The Evolution of Consciousness

Riso & Hudson: Student Reunion Denver, 1998
Background to the Enneagram

Where did the idea of the three Centers come from?

The focus of the Enneagram work involving the three traditional Centers originated in a more ancient and comprehensive understanding of human nature that sees the three Centers as only the beginning step of a greater process. Gurdjieff taught that everyone’s spiritual progress or level of attainment could be evaluated on a seven-gradient scale. He called these “Man Number 1” through “Man Number 7.”

The first three “men” are representatives of “normal,” personality-based human consciousness and correspond to the types in the three Triads. (Remember, however, that Gurdjieff did not use types in conjunction with the Enneagram symbol. He did recognize that there are three kinds of men—instinct-based, feeling-based, and thinking-based, categories that are congruent with the concept of the three Triads. Oscar Ichazo was the first to correlate the nine types with the Enneagram.) After the first three types of men, Gurdjieff said that there were four more which represent different levels of attainment possible for human beings, and that these mark a complete departure from the fixated identity of Man Numbers 1, 2, and 3.

“Man Number 1” is imbalanced in the Instinctive Center, “Man Number 2” in the Feeling Center, and “Man Number 3” in the Thinking Center. All three of these types of Man tend to identify with only one center—Man Number 1 with the instincts, Man Number 2 with the feelings, and Man Number 3 with the intellect. Gurdjieff called these types of Man are “one-centered,” not because they lacked the other two centers, but because they rely on only one of them.

Even though only one Center predominates in these types, the other two Centers are active, although in a scrambled, unconscious fashion. Because of this, the three Centers in each Man tend to interfere with one another, preventing the natural development of the person. In this regard, Man Numbers 1, 2, and 3 are basically equal in that they all suffer incomplete development; Man Number 3, for instance, is not superior to Man Number 1 because his number is “higher.” There is no essential unity to individuals who are one of these three types of men.

Gurdjieff’s Three Types of Men on Ichazo’s Enneagram

After we have done transformational work and after our personality imbalances have been remedied to some extent, Gurdjieff maintained that we can progress up the ladder of being to become a “Man Number 4” in whom the three Centers have become balanced, consequently producing a degree of personal unity. For this type of person, real self-knowledge and a certain amount of objectivity and purpose in life are now possible for the first time. A true and coherent self (a real ‘I’) emerges and begins to solidify.

If a person continues to work on himself, it is possible to become a “Man Number 5” in which unity of the Centers is fully achieved, and what is known is experienced equally in all of the Centers. If “Man Number 4” was a transitional stage, “Man Number 5” is what occurs when the transition has been completed. At this stage, there is no going back to previous lower levels of deformations and imbalances. A radical “crystallization” of the centers occurs in “Man Number 5” although this crystallization can be the result of “right work” or “wrong work”—leading, for example, to a Krishnamurti at one extreme or a Hitler at the other. This stage of development is therefore characterized by a kind of genius in the pursuit of our life purpose (in Gurdjieffian terms, our “aim”), although that purpose can still be balanced and beneficial or distorted and destructive depending on how the Centers have crystallized.

If work proceeds, then one can become a “Man Number 6” which is a transitional stage to “Man Number 7.” In the former, the remaining egocentric elements are burned off, causing immense suffering, although of a purgative kind. This is the “dark night of the soul” referred to in mystical writings, and entails the dissolution of identification with elements of the individual self such as the body, one’s personal feelings, and the constructs of the separate mind. Many of the qualities which will come to full flower in the next stage begin to emerge here, although they can still be lost, and not all aspects of the person are fully crystallized or permanent.

If, however, Inner Work continues, one may finally attain the state of being a “Man Number 7” in which one’s Essential faculties are all permanent, balanced, and fully functional. “Will, consciousness, permanent and unchangeable ‘I’, individuality, immortality, and many other properties, which in our blindness and ignorance, we ascribe to ourselves” now become available. The person’s identity has completely shifted from ego structures to Essence. In short, “Man Number 7” is the complete human being in all of his or her intended fullness, someone who is now ready and capable of embodying the Will of God. Such a person is perfect in that he or she becomes an expression of God in human form; hence, “Man Number 7” can be considered the stage of the avatar, or the boddhisattva, or the person who manifests Christ, or “Christ-consciousness.”

The Three Kinds of Men, the Centers, & Transformational Stages

This extremely brief discussion of the esoteric background of the three Triads of the Enneagram indicates not only where the “three Centers” came from, but also where they are leading—toward the idea of the unification of the person (as Man Number 4, 5, 6, and 7) so that the person will be able to fulfill his or her ultimate “aim” in life. The three Triads, representing the imbalances and prejudices of Man Numbers 1, 2, and 3, are therefore the place to start in our transformational work—as we normally do by introducing the Triads and Centers during our first discussion of the basic structure of the Enneagram system.

1 While being sensitive to the need for inclusive language, for better or worse, we have decided to retain Gurdjieff’s original in this instance. Please make your own adjustments accordingly.

2 Man Number 1, Man Number 2, and Man Number 3, should not be confused with Enneagram types One, Two, and Three.

3 Our phrase “the ladder of being,” reflects the ancient idea of “The Ray of Creation.” In the western tradition this is referred to as “The Great Chain of Being” which accounts for phenomena as emanations from the primordial Godhead in concentric rings or in a variation of the same model, as descending notes of a scale. Transformational work consists of ascending the ladder back to the Source and Origin of all. Naturally, we must start wherever we are, and the imbalance of the three primary Centers is a helpful place to do so.

4 P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 71.