as it originally appeared in The Zen, Yoga Gurdjieff Blog, July 2013
Today, we are going to take up a subject that will explain some features of Dante's inferno and Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell which seem contradictory unless one understands both the enneagram and the nature of death itself.
As I have explained at great length, the enneagram is divided into two realms, the spiritual and the natural. Transition from the right side of the diagram — the natural — into the left side, which is the spiritual, represents the transition from ego, or personality, into Being, or essence. A human being is meant to accomplish this transition during their lifetime.
At the moment of actual, physical death, the progress around the perimeter of the diagram ends. All of the actions that were possible on this level, whereby energies are exchanged according to the principles of the law of three and the law of seven, cease. At this point is obtained what one might call a lawful result. In any event, whatever has taken place within the evolution of this octave, it is now a fixed entity. So what you are when you die cannot be changed.
In this way, individuals who are still trapped within the vicious circle of the natural side of the diagram, that is, materiality, desire, and power, are in hell. Because there are three aspects of hell: Materiality, Desire and Power, each one of which is made up of a subordinate octave of the same three qualities, hell has nine levels. Each level expresses a particular quality of understanding, all of which fall short of real Being.
In the same way, Heaven has nine levels composed of three "major" levels, Being, Purification, and Wisdom, each one of which contains three reconciled qualities within it. This is how we arrive at the structure of Dante's heaven and hell, which were legitimate divine revelations on concise particulars.
Swedenborg's heaven and hell are composed of three levels each, because Swedenborg was reporting from a more generalized level of detail regarding the actual structure of heaven and hell. Each of his three levels is subdivided, if one understands the principle according to the enneagram, into three levels of its own.
The important point is that the diagram represents the transitional stage for man. If a man does not pass from the natural to the spiritual side of the diagram during his lifetime, through the spiritual effort that is required while he is forming, he is trapped in the natural or right-hand side of the diagram, which is dominated by egoism and personality. This is exactly how Swedenborg described the nature of those who end up in hell; and the left-hand side of the diagram represents those who have passed into spiritual influences, which is exactly what he said is necessary in order to enter heaven.
The right-hand side of the enneagram represents egoism, and above all selfishness, since all of the forces that dominate it are selfish ones in which the individual under the influence thinks only of themselves and how they can get and keep what is around them, always at the expense of others. Because this is the way the overwhelming majority of outward life is arranged, and because it represents such an inescapable attraction, most of us find ourselves in this piece of territory throughout most of our lives.
The left-hand side of the diagram represents a movement into community, where real Being, once manifest, acknowledges its subordinate position. This movement into relationship is accompanied by a determination to serve the greater good and to help others.
In this way, the enneagram provides us with a map both the process of life and death, and the nature of heaven and hell, all wrapped up in a single neat diagram that shows the interplay of forces and what happens after death. Along the way, it unites three major cosmological interpretations of heaven and hell — Dante's, Swedenborg's, and Gurdjieff's—each one of which, by the way, are entirely accurate, and all of which consonant when seen from the right point of view.