Claudio Benjamín Naranjo Cohen (24 November 1932 – 12 July 2019) is gone. Óscar Ichazo (24 July, 1931 – 26 March, 2020) died less than a year later. The meditation teacher Ajahn Dhiravamsa (5 November, 1934 - 28 July, 2021) passed away more recently. Rezeleah Landman Schaeffer has left us though I can find no obituary. The only teachers and leaders still alive from the early history of Naranjo’s SAT are Kathy Speeth who told her story of sitting in Gurdjieff’s lap when she was a young child and the Nyingmapa teacher Tarthang Tulku who had an enormous influence on Naranjo. At 86 Tarthang is still teaching though no longer traveling internationally. These were the men and women who first introduced the Enneagram in the West.
My friend Dan Kaplan forwarded an email promotion for a course by some proponents of the Enneagram that promises to unlock its radical teaching by returning to the “original intent.” Please forgive me if I'm skeptical. Are these third generation experts going back to Naranjo’s characterization of the 9 types, or Ichazo’s prototyping which is notably different, or the myth of an esoteric Sufi circle, or the inconclusive evidence that it lay hidden in Gurdjieff’s teaching, or William Patterson’s tracing the system back to ancient Egypt. I try to give the devil his due, but “original intent” is just hype to separate you from your money. I challenge any of these teachers to reveal the original intent in a rigorous way. If they’re just trying to distinguish themselves from Enneagram parlor games, I might be more generous.
Perhaps it is time to look at some of the threads that tie the Enneagram’s popularization in the West to the burgeoning of the psycho-spiritual integration that took California by like a New Awakening in the last part of the last century. I only know the SAT experience so that will be my focus.
Dr. Aubrey Lindgren, who was in Naranjo’s first SAT group, talked about Naranjo’s early teaching in the October 2021 edition of “The Enneagram Monthly.” Lindgren’s account tries to unwrap the Enneagram, particularly the Enneagram of Fixations, for a Western audience steeped in the language of psychotherapy. She asks why so little has been written about those early days? Her answer is “To realize the full impact of the teachings, we have to hold the container in silence. A silence that is both inside our own minds, as in not forming concepts about transformation, and outside, as in not discussing the material presented. It is a disservice to the public to hear about a theory without the full understanding and guidance as to how to effectively apply these ideas to your life.”
A gnostic response wants to keep secrets secret, or is trying to hide something, or hinting at some secret knowledge that will cost money. While I appreciate whatever caution is there about doing inner work, Lindgren's answer hides too much. As far as the Enneagram is concerned, the cat’s out of the bag. If the Enneagram ever was an esoteric teaching, it has crossed over into popular culture, at worst mimicking astrology or at best being an adjunct to the techniques of psychotherapy. The careful inner work of introspection seems too difficult for a mass audience.
I was in Naranjo’s SAT 2 which began in the Fall of 1972. By the end of the second year, the group had expanded to perhaps 60-80 people. The first group that Lindgren describes was distinct and interacted with Naranjo in a different way, often delivering his “indications” to newer students. I talked with my longtime friend Daniel Shurman who was in Group 1; together we combed our memories and remembered many people who were and remain friends. I was particularly close to my fellow Jesuit Bob Ochs and the Franciscan priest Joe Scerbo among others. We also remembered friends who lived communally out on Broadway and another group around Indian Rock in North Berkeley, and the women who lived with Naranjo on Allston Way. The membership included the well-known second generation Enneagram teacher, Hameed Ali, as well as the transpersonal scholar Charlie Tart.
The influence of Oscar Ichazo on the modern Enneagram is well known, even litigated. As I pointed out in my article “The Jesuit Transmission of the Enneagram,” as well as “Muddied Roots, Psychobabble, and Inoculation.” I was aware that Naranjo was unpacking a powerful experience he’d had in Arica, and his presentation and understanding were different from Ichazo. Actually a lot of time was spent sorting out the distinctions. I am not an Enneagram teacher so I am not going to indulge in any of the arguments about theories, typing or tests. Have at it.
I will second what Lindgren says about the inspiration of Naranjo’s personal gifts, his intelligence and his creativity. There was also the influence of Fritz Perls’ Gestalt, echoes of Sufi school or what we were told was the teaching of the Brotherhood, the ego reduction in our personal and group work, some dabbling in Buddhist meditation and, of course, what is called “The Work.” Naranjo felt that the Enneagram as it came through Ichazo was a kind of fleshing out of the esoteric work that Mr. Gurdjieff undertook at the beginning of the last century. He never claimed to be an authorized Fourth Way teacher, but he loved the “trickster” myth around Gurdjieff’s teaching, and was always on the lookout for some connections, real or imagined, with Gurdjieff.
We were a group of bright, mostly young, educated westerners ready, willing, even eager for what we imagined to be the shock of eastern spiritual practice. We were also terribly naive. At times our work together became a circus. There were many dark sides. They do not discount the value of the work that we managed to accomplish--in a way some of the more thorny issues were part of that training. However they persist. In my view we cannot allow them to stay in the shadows, or sweep them under the rug. If we purge them from our telling the history of this period, we are just not being honest.
I will examine one aspect of the early SAT story, its connection with the unofficial Gurdjieff work, and my personal experience of sexual abuse and trauma after undergoing the Fisher-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy.
When G.I. Gurdjieff died in Paris in 1949, beside his recondite writings, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, and All and Everything, he left a large body of oral teaching that spanned nearly four decades. He had many devoted students, and though he did charge certain senior students to work with other interested people across the globe, he died with no clear transmission of a spiritual lineage. As with many powerful systems, it attracted a lot of interest, some from sane people who were intent on realizing the goals of liberation through self awareness and observation that Gurdjieff advocated. In other cases people seem to have been attracted by his unorthodox teaching methods. Several hung out a shingle with “The Work” predominantly displayed, and felt it gave them license to behave badly.
I don’t doubt that Kathy Speeth sat in Mr. Gurdjieff’s lap. But it is extremely unlikely, as Lindgren recounts, that it happened during the summers that her parents spent in Paris studying with Gurdjieff at 6 Rue des Colonels Rénard in the 17th arrondissement. Her parents were prominent New Yorkers who had been students of A.R. Orage, perhaps continuing to work with Jane Heap or Willem Nyland after Orage’s early death. Kathy was born in 1937 and the Second World War began in September of 1939. Her meeting with Mr. Gurdjieff was probably on one of his trips to the United States, and he did make one trip to the United States after the surrender of Germany so the timing sounds likely.
Why am I making such a big deal about the exact time that Kathy sat in Gurdjieff’s lap and where it took place? It is probably one of two verifiable connections with “the Work” in the early SAT. Kathy and Pamela Travers were the only people he introduced to the group who had actually met Mr. Gurdjieff. I want to avoid the sloppy thinking that comes from blurring facts with fanciful stories.
When Naranjo began to teach, there were several legitimate, respected Fourth Way teachers in the Bay Area, Lord John Pentland in San Francisco, Mr. Willem A. Nyland on “The Land” up near Cazadero and Mr. Robert S. de Ropp. I know that Pentland and Nyland stayed away from Naranjo’s Enneagram work although each one knew about it. Instead we were introduced to Alex Horn (by proxy--he never visited the group), EJ Gold aka “The Beast,” and Henry Korman as Fourth Way connections. Carlos Castenada, who never claimed to have any connection with the Work but was a Hollywood example of crazy wisdom, appeared at some point to entertain us. None of these teachers had any interest in the Enneagram as Naranjo presented it, but Naranjo was interested in their teaching methods.
Lindgren describes working with Alex Horn during one of his late night early morning marathon sessions on a secluded ranch north of San Francisco as a revelatory experience. It could have simply been the result of sleep deprivation and hypnosis. My only experience with Horn was at his Everyman Theater on 24th Street and Mission in San Francisco where I watched a preposterous production about the assassination of JFK staged by Horn and his then wife, Sharon. Horn prowled the audience before, after and during the intermission. That was enough for me.
Horn claimed that he was in the lineage of Mr. Gurdjieff, but there is zero evidence of a real connection. I assert that Horn was attracted to the power he could reap from Gurdjieff’s unorthodox teaching methods. Period. Naranjo never encouraged me to work with Horn although several members of the early SAT groups did. I know several people who were not Naranjo’s students but had been in Horn’s group. They report sexual exploitation, coercion and even physical violence. For example, Horn would instigate a dispute between several of the men in the group and then instruct them to have a wrestling match, or even fist fight without gloves. Horn was also a known sexual predator with a voracious appetite for young women. His Bible was not anything that Gurdjieff or Ouspensky wrote but Atlas Shrugged.
E.J. Gold claimed to have been authorized to teach as “The Beast” by an esoteric Sufi School. As far as I can ascertain, he fabricated his connection with Mr. Gurdjieff. He was also the author of a cult book called The American Book of the Dead. When I met him, I could not shake the feeling that he was devoid of compassion. He invited anyone of the SAT group to come to Southern California and do an “intensive training.” By the time my friend Hal Slate arrived at a secluded bunker somewhere up on the Grapevine, the title and authority of “The Beast” had been given to one of Gold’s very young disciples who had learned everything he needed to know by performing for three days straight with a garage rock band made up of people who had no musical training. Ripping a page from the script of Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film, “The Exterminating Angel,” Gold seized on an unexpected change in the weather to concoct a scenario that it was the end of the world and all his trapped guests had to make some serious ontological choices. Hal escaped, walking out of the canyon on foot during the freak Southern California blizzard. As the saying goes, “Never miss the opportunity provided by a catastrophe.” I would add, “real or imagined, there are always several choices available.”
Of all the Gurdjieff students and teachers who visited our groups, meeting Pamela Travers was remarkable. The real Mary Poppins had actually been Gurdjieff’s student. Because I’d actually read some of her books, despite all the technicolor dancing and singing I knew that Poppins would be very English prim and proper with a mystical bent. And here was a middle aged woman, not at all glamorous, as much the portrait of an English nanny as my imagination allowed, who was also very present. She talked and answered our questions in a completely no nonsense way but with a lilt in her voice; she mentioned that she still met with a group and she named one of Mr. Gurdjieff’s senior students as her teacher.
By 1975 Naranjo began to withdraw from teaching the Enneagram. Others with more personal knowledge can comment or speculate on his motivation. My sense is that the initial work had been exhausting and the inspired impulse of his Arica experience had petered out and drained him personally. Some of the second generation Enneagram teachers have speculated that his drug experimentation had taken a toll which from my observation was a strong possibility. One member of the first group told me that much of his distress stemmed from the end of his intimate relationship with Kathy Speeth. All these are possible scenarios. There was also the concern that he felt after that the Enneagram materials had also been released to a wider audience. I do know from my conversations with him that he was apprehensive about the possible distortion of the Enneagram. He also told me that popularizers had watered it down. The SAT experiment would go dark at least temporarily.
He introduced Henry Korman as a person who would possibly inherit his SAT groups. Korman was leading a group in New York but had agreed to come and work with anyone who wished to continue to do what we imagined was Gurdjieff’s Work.
I worked with Korman for almost 3 years, group meetings twice a week and every Sunday. We began with an exercise called “Sensing, Looking and Listening,” then observations and questions from the group under Korman’s heavy-handed direction. Korman also organized elaborate dinners with exacting preparation, like the ones we read about in former Gurdjieff students’ memoirs. Sundays were dedicated to a Work exercise, and once a month we would begin on Saturday and extend it throughout the whole night. This pattern of group meetings, intensive concentration and work coupled with sleep deprivation seemed to be something imitated from the way Gurdjieff is said to have worked with his students. Alex Horn and E.J. Gold also made ample, and often manipulative, use of forcibly breaking up normal cycles.
While there was none of the physical violence that was reported in Horn’s groups, my experience of Korman was that he was a bully. He had no qualms about interfering in the sexual relationships of couples in the group or openly sleeping with students. He tried to arrange for a woman in the group to introduce me to heterosexual experience. Thank god she had the presence of mind to say no. He “strongly” suggested that I join with two other group members and start a construction company which he named “Double Action Builders.” This is the one real regret of getting involved in his group. It set me up to follow a dead end career for way too long.
After I had left Henry’s group, I was living in San Francisco, and trying to piece together some of that frayed experience. A Jesuit whom I knew and worked with was a member of the San Francisco Gurdjieff Group. He arranged for me to meet Lord John Pentland. I arrived at the upper middle class home in Saint Francis Woods at the appointed time for a congenial conversation with Pentland. He asked about my intentions, my experience, and talked about our mutual friend whom he knew well and respected. Pentland suggested that one of his longtime students, the woman who owned Fields Book Store on Polk, would meet and talk with me while we decided if I should join the group. When he asked me if I had any questions, I asked if he knew Korman and about the exercise of “Sensing, Looking and Listening.” Pentland said that yes, he had heard of Korman. Then he asked me to describe the exercise completely and fully which I did. He then asked about some specific details, particularly the attention to breath, or really the absence of any instruction about the breath. He paused, then looked at me directly and said that the exercise had absolutely no relationship to anything Mr. Gurdjieff taught. He would not comment about its possible usefulness.
I’m not going to say that my time with Korman was completely wasted, but I cannot pretend that I was in any way participating in “The Work.” Just a quick footnote--Korman met Mr. William Patrick Patterson, and began to work with him. He stopped teaching, admitted to a “grave” mistake, and wrote a letter of apology to his former students. He did not include me. I had to read a copy of the letter sent to a friend. He was in many ways brilliant, and I hesitate to put him into the category of an arrogant, destructive prick. Sadly he belongs in that bin.
Bob Hoffman and the Fisher-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy
Both Lindgren and Ernest Lowe talk about the psychic Bob Hoffman. They both used Hoffman’s Process working with clients as did I. Naranjo introduced this tailor who had zero psychological training to SAT. Hoffman claimed to have had a midnight vision of Dr. Siegfried Fisher, a well known and respected psychiatrist and also a family friend, who revealed the secret of what Hoffman called Negative Love and the Fisher-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy that allowed us to undo the negative consequences of our childhood programming.
Most of my first year in SAT was spent doing the Fisher-Hoffman Process. Hoffman became infatuated with me, and within 6 months after I finished working with him, Hoffman began stalking me at Berkeley’s gay bar. After a few more months invited me to dinner and raped me. He was a psychotic and a criminal.
Naranjo did not condone or in any way encourage aggression, violence or sexual exploitation between students and teachers or among SAT members, but I do fault him for not doing appropriate due diligence before allowing Hoffman to work with SAT members. Hoffman was a “psychic.” Hoffman allegedly told Naranjo several things about his childhood which he could not have known. The normal training for a mental health professional was superseded or abrogated.
Although I don’t think he would have approved of Hoffman’s sexual conduct, Naranjo did sleep with students. To my knowledge he did not coerce or manipulate anyone, but inevitably it had negative consequences.
The Soup of the Soup
Looking back, I find it odd that none of the teachers that Naranjo introduced to the group were conversant or really even interested in the Enneagram as Naranjo presented it. They were generally teachers, monks, therapists devoted to the Path of Liberation, but mixed in were some who lied about being in the lineage of Mr. Gurdjieff and fraudsters who made preposterous claims but really were just out for power, money or sex. It was the soup we swam in, and, like the air we breathe, no matter how careful we try to be, we cannot be certain that we’re not getting a whiff of poison.
Naranjo loved a Sufi story, attributed to Mulla Nasruddin, called the Soup of the Soup. A generous neighbor gave the Mulla a fat duck which his wife dressed and made into a fine dinner. Everyone was happy. The next day, a guest knocked on the door, “I heard that Mustafa gave you a big duck, do you have any left?” Of course observing the obligation of hospitality, the Mulla invited the guest in for some hearty soup made from the leftovers. The next day, a friend of Mustafa's friend smelled the still rich soup bubbling in the kitchen, knocked on the Mulla’s door, and asked to taste the savory dish. The Mulla invited him in. This goes on for several more days and several more friends of the friends of Mustafa. (In the West we’d call this a shaggy dog story). About the 10th day, after the now familiar knock on the door, the Mulla invited another friend of the friend of the friend of Mustafa's friend in for the remainder of the soup, but when the guest sat and tasted nothing more than hot water, he asked, “Where’s the duck?” The Mulla answered, “I’m sorry but all I have to offer you is the soup of the soup of the soup of the soup of the duck that Mustafa gave me.”
That is my impression of the end of our work with SAT. We were just going through the motions of the Work of the Work, but we’d lost the taste of that fine fat duck that we were given for our feast. However we'd also tasted real Duck Soup that Naranjo had served, and, with persistence and a bit of luck, we could buy a fat bird and recreate the recipe ourselves. We can, in the words of Lord John Pentland, create what Mr. Gurdjieff called self-remembering, “. . . a state of attention . . . a state of vibrant attentiveness, of inner alignment and attunement, which, when we are sufficiently still inside, possesses a potency reminding us that the real inner work is a response to a higher and deeper calling.”