The Enneagram Wars

Healing & Meditation

Subhuti writes in detail on how a method for enlightenment ended up in court. “The Enneagram’s deepest value lies within the context of meditation. That is the turning point, at which self-understanding becomes spiritual transformation.”

enneagram tug of war

Leaving Arica for Pune

By the time the bullets started flying, I had left the battlefield. I had bid farewell to Oscar Ichazo, creator of the modern Enneagram system. I had written a bitchy letter to his staff at the Arica School in New York, arrogantly informing them I was no longer interested in being an Arica trainer and was off to India to complete my spiritual education.

This was 1976. A couple of years earlier, I’d been an enthusiastic, gung-ho ‘Arican’. I was convinced Arica was going to save the world. Oscar had warned us of a great darkness that was about to fall on humanity and we, as little Arican light bulbs, would be its shining saviours.

Nice, spiritually romantic idea. But there were a few problems: First, the darkness didn’t fall. Second, humanity wasn’t interested in being saved. Third, the light bulbs didn’t work. So, when an old girlfriend of mine came back from an ashram in Pune, India, wearing orange clothes and glowing with energy, I was ready to be seduced. Just kissing her was an orgasmic experience.

If she hadn’t been leaning out of a train window while I was standing on the platform, and the train hadn’t started moving, I think we’d still be kissing today. Anyway, I received her energy transmission. I got the message, passed from mouth to mouth: something wonderful and slightly scary was going on in Pune. I had to go and check it out.

A few weeks later, when I arrived at the ashram, I sat in front of Osho and he asked me how long I was going to stay. I heard myself reply “For ever.” Ooops! I hadn’t meant to say that, I still don’t know why I did, but it turned out to be true. I’d found the door to shunyata, divine emptiness, as well as sexual liberation, ecstatic celebration and chaotic meditation.

The combination was irresistible.

Fourteen years and many adventures later, I was sitting in the Pune ashram’s cafe, drinking a cup of chai, when someone handed me a book titled Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life, by Helen Palmer.

“My God, I used to teach this stuff!” I exclaimed, thumbing through Palmer’s detailed description of the Enneagram’s nine personality types.

“Why don’t you teach it here?” asked the book’s owner. So I got together with another ex-Arican, who’d conveniently kept all his notes, and we did.

The legal battle between Helen Palmer and Oscar Ichazo

Meanwhile, back in New York, Helen Palmer and Oscar Ichazo were locked in a legal battle that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. It’s ironic that a method for enlightenment should become a cause for combat. But then again, when you look at the world’s religious history, it’s not surprising. So much blood has been shed in the name of spiritual truth.

The Arica Institute, with Ichazo’s blessings, accused Helen Palmer of copying his Enneagram doctrine and infringing his copyright, requesting the American courts to block distribution of thousands of paperback copies of her book. The courts refused, saying that copyright law did not cover most of what Ichazo was teaching. The secrets of the Arica school had escaped into the public arena.

Oscar was upset, Helen Palmer was happy and the Enneagram mushroomed into a New Age phenomenon, generating hundreds of ‘experts’, scores of trainings and dozens more books. In a way, it was Oscar’s fault. He should have published his own book back in the early 1970s, when he had the whole system to himself.

But, alas, the Bolivian-born mystic, whose native language was Spanish, had a complex and difficult way of expressing himself and was never able to write a decent book in his whole life. There was another, more profound reason, why Oscar was distressed. Whether his methods were effective, or not, Ichazo was a genuine mystic. He wanted to help people become enlightened.

He knew that the ego blocked the path to cosmic consciousness and believed that the Enneagram’s description of nine ego-fixation points could dissolve this basic obstacle. In other words, as Ichazo explained to us, if we could see the ego clearly enough, in its raw, naked form, it would collapse, opening an inner space for the manifestation of our Divine Essence.

Poor Oscar! He obviously had no idea how stubborn and adaptable the human ego can be. The ego is the all-time survival expert – I speak from personal experience.

Ego Plan, Type Seven

For example, when I was informed by an Arica trainer in New York that I was Ego Plan, Type Seven, my ego took a massive hit. For a while, I was in a kind of daze, shocked to my core at this revelation of how my ego functioned.

It was a powerful experience. But pretty soon, like other Aricans whom I knew, my ego had recovered from this knock-out blow, climbed back off the floor, and was again in business. After all, I had a new identity. Now I was an Arican, a Plan, feeling spiritually superior to the rest of our sleepy humanity and happily giving Enneagram sessions to everyone around me.

But, as I say, Oscar was a mystic and his intentions were good. He’d wanted to keep the Enneagram system secret, because he knew it worked best as a tool for ego-reduction within the intense atmosphere of a closed school.

Helen Palmer, on the other hand, was no mystic. She’d made sociological studies of the nine personality types, describing their difficulties and making suggestions how to smooth out the rough edges. It was the exact opposite of what Ichazo had intended. He wanted to destroy the ego. Palmer was telling people how to improve it.

But how did Palmer get hold of the Enneagram in the first place?

Come to think of it, how did Ichazo get hold of it?

Let’s back up and take a look.

Where does the Enneagram come from?

The Enneagram, as many people know, is an ancient symbol. It was brought to the attention of modern Europeans by George Gurdjieff, the Armenian mystic, who claimed it represented the laws of the universe. He used the symbol mainly in music and dance. He also asserted that every individual possessed a “chief characteristic”, but at no time did he mention nine personality types or try to relate these types to the Enneagram symbol.

Gurdjieff had visited many Sufi schools as a young man – documented in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men – so it was assumed he’d learned the symbol from them. Now it seems more likely that it was taught to him, as a boy, by his tutors, who were esoterically-inclined monks, belonging to the Greek Orthodox tradition of the Christian faith.

At this point, we find ourselves in historical regression, because the next question is: where did these monks get the symbol? They seemed to have inherited it from a group of early Christian mystics, living in Egypt, called the ‘Desert Fathers’, who may, or may not, have linked the Enneagram symbol to the so-called Seven Deadly Sins, adding two more for good measure, making nine in all: anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, fear, gluttony, lust and sloth.

This, however, is not the beginning of the story. The Desert Fathers, being mostly Greeks, may have picked up the symbol from the teachings of Ancient Greeks like Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus. However, even if all this is true, Oscar Ichazo denied that he got the Enneagram symbol from Gurdjieff, so there was no clear line of continuity.

So, where did he get it? For a while, all kinds of exotic rumours buzzed around the Arica School in New York. My favourite one went like this:

Oscar had undertaken a dangerous solo pilgrimage through remote areas of the Hindu Kush Mountains, in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, meeting with secret Sufi schools and receiving their sacred knowledge.

Actually, the truth was more mundane: he got it from his uncle’s library. In a 1996 magazine interview, Ichazo explained that when he was 12-13 years old, he inherited an esoteric library from his uncle Julio, who was a philosopher.

Since he’d been having frightening, out-of-body experiences from the age of six, Ichazo hungrily devoured these books, hoping to find reassuring answers for his paranormal states. He came across the Enneagram symbol while studying an ancient text from the Chaldean civilization, which existed around 600 BC, in what is now known as Iraq, and whose citizens appear to have been fascinated by numbers.

For example, the Chaldean system of numerology is considered to be more accurate, with more mystical depth, than Pythagorean numerology. So it makes sense that an intrinsically mathematical symbol like the Enneagram would be embraced as part of their metaphysics. And where, might one ask, did the Chaldeans get the symbol?
Nobody knows and we cannot ask them, because in 536 BC, Cyrus the Great crushed their little realm, adding it to his ever-expanding Persian Empire.

Oscar Ichazo, Helen Palmer and Claudio Naranjo
Oscar Ichazo, Helen Palmer and Claudio Naranjo

Oscar Ichazo, the Theosophical Society and channelled revelations

Meanwhile, returning to the twentieth century, Oscar Ichazo, studying in his library, also found evidence of the symbol in the teachings of certain Sufi schools and in the more recent Theosophical movement. By the age of 18, Ichazo had joined a group of Theosophists in Buenos Aires who discussed all kinds of esoteric issues, including Gurdjieff’s secret sources and the meaning of the Enneagram symbol. Ichazo soaked up all this information like a sponge and by his mid-twenties possessed a vast store of knowledge.

As a culmination, the placing of nine ego types on the Enneagram symbol seems to have come to Ichazo through personal revelation. In other words, he channelled it, attributing his illumination to a couple of disembodied entities: the Archangel Metatron, and a Sufi entity, the Green Qutub.

This sounds bizarre, if we envisage these entities to be blond-haired angels flapping their golden wings amid white puffy clouds. But to Ichazo, these were states of consciousness. Metatron represented a function of higher mind, which gave Ichazo the blueprint of his whole Arica system, while the Green Qutub personified surrender to divine will and receiving baraka, the energy of divine grace.

So far, so good. But, as is often the case with mystics, problems began for Ichazo when he started to teach his knowledge to others. As long as he confined himself to esoteric groups in South America, things went pretty well. But, in 1970, he invited a group of Americans from the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, to participate in a three-month training in the town of Arica, Chile. This, by the way, is how Oscar’s school got its name, because it began with the training in this obscure city.

Among those who answered the call was Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean-born psychiatrist who was living and working in the United States.

Enters Claudio Naranjo

Naranjo was bearded, brainy and hungry. He was no ordinary psychiatrist. He’d trained in Gestalt Therapy with Fritz Perls, dabbled in psychedelic drugs and was obsessed with contacting the elusive “Sarmoun Brotherhood” whom Gurdjieff said possessed great secrets of human transformation.

Astonished by the range of Ichazo’s knowledge, Naranjo was convinced the Bolivian knew the whereabouts of this mysterious Sufi school. But, alas, as far as we know, Naranjo never got the brotherhood’s postcode from Oscar.

After the training in Chile, Ichazo flew to New York and set up his new school in the middle of Manhattan. I still remember the address: 24 West 57th. We called it ‘GHQ’, short for ‘general headquarters’, the hub of a growing network of Arica branches that spread through the US and Europe.

Meanwhile, Naranjo had returned to Berkeley, California, where he began to develop psychological profiles of the nine ego fixation points. He also began to give lectures on the subject. Oscar Ichazo was not happy about this. He’d already criticised Naranjo on several occasions for being overly intellectual and was worried that his precious Enneagram would now be distorted. As it turned out, Naranjo’s eagerness to adopt the Enneagram as his own brainchild was nothing compared to the predatory instincts of the people who attended his lectures.

Helen Palmer, Bob Oakes, Almaas and Faisal

Among those present at Naranjo’s discourses were Helen Palmer, a Jesuit priest called Bob Oakes, Hameed Ali (who adopted the pen name A H Almaas) and Faisal Muqaddam. All of them would catch the Enneagram ball thrown to them by Naranjo and run with it, developing their own systems, writing their own books, offering their own trainings.

Later, Naranjo would complain to journalists that his precious ideas had been stolen by these people without giving him credit. How ironic! Naranjo, it seems, was incapable of seeing how he’d done exactly the same thing to Ichazo. Indeed, Naranjo even went so far as to claim that it was he, not Ichazo, who’d developed the psychological dimension of the Enneagram.

This is simply untrue. Back in 1974, when I was participating in a training at the Arica Institute in New York, we were given psychological profiles of all nine types as part of our instruction, coming directly from Ichazo. Certainly, Naranjo developed these profiles further, fleshing out the psychological aspects of each ego fixation, while Helen Palmer provided an even broader view of each type’s behaviour and attitudes. But the source of all this was unquestionably Ichazo himself.

For this reason, it seems to me that Oscar could have won the court case, if he’d been a bit more street savvy. But in some ways he was his own worst enemy. When asked by the court to describe his Enneagram theory, he replied, “It is not a theory. It is a fact.”

“Well, you can’t copyright a fact,” the court replied. Case dismissed.

Enneagram books

New books on the market, by Naranjo, Helen Palmer, Don Riso

In reality, of course, it was a theory. But Ichazo was so insistent on asserting the objective reality of his precious system that he ended up shooting himself in the foot.

In 1990, Naranjo published a book about the Enneagram system, titled Ennea Type Structures, consisting of a dense labyrinth of psychological terms, mixed thickly with Christian theology. His book didn’t do well in the marketplace for the simple reason that few people could understand what he was talking about.

It was Helen Palmer, publishing around the same time, who blew the doors to the mainstream wide open and successfully introduced the Enneagram to the general public.

Meanwhile, a Jesuit student called Don Riso had beaten everyone in the race to the book stores. He’d read Bob Oakes’ notes from Naranjo and promptly wrote his own book, titled Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery.

With these two books, penned by Palmer and Riso, the modern Bibles of the popularized Enneagram faith were born. Each step away from Ichazo had diluted the power of the system, making it tamer and more palatable, and when an amusing book, illustrated with cartoons, titled The Enneagram Made Easy was published by two of Palmer’s students, the social sanitization process was complete.

Meditation is beyond psychological, philosophical and spiritual concepts

Only a Disney movie about the nine types would now render it more cosily impotent. Which brings me back to that moment in the cafe, in Pune, in 1990, when someone handed me Helen Palmer’s book and suggested I should start teaching the Enneagram in the ashram. I had no problem with it. After all, I’d learned the system from Ichazo, so I had the original teaching in my hands. More importantly, I now had a much wider spiritual context in which to place it.

Osho was giving us a vision of spirituality that went beyond anything devised by Ichazo: a vision that began in meditation and ended in No Mind. In other words, one can study everything that Ichazo, Naranjo, Almaas, Faisal and Palmer have to offer in the way of psychological, philosophical and spiritual concepts, and still come up short.

Why? Because, as Osho explained many times in his discourses, the ultimate spiritual experience lies beyond anything the mind can conceive. It is beyond the realm of thinking. It is beyond the realm of self. It is an experience of silence, emptiness, infinite space.

Try writing a book about nothingness. Even the inventive creativity of those who have plagiarised Oscar Ichazo’s Enneagram system would have a hard time doing that. To me, the Enneagram is a handy tool for self-understanding and that’s why I continue to teach it. It has helped me get to know my personality and is a useful way of watching my mind, as it jumps through its usual hoops.

I can recommend it to anyone. But its deepest value lies within the context of meditation. That is the turning point, at which self-understanding becomes spiritual transformation.

SubhutiSubhuti gives workshops about the Enneagram all over the world and also gives individual online Enneagram sessions. Contact: anandsubhuti (at)
More articles on the Enneagram, also by this author on Osho News

Comments are closed.