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The Symbolism of Judas Iscariot

The Self-Exclusion Clause,
From a Theosophical Viewpoint
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
“The Last Supper”, the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci
“And oh, dear, how many traitors and
Judases of all colours and shades we have in
the very heart of the [Theosophical] Society.” 
[Helena P. Blavatsky, in “Letters of
H.P.B. to A. P. Sinnett”, TUP, 1973, p. 95.]
One of the two primary scriptures of Shin Buddhism is called the “Larger Sukhavati-vyuha”. Japanese author Taitetsu Unno wrote that this scripture “describes the career of a bodhisattva, a potential Buddha-to-be, by the name of Dharmakara, who makes forty-eight vows  before  another Buddha (...).”[1]
The most important among these pledges is the Eighteenth Vow, better known as the Primal Vow. It is a vow of sacrifice for all beings. It says:
“If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, with sincere mind, entrusting themselves, aspiring to be born in my land, and saying my Name perhaps even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the dharma.” [2]
The same exclusion clause as to slandering the dharma - or slandering the teacher - operates in the higher levels of the modern theosophical movement. Yet many an inexperienced student of theosophy might feel at this point that the last sentence in Buddhist vow above is cruel and judgmental:  
“Why should one exclude those who betray their source of inspiration?  Isn’t it an arrogant attitude - and unbrotherly - to be in any way severe towards those poor souls who imitate Judas Iscariot in their spiritual lives?”
In fact, the “exclusion clause” - which is also part of many a Masonic vow - does not actually provoke the exclusion of anyone at the occult  level.
It only acknowledges and accepts an occult self-exclusion which has taken place already, and of free will.
1. “Exclusion Clause” is Really Self-Exclusion
Those who slander their Teachers, harm the Teachings, or let these things occur without defending their own source of inspiration actually exclude themselves from a certain magnetic and karmic field. It occurs at the inner and subtle level. It is a silent action at the occult or non-visible dimensions of life. It can happen unknowingly. 
The exclusion clause is therefore not a cause in itself for exclusion or separation, and much less a punishment. It is but a consequence. It is a realistic decision not to pretend that a broken vessel is still intact. And, of course, it is done at the abstract and impersonal level of philosophical principles. Accepting unpleasant facts is useful because if one knows that something is broken, one can fix it; whereas if one pretends it is still intact, one lives in denial and self-delusion. 
The practical possibility of self-exclusion from higher levels of consciousness corresponds to the danger of failing in the process of self-inclusion in those realms. Both the effort and the danger of failing in it are present in the everyday life of theosophists. To phrase it in Buddhist language, one could say that by their daily actions students help (or hinder) their own gradual inclusion in the “three refuges”, which are:  
1) The Dharma (or the Law and Teachings);
2) The Buddha (or the Teachers) and,
3) The Sangha (or the invisible community of sincere students).
There may be few useful lessons we can take from that double concept of self-inclusion and self-exclusion. One of them is that we are responsible for our future destiny. By observing our daily actions we can see whether they are excluding us from, or including us within the wider spirit of the Teaching, in the atmosphere of the teachers, and in the subtle community of earnest students. 
We can see, then, up to what extent our daily actions tend to help our access to the higher realms of reality where our true selves live.  Thus we can discover better means to enhance our learning process.
2. The Occult Loss of Memory
There is something to add which relates to the inner side of the “exclusion clause”: it is the loss of memory.
Somewhere in the Tradition it is said that once the candidate to the mysteries gets outside the magnetic field of the Mysteries he loses memory of the knowledge he had attained.
It is a fact of Nature that there are memories and records of facts and teachings in each different level of consciousness; and they belong to each level, not to the one who has the memory in any given time.
If the candidate to the mysteries  disrupts his own access to that level of consciousness where finer memories and records are preserved -  for instance, the Buddhi-Manasic level - he will retain perhaps the outer aspect of the memory of events, the lower and physical aspect of teachings and events; but he will lose their real meaning. Then he can turn against the very hand which gave him spiritual food. But he can only do that in the lower and illusory levels of reality.
This seems to have happened to a few theosophical leaders who lost touch with the real substance of Theosophy but decided to remain attached to its outer shell. They forgot the inner flavour and meaning of the teachings because they were too enthusiastics about its outer vehicle or form.  It was like losing the access to a certain rate of vibration where  higher “memories” and perceptions really are. After that, they could only grasp the lifeless body of imagined appearances. 
Self-exclusion provokes the loss of a certain level of memories, therefore. It is in order to avoid the danger leading to it that real teachers consider with great caution the idea of expanding the consciousness of any candidate to wisdom. They know it is better for the candidate to go slowly ahead and avoid such problems later.
While the self-exclusion clause can’t be erased or cancelled, caution along the way may and must be promoted in order to protect as much as possible the candidates to wisdom from such a danger. It is out of compassion, and not out of selfishness, that Masters use that caution. And that leads us to examine the New Testament teachings regarding   Judas Iscariot. More than one esoteric symbolism can be seen in the story of Judas hanging himself, as narrated in Matthew 27. It consists of a metaphoric approach to the “exclusion clause”.
3. Theosophical Lessons from Judas - and Peter
The New Testament Judas stands for the disloyal part of human lower self; that part of the lower quaternary which resists the influence coming from the Master. And the “Master” represents the sixth principle or spiritual soul.
The “disciple”, lower quaternary, has expectations as to the “Master”. If the “disciple” is not ready to renew his vision of things and enlarge his horizons, for which he needs to drop old expectations aside, he may be defeated.   Actual defeat takes the form of “treason”. 
In Matthew 26, the loyal disciples do not stop Judas from making his treason.  They are confused by the intensity of their own on-going probationary tests.  Their stupidity, cowardice and inability to defend the sacred Master - the source of their learning - are well-expressed in Matthew 26: 69-74. There the chief-disciple Peter flatly denies the Master thrice. When asked about Jesus, Peter says: 
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
The chief-disciple literally washes his hands. He swears he did not see the Master. Peter is too coward to be a traitor, or a true disciple - in that moment. He is but lukewarm. He will be able to recover only later in the story. 
Anyone coward enough or sufficiently ignorant not to make “a brave declaration of principles” and a “valiant defence of those unjustly attacked” (which are two practical needs in any true discipleship) is caught in that same situation as Peter was. 
Of course defense does not always have to be obvious and verbal: actions count more than words. Yet in this case, as in several famous plays by William Shakespeare, the lower and treacherous impulses win the day.   “Judas”, or selfish impulses, betrays his Master, or spiritual soul, who is not defended by other disciples. Thus Judas successfully interrupts the flow of energy between “heaven” (upper triad, or Monad) and “earth” (lower quaternary, or mortal soul).
“Judas” is a symbol of that disciple or aspirant to Wisdom who fails in his search for Truth, and who cuts the semi-dormant link to the higher realms which can only be found in himself. It is also a symbol for the selfish sectors of one’s fourth, emotional principle of consciousness.
Evil disguises itself as good. Judas treats Jesus very well, nominally. Ambiguity, disguise and hypocrisy make the basic grammar of traitors.  Judas kisses the Master in the face. Outwardly, the fake disciple expresses good wishes to the Master. But this is in fact only made in order to indicate to the swordsmen who was the man to be arrested, - and killed.  
Then comes a collective humiliation to him who represents Sacred, eternal Wisdom. In Matthew 26:67, the Master is spat in his face and slapped by ignorant people. The spiritual mind is degraded and despised by the arrogance of lower self. Once Jesus is arrested, though, and after getting his bribe of thirty coins, Judas renounces the prize for his treason. He suddenly realizes that - in the absence of Spiritual Soul, the Master - everything loses sense for him.
He had rejected the Teacher who did not fit into his own expectations. He had done so because he had not previously renounced his own narrow ideas about what the Master should or should not do.  
But what could Judas do, now that he had committed spiritual suicide for that lifetime? Now that he had interrupted the sacred bridge between heaven and earth within himself, destroyed his Jacob’s ladder, and turned himself deaf to the quiet small voice of his own higher conscience? There was but one thing for him to do, and he did it. He completed the metaphor of spiritual self-destruction by hanging himself.
Summing it up, in this highly symbolical story Judas is the “disciple” who betrays his “Master”. He unduly reveals the sacred esoteric secrets. He destroys his own higher self for that lifetime. He has to face the “clause of self-exclusion”, which is ever present in any mutual agreement between the Higher and the Lower.
By hanging himself, Judas interrupts the life flow between head and body. Thus he destroys Antahkarana. This is a way of losing consciousness, or memory. Death symbolizes a form of ceasing to remember. Judas does not remember any longer the things he knew when he was loyal to his Higher Self, or inner Master.  
Yet life never ceases, and “Judas” will have another opportunity yet. He can be born again out of his higher self. It will be a new attempt; and when that happens a new page will be written in the Book of Life.  
The various factors mentioned above are present in the life of every truth-seeker, and Judas’ lessons should be useful for each one of us.
Everything which exists in large scale exists in small scale, too, and no one should say, or think, that the experience of Judas in the New Testament is entirely away from his own. The whole universe is interlinked. We can learn from it all, if we only have the ability to do that. The lessons from Judas apply to each student, just as they apply to theosophical associations. Danger and opportunity surround not only individuals, but also groups and institutions whose sincere aim is to search for truth.
[1] “Shin Buddhism”, Taitetsu Unno, Doubleday/Random House, New York, 2002, 266 pp., see p. 03. 
[2] “Shin Buddhism”, Taitetsu Unno, Doubleday/Random House, see p. 50. 
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The Symbolism of Judas Iscariot

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