A new enneagram point of view…

This post is also available in: Français


This article deals with all the subtypes of the Enneagram in a exhaustive  way, as we put them highlighted and exposed in 2016 in Enneagram Monthly magazine.

We started from the base of the three subtypes called instinctive (sexual, social and self-preservation),  first stated by the psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, that we expanded to 4 (the sexual  subtype  separated in two, the sexual Mars / Fire or masculine, the sexual  Venus / Water, or feminine)

We compared these 4 subtypes to the four Jungian functions (Feeling, Intuition, Thought, Sensation), to the four elements of Tradition (Water, Fire, Air, Earth) to which we added the Space element, corresponding to the 5th Jung’s function, called “spiritual”

These 5 new subtypes were then compared to the 5 Reich characters (dependent, psychorigid, masochistic, narcissistic and schizoid), then to the 5  Wisdom  Families in  Buddhism (Pemé, Vajra, Karma, Ratna, Buddha)

You will find in this article a complete synthesis of this work of comparison between these different systems and traditions.

We thank JacK Labanauskas, publisher of Enneagram Monthly for publishing  this article for free  for our students and readers.

For other articles we have written on this magazine, you can refer to the website: http://www.enneagram-monthly.com/

This article is not yet translated into French, we apologize


Expanding the Subtypes
from three to five

Bernadette and Frédéric Schmitt

From : <Enneagram Monthly, Issue 224, Feb. 2016, © 2016>


Table of the article:

The five elements

Reich’s Character Structures

Jungian functions

Body types

Wisdom family Mandala

Integrative view of the five subtypes

Our main concern is to apply enneagram to traditional energy medicines such as TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine), Ayurvedic medicine or homeopathy. Thus our anthropological model is quite different from the “usual” enneagram, because it adds to the psychological level the (physical) body and energy levels. Consequently our way of typing is based on these three levels.  But sometimes, there is no need for a psychological investigation. For example,  skilled practitioners of TCM may take the pulse(s) in order to diagnose the constitution or condition of their patients.

In this context of very specific research with our special method of typing, we discovered that what generally is defined as sexual subtype, more accurately consists of two very distinct characters, a more masculine and a more feminine one. We decided to name them Mars and Venus according to the symbolic meaning of these gods of Greek Antiquity. The sexual Mars subtype appears as an aggressive, combative, competitive, energetic, anxious and obsessive individual; while the sexual Venus subtype is more charming, charismatic, compassionate, dependent and prone to feelings of abandonment.

So we see the system of the subtypes as expanded to four clearly different subtypes: Self-preservation, Sexual Venus, Sexual Mars and Social.

  • Because of our knowledge of traditional medicines, we recognized and linked the obvious correlation between these four subtypes to the four traditional elements of Earth, Water, Fire and Air.
  • But it’s a little bit more complicated. There is a fifth element (Space or Ether) that represents the unifying principle that underlies all creation including the other 4 elements that can’t exist in a vacuum, and as such is somewhat neutral or an integral part of each of the other 4. We discover that the space element is linked to a fifth subtype, we called the Spiritual subtype. The particular characteristics of this subtype are: disconnection, lack of roots, solitude, avoidance, inertia, stillness, contemplative, simplicity, humility. This subtype is always associated with one of the other four
  • Our new and improved model of enneagram now includes five subtypes, each clearly defined on a psychological, energy and body levels. And in this article we would like to present the global structure and the rationale of this new system.

The five elements

Traditionally, the five elements are represented on a square, and can be called a quaternary system because the fifth element is the container and is symbolically represented on the center.

Thus the Enneagram is transformed into a mandala: union of the masculine principle, the ternary (3 X 3 = 9 types) represented by a circle, and the feminine principle, the quaternary represented by a square (the subtypes) inside the circle, symbolizing the archetype of the Self.

We made the following link between the five traditional elements and the five subtypes.


The four elements Earth, Water, Fire and Air were particularly studied in  Greek literature and probably come historically from India. In the Hebrew tradition they correspond to the four letters of the Divine Name, and in Christian tradition to the four Apostles. All the inner and the outer worlds, as a mappa mundi, were organized according to these four elements.

The European folklore spoke about four elementals, which are mythic beings. Paracelsus in his alchemical work in the 16th century put these four elemental categories as: gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders unto the four classical elements: earth, water, air and fire respectively.

According to our understanding these four elementals symbolize the four psychic functions: Gnome= Earth-Sensation, Undine = Water-Feeling, Sylph = Air-Thinking and Salamander = Fire-Intuition.We will focus our attention on these archetypal aspect of the elements.Here are some key words describing the energetic foundations of the four body character structures:

  • Earth: Concrete and practical mind, patience, perseverance, cautious, reflection, reasoning, stubbornness, materialistic, skepticism, mental rigor, rigidity and conservatism.
  • Water: Sensitivity, imagination, meditation, memory, depth, intuition, psychic power, suggestibility, laziness, apathy, sensuality and excessive emotionality.
  • Fire: Force, action, audacity, dynamism, combativeness, pride, generosity, exaggeration, recklessness, impulsiveness, adventurism.
  • Air: Adaptability, finesse, diplomacy, imagination, genius, skill, agility, benevolence, inconstancy, lack of concentration, versatility, cerebral, coldness.

There are the energetic foundations of the four body character structures.


Reich’s Character Structures


Wilhelm Reich, a disciple of Freud and father of modern body therapies, discovered and contributed major advances to both theory and practice of psychoanalysis. First and foremost was without any doubt character analysis.

Reich observed that symptomatic content analysis was not enough. He began to work on a group of resistances that he called characterial. These are resistances linked to how the content is expressed and depend on the innate and biological character of the individual. For Reich, character is the most important resistance that can block the psychoanalysis work. He called that, “character armour.” Character armour is a defense mechanism against pressure of external world and against unconscious drives.


Reich argued for five basic character structures, each with its own body type developed as a result of the particular blocks created due to deprivation or frustration of the child’s stage-specific needs: schizoid, hysteric, phallic, masochist, obsessive. Alexander Lowen (The Language of the Body) Reich’s main disciple renamed these five in: schizoid, oral, narcissist, masochist, rigid.

Reich and Lowen named the characters from psychoanalytic roots. As a result, these names, unfortunately seem pejorative, and, unless the derivation is understood quite well, confusing.


Some emphasize that people are not created or molded by circumstances, but are revealed by them. “There are not five ways that people behave based on their life situations, there are five very distinct spiritual species of human beings, or “soul” qualities in individuals that react in five general ways to the challenges of living a human life!” (Rhys Thomas, author of  Discover Your Purpose)


John Pierrakos gives five simple and less pathologizing terms: unwanted child, needy child, endurer, controller leader, and perfectionist.


Laurence Heller connects the five somatic character structures to five developmental life themes and associated core resources that are essential to our capacity for self-regulation and affect our ability to be present to self and others in the here-and-now:


  • Connection.
  • Attunement.
  • Trust.
  • Autonomy.
  • Love-Sexuality.


Lise Bourbeau connects the five characters to five wounds: rejection, abandonment, humiliation, betrayal and injustice.

Marianne Bentzen (article for Handbook of Bodypsychotherapy, ed. Gustav Marlock & HalkoWeiss), compares findings in developmental neuroscience and infant research from 0-2 years with the five basic somatic character structures. These comparisons show: 1) a strong correspondence between neuroaffective development, posture, and behavior of misregulated children and the somatic character structures for which that age is considered a formative stage, and 2) that the developmental stages traditionally described as oral, anal and oedipal are – contrary to current characterological thinking — activated before the child is 2 years old. Bentzen says that “The true theoretical foundation of somatic character development is that experience shapes the body as well as the psyche in coherent and characteristic ways”.


In a certain way, we can connect the five characters to five psychoanalytical stages: umbilical, oral, anal, phallic/urethral and genital. Of course it’s very schematic, and all stages can overlap with the others. The somatic systems (Bioenergetics, Bodynamics and Hakomi) differ in their views of the posture and personality of the character structures of the five periods. This general confusion only begins to make sense when one realizes how closely knit the neuro-affective origins of schizoid, oral, obsessive, psychopathic and masochistic stages are in time. The three systems focus on different clusters of postural and personal characteristics that emerge and intermingle during the first 18-24 months, rather than over the traditional six years.

Usually, and this is accepted by all systems:  the schizoid is linked to a pre oral stage that Françoise Dolto (very famous French children psychoanalyst) calls umbilical (from conception to birth). The oral is linked to the oral stage. According to our researches, we differ for the three others stages. In the Lowen tradition the masochist is linked to anal stage, which is astonishing because obsessive disorders are linked in all psychoanalysis writings with anal stage. We keep in our model this usual view: rigid/obsessive character linked to anal stage. The phallic stage is obviously connected to narcissistic personality. We then come to the masochist, linked for us with the genital or oedipal stage.

Some called the rigid the “phallic” structure. That’s very confusing, because the rigid obsessive character is the average “anal” personality, and the phallic structure is normally linked to the narcissistic personality and to the phallic stage. Reich himself called that structure “phallic-narcissistic”. In “The Mark of Cain: Psychoanalytic Insight and the Psychopath” J. Reid Meloy says that the compulsive (or rigid) is predominantly inhibited, reserved, depressive. The typical phallic narcissistic is self-assured, arrogant, energetic, and impressive. So definitely the rigid cannot be assimilated nor confused with the phallic.

So for us, narcissistic, phallic, psychopath are all different terms linked to the “phallic” stage. Rigid, obsessive, compulsive are all different terms linked to the “anal” stage.

Here is the link we established between enneagram subtypes and the five character structures:


The character structures are biological behavioral pre-set patterns that everybody inherits with birth.  Their functions are healthy, help us to survive, and lead to protect us in different threatening situations. Depending of the severity of the trauma, the developmental level of the child, and its genetic strength or weakness, these defense patterns can be stuck at the point at which there are chosen and cemented into the character structure.

The character structure depends on: the genetic strength or weakness of the biological patterns, the severity of the trauma and the developmental level of the child at which the trauma occurs.

Developmental trauma and character structure

The infant needs at each stage of development both father-related yang care and mother-related yin care. Yin care is fulfillment of the specific needs of the children, and Yang care is what Françoise Dolto calls symbol-creative castration. The two needs have to be balanced for a good maturation and neuroaffective development.

Dolto conceives the term ‘castration’ in a broad sense: she is dealing with ‘umbilical’, ‘oral’, ‘anal’, ‘phallic’ and ‘genital’ castration. Symbol-creative castration is like pruning the tree, so as to have beautiful fruits. It’s an alchemical process that needs the symbolic action of the Sun-Father (castration-Yang) and the Moon-Mother (nurture-Yin). Dolto describes how, as a consequence of castration, desire has to give up its original goal and to seek new – sublimated – means of expression. Dolto calls this process ‘symbolisation’. Whence the expression: ‘la castration symboligène’ or ‘symbol-creative castration’. Castration paves the way for sublimation.

If the child is either frustrated (needs not met) or overindulged (needs met too much – ie: too easily), some libido (life force) will get locked in that stage, resulting in fixation. Too much of nurturing without the proper symbol-creative castration leads to an unbalanced Yang state of character. Too strict or improper castration without needs being fulfilled leads to an unbalanced Yin state of character.


So we introduce a new and basic view into the five character structures: each of them has a yin/introverted and a yang/extraverted aspect that represents how the child reacts to the trauma, depending on his/her innate biological aptitude.


We see that the usual pathologizing names referring to the five character structures reflect only one of the two aspects of the character. For example the rigid or obsessive character structure is the yin aspect, while the aggressive/sadistic is the yang one. If parents take an approach that is too lenient (lack yang/excess yin), Freud suggested that an anal-expulsive personality could develop in which the individual has a messy, wasteful, disorganized, careless, rebellious, and sometimes cruel or destructive personality. If parents are too strict or begin toilet training too early (excess yang/lack yin), Freud believed that an anal-retentive personality develops in which the individual is stringent, orderly, rigid, and obsessive. So clear…

Severity of the trauma and character structures

The five preset biological patterns are ways of coping with the external traumas or chronic pressures of the environment whatever the stages or the age of the infant.

For example, dissociation (the first character pattern) is the psychological mechanism that corresponds to the freeze response to cope with an intense external trauma. When an infant is abused or threatened, if the arousal state is not regulated after a while, as he cannot fight nor flight, he will dissociate, withdraw from external stimuli and become extremely passive. This is the action of the first phylogenetic stage of the polyvagal system (unmyelinated vagal parasympathetic). If the threat still continues without possibility of regulation, the child will stay in a frozen state, without possibility of discharging the stress.

We know that the unresolved and non-discharged post trauma freeze response is the biological basis for the PTSD whatever the age of the trauma and whatever the character structure.

Idiosyncratic weakness of biological patterns and character structures

If a specific character structure is innately weak, it will condition an idiosyncratic vulnerability and a natural tendency to be triggered by some kind of specific trauma. For example schizoid structure will be more vulnerable to lack of acceptance, oral structure to lack of nurturing, rigid structure to lack of rules, phallic structure to lack of trust, masochist structure to lack of autonomy.


As Laurence Heller says (in Healing Developmental Trauma): “Initially, survival styles are adaptive, representing success, not pathology. However, because the brain uses the past to predict the future, these survival patterns remain fixed in our nervous system and create an adaptive but false identity. It is the persistence of survival styles appropriate to the past that distorts present experience and creates symptoms. These survival patterns, having outlived their usefulness, create ongoing disconnection from our authentic self and from others”.


Jungian functions

The five characters can be also linked to the four classical Jungian functions: sensing, feeling, intuition, thinking plus consciousness as a fifth function. Through the study of analytical psychology, Jung explained the idea of quaternary or wholeness. Quaternary is a total of four parts combined to create a whole and in this case, quaternary describes the completion of human beings. In the psychology of Jung, people have four elements or a quaternary as fundamental patterns depicting thoughts and behavior. As a circle is whole, there are four equal parts pieced together to form the thoughts of human beings. In the same way, the quaternary composes every individual with four pieces perfectly fitting together to create wholeness. The mandala is an example of quaternary in a depicted form. Carl Jung explained the quality of four parts or the quaternary in people. The pieces are as follows, the mind or intuition, the body or sensation, the intellect or thinking, and emotion or feeling. The four elements or quaternity as described by Jung create the basis of every human being.


Jung depicts the four functions by pairs on two axis: the rational/judgment axis with thinking and feeling polarities, and the irrational/experiential axis with intuition and sensing polarities.



The sensation tells me that a thing exists. Intuition transmits the perception by unconscious ways. It suddenly presents us content in a final form that we couldn’t say or understand where it comes from.  Sensation and intuition are said to be irrational because they are directly perceived bypassing filters or criteria. They are the pure sensory experience. The thought tells me what this thing is. Feeling tells me what the value of this thing is (if I like or I don’t like). Thinking and feeling are called rational because they are criteria dependents. They are related to our belief about experience. Each individual may therefore be classified into one of the four basic types depending on the predominant mental function.

Our discovering of the fourth subtype leads us to add to the enneagram theory the missing part: the female aspect of the totality or the Self. The three centers and the nine types symbolize the male aspect, and the four subtypes the female aspect. The union of the two is the sacred marriage of the opposites.


We cannot and it’s contrary to logic to compare the quaternity of the four functions with the trinity of the nine types.


On the contrary, and as Jung himself stated, each function is correlated symbolically to an element like that : Sensing- Earth, Feeling -Water, Intuition- Fire and Thinking- Air, so it’s very easy and logical to correlate the four functions to the four subtypes like that :


  • Self preservation : Earth and Sensing
  • Sexual venus : Water and Feeling
  • Sexual mars : Fire and Intuition
  • Social: Air and Thinking.


Jung described a fifth function: the transcendent function.  The transcendent function is the core of Carl Jung’s theory of psychological growth and the heart of what he called individuation, the process by which one is guided in a teleological way toward the person one is meant to be. “The shuttling to and fro of arguments and affects represents the transcendent function of opposites. The confrontation of the two positions generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living, third thing—not a logical stillbirth in accordance with the principle tertium non datur (no third possibility given) but a movement out of the suspension between the opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being, a new situation” (Jung, Collected Work).

This fifth function corresponds to consciousness, the fifth element of Space, and to the fifth subtype, that we called the “spiritual” subtype. The spiritual subtype never works alone but always in cooperation with one of the four others functions.

It’s very deep and interesting now to connect the five character structures (in their yin/yang aspects) to the five functions and to the eight Jungian psychological types, like that:



In this figure, yang = extraversion and yin = introversion. So you can see that the introverted sensing is connected to the deprived, the extraverted sensing to the narcissistic, the introverted feeling to dependent, the extraverted feeling to caretaker, etc…

Let’s take one example with the Extraverted Sensation Type (Jung, psychological types):”No other human type can equal the extraverted sensation-type in realism. His aim is concrete enjoyment, and his morality is similarly orientated. To sense the object, to have and if possible to enjoy sensations, is his constant motive. His love is incontestably rooted in the manifest attractions of the object. Either he develops into a crude pleasure-seeker or he becomes an unscrupulous, designing sybarite. Although the object is entirely indispensable to him, yet, as something existing in and through itself, it is none the less depreciated. It is ruthlessly violated and essentially ignored, since now its sole use is to stimulate sensation.”  Is this not a very vivid and crude description of the narcissistic (yang aspect of the phallic character structure)? The narcissistic person considers other persons as objects of gratification without having their own needs. We can say paraphrasing Jung that “the sole use of the other person – for the narcissistic – is to stimulate sensations.”

Body types


As we say about constitution, character and body type are the two faces of the same coin and cannot be dissociated. Even if modern psychology has almost dissociated mind from body, strong historical and empirical evidence denies the accuracy of that assertion.

1 Sheldon body types

William Herbert Sheldon, Jr. was an American psychologist. He created the field of somatotype and constitutional psychology that tried to correlate body types with behavior, and character. His system of psychosomatotypology is the most widely used today.

In psychology, he developed a new version of somatotypology by classifying people into endomorphic, mesomorphic, and ectomorphic, based on many photographs and measurements of nude figures at Ivy League schools. Ron Rosenbaum writes: “He believed that every individual harbored within him different degrees of each of the three character components. By using body measurements and ratios derived from nude photographs, Sheldon believed he could assign every individual a three-digit number representing the three components, components that Sheldon believed were inborn — genetic — and remained unwavering determinants of character regardless of transitory weight change. In other words, physique equals destiny.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Herbert_Sheldon).

That reminds us of Heraclite’s sentence ethos anthropos daimon roughly translated as “character is destiny.” Ethos translated by character, is interesting. In Hinduism and Buddhism, karma and character is intermingled. Swami Vivekananda said: “Each work we do, each thought we think, produces an impression, called in Sanskrit samskara, upon the mind, and the sum total of these impressions becomes the tremendous force which is called “character.” The character of a man is what he has created for himself; it is the result of the mental and physical actions that he has done in his life (karma = action in sanskrit). The sum total of the samskaras is the force which gives a man the next direction after death (destiny) .” So actually, karma produces samskara, the sum of samskaras produces character, and character drives us to renew actions that create destiny.

But coming back to our topic…

Sheldon discovered that the three main body types correspond to the predominance of one of the three embryological layers (endoblast, mesoblast, ectoblast).

Here is the basic description of the three Sheldon types. Note that Sheldon always associates a body type to a temperament structure.

  The endomorph :

Round and soft forms,

Overdevelopment of digestive system,

Underdevelopment of muscles system.

Visceral temperament:

Love eating,

over tolerant,

low level of emotionality,

love comfort.



The mesomorph:

Muscular and hard body,

Rectangular form,

Open thorax, and athletic predominance,

Thick skin.

Athletic temperament:

Desire of power







   The ectomorph:


Young appearance,

Narrow thorax,

Stoop shouldered,

Big head.

Cerebral temperament:


Social anxiety

Intellectual predominance




The big challenge was to see if Sheldon body types are most connected to E types or E subtypes. We observed a large amount of patients at my clinic, and found that clearly  80% linked to subtypes and 20 % to types.

Along with the discovery of two more subtypes, we discovered two additional body types.

The mesoderm has several components which develop into tissues. The intermediate mesoderm develops into kidneys and gonads. The paraxial mesoderm develops into cartilage and skeletal muscle. The average Sheldon mesomorph body type corresponds to the “muscle” mesomorph or “Mars” mesomorph. The new mesomorph we add corresponds to a “kidney-gonad” mesomorph, or “Venus” mesomorph.

Here is a caricature of the new “Venus” mesomorph body type:


The Venus mesomorph:

Harmonious shapes,

Delicate and fine traits,

Soft skin,

Long eyelashes,

Curled lips.

The sentimental temperament:



Highly emotional,




The ectoderm develops into the surface ectoderm, neural crest, and the neural tube. The average ectomorph body type corresponds to the “skin” ectomorph, and the new one to “neural” ectomorph.

Here are the correspondences:


Let’s take as example the mesomorph. It’s main psychic characteristics are: adventurous, courageous, indifferent to what others think or want, assertive/bold, zest for physical activity, competitive, with a desire for power/dominance and a love of risk. We can see clearly the same global meaning if we  look at the intuition extraversion that corresponds to the mars mesomorph in its yang aspect, Jung says: “his eye is constantly ranging for new possibilities,  stable conditions have an air of impending suffocation. He seizes hold of new objects and new ways with eager intensity, sometimes with extraordinary enthusiasm, only to abandon them cold-bloodedly, without regard and apparently without remembrance, as soon as their range becomes clearly defined and a promise of any considerable future development no longer clings to them. He is not infrequently put down as an immoral and ruthless adventurer. Since his intuition is largely concerned with outer objects, scenting out external possibilities, he readily applies himself to callings wherein he may expand his abilities in many directions (C G Jung, psychological types). We can see a very close similarity between “male” mesomorph (Sheldon), intuition extraversion (Jung) and aggressive/sadistic character structure (Reich).

2 Benedict’s body types

We discovered by chance the work of two psychologists Elsie Lincoln (1885-1970) and Ralph Pain Benedict “how to analyse people on sight – The five human types– 1921.”  Elsie Lincoln was the main searcher. During her college career, Elsie Lincoln received over 12 gold medals for oratory. She was the first woman to win a place in an intercollegiate debate team. In the 1920s, she was considered the “Best known speaker in the world.” Their book How to Analyze People on Sight currently stays in the top 20 most downloaded books on Project Gutenberg. Their classification estimates each individual according to his “human” qualities rather than his “character” or so-called “moral” qualities. They called their work “human analysis” and not “character analysis”.

They discovered that there are five types of human beings. Discarding for a moment their technical names, they may be called: fat people,  florid (ruddy) people,  muscular people,  bony people and  mental people.

Each varies from the others in shape, size and structure and is recognizable at a glance by his physique or build. This is because his type is determined by the preponderance within his body of one of the five great departments or biological systems—the nutritive, the circulatory, the muscular, the bony or the nervous. At Birth every child is born with one of these systems more highly developed, larger and better equipped than the others.

The link is as follow:

Element Character structures/subtypes Body types
Space Spiritual Cerebral
Air Social Osseus
Fire Sexual Mars Muscular
Water Sexual Venus Thoracic
Earth Self preservation Alimentative


It’s not necessary to make more explanations on this comparison because it’s so evident.

3 Glandular body types

A glandular body Type is according to Elliot D. Abravanel, M.D., a type of metabolism.  “We can recognize your Body Type based on your shape, because each Body Type has its own special shape. But your Body Type has a more important reality. In fact, your shape is a signal of the type of metabolism you have.

Your Body Type is predominantly structured by which of your four major glands is strongest in your metabolism. The body has four major glands: the thyroid gland, the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland and gonads or sex glands. According to which of these glands dominates your system, you can be either a Thyroid Type, Adrenal Type, Gonadal Type or Pituitary Type” (Abravanel, body type diet).

The classification is interesting because it brings some new insights.

Chart of the body types
Element Chakra (symbolic representation) Character structure Embryological body type Organic body types Glandular biotype
Space Head Spiritual Neural ecto Cerebral Pineal
Water Throat Sexual venus Kidney meso Thoracic Thyroid
Fire Heart Sexual mars Muscle meso Muscle Adrenal
Earth Belly Self preservation Endo Nutritive Gonad
Air Genital Social Skin ecto Osseus Pituitary


The comparison is quite evident for the space, water, fire and air (the pituitary gland secretes the growth hormone and the D vitamin is produced from the skin). It’s more difficult to connect the gonad to the nutritive body type. May be the pancreas gland would a better idea for earth element or (between gonad and pancreas gland) one for the yang aspect and the other for the yin aspect. It’s still open as we don’t have enough clinical experiences to statute.

Wisdom family mandala

Speaking of this topic, let’s quote Irini Rokwell, disciple of the renown Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa (article from Shambhala Sun):

“Of the many methods for understanding and working with the energies that pervade our existence, one of the most profound is the “five Buddha families,” an ancient Buddhist system of understanding enlightened mind and its various aspects. The five Buddha family framework is an instrumental component in Buddhist Tantra, a path of working with and transmuting mind energy.

The Buddha families are traditionally displayed as the mandala of the five Tathagatas, or Buddhas. The mandala (from the Sanskrit for “circle”) aids meditators in understanding how different aspects of existence operate together in an integrated whole. Each of the Buddhas in the mandala embodies one of the five different aspects of enlightenment. However, these manifest themselves not only as enlightened energies but also as neurotic states of mind. The Buddha families therefore present us with a complete picture of both the sacred world of enlightened mind and the neurotic world of ego-centered existence. We see that they are indeed the same thing; the path of awakening is what makes the difference”

In the early 1970s Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught for the first time these traditional systems of the  five wisdom energies to contemporary American practitioners as a way of understanding who we are fundamentally: our personality, our emotional landscape, and how we relate to others and our world. He promoted the understanding that there is nothing inherently wrong or bad about the energy itself. He taught that to bring the wisdom energies to the path, we first learn to stay with them through mindfulness and awareness. Then we can work with these energies as they arise in our experience by applying loving-kindness. We allow them to express themselves openly rather than trying fruitlessly to manipulate and control them. The energies then become a way of celebrating our strengths and working with our weaknesses.

We made the natural link between the five Buddha’s families and the five subtypes.


Don’t worry about the inversion of the usual elements of the vajra and padma families, because there are differences in some mandalas, and for reasons that we cannot explain here, we choose that particular representation.

For example, for Vajra family, here are some explanations by Trungpa himself: “The neurotic expression of Vajra is associated with anger and intellectual fixation. If we become fixated on a particular logic, the sharpness of Vajra can become rigidity.”  A really concise definition of the rigid character structure!

Lise Bourbeau in her book (Heal your wounds and find your true self) says that the main emotion of the rigid is anger.

This understanding of connecting subtypes to enlightened qualities allows us to encompass an extraordinary deeper vision of the whole spectrum of each character, from pathology to enlightenment.

Nothing, of course,  is invented.  We just put the right piece of the puzzle at the exact location.

We let the reader appreciate the accuracy of these different systems. They can seem certainly quite complex, but if you take time to reflect on it, they quickly start to appear so clear and well ordered! The next chapter and the integrative schema, will help to get a clearer representation of the whole system.


A comprehensive and integrative view of the five subtypes

The mandala of the five subtypes or somatic body structures

“According to the mandala principle, a prominent feature of tantric Buddhism,  all phenomena are part of one reality. Whether good or bad, happy or sad, clear or obscure, everything is interrelated and reflects a single totality.”   As Chögyam Trungpa explains in this work, “from the perspective of the mandala principle, existence is orderly chaos. There is chaos and confusion because everything happens by itself, without any external ordering principle. At the same time, whatever happens expresses order and intelligence, wakeful energy and precision. Through meditative practices associated with the mandala principle, the opposites of experience—confusion and enlightenment, chaos and order, pain and pleasure—are revealed as inseparable parts of a total vision of reality” (Chogyam Trungpa, Orderly Chaos).

Mandala (Sanskrit: ‘circle’) is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing both the macrocosm and the microcosm. The basic form of most mandalas is a circle containing a square with four “gates” in the four geographical directions and a center. Traditionally the four gates and the center corresponds to the five elements and is associated with the outer reality (directions, seasons, colors, forms,) and the inner reality (aggregates, emotions, wisdom). Each mandala has its own consistency and properties.

Inside the mandala there are dynamic links between the different points: some are in opposition, others share similarities, and we can find a chronological order (for example the sequence of the seasons). We choose a certain kind of mandala that fits with the Jungian cross of the elements (air-water and fire-earth are in opposition).



















This post is also available in: Français