglements and struggles are burned in the recognition of their non-reality.

Traditionally, self-inquiry is described as a process of the mind turning within to discover, “Who am I?” “Am I this body? Am I these thoughts? Am I these feelings?” As this silent mind notices the arising of the thought “I” it follows this thought of “I” to its source where it dissolves and the true “I” shines forth. In the Hindu tradition, this transmission of the true “I” is passed from Realized One to mature seeker. Thus, both the Indian and Chinese method end with sudden awakening. The path to this end varies as fits the circumstances of the times. At the end of the path, the same Teacher is always waiting.

The Enneagram of Character Fixation

A third stream emerges from and returns to the same source. The Sufi Brotherhood, with its Mesopotamian roots, has given us the Enneagram and centuries of insight into essence and the black hole. The Enneagram of Character Fixation as we now know it is the most precise description that we have of the knot of ego that must be cut. It shows us that consciousness has crystallized itself in the physical, mental or emotional body. It shows us the tests that must be passed, the qualifications that must be there, to end the searching and begin the finding.

These tests show up mentally, emotionally, physically and in the situational body. The situational body, referred to allegorically as the Magic Theater and literally as a bubble of perception, reflects the fluctuations of mind projected in the form of your specific circumstance. What appears as family, friends, relationships, work, survival, sex, all appear in the situational body. This is your magic theater where you will be tested and initiated.

The tests are the tests of character as opposed to character fixation. In a manner of speaking, the holy ideas of the fixation are in combat with the passions of the fixation for the ownership of your soul.

Only you can choose. Your choices have enormous repercussions. If you choose selfishly you are thrown into circumstantial hell. If you choose Truth, Freedom, Love over your personal comfort, over your fixated identity, you have chosen character that destroys character fixation and leads to a deep essential Peace that is transcendent of circumstance. Love is seen everywhere. You are led to the truth of your nature that is beyond essence.

Character Fixation is merely the hiding of the loss of character. By true character I mean the soul’s own integrity and essence. Choosing essential kindness over the fixated imitation of kindness, may not appear to be kind at all. It does not care about appearance. It expects nothing in return. Fixated kindness cares very much about how it looks and what’s in it for me.

The tests will appear at every fixation. However the place where you are fixated is the place where you are most asleep and most unwilling to give up your crutches and excuses. This is the great gift of the Enneagram. It points you in the direction of its own destruction.

The Enneagram is a precise description of the knot of ego. The Enneagram perfectly describes the false “I” of the “doer” the “knower” and the “enjoyer of pleasures.” The Enneagram is a mirror in which you can see who you are not. The story of the fixation is the fixation’s interpretations of its mind-flux in relationship with the appearance of other.

Every fixation is busy either doing something, or worrying about what to do or judging something that has been done. The precise descriptions of the doer are the keys to recognize both the futility of “doing” and the possibility of the dawning of the “end of doing.”

From direct experience with the Enneagram as a frame, we discover that all egoic “doing” is covering the avoidance of the experience of terror. The doubt of the six fixation can be a dharma bell ringing to say, “You are avoiding the experience of terror in this moment.” In this understanding doubt itself becomes an aid to facing what the fixation is avoiding, and in this way uncover latent subconscious identification with form. By form I mean either physical, mental or emotional bodies and conditions.

Once there is a willingness to drop into the terror and despair that is at the heart of all fixation, you will discover the black hole.

Surrendering here, to the certainty of death, is the gateway to freedom.

All ego, every fixation, is an attempt to buffer against the possibility of falling into this black hole. Every fixation desires pleasure and avoids pain. Once these patterns are seen as mechanical and habitual, they can be discarded in the search for who you really are. You realize that what you are hungry for is essence and what you are settling for is either an idea of security, or comfort, or intense physical stimulation. In this recognition there arises a willingness to surrender everything to essence.

Every fixation describes patterns of knowing and ignorance. In the rejection of both knowing and ignorance alert not-knowing appears as the mind without fluctuation.

Cutting the knot of ego

Every soul is longing for home. Recognizing this longing is spiritual maturity. This longing for home, Peace, Freedom, Love is the only true desire. Until this desire is realized, it is siphoned off into the desires of the fixation. The desires of the fixation, the passions that run the fixation, are the mind fluctuations that create the veiling of home.

Once you are willing to no longer play out the habitual suffering of identifying yourself as a fixation, you are ready to cut the knot and discover the truth. This involves an uncovering of the deeper subconscious motivations that have been running the fixated behaviors, thoughts and feelings.

Eventually, there is the realization that all the strategies of fixation are attempts to avoid the certainty of death. When you are ready to dive into the black hole, to face your worst nightmares, to give up all idea of yourself as a personal entity, then you are ready to face death and discover what dies. In this willingness to face death totally, the mind naturally drops into silence. Through the portals of death, realization is waiting.

Once the realization has dawned, there is not necessarily a burning of all latent subconscious identification with form. The Enneagram will be there as a guide so that if latent identifications arise, you won’t be fooled by them. For example, when doubt arises, you know that this is not fresh insight. When lust arises, you know that this is not just “being in the moment.” In this way, as long as the body breathes, the Enneagram is there as a mirror for the breath to see itself.

A silent mind and self-inquiry, wedded with the Enneagram, make the rarest gift of all available to everyone.


“When you can recognize who you are not, then there is a possibility to wake up and discover who you really are.”