Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The enneagram and the names of God


When Gurdjieff presented the enneagram to Ouspensky, he made a number of what appear to be extravagant claims about its potential for explaining the universe... and everything that happens in it.

In today's world, we are left with the legacy of an apparently impenetrable diagram, most of whose meaning is ensconced in complicated discussions about hydrogens and so on, and an inner work which has taken a direction that now largely eschews any explanations of the kind that Gurdjieff and Ouspensky originally explored together.

There are, however, logical reasons for believing that the diagram represents certain overarching concepts that are found in both the yoga schools and in Ibn al ‘Arabi’s teachings.

The enneagram’s notes, and the attendant shocks, clearly represent influences on a progressive scale. We absolutely know the names of two of the influences, because they apply to the shocks: conscious labor and intentional suffering. Knowing this, it would be illogical to assume that the notes themselves do not represent specific concepts of one kind or another. One can't have shocks that represent specific concepts, and notes that represent nothing. The force of the shocks can only be actionable in relationship to corresponding conceptual forces embodied in the notes; the shocks, in other words, must be active in relationship to other specific and equally recognizable principles of manifestation.

Hence, although Gurdjieff chose to indicate all of the other influences “objectively,” that is, using only the notes of the musical scale, they undoubtedly must relate to attributes or qualities of one kind or another, not just abstract chemical notations or mathematical ideas.

To presume we are unable to discern these attributes or qualities would be unreasonable. If other men in the past have done so, as Gurdjieff maintained, it must be possible.

Looking to the yoga schools and to Sufi understandings, we can see that such hierarchies of development between various "attributes of divinity"—aka manifestations of reality—are well-known entities. Both of these major schools, which have been contiguous in both geography and time from the original spread of Islam until the present day, assign specific qualities of God, or motive forces, to the development of material reality.

In yoga, the concepts are mapped out in the chakras, which are said to be a microcosmic model of the universe. This description is more or less identical to Gurdjieff's description of man; so the two must be related, especially considering the innumerable other points of contact between his work and yoga.

More importantly, perhaps, al ‘Arabi’s names of God — the attributes, or influences, which exert themselves upon material reality — must inevitably have some place in any system that presumes to serve an interpretive function of the kind that Gurdjieff assigned to the enneagram. The interaction of forces such as Material, Desire, Power, and Knowledge, all principal levers in al ‘Arabi’s cosmic mechanism, can be easily linked to the ideas of Being and Purification (or, as he called it, Speech) — rendering a set of six concepts, or attributes, very nearly identical to the six lower chakras found in the yoga schools.

So we have a diagram which purports to explain the universe by indicating the interaction of influences, according to a ranked  hierarchy. We have two different major theoretical systems that share a common view of a very similar hierarchy, and discuss its interaction in terms that can be readily mapped to the enneagram.

Applying Yoga and Sufi understandings of influence takes the diagram well beyond abstract numeric interpretations. We have here motive forces, directly linked to the highest levels of the cosmos by major schools, which exert their influences on the development of the octave. The motive forces have an emotive value and a physical force, as well as an intellectual rationale. They are, furthermore, universal, rather than personal and idiosyncratic. The  attributes of God, in other words, can be said, in so far as we understand them from yoga and Sufism, to have an objective quality.

This is exactly what one might expect if one were looking for principles, or influences, that represent the notes in the octave. If these are not the meanings of the notes, one would have to begin to presume that the notes do not in fact have any objective meanings, and judging from what Gurdjieff said, this can't possibly be the case.

If the enneagram does indeed contain the potentials which Gurdjieff said it had, the diagram must be a diagram of influences; and the influences must not only be tangible, but understandable, so that groups of men can discern universal principles in so far as they penetrate the meanings. In order for the principles to be universal, the concepts that the notes embody must be broad ones, indicating a progressive principle of development.

This is, in fact, exactly what we see in the map of the enneagram when interpreted according to the principles of the Sufi and yoga schools.

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