The seven deadly sins

Q.: OM, when did you last commit a sin ?

A.: Certain characteristics of man have widely become regarded as sins .To my mind, the I itself is sin. The concept of a personal I is a painful misunderstanding of one`s own nature. Once this misunderstanding is cleared up, there is no sin any more, and those characteristics which are presumed to be sinful become quite naturally what they used to be in the first place without anybody having to try and lead a life free of sin.

Q.: What then is a deadly sin ?

A.: According to Christian tradition a deadly sin is a deep-seated egotistical passion which eventually leads to eternal damnation in the eyes of God. In contrast to Catholic dogma I would define deadly sins as strong emotional temptations of the ego which have severe and painful consequences. Another way of looking at the concept of deadly sins could be to define them as a futile attempt of the ego to regain a lost paradise.

Q.: Could you try and be a bit more specific on this point ?

A.: The Enneagram can offer a more differentiated explanation of so-called deadly sins than Christian tradition. What we can learn from it is that the mortal sins do not carry equal weight but that they all hark back to one pivotal sin , namely psycho-spiritual sloth or inertia. It is a form of ignorance , of subconscious aggression against the divine concealed in passivity. Ignorance and complacency serve a inertia purpose for the ego in that they seem to enable the ego to escape the hell of suffering and to achieve some sort of false happiness. Inertia as a fundamental temptation for an individual consists in the naïve assumption that one can find freedom and happiness by simply forgetting about one´s deep suffering. Also that dumb aggressiveness which is the source of indolence falls into subconsciousness. Real freedom however cannot be achieved unless one is prepared to consciously go through the fire of suffering. That is the only path to transcendence.

Q.: In addition to the seven deadly sins , namely sloth, anger, pride, envy, covetousness, gluttony and lust, the enneagram has two more , vanity and fear. Why was fear no mortal sin in Christian tradition ?

A.: It cannot possibly be the shepherd`s concern to make their sheep become aware of fear as something sinful. Obviously, the sheep or lamb is a metaphor for the believer. The shepherd wants his sheep to be fearful. Otherwise the sheep would recognize that they are no sheep. The Christian concept of the deadly sin was used to increase the power of the church as an institution. The Christian church has made use of what we call the concept of the super-ego to a much larger extent than other religious beliefs, which is epitomized in the father -figure of a punishing God. Once the super-ego was created the concept of morality was quick to follow . In the history of the church, sin frequently came to be understood and taught as pagan resistance against the morality of the church. The church viewed itself as the representative body of the `good Christians`, while those outside the church were considered sinful pagans.

Q.: Which of the deadly sins then did the church itself fall victim to when it integrated the seven deadly sins into its power structure ?

A.: Obviously, abuse of power is always connected with the mortal sin of anger. The I flies into a holy rage in order to exert power - in the name of God, of course.

Q.: So the abuse of power serves to divide the world into right and wrong ?

A.: The fact that it is possible to divide the world into right and wrong can be traced back to the idea of a self-righteous angry judge, which is an embodiment of the super-ego, and the super-ego for its part is only an element of the I-concept. The I claims to be the judge presiding over the world.

Q.: How can it be that the church teaches deadly sins and commits one itself at the same time?

A.: The deadly sin of anger is encapsulated in the Christian church`s faith in the ideal of justice. I am sure the judges of the Inquisition were convinced that they acted in the name of god and did exactly the right thing. They were not aware of falsehood because as I pointed out before the most fundamental sin of mankind is its ignorance, and what makes it so difficult to become aware of one`s ignorance is that ignorance is not conscious of itself.

Q.: But where is in that the striving of the I to return to paradise?

A.: The idea of justice makes the I believe it is on the right way. To put it simply: If you do everything right , God will take you into his fold again. The idea of justice is based upon the notion of a right world which is subconsciously identified with paradise. This right world is a substitute for true life.

Q.: And how does this work with the deadly sin of envy, for instance?

A.: The precision tool of the enneagram serves to show us that envy is nothing but inhibited vanity, and that in a psyche dominated by envy there is a self-defeating and self-frustrating element. Envy is commonly understood as seeing something in others that I covet for myself in order to make up for a perceived deficiency and to become a better person.

Q.: … to be like God in the final analysis - true ?

A.: Every I wants to be like God but does not want to die for it. The I can only be like God when it has ceased to exist as a reality and then there is no drawing comparisons any longer and thus no envy either. Looking at envy as a form of vanity we can recognize that there is no comparing your essence with my essence of being but only for instance `your glorious love` with ` my flickering candle `; in other words, your great light with my small light. Envy is not concerned with being, it is only about image.

Q.: But where is then positive core of envy?

A.: What is at the core of any wish - even perverted ones - is a basic longing for love and peace. Obviously it is the same with envy - it is nothing but a wish, a longing to be redeemed by love. Envy is an aberration just like any deadly sin. Envy could be defined as an expression of alienated, perverted desire. Vanity is also about love, but it stops short at appearances and allows itself to be deceived by these appearances.

Q.: Vanity, like fear, used to be no mortal sin. Is that coincidence ?

A.: Of the seven deadly sins in Christian tradition pride is roughly equivalent to vanity. The enneagram is more discerning in defining pride as a variant of vanity in the set-up of an effusive mind. Vanity is more fundamental in submerging the human mind in hallow appearances.

Q.: Christian tradition originally viewed pride as the most serious sin. The sins were ranked according to the degree of egotism associated with each of them. What is your opinion on this ?

A.: I do not seem to agree with this kind of ranking because egotism and its excesses are only a reaction upon a basic spiritual selfforgetfullness which goes hand in hand with the emotional passion of indolence. In Christian tradition this connection has never been established.

Q.: How can selfforgetfullness become egocentricity?

A.:  The concept of the I becomes a substitute for the loss of being, an ersatz reality. And pride represents the ego in full bloom, so to speak - a carnival of life in a world of appearances, a world of false colours, false beauty, false strength and false love. In psychological terms pride is often defined as self - confidence. Consequently, psychotherapy supports the mortal sins. Ours is a time of constantly playing down evil as harmless, a clear sign that profound knowledge is often wantonly discarded. Nowadays we can see that the seven deadly sins are being playfully made fun of in the advertisements and commercials of the consumer society. We can speak of collective ignorance here.

Q.: Which of the deadly sins do you see at work then ?

A.: Playing down evil is due to indolence or inertia, and this fundamental sin is becoming more and more widespread, in western society. On the one hand, this may be an attempt to compensate fear, to make it less felt. On the other, it is a sign of relative self-satisfaction, which is on the increase whenever external threats seem to disappear and people are doing too well. The media has coined the term hedonistic society for this phenomenon. Diversions have multiplied and people are less prepared to face inner sufferings. Against this trend, more people are seriously engaged in self-liberation than ever before.

Q.: So this situation reminds you of a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrha ?

A.: Never before in history has evil been so close to man. The invisible essence of evil can be felt in a society where the visible evil seems to be non-existent. In former times evil became manifest in the form of enemies people could fight and lay their hands on .Today the real threat is invisible, incomprehensible, inscrutable. It cannot be seen nor felt nor smelled and yet it permeates all our lives, like radioactivity. Evil has become shapeless and cast off its masks. The fact that evil reveals itself in its pure essence conjures up the danger of completely losing one`s life and soul , but it also holds the promise of an immense potential for transformation.

Q.: Why can the imminence and ubiquity of evil offer a potential for transformation ?

A.: Because it is in the pure essence of evil where the power of transformation resides. Allowing oneself to confront evil can set free an incredible potential for transformation and open the gates to transcending good as well as evil. Everybody fights against what they perceive as evil. That is the problem. As long as we fight evil we cannot possibly know anything about evil.

Q.: You are offering Inner Work with seekers on the topic of mortal sins. What are you driving at?

A.: It is about re-directing the perception of the seeker: - not away from evil but towards it, not awy from sin, but towards it, and to open up ways of experiencing one`s own particular sin, to experience that at the core of your own mortal sin you can detect your own virtue. This , too , is part of the profound wisdom of the enneagram: the secret of conversion - conversion of a basic sin into a basic virtue. The enneagram can teach us exactly that: at the core of a deadly sin you can find the highest virtue of a soul.

Q.: Can you give an example ?

A.: The deadly sin of the archetypal hero - enna-type SIX - is fear, and his virtue is courage. The fearful naively believes that he will not be courageous unless he has shed his fear. That is due to a lack of understanding. Consequently, a fearful person will be given the opportunity to experience that - against all odds - he will unexpectedly find the virtue of courage he is longing for right in the heart of his fear. The only thing he has to do is summon up the courage to meet his fear. Thus a deadly sin will be transformed into a virtue of life. The experience will contribute to a revival of his soul, for only a living soul is capable of gaining knowledge.

Q.: What would you tell somebody who is afraid to deal with the deadly sins?

A.: I would tell him : Stop running away from becoming free. What you may consider your deadly sin will turn out to be a gate to liberation.