The Virtues: Reorienting the Human Heart

By Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

It is often said that “Virtue is its own reward.” For most people, this aphorism is neither encouraging nor very insightful. At worst, it is misleading—as if there were no better reason to practice the Virtues or to become a virtuous person.

So then how are we to understand the Virtues? Oscar Ichazo, the brilliant Bolivian spiritual teacher who first synthesized the modern Enneagram, drew upon the teachings of the nine Capital Sins from the Desert Fathers, the first Christian monastics. He assigned a specific Passion to each of the nine personality types of the Enneagram. The Virtues are important because they are antidotes to the Passions (or “Capital Sins”)—the root causes of our suffering and delusions.

Further reflection, however, has led us to believe that there is a more compelling reason to practice the Virtues in our daily lives. We must understand that the Virtues are paradoxical; we cannot “practice” the Virtues and claim them as if they were personal achievements. This kind of attainment would be little more than an adornment for the ego and would result in an increase of pride, narcissistic self-aggrandizement, and other ego distortions—the very opposite of a virtuous state.

In short, the Virtues are essential qualities of the awakened heart and are embodied in us when we are abiding in Essence—in the non-dual nature of reality. As one loses awareness and presence, falling away from Essence into the trance of the personality, the loss of contact with one’s Virtue creates one’s characteristic Passion. While everyone has the capacity to embody all of the Virtues, one of them is central to the soul’s identity, so the loss if it is felt most acutely. The person’s ego-self is most preoccupied with recreating it, although in a futile, self-defeating way.

By getting out of the way of Grace, we actively allow the Virtues to arise in us, and with that, our hearts are reoriented away from personality and toward the Real. We are able to reconnect with ourselves and others, and, for the awakened heart, to be a conduit for Grace and healing to flow into the world. Thus, the Virtues are a sublime channel by which we and the world are transformed. They are not simply “their own reward” but expressions of Grace and transformation.

We will briefly comment on each of the nine traditional Virtues of the Enneagram as specified by Oscar Ichazo. (We have felt that in some instances Ichazo did not use the most appropriate English word to express what he seems to have in mind, so we have made substitutions for the sake of clarity.).

The Virtue of type One is Serenity. When we are abiding in Essence, we accept reality exactly as it is, including all of the conditions and limitations we are presented with in each moment. We are deeply relaxed and allow the energies of life to flow through us without resisting them or trying to control them. As a result, there is no feeling of effort or of striving after a better, more perfect reality (which exists only in our minds and imaginations). Serenity allows us to be calm and balanced, regardless of the externals vicissitudes of life.

The Virtue of type Two is Humility. When we are abiding in Essence, we do not require the approval of others or from our own self-regard. Humility results from being without self-reflecting. It is not self-disparagement as some of us have been taught, nor is it not taking satisfaction in our work or relationships. When we are really present and awake, issues about our identity and self-worth do not arise. Without attempting to be anything in particular, we are humble, able to love others disinterestedly, without any thought of self, of being thanked or repaid, or of even having the appreciation of others.

The traditional Virtue of type Three is Truthfulness, but we think that Authenticity is more accurate. When we are abiding in Essence, we speak and act with complete truthfulness and we see that any untruthfulness would cause us to detach from our True Nature. We realize that the most important thing in life is to be ourselves—deeply, completely, and authentically—not to be what others want us to be. We understand that nothing else but being authentic will satisfy us, no matter how many accomplishments we pile up or public acclaim we achieve.

The Virtue of type Four is Equanimity. When we are abiding in Essence, we are touched and affected by our experiences, often in profound ways, but we are not lost or swept away by emotional reactions. This gives healthy Fours the ability to embrace life without being “storm-tossed” by every feeling. With equanimity, even negative experiences can be made into something positive. Equanimity allows us to find purpose and meaning in knowing that the soul is able to transform every experience into something worthwhile. .

The Virtue of the Five is Detachment, but we think Non-Attachment is more accurate. When we abide in Essence, “non-attachment” contains no hint of detachment; in fact, it requires a radical immersion in reality, the very quality referred to by the familiar spiritual injunction to “be in the world but not of it.” Non-attachment also allows us not to cling to anything, inner or outer. We no longer need to cling to the endless activity of the mind as a source of identity and orientation to the world.

The Virtue of type Six is Courage. When we are abiding in Essence, we are truly “fearless” True courage arises in the heart when a person is present and deeply grounded in the moment, abiding in True Nature. We realize the depths of the real support and inner strength that we actually possess, and see that they naturally arise every time they are needed. We see that we are supported by the tremendous solidity of Being itself—so much so that we can totally accept not knowing the outcome of things. We have the courage to act in the moment, with the real faith that comes from our personal experience of the Real.

The Virtue of type Seven is Sobriety. When we are abiding in Essence, we feel awake, sober, and in contact with our immediate experience. We see the real world in exquisite detail with a quiet satisfaction. Everything is wonderful, but we are not swept away in our enthusiasms because we are fully, mindfully here. Sobriety also brings with it a sense of gratitude, a deep and abiding joy in the miracle of life. Very healthy Sevens are grateful for everything they have. Every experience that falls on a clear, sober consciousness can fill us with joy.

The Virtue of type Eight is Innocence, but we think Mercy is more accurate. When we are abiding in Essence, we act with a natural tenderness and mercy toward ourselves and others. Mercy is an expression of “tough love,” which stands against our personality’s desire for revenge or to see other suffer for their wrong actions. Mercy melts the hardened, armored heart, and heals past actions through gentleness and forgiveness, since there can be no mercy without real forgiveness.

The Virtue of type Nine is Action, but we think Engagement is more accurate. The Virtue of Engagement does not refer to doing things physically; rather it is our embracing of reality—our willingness to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into life and into the unfolding mystery of existence. When we are abiding in Essence, we see that everything in reality grows and changes, and our soul is no different. We see that transformation is more rapid if we show up in our lives with presence, heartfulness, and full-throttle receptiveness. When our heart is awakened by the Virtues, we see that the self is being reshaped and transformed every moment—and we fully participate in this transformation.

Needless to say, there is much more to be understood about each of these Virtues. But by allowing our hearts to be reoriented away from the effects of the Passions, Fixations, and the personality structures that we usually take ourselves to be, the Virtues allow rebirth and deeper transformation, positively affecting the world around us. But we must always remember the paradoxical nature of the Virtues: it is not we who are “virtuous,” but we whose main Work is to consent to Virtue taking over our hearts and lives.