I recall receiving an email from a dear friend of mine who is an independent bishop and seeing the attachment containing the Gospel of Judas—of course, I immediately opened the attachment with the gleeful anticipation of a little boy at Christmas opening what he expects to be a very special gift. As the file opened my eyes fell on the title, The Gospel of Judas, and then I began to read the first lines of the gospel, which tell us that it is a secret teaching given to Judas Iscariot on the “week three days” before Jesus celebrated the Passover.
Instantly, the Gnostic intention of this gospel leap out at me, for as I record in my book, St. Mary Magdalene, the oral tradition of Sophian Gnosticism has legends that speak of Judas Iscariot receiving secret teachings from Jesus and being asked by the Master to play a crucial role in the mystery drama of the crucifixion and resurrection—here was a gospel speaking the mystery of the Gnostic Revealer and of Gnostic discipleship!
Of course, as I read on the gospel related a story of Judas very different than those in our oral legends, as in this gospel only Judas is able to receive the secret Gnostic teaching from the Master and the remainder of the disciples are spoken about in rather harsh terms, but according to the Sophian Gnostic tradition others among the disciples also receive inner and secret teachings, such as Mary Magdalene and St. Lazarus. Nevertheless, the opening lines reflected the same basic spiritual teaching and practice that Sophian legends of Judas convey, for the phrase “a week three days before he celebrated Passover” occurs in our oral tradition and has specific meaning.
The word “week” indicates the seven planetary spheres of ancient astrology and cosmology, which are associated in Gnosticism with the demiurge (“half-maker” or “false god”) and archons (“rulers” generated by the demiurge); hence, the dominion of cosmic ignorance and spiritual forces of ignorance. It also indicates the seven centers or “chakras” in the subtle body, which until they are purified and opened are said to be “under the dominion of the demiurge.” The words “three days” coupled with “week” indicates the sphere of fixed stars beyond the seven planets and the circle of the zodiac, which represents the pleroma of light or eternal realm—the domain of the True Light or True God. It also indicates a secret center of consciousness above the head, transcendent of the seven centers in the subtle body. Essentially, in Gnostic jargon the idea of “celebrating Passover” represents an ascent in consciousness from the dominion of the demiurge (or the entirety) into the pleroma of light or eternal realm; hence, a shift in consciousness to a super conscious state, which leads to the experience of consciousness beyond the body. This ability to shift our center of consciousness beyond the body is the entire theme and intention of the Gospel of Judas—it is a secret Gnostic teaching encoded in the gospel that any Gnostic initiate would be able read and understand. After citing this intention, the gospel then goes on to give instructions in this spiritual practice of shifting our center of consciousness from the physical body to a body of light; hence, instructions about how to enter the Gnostic experience. What is the Gnostic experience? It is the experience of higher consciousness; and it is the opening of consciousness to new dimensions, specifically inner and metaphysical dimensions; and it is the experience of conscious unification with the divine—God and Godhead. In a word it is the experience of enlightenment or self-realization: Divine Gnosis.
This reflects the distinction between the exoteric or “orthodox” view of the Christ revelation and the Gnostic view. According to “orthodox” Christianity the divine incarnation of Christ transpires as atonement for the sins of humanity, and through blind belief in religious creeds and doctrines—faith that “Jesus died for our sins,” we are “saved” from the consequence of our sins. In Gnostic Christianity, however, the issue is not sin, but ignorance, and Jesus is viewed as a Gnostic Revealer, an enlightened or divine being who teaches the Way of Enlightenment and Liberation. Essentially, by revealing the truth and light of Christ, Jesus liberates us from ignorance, showing us the illusory nature of the world and revealing our true identity in the Divine Light. Indeed, the miracles and wonders, and the crucifixion and resurrection—all of this is to show us the true nature of reality, that it is the radiant display of our own mind, consciousness or soul. Through this gnosis or spiritual knowledge we are delivered from our bondage to sorrow and suffering, knowing the peace and joy of the Risen Christ—hence, the truth of Divine conscious within and beyond the body.
Throughout the Gospel of Judas this distinction is made perfectly clear, as perhaps more than any other Gnostic Gospel, the Gospel of Judas severely opposes orthodoxy and strikes at the ignorance of dogmatic religion—instead of religion, it points us to spirituality; instead of seeking truth outwardly, it points us to look within ourselves; instead of blind faith, it encourages us to seek direct spiritual and mystical experience. In other words, it outlines essential qualities of the Gnostic Path.
Unlike the Sophian Tradition of Christian Gnosticism, which most often tends to take a non-dual view of the God of the Old Testament and God of the New Testament, the Gospel of Judas takes the classical dualistic view commonly associated with Gnosticism, but takes it a step further; not only is the god of the Old Testament the demiurge, but the god of the twelve disciples and the New Testament as it has come to be preached is the demiurge also, according to this Gnostic Gospel, the very same ignorance dominating both revelations. As shocking as this might sound, given the history of atrocities enacted in the name of “Jesus Christ” and the “Gospel” by peoples professing themselves as “Christians,” one can certainly see how some Gnostic Christians might hold this view of orthodoxy, especially considering that mystical and Gnostic Christians have been among those sorely persecuted and oppressed by orthodoxy. In fact, when one reads this gospel one finds it almost prophetic of much that has happened in the name of Jesus and Christianity since it the time it was written some 1600 or more years ago.
What stands out perhaps the most in this gospel, aside from the positive view of it presents of Judas and the radical stance it takes against orthodoxy, is that it does not conclude with the crucifixion and resurrection, but rather with the “betrayal” of Jesus by Judas, fulfilling what the Master asked him to do. In fact, instead telling the tale of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, it tells of the ascension of Judas, reflecting the Gnostic view that the Divine Gnosis embodied in the Master must be realized in the experience of the disciple. In light of the task Judas is called to do, one is reminded of a saying in Zen Buddhism, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” This, of course, is meant to remind that rather than worshiping and following another person, however enlightened or divine they might be, we must unfold our own enlightenment; rather than following the outer teacher, we must realize the teacher within ourselves—our own Christ-like or Buddha-like nature. Quite distinctly, this gospel does not call us to worship the person of Jesus, but rather points to the principle of enlightened or divine being embodied in him, which each of us must ultimately recognize and realize in ourselves. Unfortunately, as is the case with many other Gnostic scriptures that have been found and translated, there are significant sections of the Gospel of Judas that are missing. Thus, while the Gnostic practice of the development of consciousness beyond the body is clearly present, and the overall message of the gospel is clear, the full cosmology that it originally recorded is obscure and there are points in the ancient text that prove somewhat confusing. Nevertheless, from a Gnostic perspective what it does offer is delightful and thought provoking, and it provides a foundation for spiritual contemplation and meditation. As we work with this gospel in our spiritual practice, no doubt various interpretations will arise and it will help to facilitate a drawing out of the spiritual knowledge and wisdom that is innate to our true being, our divine spark.
Having mentioned the spiritual practice of shifting our center of consciousness from our physical body into a subtle body of light, in closing I’d like to share a simple Gnostic practice for the transference of consciousness, one that reflects the nature of the spiritual practices the Gospel of Judas inspires:
- Sit in a place you will not be disturbed, and allow your body to find its own natural rhythm of breath—relax, yet remain alert, allowing yourself to be present in the moment.
- As you sit in meditation, keep your back in a comfortable but straight position, and when you have settled in and are present in the moment, envision the image of the spiritual sun (a sphere of golden light) in the place of your heart.
- Be aware of this center of light as the presence of the Christ Self, your inner and divine self; and gather your consciousness into this divine center.
- Centering yourself within the spiritual sun—becoming the spiritual sun—envision your whole body filled with the divine light and pervaded by the divine light, your body becoming self-radiant like the sun.
- Then envision above your head a great and holy star of white brilliance, as though formed of a diamond-like light, sparkling with rainbow hues, and allow a yearning, a deep desire, to arise for union with the divine light above.
- As the desire for union increases, envision your body dissolving into pure and fluid light, and as the light, envision and feel yourself ascending to that great and holy star, the subtle body of divine light above, and let yourself merge with that body of light. (As you envision your ascent, to facilitate concentration, you can intone the seed-sound “Ah,” falling silent as you enter into union.)
- It is as though you are a being of light in an ocean of light as you ascend and enter into union; as you ascend, do not grasp at any vision that might arise, but go to the light above and merge with the light. Abiding in union with the light, listen and hear what the Divine Spirit speaks, look and see what the Divine Spirit reveals, know yourself in the Oneness of the Most High.
- When you are ready to conclude your meditation, remember those who are in need and send light to them with conscious intention for their happiness and well-being, and then close your meditation with thanksgiving to the Divine within yet ever beyond, all as you are inspired. When you go out into the world, walk in remembrance of the Divine Light and go out as a Light-bearer: walk in beauty and holiness.
Although at the outset such a meditation may well be nothing more than a flight of fantasy in the mind, nevertheless it reflects the truth of our soul and spirit, and may serve to facilitate something of the Gnostic experience. There are many Gnostic practitioners who have found this meditation beneficial and effective.
The Gospel of Judas, edited by Rudolph Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregory Wurst Published in book form complete with commentary by The National Geographic Society 2006
St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride (cycle 4, page 75), by Tau Malachi, Llewellyn Publications 2006