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Interview with Claudio Naranjo about the Enneagram

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The following interview with Claudio Naranjo was conducted by OM C. Parkin and Boris Fittkau during an Enneagram training in Munich in 1995.

The event in Munich was taken as an opportunity to ask questions triggered by a controversy in the United States between Claudio Naranjo and other teachers of the Enneagram, in particular Helen Palmer. This controversy culminated at the August 1994 Enneagram Conference at Stanford University in California when Naranjo refused to give a speech to which he had been invited. This refusal was the expression of the unresolved conflict with Helen Palmer and her application and dissemination of the Enneagram.

Through OM C. Parkin and Boris Fittkau, very direct questions were asked for the first time, shedding light on this conflict and pointing to the spiritual dimension of the enneagram as taught by Naranjo.

OM C. Parkin: Claudio, you are considered the father of the enneagram of character types, whereas Oscar Ichazo could be called the grandfather. Since your first enneagram class in 1970, the teaching of the enneagram as a system of character archetypes has exploded in the US, and is now reaching Germany. First of all, what is the enneagram? Could you define it in one or two sentences?

Claudio Naranjo: Before trying to define the enneagram, let me comment on myself as the "father of the enneagram of character types" and lchazo as the "grandfather," Through Ichazo I learned the enneagrams of personality and essence, and I developed the knowledge, describing character types and unwittingly originating the enneagram movement. Yet though it is obviously true that I am the unintentional father of the enneagram movement, I feel prompted to call it my bastard child. From another point of view, however, it is very true that lchazo can be called a "seed individual". This is how he described the function for which he had been trained, and the expression "seed individual" is one I have appreciated increasingly throughout the years, as I developed one or another of his schematically stated ideas. If we give him credit as the "seed" of the enneagram movement, I should rather compare myself to the gardener who has watered the plant, I inherited a living understanding only barely articulated in words, and I have produced the words to translate that understanding, that is, character descriptions and a theory of neurosis. If you use a metaphor of "father" for the one who has brought us the seed, I should call myself "the mother" of the cultural phenomenon that ensued.

Now to your question of what the enneagram is: it is a map, of course - a cosmic map that purports to embody universal ideas that G.I. Gurdjieff called the "Law of Three" and the "Law of Seven,". lt is a triangle inscribed in a circle that is divided in nine equal segments by points connected in a particular way. Three of these (3, 6 and  9) are connected to form the triangle I just mentioned; the six remaining ones are connected according to the sequence 1, 4, 2, 8, 5, 7, which happens to be the decimal formulation of 1/7.

Boris Fittkau: How did you get in touch with the enneagram, and what role did it play in your spiritual path?

Naranjo: I was first acquainted with the enneagram by reading Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous when I was in my late teens. I cannot say the enneagram played a part in my path at that time - though the indirect influence of Gurdjieff did, not only then but later when I joined his school. I came in contact with the enneagram again when I became a student of Ichazo in 1969, particularly when he formulated (in a six-hour-long monologue) my "Protoanalysis" - that is, the map of my personality - in the form of five interlocking enneagrams. This interlocking of the enneagrams is something I have not written about thus far or taught in the U.S. The information became more alive in the course of the experience that some of us had under Ichazo's direction in Arica in 1970, and culminated in a long, solitary desert retreat in which he gave me directions to work with the "Psycho-Catalyst" corresponding to my character. In retrospect I can say that the description Ichazo gave me of this experience in advance was accurate: working with the catalyst gives access to a first level of mystical experience, so exciting that at this point some people leave their teacher.

Parkin: In his book Enneagram Studies, J.G. Bennett claims that the enneagram is a process model that could be applied to any process happening in the universe, mirroring its concealed structure. When we were talking back in Munich, you thoroughly confirmed my feeling that this claim, presented by many Gurdjieff disciples, is in strict discrepancy with what seems comprehensible and experienceable to you. The theory sounds good, but they actually still need to prove that this knowledge can be applied practically. I have not met any teacher from the Gurdjieff school so far who could make this plausible to me; have you?

Naranjo: What I said in Munich is that I see a great distance between the claim of universality of the enneagram and what understanding of its application I have found. Bennett's examples, for instance, seem to me quite trivial, and the only fruitful application of the enneagram to real phenomena I know of thus far has been the one taught by Ichazo. Perhaps I should make a distinction in that I personally understand the "Law of Three" as universal, and I would say that it has inspired my way of looking at things, while the "Law of Seven" is not one of which I have comparable understanding vis-à-vis the particulars of life and experience. I can understand the so-called "Law of Seven" mostly as that very abstract statement expressed by the Star of David - that the essential threefoldness of things, by interacting with itself, generates everything in the universe and is itself the expression of a dimensionless center. Yet I have no conviction that everything cyclical follows seven steps.

Parkin: There is a lot of mystery about the origins of the enneagram. Originally Oscar Ichazo claimed that the enneagram was passed on to him orally by the Sarmouni, a Sufi brotherhood. In a recent interview, he said that he had never met a single Sufi who knew about the enneagram. Rather he asserts that he received the enneagram of character-fixations by direct inspiration. So it is absolutely unclear whether there has been an oral tradition that is 1000 and more years old or not. Could you bring a little light into these seeming contradictions?

Naranjo: Let me begin by saying that my main interest in learning from Oscar Ichazo was a conviction that he was a link to the Sarmouni - the school behind Gurdjieff. He didn't publicly use that word; however, he usually spoke of "the School" and he was explicit about differentiating "the School" from traditional Sufi orders, including the Naqshbandi. lt is true that I first heard about him as a "Sufimaster," but when in my early meetings with him I asked about his lineage, he spoke of "the School" as much more remote from the world than Sufi orders are; and when he began teaching in Arica he said we should not think of him as a Sufi but a "bearer of the Western prophetic tradition."
Lately Ichazo has been claiming more authorship in relation to enneagram applications than he did when I knew him, and I understand this as an appropriate reaction to the world's attempt to spread esoteric information with an incorrect attitude. Of course, at a time when people begin to make videos claiming to bring the "oral tradition" to the market, it is appropriate to say that there is no such thing. Also, since the market-oriented secular world has no place for secret information (outside government offices), he needed to claim authorship to invoke the copyright law. For myself, however, I never had a shadow of a doubt that Oscar was a bearer of something that originated beyond him - no matter how much his original learning had been enriched through personal inspiration.

Parkin: Ichazo has retreated to Hawaii and, apart from an interview with L.A. Weekly in 1993, has remained almost silent in public. In August 1990, his Arica Institute initiated a lawsuit against Helen Palmer stating that her trivial approach to the enneagram did not respect the spiritual context in which Ichazo had passed on the knowledge. Also she had never checked with Arica Institute before publishing a book on the material. Ichazo seems to be in severe disagreement with the enneagram movement. Is that true?

Naranjo: I cannot speak for Ichazo today, for I have not seen him in a long time, yet he was quite clear in his indictment of the people who took the liberty to publish material that was not their own and which only represented a fragment of a much vaster teaching. I also have no difficulty in imagining that Ichazo or anybody of some spiritual standing can see the shallowness, bad taste, and general immaturity reflected in the current enneagram books and magazines.

Fittkau: All the well-known enneagram teachers were students of yours, or studied with one of your students or with their students. Yet it seems that you are in disagreement with major parts of the whole movement. You have ceased to teach in the US., and although the First International Enneagram Conference in 1994 was dedicated to you and lchazo, neither you nor lchazo attended the conference. What were the reasons for your absence?

Naranjo: Even though in my book Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View I say that I disagree with most of what the literature contains, that it is not a restatement of what I taught (which amounts to saying that it is partly unoriginal, partly mistaken), "disagreement" is not the word I would use in connection with the movement.

Let me only say that just as I am critical of those among my students who broke their commitment to secrecy, I am also critical of those who allowed themselves to take initiative in publishing material that was obviously lchazo's business and nobody else's to decide about publishing.
lt seems to me that the questionable ethics of the earliest teachers has had cultural consequences, for I see the movement as pervaded by a combination of greed and arrogance and by a great disrespect toward the sources of the knowledge, to the extent of insinuating that the tradition is a myth. Of course, by refusing to teach in the U.S. for the last twenty years, I wanted to signal my disapproval of self­ appointed teachers.

As for my absence at the international conference that Helen Palmer dedicated to Gurdjieff, Ichazo, and me, it probably would not have happened if the organizers had invited me in time and in a manner more coherent with that deference.
Years earlier I had been approached by Mel Reisman, who inquired of my willingness to be part of such a conference, and I replied that I would on three conditions: that lchazo agreed to do the opening; that I speak next; and that all enneagram teachers and authors present (along with the two of us) be part of a public encounter group led by an expert. Later Reisman discussed the project with Helen Palmer, who implemented the conference initiative, but I only received, by way of invitation, a form letter like everybody else's. This I took to be improper and an implicit lack of acknowledgment comparable to that for which Ichazo had taken some people to court. Of course American law does not permit the copyright of ideas, only of words; but nonetheless Ichazo made his point. If there was no "infringement of copyright," there was intellectual theft - the failure to acknowledge the true originators being intrinsic to the misappropriation.

Parkin: Claudio, the oral tradition is an unwritten law within the transmission of esoteric knowledge. Spiritual masters of all generations have passed on esoteric knowledge only by word of mouth in a closed setting directly to selected disciples. We are now living in the age of media (and mediocrity), where information is spread indirectly on a large scale without being rooted in a spiritual master-disciple relationship. lt seems inevitable that the media are also taking possession of esoteric knowledge. When you gave your first class on the enneagram in 1970, you had people sign an agreement that did not allow them to teach it outside of your institute.
In the second class were some people, among them Helen Palmer, who did not care about the oral tradition and who started teaching the enneagram in a big way to classes with hundreds of people. First of all, why did you not ask for the agreement in the second class, and what is your perspective on the enneagram being taught outside the laws of the oral tradition, reduced to a mere psychological point of view?

Naranjo: Let me begin by saying why I did not ask for such an agreement "in the second class." I should first of all say that one could hardly speak of a first or a second "class." First I worked with a group of over 60 people during almost three years, and in the course of this activity I not only taught meditation, told and commented on Sufi stories, led people through various psychospiritual exercises and offered Gestalt sessions, but interpreted people's ongoing interactions in light of the enneagram. The enneagram was so woven into everything else that I can hardly say that I taught "an enneagram class." Later I let myself be persuaded to offer a demonstration of the nine characters in the course of a series of nine evening meetings - for which purpose I originated the situation of questioning panels of previously diagnosed individuals. This took place in the house of Dr. Gay Luce in Berkeley, and Helen Palmer was present.

Fittkau: Does that mean that the only direct contact that Helen Palmer had with you were nine evening sessions?

Naranjo: That plus two sessions of a similar nature ten years after my original teaching, when I was invited to conduct a similar series of meetings at John F. Kennedy University. On this occasion nine of my old students presented what they had learned in the course of the ten past years about their characters while I once more questioned panels. lt was a mystery to me why Helen Palmer didn't come after the second session, at the end of which she approached me to express her gratefulness for what I was doing. She was by then teaching, and when I met her many years later she explained to me that she asked her students to withdraw because she saw that I was not doing it well enough. Given her interest in validating her right to teach, I can understand her wish to put me down.

As for the „second enneagramm class“ consisting of a series of meetings with panels in Gay Luce's living room (which Palmer in her book presents as a "research group"), I didn't foresee that anybody witnessing such a demonstration would venture to teach the characterology, and I am sure that not even Helen Palmer would have done so without tutoring from one of those early students of mine who succumbed to the temptation to teach.
You ask me what I think about the enneagram being taught "outside the laws of the oral tradition" and "reduced to a mere psychological point of view." Certainly no one in a genuine esoteric tradition would think of teaching without permission to do so; and such permission traditionally does not come from years alone, courses taken, or passing exams, as in secular universities. lt surely requires personal readiness and right relationship to the teacher.

Fittkau: While looking at the enneagram mainstream in the U.S., I was quite shocked to see the superficial way the enneagram is dealt with, and I must agree with you labeling the movement as "shallow" and "immature." Most people seem to have an interest in justifying their type rather than transforming it. The movement seems to have no spiritual foundation, and I view this as one of the consequences of self-elected teachers that pass on the knowledge without a teacher's approval.

Naranjo: The present situation, in which people decided to teach without approval, reflects a lack of attunement to the tradition and necessarily constitutes an impoverishment - the imitative transmission of something that was part of a vastly more significant situation. Thus, while a psychological map has become well-known, the transformative power of "enneagram workshops" may be very limited. I don't see the limitation of present teachers or authors to the psychological realm as the most serious fault, for sometimes plain "clinical" work can be spiritually significant.
I am even happy that I did not teach anything beyond the analytic level of work an personality, for otherwise the market would be flooded with caricatures of the work on virtues and psychocatalysts. Yet of course, in Ichazo's work Protoanalysis was part of a broad collage, and in my own approach too its power is potentiated by a spiritual context.

Parkin: In her speech at the enneagram conference, one of your early students, Kathleen Speeth, talked about the dangers of using and teaching the enneagram. She announced that she is not going to teach the enneagram in public anymore. Furthermore a Newsweek article about the enneagram mentioned that the CIA already uses the enneagram for training agents. What dangers and possibilities of misuse lie in teaching and using the enneagram?

Naranjo: Practically any psychological knowledge can be used either for self-understanding and transformation or for manipulation. Perhaps I should also add self­aggrandizement, since people who had little to offer before knowing the enneagram have been able to become authorities through the intrinsic power of the enneagram.

I would have preferred to see the personality enneagrams serve the ends of transformation alone, rather than business goals such as selection of personnel. How strongly I feel about it might be conveyed by the fact that I have not been moved to publish a diagnostic questionnaire in spite of a solid background in personality testing and many years of research into this subject. As for the danger of incompetence in the psychospiritual realm, it is, of course, that of deception, loss of time, and lass of life.

Parkin: Obviously the enneagram itself has only little or no transformational power if it is not taught in a profound spiritual context. lt all depends on the level of understanding of the enneagram teacher. At the conference I heard about a man who told his tale of woe as part of a "Five" panel, and it was the same story he had told an a panel three years earlier. In other words, nothing bad changed! Isn't this an example of how the enneagram can be abused by the mind to confirm and sustain its own lies about self and reality?

Naranjo: The stealing of the enneagram by one not fit to use it is comparable to the tale told of the fakir who stole a talisman of illumination from Mohammed Shattar, the great master of the Rapidness school of Sufism. After having ascertained that the fakir was not able to confer illumination to the disciples that he had recruited, the Sufi appeared to him and explained how even stolen knowledge could be useless. "You have the talisman, but I am Shattar," he says in the version of the legend published by Idries Shah. "I can, with my skill, make another talisman. You, with the talisman, cannot become Shattar."

Parkin: Would it be appropriate to call the enneagram a system of enlightenment?

Naranjo: During my apprenticeship with Ichazo, the enneagram was part of a broader system involving the mentations, the chakras, the lataif, and the sefirot - all in the context of attention training, devotion, and "ego-reduction." Yet unquestionably it is a tool for enlightenment, and deep insight into the nature of one's fixation is enlightening - at least to the extent that it brings about a measure of detachment from one's automatic psyche.
But of course psychological self-insight (the aim of Ichazo's Protoanalysis) is only the first stage in an approach which also involves working with the "antidotes" to the lower emotions, cultivating contemplative ability, and, most specifically, developing metaphysical insight of the kind most remedial to one's particular fixation. To put it more simply: work on the ego (through insight or virtue) serves as a foundation for spiritual work proper, the gist of which is understanding the essence of one's mind.

Fittkau: In what way da you use the enneagram in your therapeutic work?

Naranjo: I have already answered this in part, for what I have just said describes something I do with groups in which I teach people to work on themselves with each other's assistance. On the first level I bring people to a good characterological insight; on a second level I provide them with enough information and supervision to begin working on the antidotes to the passions; and on the third we go deeper into the understanding of the cognitive core of character - which, in turn, is a preparation for the stage of contemplative work, which I only teach to those who have meditated enough to attain good concentration. Yet I am also a Gestalt therapist, and my Gestalt practice was greatly influenced by the perception of character that Protoanalysis gave me. I wrote something about this in my Gestalt Therapy book, but this is a matter that can only be conveyed adequately through demonstration. I am now finishing a book, Enneatypes in Clinical Practice, in which I give illustrative session transcripts for each of the characters.

Parkin: Is there anythng else that you would like to say?

Naranjo: I think it would be appropriate to end by bringing to bear on the enneagram movement Idries Shah's observation about our times to the effect that "while the tools and the general freedom are there for the first time, desire, resolution, and breadth of vision are absent, also for the first time." From which he concludes, "The endowment is therefore at risk. For the first time."

Parkin: Thank you very much for this interview, Dr. Naranjo.


This Interview with OM C. Parkin and Claudio Naranjo was published in 'Gnosos' in 1996.
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