A close reading of the enneagram in conjunction with an understanding of the universal principles and the Vedic concepts of the Gunas reveals close connections between the three, and illustrates some important facts about the development of force in the cosmos.
Note that the word Guna means piece of thread. These threads, or forces, are what create the fabric of reality on the loom of Tantra. Taken together, these forces form what one might call a miniature "law of three," or triad, of interacting principles. Placed in their appropriate locations on the enneagram, they illustrate a mirrored system of mechanical and conscious forces, each one of which represents what one might call a two-dimensional piece of fabric — that is, a flat world related to its self horizontally, but in a certain sense unaware — and unable to be aware — of a three-dimensional world. The Gunas, in other words, represent a kind of trap; without an outside (higher) force to render dimension for them, they become an exitless circle.
Gunas represent the three primary constituents of what the Vedic schools call prakriti, or nature — in essence, manifested material reality. These stand in contrast to the principle of Being, or Self, which is referred to as Purusha. The enneagram represents, in abstract form, the journey of Self through the material realm— around the circumference of the diagram—in an effort to complete Being. Only by help from the Essence of the Self (emanating from God Himself) which is represented by the triangle can this journey be completed.
The first Guna, tamas, represents darkness, or the principle of inertia and delusion. It represents the note re on the enneagram, the first consequent incarnation of God as material. Materiality is composed of light; all material existence is energy folded inward upon itself in an enormous containment of force. This containment of light energy (which can be released in nuclear fission, or compressed in nuclear fusion) results in a material reality that reflects and rejects much of the light that it encounters. In an allegorical sense, material reality exists in darkness and inertia. In and of itself, it has no motive force: no impulse, and no momentum.
The second Guna corresponds to Sattvas, the psychic entity forming the core of personality, light, and harmony. This is represented by the note mi on the diagram, corresponding to desire in the yogic system of universal principles. The darkness of materiality is opposed by the light of desire, whose essential and instinctive wish is to return to its source.
The third Guna corresponds to Rajas, the principle of movement, activity, and disharmony. This is represented by power, the note fa, on the enneagram.
On the enneagram, arranging the three forces in this position exactly reflects the vortex in which the Self, or Being, becomes enmeshed, trapped and unable to move onwards from a world where the material manifestation of ego predominates, into a realm where the spiritual manifestation of ego is born and can begin to realize its possibilities. Sri Anirvan (see below) details this process in an exceptional manner on pages 106-109 of Inner Yoga; the passage should be taken as a whole, and is far too long to reproduce here without violating the applicable copyrights. Readers are urged to read the book and refer to it.
Ultimately, the interaction of the three Gunas on this level presents a "magic circle" which cannot be escaped from without the intervention of an outside (conscious) higher agency. The intervention, in this case, comes from what Gurdjieff called conscious labor — a property which, appropriately enough, has a physical attribute (as opposed to intellectual or emotional) indicating its connection to the very material actions of this level. Material forces, in other words, require material remedies.
What is of interest here is to see that the Gunas do not just drop away as the aspirant's Self (Purusha) acquires Being at the note sol, beginning its "ascending" progression from the bottom of the diagram upwards and to the left, back towards the absolute. The Gunas have an action in the spiritual realm as well as the material realm, and directly correspond as laid out on the diagram above:
Tamas correspond, in this case, to Being. Even Gurdjieff's conscious egoism, once manifested, is still a form of egoism, and separated from God, thus, still a material (not transcendent) entity which is not returned to its source and remains fundamentally separated. This is still darkness, albeit a new and higher form of darkness. We might call it conscious darkness; it is a darkness which has become self aware of its own lack, a property that is not extant on the right side of the diagram. Being imbued with conscious awareness of one's lack does not by default mean one has the remedy for it. The invocation of higher, that is, truly conscious, forces emanating from the essence are still necessary in order to complete the action in this new triad.
Sattvas correspond to the note la, representing purification. Purification indicates a higher level of desire; specifically, a willingness to sacrifice. Purification represents a path to harmony.
Rajas on this side correspond to the note si, in this case, knowledge or wisdom. It may seem odd to have this highest principle associated with dissonance, but it is so because all of the knowledge and wisdom a human being acquires will forever stand in opposition to the transcendent knowledge of God. The esoteric meaning of this is that even if a man develops to the highest level, everything he has acquired falls short of what is actually necessary. Gurdjieff indicated this issue in the chapter the holy planet Purgatory in his magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson; and the abandonment of the intellect has had its worldwide esoteric advocates from Meister Eckhart through Ibn 'Arabi and Dogen, simply because there is no way, in the end, for the intellect to master God.
Even a conscious being, in other words, is subject to a new set of the same actions of the Gunas which ensnare those operating on the mechanical or material level of life. The spiritual path, once discovered, carries the same set of obstacles and pitfalls that the material life does... just written in larger letters, on a new billboard. Aspirants and adapts alike continually mistake the beginning of the spiritual path for a license to be free of such influences, when in fact they are ubiquitous.
In the end, only death — whether spiritual or physical — can truly free us from the action of the Gunas.
note to the reader:
Significant credit should be given to Sri Anirvan, Inner Yoga, available from Morning Light Press, for his lucid and vital explanation of these subjects in his essay Buddhi and Buddhiyoga.
Readers interested in a detailed treatment of these questions should refer to pages 99 through 112 (and onwards) if they wish to acquire a deeper understanding of the principles expounded in the enneagram. Although the essay is not about the diagram per se, the essential features of the information encoded in it, and its overall message, are discussed in his treatise.
Click here for a link to this article at the enneagram resource page.