Question: The Role of Judas Iscariot
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at the Convent of the Cenacle, Grayshott, Hampshire on 10th April 1981
Phiroz Mehta: The question is, “The part played by Judas Iscariot in the Crucifixion was obviously very important. Has this role been totally misunderstood, and what is the deep religious significance of this act of ‘betrayal’ in terms of Jesus and also in terms of the coming to fruition of all of us?”
This really is a tremendous question and I am not at all sure whether I can give a proper, satisfactory answer to it. However I will try. Yes, the role played by Judas has been misunderstood. It is called a betrayal, but in the French edition of the New Testament, the word is not “betray” but “deliver”. “Délivrer” is used, and this gives us a clue to understanding just what happened. You may remember that Jesus himself dips the sop and hands it over to Judas and tells him, “That thou doest, do quickly.” The implication perhaps is that now is the time, the critical moment of Truth. Jesus did try time and again during his three years of ministry to annoy or to antagonise the Jews to such an extent that they would get rid of him, and they did not succeed, and you will remember particularly that on one occasion they lifted up stones to throw at him and he just passed through the people, through the throng. What precisely that means I don’t know, to tell you the fact. But the important point is that he did on several occasions almost engineer the bringing about of his own destruction. Supposing Jesus had not been crucified. It is very questionable whether there would have been a Christianity and a Christendom after his death. Crucifixion was an ordinary event in Roman times in Palestine, and Jesus in his young days helped his father to make the crosses on which people were crucified. There is a remarkable book by a man called Dmitri Merezhovsky which throws a great deal of light upon the life of Jesus. This boy helped his father to make those crosses, and remember that Jesus was an exceptional person altogether, as a child too. What must have been the thoughts and feelings that went through his heart and mind as he helped his father to make those crosses? He must have known, very sensitively, the intensity of pain and suffering which crucifixion implies. Being what he was and growing in the way that he did, (and we know practically nothing of what happened to him between the ages of twelve and thirty), he must have been extremely sensitive to all that is involved in the living of the religious life, wanting to preach what he finally did preach, something which completely upset the old world order of Judaism as such.
I personally feel fairly certain that Jesus must have known and mastered the teachings of the Qabalah. The Qabalah is really the origin of the Judeo-Christian traditions. This Qabalah was the ancient esoteric teaching which was carried first by Abraham westwards. You know how it is said that Abraham heard the call, and he obeyed the call and moved westwards towards Canaan. He moved westwards because where he lived the prevailing priesthoods (there were several sects there at that time) had sunk into practices which we commonly call black magic. They had degraded the teaching and the ritual and so forth, and because of this Abraham felt the call and went westwards with the teaching of the Qabalah. He had a copy of the Qabalah, so to say, with him. That was the sacred teaching which was the Semitic counterpart of that other teaching which was the original Veda, which went eastwards into India. Abraham therefore transmitted this teaching through the line of the patriarchs to others who kept the secret very well. Then there came a period when it got lost again, and that was followed by finding the Qabalah arise in its original form in Judaea. I am pretty certain that Jesus had learnt about this and knew it. These Qabalistic teachings of course dealt with essentially the transformations of Yahweh at his own Divine level. You know how the Qabalah presented the Tree of Life diagramatically in the form of a man and also as a pure geometrical figure. I have given both those in The Heart of Religion in the chapter on evil and suffering. This Qabalistic teaching regarding the transformations of the Supreme, Ain-Soph as they called it, the Infinite, is a remarkable presentation which was experienced and realized by Perfected Holy Ones who had arisen in the Euphrates-Tigris region. Abraham was supposed to have gone westwards from the city of Ur of the Chaldees. The Chaldeans were perhaps the originators of the first science of astrology. In the Qabalistic teachings, the Infinite, Ain-Soph, emanates itself first as Hokmah, which stands for Wisdom, “the Wisdom gone beyond”, as put in Buddhistic terms. The other aspect which formed the third member of the Trinity is Binah. Binah is presented as the Divine Female, the Primordial Female. Hokmah by sheer presence, glancing at Binah, starts up the whole process of evolution, which culminates ultimately in the most material form, the concrete form, which we understand as matter. But the important point to remember is that all this was part and parcel of Divinity itself at a Divine level. It is very interesting and very curious, and it would take a very long time to go into all the deep elements involved in it. This teaching was the sort of blueprint of the whole evolutionary process, in Transcendental terms of the Primordial Creative Energy manifesting itself in various ways, and coming down grade by grade till finally it crystallizes itself in matter. Consciousness is completely locked up in matter, and then it has to go through the process of development, especially through the human kingdom, by which once again that original state is restored.
Very briefly, something like this was that Qabalistic teaching which Abraham took with him westwards because the people of Chaldea had descended into evil practices. It is a very interesting point that Zarathushtra in his Gathas mentions these different sects, all of which give the false doctrine. He calls them the followers of the Lie, not the Truth, whereas he himself was concerned with the Maga Brotherhood. In English you generally pronounce it “Magi”. The three wise men who came to see Jesus when he was born were members of the Maga Brotherhood. Zarathushtra was the leader of this Maga Brotherhood and he founded the religion which afterwards came to be known as Zarathustrianism. It is just a few verses in the Gathas which make me feel that Zarathushtra was possibly a contemporary of Abraham, because both of them heard the call. Zarathushtra stayed there and triumphed in establishing the pure teaching, Abraham went westward with the teaching. This Qabalistic teaching about the different emanations of Ain-Soph at its own Divine level was a great secret teaching because it implied that the potentiality of Divinity lay within each individual himself. After all, who gave these teachings, who produced them? Human beings, no one else. There was no extraordinary Divine Being in some mythical heaven who came down and spoke. All the angels and archangels and so forth, as well as the demons and all the rest of them, all represent the constructive and the disruptive forces which played their part in producing the entire universe. When a man enters the deep states of consciousness he becomes acquainted with these different archetypal forms of energy and he names them, and people think that they are beings of another sort functioning there. What is discovered is the fact that there are energies which function in this, that or the other way, and they were given the names of angels, archangels and what not. You have this highly developed, both in the Judaic system and in the Zarathustrian system. There is a whole set of archangels and angels in both teachings. But to give away the secret to the mass of people would simply have meant that those who spoke openly like that would have been exterminated. People being what they were, they wanted their special idols to worship. Idol worship would have suffered an irrecoverable blow if those teachings were given out.
Jesus knew all of them, and he had to present the idea of the supreme state which man himself can reach if he lives according to his teachings. This was a dangerous task. As you know, he contradicted the Mosaic Law in so many ways. He did not observe the Sabbath, he dined and wined with publicans and so on. He raised people from the dead, whatever that may mean. Probably it means that the person whose nature had become completely sick, as good as dead, was healed of his state. All these things were very much disliked by Jewry. They were his enemies, and he said extraordinary things. For instance he said, “I am that bread of life … I am the living bread which came down from heaven … Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life.” To say a thing like that to the Jews of his day was something unbearable for them. “I am the Son of God.” And that of course was the crucial point. Once he had admitted that, the Jews shouted for his crucifixion. Caiphas on the last occasion asked him, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (They always referred to Yahweh as the Blessed, they would not pronounce the sacred name Yahweh, Yod-Hay-Waw-Hay, because it was too sacred to pronounce, and it had magical potencies, potencies for good, of course). Jesus just answered, “I am”. Thereupon the High Priest tore his garment and said that that man had blasphemed to the ultimate limit and therefore deserved to be crucified. And Jesus said, “I am in the Father, and the Father in me”, which I don’t suppose the Jews understood at all, the mass of them that is. The Father in Heaven, Abba, in Hokmah. Abba is the Son of the Unknown, of the Ultimate Origin. The Father had emerged out of that. If you read the Zohar, the work of Moses de Leon (it’s an extraordinary work, its name means The Book of Splendour) you will read about the beginning, how it came about, which is called Reshyt. Hence the first verse of Genesis goes: Bereshyt Barah Elohim. This is usually translated as, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”, which is a nonsensical translation actually. Out of the Unknown Origin there emerged Elohim who made or separated out the consciousness, which is the God consciousness, the heavenly consciousness and the material consciousness, which is Earth. That is its meaning actually. Then Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman”, and he also uttered deep words unheard by mortals for they knew not how to listen. The one who really recognised Jesus for what he really was, was Simon bar-Yona and when Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?”, the disciples answered, “Some say thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets”. And the voice of Simon-bar-Yona rings out, “‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. This is a tremendously significant sentence. You can meditate on that for months before you begin to appreciate what that means. “Thou art the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of the living God.” Anointed by whom? Not by a priest, but anointed by Divinity itself, which means that when one is in that profoundest state of consciousness there is this sort of mantle which falls upon the person, like the mantle of Elijah fell upon Elisha. The name of Jesus is YHshWH. YHshWH is Yod-Hay-Sheen-Waw-Hay. It is the two parts joined together by the letter Sheen. The letter Sheen signifies the enfleshment of what otherwise remains as a profound concept only, a bloodless concept. So here there was Divinity enfleshed, which simply means of course that this man had become the Perfected Holy One amongst them all. So Jesus was not exactly popular with the Jews.
Now Jesus’s teaching could not have spread and affected the world as a whole unless some dramatic event took place, which would symbolise and typify his own saying, that he came to save the lost sheep of Israel, and that he gave his life as a ransom for the many. This principle of vicariousness is a fact in life. We all experience it in our own everyday life without knowing that it is happening. When for example those who are related to us or those who are very dear friends to us are in difficulty or suffering or going a wrong road, one suffers with that, and in that suffering and in the compassion which emerges out of it you are giving your own life as a sort of a ransom for the wrongdoer. So in order that this might finally be actualized, some sort of other agent had to be found who would do the necessary. There was a tremendous transmission of transcendent energy when Jesus gave that sop to Judas and Judas took it. That energy enabled Judas to carry out the final process, otherwise he could not have done so. It was Jesus who supplied him with that energy, and Judas went and brought the soldiers and so on, and pointed out where Jesus was, and all the rest of the history follows.
So, the significance of the Crucifixion. It was not therefore an act of betrayal, it was destined to happen that way, it could only happen that way, considering the times and the circumstance and the immediate milieu in which everything happened. So Judas was the instrument really of Jesus. He was the instrument which could bring about this Crucifixion and the subsequent spread and flourishing of Christ’s teachings. So, remember, Judas really delivered Jesus. He did not betray him but delivered him. If this sort of catastrophic event does not take place in the life of the individual, the final stages of fruition cannot take place. Something utterly catastrophic has to take place in order that the individual is totally released from all selfness. Martyrdom in the real sense is Divine Justice. It is a terrible pill to swallow, it is very frightening perhaps. But martyrdom is Divine justice, it is all in the Divine plan, that it happens that way, the final acceptance and the final emergence to the Transcendent through the ultimate limit of suffering. This happens again and again. In the lives of the great mystics, as you know, they go through the Dark Night of the Soul, they go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. They realize death in its actuality whilst the body is alive. The Upaniṣads call the various stages the avasthās, the four avasthās, the Buddhist classification has four jhānas and four samāpattis, but the four avasthās completely cover the eighth and ninth stages of the Buddhist presentation. If one has taken the trouble to go into it deeply enough and long enough, one will see that that is the case. Each of these stages, as we call them, is not a case of climbing the rungs of a ladder. It is a case of intensifications of profounder awareness of actuality, of reality, of what we may call the ultimate Truth. When you come to the final stage where all isolative and separative self-consciousness is utterly cast aside, purified, that gets purified into the power to see into the reality once and for all, to be totally one with it in mind and consciousness. The fact is that that kind of consciousness is not consciousness in any sense of viññāṇa, discriminative consciousness. There is no discrimination whatsoever. You know it, you experience it, by being it actually, you are it in mind and consciousness, bodily of course not. So this stage had to come about, and it could only come about under the prevailing circumstances, namely the Judaic surroundings and situation, through the Crucifixion. Therefore its significance for coming to fruition for all of us is just that, that that final triumph over death means experiencing in the depths of consciousness the reality of death whilst the body is still alive. When you realize it that way, you see once and for all that death is other-life. But it is not other-life of you the entity. The entity completely disappears, that is to say the “I-am-I” consciousness. Instead of “Thou my Father and I thy Son” — all that is completely out. Father and Son are indistinguishably one. This is the way I interpret it, remember, don’t take this for Gospel truth or some such thing! But I can’t help deriving it that way because I have tried to enter into all the great religions and understand what they are teaching. It is a tremendous question that you have asked me and, as I say, it is not easy to answer it very satisfactorily.
Questioner A: Was Judas acting out the good in his own nature or the bad in his own nature?
Phiroz Mehta: I think we cannot approach it in that way, as the goodness or the badness in one’s nature, because that is confined entirely to the dualistic sphere, to the sphere of the psycho-physical organism as such with all its dualism and/or its multiplicity as the case may be, the realm of differentiation and of separation. “Love ye one another as I have loved you” was the one commandment of Jesus which was his very own. All the others were the Judaic commandments, including “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul”, and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, emphasizing the complete and absolute unity of the whole of mankind. All that was in the Pentateuch, in Exodus, in Leviticus and in Deuteronomy. As I ended my chapter on Jesus in The Heart of Religion, these words just came as I was writing:
and stands at the door of the unseen Light.
We await this moment of Love
Receive thou Me
is the message of the Silence.
On the instant
Yehouda is within
and the Darkness is at-oned with the Light.
The ever-recurring miracle.
(Yehouda = Judas)
Questioner B: Is that the explanation of the last words spoken by Christ which included “Why hast thou forsaken me?” and “It is finished”?
Phiroz Mehta: In St John’s Gospel, it has “It is finished”, the other Gospels have “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani” (“Why hast thou forsaken me?”). There is that final stage where one enters the deepest depth possible for human beings. Remember that the deepest we can enter into ever is not necessarily the end point in terms of the Totality. There probably are profounder grades which are completely beyond the human kingdom. “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani.” What is Eloi? It is translated as “My God, My God.”“Lama Sabachthani”, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Some people like to translate it as “How thou dost glorify me.” But consider the word “Eloi”. The Jews presented man as the body, Nephesh, the animal soul, Ruah, the intellectual soul, and Neshamah. Ruah corresponds to buddhi in Indian terms, meaning unerring insight, the power to see the Truth at once, the whole Truth, making no mistake about it. It is not intuition by any manner of means. It is unerring insight, buddhi, and Plato’s word nous. That also means really unerring insight, this power to see the Truth completely, because the psyche has been so purified that it is altogether open to the light of Transcendence, that is the enlightened state then. Neshamah (this is Jewish terminology) is that aspect of Yahweh which is in us as such, which in ordinary English we call the Imminent God. Yahweh is the Imminent God, Elohim is the Transcendent God who does the work of creation. Whenever you read in the English Bible the Lord God, the Jewish term is Yahweh-Elohim. When a person has realized the state of the Perfected Holy One, Nephesh, Ruah and Neshamah are a complete unity. I believe that it is that unity which is represented by the term Eloi, because in the term Eloi, El represents Divinity as the Strong One and also as that which is supremely worthy of worship. Worship means to hold worthy. It is the supreme worthiness. When the final vestiges of self-consciousness, of separative, isolative self-consciousness disappear, it feels as if you are totally and completely disintegrated. Actually what is happening is that you are passing, so to say, blindfold through this condition of darkness, which ends up in the one eternal Light where there are no distinguishing separate entities or separate personalities or any such thing. This is a teaching which orthodox Christendom and orthodox theistic religions will not accept. They will have you persisting as a Transcendent entity, up in heaven if you have been a good boy or girl, and if not, well, they don’t say anything about that, apart from saying that you are in the other place! So that is the meaning of “Eloi, Eloi. Lama Sabachthani”. It is the expression by Jesus, if he did say those words, of a state which was utterly indescribable and terrifying. But I think the other statement, “It is finished”, is the better statement actually, because, whilst one may go through that period where one feels that one has been deserted by the Supreme within oneself, there is also the fact that the completion of that person’s fulfilment and development is taking place, so the word “finished” does not mean that it has come to an end, like finishing your meal and going away from the dining room. It is finished in the sense of perfected, finished, like the compositions of Mozart are such finished compositions, and so forth. In that sense finished, I think.
Questioner C: It seems to me that poor old Judas really got the rough end of the stick, if it was destined that he behaved like this. He had been an ardent follower of Jesus, had he not, and he went away because of his enormous guilt and hanged himself…
Phiroz Mehta: So they say.
Questioner C: …without any realization, or what one might almost call reward for his understanding. He must have had a certain understanding…
Phiroz Mehta: Unquestionably.
Questioner C: …to have been a follower. And yet he seems to have been dismissed, although, as you say, it was destined.
Phiroz Mehta: Absolutely destined. And consider this fact. Minus Judas and the Crucifixion, could there have emerged a Christendom and a Christian religion? It is almost impossible for it to have happened.
Questioner C: But if he had realized that he was doing this, Judas himself, that would have been a justification, but he didn’t, did he?
Phiroz Mehta: I rather suspect that Judas did understand and did know.
Questioner D: Dr Nicoll in Living Time or The New Man suggested that Iscariot was the greatest of the disciples, insofar as he played this terrible role consciously, completely aware of what he was doing.
Phiroz Mehta: He was aware of what he was doing, and he had to play it. But even if the individual plays that role knowing what he is doing, and it is a role which involves terrible suffering and sorrow or harm, he has to pay the penalty for doing right. This is an aspect of Divine justice which is very hard to understand and still harder to accept. After all practically all human beings in the world have a shopkeeper mentality. This object is worth that much, and so the exchange is made. But to think of justice in this sense requires almost a superhuman understanding. Martyrdom is part of Divine justice, if it is the right sort of martyrdom, not the wrong sort.
Questioner E: Jesus abetted his own destruction. He prophesied it and he also abetted it, which is a rather puzzling thing to Christian people, because, in the commonest understanding, the betrayal of the Master is here, in abetting his own destruction, both prophesying it and abetting it. That’s the puzzling part of it.
Phiroz Mehta: Is it so puzzling? I don’t see the puzzlement if one sees that Jesus foresaw that this kind of catastrophic event had to take place in order that what he stood for would ultimately flourish.
Too much to read. Therefore did not complete reading this article. But consider this: without Judas, Christianity would not exist today. His role in the establishment of Christianity is even more fundamental than that of apostles Peter and Paul. And why must we condemn Judas as a vile traitor when all that was to happen to Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament. Poor Judas was therefore just a scapegoat, a fall guy. It is said in some circles that the soul of Judas was in torment because of the betrayal until just recently. This is very difficulty to comprehend. First, a person is earmarked for a certain unsavoury role; then, when he completes the role, he is condemned like no other person in history. The way I see it is that the biggest mistake Judas made was not approaching Christ while the latter was in the cross and ask him for forgiveness. Jesus would of course forgiven him readily. Did not Peter deny the Christ three times before the cock crow? But Peter recovered from this cowardly act and went on to be the chief of all the apostles. Judas however, as we are told, hanged himself. So the sins of Judas are actually not asking Jesus for forgiveness and in killing himself rather than betraying Jesus.
An anonymous visitor, 8th June 2015
A lofty conversation indeed, and one with a number of new insights. God sent to earth a message of Salvation (as the name of Jesus is translated), and Judas delivered it. Works for me.
An anonymous visitor, 18th June 2014