Enneagram Type, Religion and Spirituality

By Ron Esposito - October 2012

As an ardent student of the spiritual dimension of the Enneagram I read with great interest the chapter, “The Paths”, from Travels In Consciousness by David Hey.  He writes that the different spiritual paths can be accurately profiled by the personality types of the Enneagram.  In their exoteric dimension, their outer form, these paths tend to resemble and behave like one of the nine personality types of the Enneagram.  In its structure, its belief systems and its shadow each religion reflects a certain fixation and specific way of dealing with inner reality and the experiences of the soul.  The exoteric forms of the world’s religions are often loaded up with dogma and unconscious belief systems in order to obtain something in this world or the next.  Each religion also has an esoteric or mystical dimension that is more closely linked to the transformative experiences of their spiritual founder.  These esoteric lineages are often hidden and/or openly ostracized by the hierarchy of the exoteric religion.

Protestantism fits Type One, the Judge, Perfectionist or Reformer.  The Protestant Reformation came about because many Christians, especially in Northern Europe, felt their religion was being faithful enough to the true principles of Christianity.  Ridding oneself of obscurations, defilements and impediments became extremely important.  Morality and social responsibility also take on a much higher value.  Self-reliance and self-improvement became key features of the Protestant work ethic, as did the rightness of accumulating profit.  All the Protestant movements have a very strong sense of morality and tend to struggle with the ill effects of a strong inner judge.  Improving oneself and correcting others is part of this perfectionist gestalt, as is the idea of progress and the betterment of mankind.  Protestant mystics like Emmanuel Swedenborg and Ralph Waldo Emerson tended to be scripture based which separated them from their Catholic brothers and sisters.

According to Hey, the Roman Catholic Church fits Type Two, the Provider, Giver or Helper.  This is an ecumenical church that values humanism, community and unity placing a high value on family and belonging.  Communion and forgiveness are a part of its spirit.  At its best, Catholicism has a caring, empathic quality of love that describes the teachings of the Christ best.  The Vatican and the Pope represent the hierarchy and the exoteric form of the Catholic Church.  The inner esoteric form of Catholicism is represented by the centuries old lineage of Catholic mystics like Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhart, St. Francis and St. Theresa.  The spiritual path of Catholicism can be called the path of love, adoration and devotion.  The merging with God through love is very similar to the Bhakti Yoga tradition in Hinduism.

Karma Yoga, from the Hindu tradition, reflects Type Three, the Doer, Achiever or Performer.  Karma Yoga is a path that emphasizes work and selfless service.  This is the path to God through work. Proactive selfless service becomes one of the major practices for self-realization and higher states of awareness.  This path advocates engagement with the world and serving the world.  It implies action informed by Being.  Action becomes part of the path toward spiritual maturity, uniting the divine self (atman) and the actions of daily life.  This path usually advocates meditation in action, awareness in action thus becoming a counterforce to ego activity, which is diminished by the absence of identification with the results of our actions.  Let go and let God; God acting through us, as us.

According to Hey, Islam mirrors the Type Four personality of the Idealist or Romantic.  Mohammad’s chaotic, poetic journey to realization is one of the most dramatic and spectacular of any mystic in history, especially his escape and return to Mecca.  The Koran is akin to poetry and is not an historical account like much of the Bible.  The words of the Koran, every syllable of the Arabic, has an esoteric meaning that points toward divine revelation.  The True Self is the core of the esoteric path of Islam, most faithfully represented by the Sufis.  The great Persian and Arabic poets of Islam are part of this tradition, as well as the great mystics, like Ibn’Arabi, Al Ghazali and Rumi.  The Idealist and Romantic style is also part of this tradition, especially the longing for the Golden Age of Islam and the many attempts at revival, including Islamic fundamentalism.  The Idealist and Romantic are basically aristocrats in exile pining for what has been lost.

Buddhism can be seen as reflecting Type Five, the Sage or Observer, especially Theravada Buddhism, which is based primarily on the study of religious texts.  (Tibetan Buddhism can be excluded from this general profile).  Gautama the Buddha was extremely systematic in his teachings, making every effort to be intellectually clear to avoid confusion about the spiritual path.  The four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are only the tip of the iceberg in this highly systematic approach to karma and liberation.  There is a minimalist approach that is very much in the style of the Sage or Observer.  Meditation is a key to experiencing Inner Guidance in its fullness and dynamic presence.  The development of discriminating wisdom is important for understanding our inner reality and our relationship to the continuous, ongoing unfolding of existence.  In general, Buddhism resembles the Raja Yoga path of Hinduism by which specific mental and physical exercises lead the inquirer to inner realization.  Taoism and Zen can be considered inner paths that evolved from Buddhism.

Hey posits that Judaism is akin to Type Six, the Questioner or Skeptic.  This is basically a path of doubt and questioning.  Rebellion against injustice is a primary theme that runs throughout Judaism.  This challenging of authority is clearly in the counterphobic domain of Type Six.  On a wider scale, the Old Testament repeatedly challenges the corrupt institutions of oppression, taking up the cause of the underdog poor and powerless against the rich and powerful.  Jewish history is also replete with the phobic aspect of the Questioner.  Israel and Judah were historically small, marginal kingdoms that were sandwiched between more powerful empires like Egypt, Syria, Assyria and Babylon.  Hence there were usually external dangers of being crushed by more powerful neighbors.  The history of the Jews in Europe also reflected the more phobic aspect of Type Six.  Anti-Semitism on a grand scale in Europe kept the Jews in a continual state of anxiety, fear and mistrust.  The Hasidim, the mystics of Judaism, carry on the esoteric traditions of Judaism through the study of the Kabbalah and other texts.

The “Path of Celebration” represented by Type Seven, the Adventurer or Epicure, is not really an established religious movement or path, but one could make the case that it has a long history, dating from the Epicureans in classical times up to modern day followers of gurus such as Maharaji, Meher Baba and Osho.  “Don’t worry, be happy!” was Meher Baba’s famous pronouncement that reflected this approach.  All three gurus disliked hierarchies and extolled freedom.  They all created a fair amount of chaos in the movements that surrounded them, very much in the chaotic style of this type.  Type Seven has the essence of joy with a carefree quality of curiosity, playfulness, delight and amusement.  Life is a celebration and mystery.  Why worry?

Hey puts forth the idea that Advaita or non-dualism reflects the style of Type Eight, the Defender or Boss.  The core teaching of Advaita propounds the unity of the soul and the Absolute, that atman and Brahman are in fact one indivisible reality.  We are both soul and Absolute, aware consciousness and universal consciousness.  Though not interchangeable, the two are practically synonymous in Indian philosophy.  That is why there are so many people in India eager to proclaim, “I am God” and so many ready to respond, “I am God too, nice to meet you.”  No problem.

Like the style of Type Eight, the emphasis of Advaita is on truth, especially ultimate, undivided truth.  This speaks directly to the Holy Idea of Type Eight, Holy Truth.  And the truth is “All is one.”  This path is usually aligned with Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge or supreme realization.  Eight embodies this passionate desire for the ultimate truth and signifies a direct, powerful transmission of that truth.

Tibetan Buddhism reflects Type Nine, the Moderator or Mediator.  Guru devotion and devotion to hierarchies in general reflect the Moderator and the organization of Tibetan Buddhism as a religion.  Before the invasion of Tibet the Dalai Lama represented the head of a highly stratified spiritual monarchy that the whole country worked for.  The essence of Nine is Universal Love.  In Tibetan Buddhism this quality is called Bodhicitta or Awakened Heart.  This is arguably the most important quality in Tibetan Buddhism and is the key to many of the higher realizations of its practices.  Bodhicitta has within it the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the benefit of all human beings.  Slogans such as “All sentient beings are your mother” are meant to generate compassion and empathy for all living beings.


Ron Esposito is a Life Coach, Enneagram Teacher and adjunct in the School of Conscious Living.  Contact: ron.esposito@goconscious.com




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