A Skeptic's Path to Enlightenment podcast logo - meditator with headphones

Susan Piver: Understanding Our Differences with the Buddhist Enneagram

Susan Piver headshot

subscribe for free AND GET the latest PODCAST episodes in your favorite player:

Bestselling author Susan Piver is a powerful Buddhist teacher who shares her wisdom and guided meditations weekly through her Open Heart Project and community. Her new book, The Buddhist Enneagram, helps us understand how differently each of us sees and understands the world. Through her unique Buddhist take on the Enneagram’s nine different personality types, Susan shares how understanding our differences can lead to deeper and more compassionate connections with our partners, colleagues, and everyone we encounter, transforming our difficult emotions into pure expressions of our basic goodness.

[00:01:09] Scott Snibbe: Susan, I’m so excited to have you back on the podcast and I absolutely loved your new book, The Buddhist Enneagram. I read it cover to cover, and now my wife and I are rereading the sections about our types out-loud to each other.

So thank you so much for coming to join us.

The Buddhist Enneagram book by Susan Piver

[00:01:27] Susan Piver: Oh, I’m happy to see you again and I’m glad to be back. And mostly I was just delighted to hear that you’re finding the book useful. That’s great to hear.

What is the Enneagram?

[00:01:34] Scott Snibbe: So the first question is a really obvious one. What is the Enneagram?

[00:01:39] Susan Piver: “Ennea” is the Greek prefix for nine and the Enneagram describes nine kinds of people. It’s sometimes called nine personality types, but it’s so much more than personality. I prefer to say nine kinds of people or nine ways of being.

enneagram image

[00:01:59] Scott Snibbe: And where did it come from? You actually spend a bit of the book in the beginning on the mysterious origins of this system. Where did it come from and why should we trust it?

[00:02:09] Susan Piver: Well, you should never trust anything. So first things first, you should trust, but verify in any case. But the origins, as you say, are mysterious. They’re mysterious to me, maybe there are people out there that know, but I’ve not been able to find them.

The first person known to have taught it was the Greek Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff who wrote Meetings with Remarkable Men, as well as many other things. But he didn’t teach it as a system of personality. He taught it as a way of understanding the natural world and the cycles of being. People said, Where did you find it, Gurdjieff? And he said he saw it in a cave, in what would now be the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. But he was a crazy wisdom guy who said all sorts of things, so who knows?

Then if you fast forward 20, 30 years, a Bolivian fellow named Oscar Ichazo—who just died recently, maybe a year or two ago—brought forth for lack of a better phrase, the Enneagram of personality that we are studying. And in large part it was completely authored by him, from some mysterious means.

It’s very mysterious, as you say. Then he had a student named Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean psychiatrist and wonderful teacher of many things, who became a professor at UC Berkeley in the seventies and started teaching it to students there. 

But he said, you can never write it down. You can never tell others because this is so powerful that it should only be orally transmitted, it is easily misunderstood and misused. But of course that didn’t happen and here we are.

[00:04:05] Scott Snibbe: Before writing this book, how has the Enneagram helped you personally?

[00:04:09] Susan Piver: It has helped me in innumerable ways. I use it every day of my life as a friend, as a partner to my husband, as a teacher, and as a student. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t fall back on what the Enneagram has taught me. And perhaps most importantly as a Buddhist practitioner of longstanding, I’ve been studying both Buddhism and the Enneagram for close to 30 years. 

Buddhism places tremendous emphasis on compassion and on a kind of fierce wakefulness, presence. I was always charmed by those teachings, but I never really knew how to put them into play, but the Enneagram has been my strongest ally, my biggest support in understanding compassion, giving, and receiving and how to be awake. So to me it’s been a great support for Buddhist practice.

The Buddhist take on the Enneagram

young buddhist monk looking at ocean

[00:05:14] Scott Snibbe: The book is called The Buddhist Enneagram. So I’m curious if you think the Enneagram is inherently Buddhist or is yours a Buddhist take on the Enneagram?

[00:05:24] Susan Piver: Yeah, the latter. I don’t know what it is inherently, but it’s a Buddhist take on the Enneagram.

[00:05:29] Scott Snibbe: And for someone approaching this book, how would you like people to use it?

[00:05:33] Susan Piver: That’s none of my business. I mean, people can use it in the way that works for them. So I don’t know. It’s a magic system, I don’t mean like wizard magic, I just mean if you fall in love with the Enneagram. Because it seems you either fall in love with it, or you think it’s meaningless, there’s not a lot of in-between.

But if you fall in love with it, you start to see the whole world through the prism of the Enneagram and it’s exciting and enlivening and extremely helpful. So I guess if I had a hope, it would be that people would read about more than just their type, because each of the nine has a profound wisdom to offer that sometimes is hard to deduce.

[00:06:21] Scott Snibbe: Can you talk about a way that this intersection of Enneagram and Buddhism has helped you in some specific example, some specific relationship or encounter?

[00:06:31] Susan Piver: Yeah, I can use my husband as an example and he knows this story, so I’m not telling tales out of school. So each type has an idealization and each type has an avoidance and each type has a talking style and a passion and a virtue and so on. So for his type, one, the idealization is “I am right.”

And each type has an arc of attention and his attention goes to error. What is right? What is wrong? What is being done correctly? What is being done incorrectly? That’s a value-free skill. I mean, it can be really irritating or it could be like, Wow, you’re Martin Luther King. It depends on the person.

My type, number four, the idealization is “I am special.” I laugh because it’s like, boom. Gotcha. And the arc of attention goes to meaning. What does this mean? What’s going on under the surface?

So that’s different from right and wrong. And no one’s object of attention is the right one. But when I keep thinking, Why aren’t you looking at what this means about us—about how we communicate or whatever—why are you trying to find who’s to blame? Because that’s how it always felt to me. And his view would be, why are you not interested in finding out how this began, so we don’t have to repeat it? In other words, we were both thinking, Why are you not looking at what’s valuable to look at here?

And we were both right and wrong but once I could see this is where his attention is going to go—I still get obviously angry and irritated with him—instead of just misinterpreting what he was doing as useless, I could see that it was what was meaningful to him. So I could say when we were in a fight, I see what went wrong. And that opened the door. Does that make sense?

[00:08:37] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, absolutely. I remember when I first tried the Myers Briggs personality test, I think we’ve all tried these different tests, but it struck me in a similar way that all of a sudden I realized that other people see the world in a profoundly different way and respond differently to authority, structure, risk, opportunities, intimacy, and so on. They’re wired to see things in a different way.

And that simple system definitely helped me to have a lot more compassion for people and the Enneagram is much more elaborately articulated than any of those.

[00:09:15] Susan Piver: Yeah, and Myers Briggs and things like that, I love the Kolbe’s, I love strength-finders. I love all those things too. And Myers Briggs, there’s a test you can take, and it’s pretty accurate as far as I know. Not so for the Enneagram, but what you’re saying is also what I have found valuable, which is it helped me understand others better.

It helped me see them, not through my lens, but who they are. And what’s more valuable than that?

How to use the Enneagram in our relationships

Young couple in a relationship

[00:09:42] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, I wonder if you can go more into how to use the Enneagram in relationships. That was certainly a lot of my takeaway. For those of us in intimate relationships and working relationships, which is pretty much everybody, I think we all struggle with that.

Can you talk more about how to use the Enneagram in marriage, work, and family?

[00:10:01] Susan Piver: Oh yeah, if you are interested in seeing your intimate partner or your colleague for who they are without your projections onto them, then this is a good system for you to study. Not everyone is interested in that.

So I have countless stories about how it’s been useful to me, but the general headline is if all you see in your partner is who you want them to be or who you’re upset that they are, then you’re just in a dialogue with yourself. You don’t really need them.

But if you can see them in addition to what you like and what you don’t like, I think you can love them. Without the ability to do that, there’s no love, there’s a bargain. So I think it’s of essential importance, whether you use Myers Briggs or the Enneagram, or just your own common sense, to learn who your partner is, collegial or romantic, apart from what you see them as.

And that’s honestly what we all want from the other person; we want to be seen for who we are, not who we are to them, but for who we are. It gives one courage. It opens all sorts of gates. It makes one feel loved to be seen.

The great zen teacher and poet, John Tarrant Roshi, said attention is the most basic form of love, through it we bless and are blessed.

I try to work that into every conversation. Attention is the most basic form of love. If you’re with someone and you’re not paying attention to them—you’re only paying attention to how you feel about them—then there is no love. That sounds like a very broad and dramatic statement, but I think it’s true.

[00:11:59] Scott Snibbe: One of my teachers said the same thing. The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention.

This idea that you want to see your partner for who they are and not just through your projections. We hear that in many different contexts, but what’s nice about the Enneagram and especially the way you explain it, is the precision of it. You actually get a framework for understanding that, rather than just trying to puzzle out, why is he or she doing that?

Like the three part list of where your attention goes first, some people go to safety first, some people go to social first, and some people go to one-on-one intimacy.

[00:12:31] Susan Piver: Those are the subtypes.

The subtypes of the Enneagram

[00:12:33] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, can you explain that a little bit, the subtypes?

[00:12:35] Susan Piver: Yes, I’m so glad you brought that up because to me it’s almost more important than type and in one sense, it is more important than types. So there’s nine types and within each type, there are three subdivisions. So actually there are 27 types. So if you like complex things, congratulations, you’re gonna be very happy right now.

It’s easier to find your subtype than your type, for most people, and finding your type, that’s another question. But the subtypes refer to the three instinctual drives that we all share. Everybody has all of them, but for each of us, one of them is predominant.

The first drive is called self-preservation. You don’t want to be killed. You want to have a place to live. You don’t want to run out of money. You want food. So if that is your subtype, whether you’re a seven or a two or a three, whatever your number is, your attention is gonna go there. 

I give this example in the book, if you’re going to a professional gathering, the self-preservation subtype people will wonder things like, What if it’s too cold in the room? Or what am I gonna sleep on? What if I don’t feel comfortable? Or how do I get out? When is it gonna be over? Things that could threaten me.

Then the second drive that we all share is the social drive to belong to a tribe, to connect with something bigger than ourselves, to be a member of something, whether it’s a family or a neighborhood or a company, whatever it is. So if a social subtype person—again, whether they’re a seven or six or whatever their number—is going to the professional gathering, they would be thinking things more like, how will the room be set up? Will people be able to see me? Do I feel proud of belonging to this group or am I not sure? If people go out to eat after the meeting, will they invite me? So those are different concerns than “what will I sleep on” and “I better bring snacks.”

Then the third subtype, the sexual subtype, or one-to-one subtype—doesn’t just mean the person wants to have sex with everyone—has the key focus is on one to one connections, whether they’re romantic or not. So this sexual subtype person going to the gathering would not be thinking about snacks or will people invite me out to eat. They wonder, will there be someone there who I can talk to about this, who I can share this with, who we can look into each other’s eyes and share what it’s like to be here?

So those are three very different sets of concerns. And when you don’t know which one is your go-to and you don’t know which your partner’s is, then you just are continually confused by each other. My husband is the sexual subtype and I’m a self-preservation subtype. And for years—we’ve been married for 23 years, so we’ve had a lot of time to experience our differences—he always wants to do things together. And for the first 10 years, I was like, Why is he all up in my grill? Can’t he do anything by himself? 

And the truth is he genuinely gets more enjoyment out of doing things together. I was like, that doesn’t make any sense, because I like doing things by myself. But it enabled me to let him off the hook for being too in my space. Oh, this is actually how he is wired.

[00:16:01] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, my wife and I actually have the same dynamic. And now I understand how absolutely legitimate that is. I used to see it, selfishly, through my own lens of that’s not important, but now I see it’s just another way of seeing reality.

[00:16:26] Susan Piver: Yeah, that’s great. And you do think that’s silly if that’s not your focus and then the person for whom it is a focus feels ashamed or bad or angry, whatever it might be. But then you think, Oh, this person is just very concerned with their physical space and that’s how they feel safe.

And I feel safe, if I’m a one-to-one person, through conversation with others or through doing things together, that makes me feel safe. So they’re just different.

[00:16:57] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, I think that’s a little bit easier one to determine. You say that’s a good place to start with the subtype, can you talk a little bit about how to determine your type?

[00:17:07] Susan Piver: Yes and the first thing to say is there is no test. There is no test. That said, there are billions of tests. There are countless Enneagram tests out there now, but there’s no tests like Myers Briggs. As we were saying, you take that test. Kolbe’s you take that test. You’re gonna come out with an answer that’s accurate, largely speaking. For the Enneagram, it is not so. So my advice is take all the tests, take all the free tests.

woman working at computer

And if you’re a billionaire, take all the tests, free and paid, and start to see if certain numbers come up more than others. Usually, two or three numbers will come up towards the top. They may not be in the same order, but a couple numbers will come up repeatedly, so start there.

So let’s say the numbers that come up are four or five, because they’re often hard to tell apart. Four, five, and eight let’s say. So four is in the emotional triad, people that run on feelings, but not sappy, just need to know how they feel about things in order for them to actually make sense. Five is on the mental triad, people that need to know the background, the history, the pattern before it makes sense. Eight is in the gut triad, people that just follow their instincts. So four, five, and eight come up for you.

Okay, what’s your center of intelligence: emotional, mental, or intuition or instinctual? Of course you have all three. Then set that aside and look at subtype. Which one am I? Let’s say you say you’re a self-preservation subtype, just because that again is much easier to figure out. So then you look at self-preservation four, self-preservation five, self-preservation eight, and then things start to weed themselves out. Don’t read everything about eights and fours and fives, do that later.

But take all the tests, figure out your center of intelligence, figure out your subtype, and go from there. That’s what I suggest.

I never would’ve pegged myself as a four until I read the description of self-preservation four, where I was like, that’s me, that’s me.

But within each type there’s a counter type. One of the fours doesn’t look like the other two, one of the sixes doesn’t look like the other two, and so on. So self-preservation four is the counter type. It can be harder to type yourself if that’s you. I love the complexity by the way. So I hope others do too.

[00:19:40] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, it’s quite complicated and I kind of struggle with imagining what it would take until I even know what a three is. Like intuitively when I say that.

[00:19:49] Susan Piver: You would know, the Enneagram has this quality and I did get to speak to Claudio Naranjo about this personally, because I went to his house; I requested a meeting. We’re both Buddhist, turns out he was a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner as well.

I asked him, where does it come from? And he gave inscrutable answers and then I said, I think of it as a terma. A terma in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition means treasure and it refers to teachings that just seem to be self-existing. Like no one made them up. They just were more discovered than authored.

I said to him, it feels like the Enneagram is a terma. And he said, I never thought of that, but it probably is I’m sure. Although, I had a feeling he had thought about that.

But when you discover something that really speaks to you—like I’ve seen this with a lot of students of Buddhism, including myself, you read something or you hear something and you think, that is incredible. Not just because it’s interesting or provocative or intelligent, but because it makes me realize, I already knew that. I just didn’t know I knew it. And the Enneagram has that flavor. I’m convinced, you already know it. You just didn’t know you knew it. And then if you’re interested, because certainly nothing’s for everyone, you’ll find rapidly that the understanding develops.

[00:21:28] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, that’s so true.

I had a lot of those moments, reading your book where I couldn’t have articulated it in the way that you did and that the Enneagram did, but it rings true.

When you read something and you say, Oh, that’s true. That feels true to me in a way that’s beyond words, but your words help to deliver that information into my mind.

[00:21:46] Susan Piver: Oh, that’s great. That’s the quality of, Oh yeah, it makes sense. You don’t have to reason it out any further. It just strikes you as true. And it may strike you as untrue later, but in this case, in that moment, it struck you as true because it was my theory as it was already in there, in you.

Non-dualism in the Enneagram

[00:22:03] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, one of the central aspects of Buddhism is of course this principle of non-duality, or emptiness, and on its surface, the Enneagram seems very dualistic, or non-dualistic, or whatever you might wanna call it.

Can you talk about how to ride that razor’s edge where you have all these categories, but you don’t harden them and you don’t weaponize them?

[00:22:25] Susan Piver: There’s multiple ways to respond to that. It’s such a great point and a great question. First, there are Enneagram teachers in the Vajrayana tradition of non-dualism that say the Enneagram is who you are not. But it’s who you mistake yourself for.

So in that sense, if you want a roadmap of your blind spot, of the thing that prevents you from waking up, the Enneagram will explain it.

And I concur. Another point of view is non-self, which no one can explain. If anyone can explain it, they’re wrong because it’s beyond. Everything in the Buddhist view and other views too probably, occurs simultaneously on the relative plane and the absolute plane.

The absolute plane is where there’s no duality and we can’t see it because that would imply a seer. It’s just the oneness of all phenomena. And there are lucky or unlucky few people—because I’ve heard stories where it’s great and stories where it’s horrible—that suddenly wake up into non-duality.

I think Byron Katie is a great example of someone who suddenly saw and put that sudden seeing to extremely good use. Most of us don’t have that experience of waking up in the absolute. So we could start by waking up in the relative and the relative is who am I? Who are you? How can I love? What is the compassionate thing here? How do I work with my painful emotions?

And the relative and the absolute are inseparable. But most of us can’t start at the absolute end, so we could start at the relative end. And in the meantime, make our lives happier and bring more joy to others.

byron katie black and white photo
Byron Katie, photo: Commune

How to use the Enneagram with compassion

[00:24:21] Scott Snibbe: You touched on compassion, you started touching on this before, but what do you think is the most compassionate way to use the Enneagram?

[00:24:31] Susan Piver: That’s a good question. First to know that compassion is often conflated with being nice and putting others first. And when you put others first as a gesture, because you think you should, you’re putting yourself first. It’s backwards.

So the compassionate thing is the thing Tibetan Buddhism has called upaya, skillful means, is anything that brings more compassion to a situation.

And sometimes that is being nice and putting others, all others, first. Sometimes it’s getting angry and there are really things to be angry about. And the compassionate thing is to be angry. Sometimes it’s saying nothing.

So there’s no compassion formula. But being awake and aware and open helps you to know what the compassionate thing is to do in that moment. And for me, the Enneagram helps because it minimizes diversions into what I think about people and try to just see more clearly.

[00:25:53] Scott Snibbe: And that makes me reflect back on non-duality or interdependence because as you study the Enneagram, or as I studied the Enneagram, I started to see how different a situation looks to me and my partner or to the three, four, or five different people in the room. So maybe that’s one sort of sweet connection between non-duality and the Enneagram is it actually opens you up to see there’s at least 27 different ways of looking at this situation.

[00:26:20] Susan Piver: That’s completely right. I completely agree. If don’t you mind me asking, what is your type and what is your wife?

[00:26:27] Scott Snibbe: Oh yeah, sure. So I’m an eight, I guess a sexual eight, or a one-on-one eight, and my wife is a nine, a self-preservation nine.

So we have quite different types and there’s a lot of work and helping too. Any advice is welcome.

[00:26:44] Susan Piver: How did you know you were an eight? And how did she know she was a nine?

[00:26:47] Scott Snibbe: We learned about this mostly through you and your system. We read an earlier version of your book that you shared in that class. And we took a couple different tests and I was really close to something else, to maybe a seven or something, and she was close to a six. But, being her type she’s still thinking a little bit about, between nine and six, maybe nine and six, but the subtype was really easy to determine, although she’s very close to social.

But yeah the actual type was a little trickier, because we were both right on the edge with the second one.

[00:27:24] Susan Piver: Yeah it is very hard, you really have to be patient.

[00:27:25] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, but you said it was the way that you communicate, the way that you talk is a real indicator. And that said, a nine speaks in sagas. And I’m embarrassed to say, you say an eight, it lays trips on you. So I think that rang true to us too.

[00:27:43] Susan Piver: That’s a real tell, the talking style. So if that rang true for the both of you, that’s very good intel.

[00:27:49] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, being compassionate really means coming around to her way of thinking and leaving the space. I was actually talking to Tara, our producer, who’s a friend of yours.

She’s also a nine. So I asked Tara, Do you have any advice? And she said, Don’t ask me where we should go to dinner. She said, I need to go to a separate room and really think about this and then return with the information later.

[00:28:16] Susan Piver: So funny, that makes sense. 

[00:28:19] Scott Snibbe: Yeah and I realize my wife really feels put on the spot when I’ll ask things like that, even like, Could I use the car at noon or something like that. She’ll just say, Can I get back to you about that?

[00:28:30] Susan Piver: Oh, that is so funny. And I totally get it. I totally get it. Because there’s a dissociation of, I don’t know. I don’t know. So let me get quiet and think about it, even for simple things.

The three yanas and Vajrayana Buddhism

[00:28:44] Scott Snibbe: Okay, so another thing about your book is that you talk a lot about how there aren’t really bad qualities in each of the personality types but rather healthy or unhealthy expressions of qualities. And this relates deeply to Vajrayana Buddhism, which you talk about extensively in your book, which sees the same thing.

Like it is quite a powerful form of Buddhism that embraces absolutely everything in the world, in the universe, and that there’s power and good that can come out of energies, even anger and desire. So can you talk a little bit about the Vajrayana principles in your book?

[00:29:19] Susan Piver: Yeah, thank you. I would be delighted. So I can just start by saying the Vajrayana is one of three yanas in the Buddhist world and they’re all major. And they each have a way of looking at strong emotions.

So vastly oversimplified, the first yana, the foundational yana, says difficult emotions are afflictive, try not to have them. And that’s great and that’s correct. And if you can do that more power to you, let your anger dissolve, let go of fear, let go of neediness. Great.

The second view, second yana, says maybe they’re afflictive but they also give you insight into the suffering of others. So when you meet someone in the future who has rage or grasping for the same reason you do, you will have the ability to help them. But if you just try to push it away, you won’t. But if you learn about it and use it as fuel for kindness, and that’s great too.

So the first two yanas are the esoteric teachings of Buddhism and the third Yana, the Vajrayana, are the esoteric teachings, the mystical teachings, you could say. Although, there’s certainly mystery in all the yanas and vast power. So this third view says, they’re afflictive and they could help you be nicer, but the afflictive emotions themselves are masked forms of wisdom. In your rage, in your neediness, in your fear, there’s a form of wakefulness that if you can let go of the narrative that you’ve attached, you can see the power of what you feel.

Not that you feel better or your problems are solved, but there’s something in there that’s very powerful. And like the Enneagram, Vajrayana Buddhism has the notion of poison to medicine. Just like the Enneagram has the notion of what is called passions, the difficult quality and virtues, the uplifted quality.

So just like aspirin can be a medicine if you take it correctly, it can also be a poison if you take a thousand; but the aspirin is not different.

In the Enneagram, when we’ll use anger, as an example, the passion of one has as its virtuous corollary serenity.

Now, how are those two things the same? In Buddhism, the serenity piece could be called mirror-like wisdom. So anger has a sharpness and wakefulness to it. You can’t be angry and sleepy. I think that’s called depression or something, but if you’re angry, you’re awake.

And if you let go of the story for now—I’m not saying the story’s unimportant, it may be vastly important—then you just realize that you have this vibrating life force. And that enables you to see everything clearly, because there is no BS in an angry person’s view. This is BS. This is not. So it’s mirror-like wisdom, which is another way of saying serenity.

man holding mirror in desert

It’s not, “Everything’s cool. And I’m fine.” It’s, I see everything clearly and I’m not distracted by what is good or bad. So there’s a spectrum that one could travel in this case, actual ones.

[00:33:24] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, it’s like reducing a sauce or something to its powerful essence, like concentrating and then purifying, clarifying. It’s a very powerful idea. And ordinarily these Vajrayana teachings are, like you said, esoteric; in some of these traditions they’re referred to as an ear-whispered tradition.

What do you think is the right balance of using Vajrayana terms and techniques with the general audience versus what has to be more esoteric and person-to-person?

[00:33:54] Susan Piver: I just try to do my best. I’m not trying to say anyone should be a Vajrayana practitioner or not be a Vajrayana practitioner. I do not have the skill or capacity to enter someone into the Vajrayana.

But I’ve learned things that are extremely useful and that don’t seem hidden. Anger and mirror-like wisdom, you can buy books that talk about those things, and they’re very connected to Vajrayana. 

What do those mean to us ordinary people? They really mean a lot. That said, you have to formally become a Vajrayana student to study those teachings. And I think that just makes sense, but those are not the teachings that I’m talking about here.

[00:34:42] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, it’s funny because on the one hand it’s very advanced on the Buddhist path, but on the other, it’s the most embracing, where you embrace absolutely everything about yourself and find them as paths. Like you said, in the first yana it’s quite dualistic and you’re trying to get rid of anger, get rid of desire, and so on. And then in the second one, you start to realize they can actually help connect me to other people. Whereas in the third you can even embrace them wholly within yourself as a path to perfecting your best qualities.

[00:35:13] Susan Piver: Yeah, you have to be very smart about it and the yanas are inseparable. So it’s not like I’m going to do this one, leave these other two. They are never apart.

And to see emotions as afflictive could be dualistic, but it could just also be the truth.

So it’s not a lesser way of looking at things, that is an important point.

How the Enneagram helps us understand the rich, famous, and powerful

[00:35:35] Scott Snibbe: No, not at all. 

Can you talk a little bit about how the Enneagram helps us understand powerful, famous people like Donald Trump, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos? Particularly in this lens of compassion.

[00:35:49] Susan Piver: Oh, well I’m not saying you have to like anyone. It’s just, could you understand them a little bit? And I’m never going to like two of those three people, based on what I’ve read in various accounts. So being compassionate doesn’t mean you like them. It doesn’t mean you let them off the hook.

The good place to start is always with, how am I like them? Because you are. I am. It’s a matter of degree, of course. But if anyone ever said, Have you lied to get your way? Yeah, I have. Still, I haven’t done that at the same scale, but I can find how that’s a human thing.

And the key with compassion here is not to divide humanity into us and them. Because once you do that, it’s over.

So I think the Enneagram can help, a Buddhist view helps certainly. But the three people you named are probably eights, they’re all the same; maybe not, but you can hear it in the talking style.

[00:37:00] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, because a lot of sentences about these people start with, I can’t understand why, X, Y, Z. It’s very difficult to resolve your feelings and anger, fear, etc.

[00:37:11] Susan Piver: Yeah, you can’t resolve with them. If you get into a fight with an eight, you are going to lose. That’s how it is. So don’t do it. Do something else. Doesn’t mean you have to be compassionate to them, because they’re always brutish. I’m not saying that about present company. But okay, now I know I can find a way to stay in a relationship that is more pragmatic and skillful if I want.

Writing The Buddhist Enneagram

[00:37:43] Scott Snibbe: What else is important to you to talk about this book that we haven’t chatted about so far?

[00:37:47] Susan Piver: I think it’s always useful to be very careful about typing other people you don’t know. So when I think, That person’s a three or they’re probably a seven—because I just hear it and I can’t help it—but I say instead, I feel the energy of three is here or the energy of seven is here and try to remind myself they may or may not be a three or seven. But that energy is present as far as I can tell.

And so to just leave people their space, and these are not about nine ghettos where we categorize people so that we don’t have to worry about them. That would be the misuse of the system.

[00:38:34] Scott Snibbe: Well, thanks a lot. As I mentioned, Tara and I took a class, your class on the Buddhist Enneagram. Are you going to offer any more classes or resources for people who wanna dive deeper into this topic? Of course, everyone can get your book and I highly encourage it. I loved it.

[00:38:49] Susan Piver: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, the book is the main thing right now, and this was a big one for me to land as a writer. So we’ll see. Thanks for asking.

[00:39:02] Scott Snibbe: What made writing this book big?

[00:39:04] Susan Piver: I don’t know. I just struggled with it. I really struggled with it and there’s no template to go on. There’s never a template when you’re creating something, but I don’t know. It was just very intellectually complicated. But I’m so happy it’s done. And I like it too, for what that’s worth, and I wish it was better and all the things, but yeah, I don’t know what it was, but it was hard.

[00:39:34] Scott Snibbe: I didn’t ask you this basic question of what drove you to write the book. Of course you’ve had an interest in this topic, but—

[00:39:39] Susan Piver: I’ve taught it as you’ve mentioned over the years and I feel like there’s a lot of value to looking at the Enneagram through the Buddhist lens and I wanted to share it. And I also felt like there’s not a million people teaching this, this could be something fresh. 

And most of all—this sounds really self-absorbed and I’m a four, so probably it really is—I felt like I would deepen my understanding through the exercise of writing the book. And that’s, I think, a good reason to write a book.

[00:40:18] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, it’s like your other books, it’s very beautiful, very vulnerable, and very creatively weaves Buddhism and these Enneagram elements. For those of us who have some Buddhist training, especially that Tibetan Buddhist kind of intellectual training, it’s very clever how you work in the different types of generosity and the perfections. And it is almost like an excuse to give some of these great Buddhist teachings.

[00:40:42] Susan Piver: Somewhere in the middle, I was like, Am I writing a book about the Enneagram or about Buddhism? I’m not sure. I think the answer is, yes.

[00:40:47] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, I really loved it. You know, I was up in the middle of the night reading it, just enjoying it so much. So thank you.

[00:40:53] Susan Piver: Oh that is every author’s dream is to hear that. Thank you.

[00:40:57] Scott Snibbe: So you have kindly agreed to lead a meditation for us to the book, that will air in the next episode. Do you want to say anything about what that meditation is?

[00:41:07] Susan Piver: Yeah, it’s just a regular breath-awareness meditation with a focus on letting yourself be as you are, because that’s the only way you find your Enneagram type and all sorts of other great things. So to relax with yourself is the gate that needs to open.

[00:41:32] Scott Snibbe: Wonderful, I’m looking forward to that. Susan, thank you so much for taking your time to speak with us about the book. The book is called The Buddhist Enneagram and I loved it. I’m rereading it right now with my wife and I encourage everybody to go get a copy. So thank you very much.

[00:41:47] Susan Piver: Thank you.

[00:41:49] Scott Snibbe: Thanks for joining us for my conversation about Susan Piper’s new book, The Buddhist Enneagram. If you’d like to learn more, here’s a link to Susan’s website.


Hosted by Scott Snibbe
Produced by Tara Anderson
Audio mastering by Christian Parry
Marketing Direction by Jason Waterman
Digital Production, Marketing, and Social Media by Isabela Acebal


Related Posts


Log in



Sign up and receive our free “Simple Ten-minute Meditation”