I’d like to be remembered as the fella who taught you something you already knew. –Woody Guthrie
It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards! –The White Queen The soul on its own level is an initiate. –D. K. This short article is designed to introduce readers to what is known in occult studies[i] as the antahkarana, or Rainbow Bridge, and how it relates to the nine Holy Ideas of Enneagram theory and practice.[ii]
Some believe it is time more Enneagram practitioners begin exploring the intersection of occult studies and the Enneagram of Personality, and that it is time for the ancient secrets of initiation to be publicly known and discussed by willing and worthy candidates. There are many places that one could begin this revelation, but for purposes of this article we are going to take a look at the science of the antahkarana, and how the Holy Ideas may just well be the key to building it in inner consciousness and outer expression. To begin, let’s hear from Gottfried de Purucker, head of the American branch of the Theosophical Society from 1929-1942. On February 25th, 1941 he asked, and answered, the following questions: Why is it that the floodgates of what is to the modern world new esoteric information, are open? Why were they first opened by H.P.B. [Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875], and why has the flood of teaching of occult information continued up to the present time?
It is the esoteric rule to keep silence on these matters; and so rigidly was this rule held that in ancient times infringement or breaking of this rule was punished either by severe discipline, or even in degenerate times by death. Originally the death was occult death: deprivation of teaching, and deprivation of association with the teacher. That law finally became construed among the ancients closest to our time as calling for death of the body…
At any rate, it showed how strongly and earnestly the ancients of all time held to the rule of occult silence. With the downfall of the Roman Empire in the West, a new cosmic cycle began, affecting the Earth also. The restriction of civilization to separate parts of the Earth came to an end. There followed the Dark Ages as the preparation, the embryonic time, for a new birth. The discovery of the new worlds, the immense increase in scientific knowledge, the gradual and increasing collapse of exoteric religious feeling, the wanderings of philosophers in searching for truth: all were symptoms or phenomena of the opening of a new age… This called for very strenuous action on the part of the Guardians of the ancient wisdom to give new light to mankind, to guide it through the opening of the new age[iii] until the new psychology became established and was able to take care of itself…
A new or rather an old teaching was to be presented anew, in new cloaks, new garments, fitted to the understanding of the minds of mankind, of men entering this new age… A new installment of the same knowledge in new guises, new cloaks, new presentations, understandable by the psychology of the modern mind was required. It began and has continued. One of these days the gates will close. The installment then will have been given. And for the time being the keynotes for the new age will be sufficient to ring down the succeeding cycles, until in the course of human history a new installment for a then new age will again be called for.
Some of these old teachings that have recently been presented in new garments and guises in the last century are of course embodied in the Enneagram. Another, introduced by teachers such as H. P. Blavatsky and Alice A. Bailey has to do with the antahkarana, or Rainbow Bridge.[iv] Although one can find references to this phenomenon in numerous texts, the two easiest to find and reference from are in the Alice A. Bailey corpus and can be found at most metaphysical bookstores and online through the Lucis Trust: Education in the New Age, and The Rays and the Initiation. One definition of the antahkarana, as translated from the Sanskrit by Theosophists, is an “internal organ of perception.” It is said to be the bridge of energy and awareness that connects the Spiritual Triad (atma-buddhi-manas, or Will-Love-Intelligence, or perhaps the Three Higher Centers of the Enneagram) to the Lower Three-fold Personality (Physical-Emotional-Mental, or the Three Lower Centers of Intelligence). Building this bridge is part of the Journey of Initiation, or the Path of Return, and according to spiritual sources must be built consciously, from the ground up, out of what is known in Sanskrit as chitta, or conscious mental substance.
In teachings such as the ones mentioned above, it is said that this bridge must be in place before one takes (or more properly speaking transits) the major, or solar, spiritual initiations. In point of fact, the ancient teachings say that the antahkarana is the path, symbolically speaking. That is why there is an ancient and rather paradoxical saying that: “Before a man can tread the Path, he must become that Path himself.”
The antahkarana creates continuity of consciousness between the Monad or Divine Spark… and the Soul… and the three lower bodies–mental, emotional and physical. It helps to awaken the intuitive faculties and relieves the practitioner of the sense of separateness and the fear of death. In consequence, one becomes more sensitive and responsive to impressions from subtle planes and thus develops higher faculties such as telepathy and clairvoyance.[v]
It should be noted that in occult studies a distinction is made between the sutratma, or “thread-soul,” and the antahkarana. The former is that line of energy projected down into the lower worlds by the Monad or Divine Spark, and that anchors the evolving being in a body clothed in dense substance. The latter is built step by step by the “soul-infused personality” (the integration of Enneatype structure and the Essential Self) for the purpose of re-anchoring itself in the Upper Worlds[vi] (and this work continues progressively lifetime after lifetime).
Having said all of this, it is important to remember that the bridge, channel, conduit or connection is constructed of subtle material and cannot usually be seen, heard or felt by others with normal sense-faculties. It is more of a living and luminous thought-form, a subjective thread of consciousness that is called the Rainbow Bridge because it is composed of the colors of all Seven Rays (which will be the subject of a later essay).[vii] Now, what does all of this have to do with the Enneagram and the Holy Ideas?
The Enneagram may be, among other things (a tool for behavioral change, a psychological road map for healing and integration, an embodiment and expression of sacred mathematics and geometry), an occult map and tool to guide souls through the process of attaining those “graded series of expansions of consciousness known as initiations in the ancient Mystery Schools,” and that each Holy Idea is the key to building for the corresponding Enneatype what has just been described above–the Rainbow Bridge of energy and awareness that serves to connect and integrate the Personality, Soul and Monad.
From a spiritual perspective, one of the problems inherent in the human constitution is the natural gap existing in all of us between lower and higher mind. Without bridging this gap there is no easy access to intuition and perception of the higher worlds–one effectively remains stuck at the level of ordinary sense perception and lower emotional and mental functioning, the latter two being, as we know from advanced Enneagram studies, merely reflections of Higher Intelligence (what the Greeks called nous), and the Higher Emotional Center (what occultists call buddhi or the Spiritual Soul).[viii] As a relevant aside, it can be quite illuminating to study what Theosophists term the Spiritual Triad, atma-buddhi-manas, and explore how these three higher centers, qualities and faculties can be usefully mapped on to the Inner Triangle of the Enneagram.
Back to the Enneagram. What then is a Holy Idea? Some of the finest definitions and descriptions of the phenomenology of a Holy Idea come from the writings of A.H. Almaas and Sandra Maitri. In Chapter 2 of his book Facets of Unity: The Enneagram of Holy Ideas, Almaas says that “each Holy Idea is a particular direct perception of reality as a specific characteristic or facet of the unobscured perception of what is. The nine Ideas, then, provide us with a comprehensive view of objective reality” (p. 6).
In her The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul, Maitri says the Holy Ideas “form the cornerstone of our understanding of the spiritual dimension of the Enneagram. The nine Holy Ideas are nine different direct perceptions of reality, when it is perceived without the filter of the personality, so they are nine different enlightened perspectives. The use of the word idea may be misleading here, since we usually think of an idea as a mental concept. In the language of the enneagram, however, idea refers to a particular perception of reality, a vantage point from which it is seen, experienced, and understood. It is important to clearly grasp that the Holy Ideas are not particular spiritual experiences or states of consciousness, but rather are views of reality freed from the prejudices of personality” (p. 10).
Almaas goes on to note that Oscar Ichazo not only views the work with the Holy Ideas as necessary for freedom from the fixations or chief features, but also that they can be seen as “psycho-catalyzers” needed for the work of “psycho-alchemy” (p. 7). What is crucial to note is that each Holy Idea is a configuration of perception and perspective perfectly suited to the Enneatype in question, and is the antidote to what Claudio Naranjo calls the “cognitive error” at the core of each fixation or chief feature. From the occult point of view, they can also be construed as “psycho-bridges” that provide the “keys to the Kingdom,” so to speak.
The important point to remember in all of this is that the cognitive error or bias that we call the fixation becomes a knot in the lower mind that not only occludes the light of Higher Mind from awareness and embodiment but, even worse, prevents the bridge from being constructed that would permanently link the upper and lower (or subtle and gross) worlds and thus create that continuity of consciousness necessary for the taking or transiting of the higher initiations. It might be noted that the phenomenology of the first three initiations, as given in various Theosophical writings correlates quite well with the graded order of work on self commonly reported by Enneagram teachers and students.
In other words, the First Initiation has to do with dis-identification from and mastery over the physical plane and body, and correlates to the level of the instinctual subtypes, distorted and Undistorted. As Helen Palmer so often says in her workshops and professional trainings, without damming up the flood of compulsive, instinctual subtype behaviors, we have no energy left over for spiritual transformation.
The Second Initiation has to do with dis-identification from and mastery over the astral (or emotional) plane and body, and correlates to the level of the passions and Virtues. Sandra Maitri’s book, The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues, brilliantly articulates this realm of experience.
The Third Initiation has to do with the dis-identification from and mastery over the causal (or mental) plane and body, and correlates to the level of the fixations and Holy Ideas. In Theosophical terms, one becomes an Aspirant or Probationary Disciple at the First Initiation, an Accepted Disciple at the Second, and a Realized Initiate (a Arhat in Buddhism only at the Third. The higher initiations do not really concern us here, except to say that according to teachings found in the Alice A. Bailey corpus at the Fourth one becomes an Adept, at the Fifth a Master. Again, the first two are considered to be preliminary, and only with the Third are we in the realm of major or solar initiatory experience.
Using this descriptive and evolutionary framework, it would seem that the vast majority of Enneagram practitioners are working somewhere between the First and Third Initiations because, from an occult perspective, virtually every person who is consciously on his or her spiritual path has taken the First Initiation in this, or perhaps a previous, lifetime, and the information symbolically encoded in the Enneagram is not likely to be useful to a very advanced being such as a Realized Initiate (3.0), an accomplished Adept (4.0), or a perfected Master (5.0).[ix]
According to what some call The Ageless or Divine Wisdom (Theo-sophia), spiritual initiations are experienced not by the personality or the Enneatype structure, but by the soul. As the Tibetan master D. K. says, “Initiation is an achievement and an attained success of the soul which has at last succeeded in dominating the personality, and in manifesting its true nature…” Furthermore, an initiatory grade once attained expands consciousness and its capacities in a deep and lasting way. An initiation occurs when there has been a quantum jump, due to initiatory processes, in awareness, soul-perceptivity, and higher faculties.
In terms of evolutionary development, the new realizations are both gradual, (requiring much hard work and measures of suffering), and sudden (similar to a model of “punctuated equilibrium”). To mention and utilize Riso and Hudson’s Levels of Development model, an initiation might occur (but is not guaranteed!) when the person has made conscious, purified and aligned the lower three-fold personality with its innate and dominant Enneatype structure and can now partially or permanently live out of the top three levels of his or her own developmental scheme. At a certain point, with a combination of conscious work and voluntary suffering (Gurdieff), right timing and perhaps what some might call Grace, the soul moves out of those top three levels, in a truly quantum way, into a new and more advanced initiatory level. She emerges into the light of new and vaster awareness, with expanded powers of action, reflection and perceptivity.
To conclude, let us remember the words of Gurdieff: Speaking in general, it must be understood that the enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted. And in this connection only what a man is able to put into the enneagram does he actually know, that is, understand. For the man who is able to make use of it, the enneagram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram. A man may be quite alone in the desert and he can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe. And every time he can learn something new, something he did not know before. –P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (295) [i]
The terms esoteric and occult are sometimes used interchangeably. Technically though, esoteric refers to that which is ‘within’ and describes a set of teachings and ideas that are understood, preserved and practiced by a small and specially chosen group of those who have earned the right to be exposed to them. An example would be the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society. Esoteric is often paired with its opposite or complement, that which is exoteric or publicly revealed. The occult refers to that which is hidden, secret, in the dark, either deliberately or naturally. Much of what is considered genuinely occult would be considered by the Tibetans ‘self-secret.’ In other words, there is no need to sequester the teachings within an in-group, because if one is not ready to encounter and work with them, they will remain naturally occluded from consciousness.
It should be stressed, because many have negative preconceptions around that term that the occult does not necessarily refer to anything evil, including Black Magic practices and the Left Hand Path in Tantra. It is unfortunate that many Christians in the West have developed an ignorant and strong fear of the word based on unfounded associations.[ii] This essay has its origins in workshops the author gave at two IEA Conferences; 2004 in Arlington, VA entitled “To Function as a Soul: Spiritual Initiation and the Enneagram” and 2007 in Redwood City, CA entitled: “Building the Rainbow Bridge with the Holy Ideas: Theosophical Understandings of the Enneagram.”[iii]
Most are not aware that the idea of a New Age did not emerge from California in the 1960s, but rather from teachings in the Theosophical tradition dating back to the 19th century.[iv] Interestingly, during the author’s tenure at the Findhorn Community in Northern Scotland between 1983 and 1986, some if not many members seemed to have at least a rudimentary understanding of what these words refer to. In fact, the internal newsletter was called The Rainbow Bridge![v] For more on this topic readers are advised to study the teachings of anthroposophist and occultist Rudolf Steiner.[vi]
It should be noted that Jewish Kabbalah and its Etz Chayyim (Tree of Life) has much to say about the need to consciously anchor the individual soul in the Higher Levels of Reality.[vii] Apparently, all of manifest reality is composed of and colored by seven great and archetypal Ray Energies, which can be experienced in various ways–as qualities, attributes, potencies, vibrations, etc.[viii]
One of the only public expositions of the reality of the Higher Centers as related to the Enneagram can be found in Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View, by Claudio Naranjo, M.D. Gurdieff and Ouspensky discuss this topic briefly.[ix][ix] Obviously, this way of naming and numbering the sequential initiations is particular to the Theosophical tradition, especially those who study and follow the Alice A. Bailey teachings. The ancient Egyptians had their own way of mapping the evolutionary journey, as do the Tibetans, the Eastern Orthodox, and others. What is interesting to note is that when Christians and Jews have had an experience of spiritual illumination and a turning toward the Light, a metanoia of a sort, when Christians have suffered a “birth of the Word in the Soul” (Meister Eckhart) and feel “born again,” when Jews have a permanent “cleaving to the Lord,” these are usually only signs of the First Initiation. The person is just stepping on the Path. This becomes obvious when the person begins to identify with their experiences. Feel proud and self-righteous. Preach to others. Start a cult, avoid their other inner and outer work, etc.