"What do you know of Judas? He was a great initiate.
He was the second disciple after St John the Baptist.
All that is told about him is false.
If you wish to know, he was even the master of Christ."G.I. Gurdjieff, 1944
When he left the dormitory, Jesus and Judas were snoring. He had been told not to wake them and to come while the moon was still high. The Essenes, unlike Sadducees and Pharisees, did their most sacrosanct work before dawn. Yet the heat was still oppressive—even here in the inner court's gloom.
He walked up the three marble steps, across the tessellated floor, past the scented oil lamps, past bronze sphinxes to the sanctum.
When he entered, the tortoise-like Empty One, raised collar and prune-like face—some said he was a hundred and fifty—was seated in his niche.
Aaron did not speak, knowing the other could read his thoughts. He sat on the ivory-inlaid stool and brought his mind to the pristine state—the stabilized mind was the only true pilgrimage and penance—then glanced at his superior, the one established in the Self.
'It is neither being nor non-being,' the sage chanted, 'or of the nature of both. It is beginningless, endless, changeless and throbs as the self-effulgent light.'
Aaron joined the recitation. 'There is no worship, pardon, remission of sins, salvation attainment, merit, act. Apart from I AM there is nothing to be known.'
The liturgy ended. They sat in silence again. He pondered the word "salvation". They were, happily, free of the violence provoked by that pervasive idolatry. Any god that could be pleased or appeased was already a dualistic fiction. How to explain to people that everything was one?
Eventually the Empty One said, 'Two days and I die.'
Aaron felt surprise, then sadness—and recognised the sadness as self-pity.
'Exactly,' his teacher smiled. 'Reaction is inaction and whatever changes is not absolute. So where is the ambiguous place where the unmanifest and manifest join?'
But he was now too concerned for profundities—fearful about the effect of the Empty One's departure on the Passion Play. Although blocked out in scenario, much of it was still being pondered—The Sermon on the Mount, for instance, and the wording of the parables. It was far too early for rehearsals and casting was unfinished. They had sent those already cast as fishermen to the port to work for the Phoenicians but had still not agreed on the pivotal messianic figure.
The best choice was the admirable Judas, but the role was arduous and his weak lungs concerned them. That left the meticulous Jesus as his possible replacement. Both young men, indentured to them since children, were exemplary.
But this was to be far more than a demonstration for locals in the valley.
It was designed to be played out in life.
And the man chosen had to die on a cross.
The sacrifice was indispensable because the cross symbolised two worlds—the one above, the one below and the place between that united them where the vertical met the horizontal—between the inner and outer life. Through the centuries, it would indicate, to the few who could decipher its significance, the fulcrum required for transformation.
They had developed the concept from the Shiva myth —the god, blue-throated from eating the poison of the world. Its echo of atonement still concerned them but they hoped to minimise that aspect.
Others in the drama would die, too. The waste of adepts chilled him.
'They will die anyway,' the Empty One said, voice percolating from his gut. Manifestation is relative. No death, no source of anguish, no path. Still, physically we die. And lose contact with one another.'
Unless.... he thought.
'That's why you're here.'
Simple people had a ritual called blood brotherhood but knew nothing of its origin or power. It was a technique for keeping in touch with an adept after death. Here, in this school disguised as a monastery, the practice was applied. But it worked only for a time—only with the newly dead.
The one about to die shed his blood into a grail and also cut off and distributed a portion of his flesh. Those wishing to communicate with him were constrained to drink and eat. Of course the later communication was not by speech but transmitted by intuitive feeling, though images could sometimes appear. It was this practice, in fact, moving out into general life and half-understood by the ignorant, that sustained the myth of resurrection.
Aaron nodded. 'When?'
Tomorrow at dawn.
'And who will sup?
'You, Jesus and Judas. Come with them tomorrow.'
'Four.' He frowned. The seminal number was three.
'Three. Remember, I'm leaving. You three will remain.'
The three exhausted men—their inner force drained—sat facing each other in the sanctum. It was now five days since the burial and it was becoming harder to make contact. Wearily, they discussed what they had understood and received.
The intuitive Judas said, 'So they'll distort it. The script says the Son of Man but that's no safeguard. They've grown up with Eleusinian myths about gods who had sons. And they'll want something to worship so they'll call him the Son of God.'
Jesus nodded. 'And we've written The Kingdom is within you. But they'll still look for some mythical heaven. They'll decide the rich man was someone wealthy and take the walking on water and healing of the blind literally instead of psychologically. No matter how well we present these scenes, the true meaning will be lost.'
Aaron looked at the two adepts—exceptional yet so young. 'Which is the point of cloaking truth. We're hoping that those who have ears to hear will still hear.'
It was true, as they said, that only the outward aspect would be seen—except for the few who could understand the hidden meaning. The rich man implied the man full of his own importance. The walking on water symbolized non-identification—the effort to remain above events. Although the credulous would report and distort the outer aspect, the true psychological meaning had a chance to be preserved.
'That's not our only problem,' he told them. 'It's known that, after the third generation, the inner practice is lost. Then those who no longer understand adjust the teaching to the level of their ignorance. Next, they insist on an organisation, establish a dualistic church and want power. That means they'll replace the need for self-awareness and the remorse of missing the mark with a convenient lie they can use to intimidate people.'
'Good and evil,' Judas said.
'That's the usual one. Then, instead of inner work, they'll dole out promises and threats. It's happened before. In the schools at Philae and Eleusis. Religion is a solution that has hardened into a problem.'
'So, knowing this,' Jesus said, 'do we still go ahead?'
Aaron rubbed his shaven skull. He was already four times their age so understood something about the decline of human intelligence. 'The point of parables is preservation. We've safeguarded the truth as ingeniously as we can. But once the play is over, things will develop automatically. Distortions are inevitable, but woe to those who make them. And remember, we'll make mistakes as well as those who come after us.'
Jesus stared at his sandals. 'And, in a hundred years, it will be set down on a scroll in its altered form for all ages.'
'Not necessarily. There's still a way to correct things.'
The two men looked at him, surprised.
'We've drafted four separate and varying accounts, each outlining the main events. They're written as if by different saints so appear to authenticate each other. And, in a hundred years, with luck, this school will be around to refine and complete them.'
The two glanced at each other. Despite their attainments and high standing, there were still many things in this compound to astound them.
Judas narrowed his lips. 'We have another problem. Our rehearsals will be confined to this brotherhood and the locals in this valley. So there'll be no external resistance. But when we perform in front of everyone, there'll be reactions. The Pharisees are the obvious threat.'
'Yes,' Aaron said. 'They'll be affronted and want blood. Esoteric work has a curious effect. Its finer energy produces a clash with the coarser energy in others.'
'Then there's Pilate,' Jesus said. 'There's no way we can control a Roman official. Can we really be sure he'll cooperate?'
'He's a philosopher,' Aaron said, 'not a criminal. Sympathetic even. The Sanhedrin won't fool him for a moment. But he'll be wedged between their threats and Rome. So he'll be forced to give them what they want.'
Jesus honed the kitchen knife on the whetstone—thoughtlessly attentive, body alive with energy, the knife an extension of his hand. Much of the inner teaching was about being present, attentive now.
Now is the appointed hour. Now is the day of salvation.
Not a salvation, he thought, in the form of some pat and easy doctrine of redemption. But the immediate salvation of attentiveness in this moment. Then this moment. Then this. There was no final arriving. No plateau on which to rest. Every moment was a test. Every moment affected everything.
His mother took the damp cloth, removed the sweet smelling bread from the oven and set it on the hob to cool. 'Sometimes I wish you'd never gone to that place. You could have been a wealthy man. You could have sailed to the island beyond Gaul in my uncle's longboat and helped run his tin mines.'
He thumbed the edge of the knife. 'I had other things to do.' He drew the blade again along the stone with a degree of self-awareness that stopped time.
She straightened her stiff back, brushed a strand of hair from her face. 'I don't know what you all think you're doing. The way you're going, you'll get yourselves killed.'
He couldn't explain because she wouldn't understand. Nature desired a self-evolving form and man was its latest experiment—a concept even adepts found hard to grasp. But if he told her that, she'd think him mad. A prophet had no honour in his own country, let alone his home. He said, 'There's a time for everything and this is that time. As for getting killed, everything dies. Unless a seed dies, there's no new birth.' The statement referred to the death of the ego, symbolised by the coming crucifixion. But that insight required understanding. An understanding that had to be earned.
She glanced at him sourly. 'I wish they'd never stuffed you with this guff. And why couldn't Judas have played the Preacher part? His voice is far stronger than yours.'
'He was their first choice. But his health got worse so I'm the stand-in.'
'He looks fine to me. He's quite well enough to follow you around!'
'He does much more than that. And he still has a difficult role.'
'You people! You think you have it hard now? Just wait. You've offended the rabbis because you're far too popular for their taste. And, mark my words, they're getting ready to condemn you.'
'Don't worry. They're predictable.' He turned the knife and drew it along the stone to remove the burr. 'We can rely on the unconsciousness of people. It's as permanent as the Sea of Judea.'
'There you go again.' She clicked her teeth and muttered, 'I don't know where you came from. You're not my child.'
He grinned. 'Don't say that to the gossips. They'll swear you had a virgin birth like Mithras and Herakles.'
She snorted at that. She'd seduced her first lover at twelve. Still, he was right about the people here. They were credulous enough to swallow anything. She said, 'You were such a good boy when you were little. God knows what happened to you.'
'I put away childish things.'
'Nonsense you talk.'
He replaced the whetstone on the sideboard and handed her the knife.
She frowned then touched his temple. 'Grey hairs already?'
He shrugged. The last three years hadn't been easy. And the future would be worse. A future he dared not tell his mother, or even his partner, Mary.
Sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof.
The crowd in the Capernaum Synagogue was so great that they could not shut the entrance doors. Yet there was barely a cough. No one wanted to miss a word.
Their performance was near its end. It was now time to speak the bare truth that only the elect could understand.
He raised his eyes to the roof of simple reed and marl, then back to the crowded hall, to the people standing in the aisles. Today's speech, he knew, would cause trouble. He began:
'I AM is the living bread. Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of this I AM you have no inner life. I AM is God. I AM is this bread of life.'
One of the Jewish priests muttered, 'He wants us to eat his flesh?'
It was the man's angry interpretation, not what he had said. They could not hear the AM—were fixated on their enemy. Him.
Almost everyone found the words difficult. Afterward, most of their followers left.
Things got worse. Some days later in the temple the matter of Abraham was raised. When he recited the scripted words an old priest, thick as two planks, said, 'You're not even fifty and yet you tell us you've seen Abraham?'
'Before Abraham was the I AM.'
They would have stoned him if he hadn't left by the side door.
When they were alone again and safe, the disciples griped. 'Why tell them these things? They can't hear them.'
'It's needed,' Jesus said. 'The priests now want to kill me. And that's part of the plan.'
'And we can't blame then,' Judas said. 'They're so inwardly dead, so reactive, there's nothing else they can do. It's like expecting a wheel on a cart not to turn. Besides, we're no better. We'll cause deaths, too.'
The disciples looked incredulous and one said, 'Why? We tell people not to kill.'
'But do you really expect sleeping people to take that seriously? In a few hundred years, they'll murder and torture in our name.'
'How can you know that?'
'Because everything becomes its own opposite. We know why we're doing this—to establish a contact with impartial feeling. With love. But the inner effort will be forgotten over the years and lapse into a religion. The priests of that religion will parrot our words but they'll rule by oppression and fear. They'll start holy wars or torture people to death like Romans.'
'That's utterly cynical,' Simon said.
'But what about now? About us? If you two die, we can't go on.'
'Don't worry. Things have been arranged.'
The Passover was upon them. They were running out of time and the technique needed time and patience. First they had to explain to the others that it was possible to keep in touch beyond the death. Next, they had to prepare them to be receptive enough to participate.
It was essential to prove to them that inner life could survive fatality. Without that demonstration, they would not have enough conviction to continue. And without that conviction the denouement called Pentecost would fail.
But events had overtaken them. Yesterday, their mole in the Sanhedrin had told them the chief priests were ready to pounce. Unless they found time to carry out the sacrament the final scenes of the drama would be ruined. By performing on the stage of life they'd created unforseen reactions. And although the reactions of those in the grave of themselves could be predicted, the events caused by those reactions were impossible to time.
'We have to go to the priests and delay them,' Judas told Jesus. 'The only way now is direct action.'
'Such as what?'
'I'll tell them I'll betray you for silver. A basic motive so they'll believe it. Then I'll tell them I can make it easy for them—can serve you up conveniently at a certain time and place. And that time will be much later when we've finished what we need to do.'
Jesus rubbed tired eyes. 'It could work. But you'll end in all kinds of trouble.'
'That's my concern, not yours.'
'And we'd need Aaron and the Elders to approve it.'
'They have. They don't think it will damage the effect. They're prepared to make the change if you agree.'
Jesus looked dubious. 'There's a problem. It's out of character. The Christos is supposed to be all-knowing. So why is he suddenly too stupid to see that the person closest to him is a traitor?'
'But the mob can't understand who we are. They have no idea that the higher the teacher, the higher the pupils need to be. That's why we've scripted the disciples as ordinary people and have them arguing about who is greatest. Peter's denials, Thomas's doubts and so on.'
'I still don't see your point.'
'It makes you look like you're dealing with bumpkins and knaves. So I could easily be a traitor. And you could know and accept that—let's say for the sake of fulfilling the prophecy.'
'No. It's still doesn't ring true.'
Judas stared at the floor. 'What if you announce during the Passover that there is one among us who will betray you? That gets rid of the "stupid Christos" notion.'
'Yes, that could work.'
'So there will have to be an exchange between us.'
'Very well. When the time comes, ask me if it's you.'
'All right. And then you confirm it.'
They followed him over the brook to the familiar garden where they had gathered before. He moved a little away from them with three of the most accomplished—Peter and two others. He desperately needed their support that night and urged them to stay attentive. 'Remember. Make clean your house for the coming of the Master. Watch inwardly for you never know when the energy will find you.'
Then he sat upright on the ground to prepare himself for what was coming.
Yet despite all they had been through, despite the decades of practice and teaching, most of them were still unable to retain self-awareness consistently. They had been taught to bring all three sides of themselves to the effort—mind, body and feeling. When three, or even two, were gathered together, the I AM was called. But even two of the inner connections seemed too much for them.
Even stolid Peter's mindfulness came and went. Their conscious drama was becoming an inattentive masquerade. When he saw how weak they still were, he despaired. He knew that, if Judas had been there, the two of them could have sustained things. He bitterly missed his friend—his first and best brother at the School.
Then Judas was there, playing the betrayer. With a mob carrying swords and staves. And, despite the fantastic situation, for a moment his stalwart presence helped.
Judas gave him the kiss of betrayal, according to the mob. They could not sense the affirmation and farewell.
He glanced at the merciless, furious faces. Their raw instinct was to kill him. They surrounded him like flies settling on a wound.
Then everything continued as planned.
Peter entered the inner court, walked up the three marble steps, across the tessellated floor, past the scented oil lamps, past bronze sphinxes to the sanctum.
Aaron, the Empty One's successor, sat immobile in his niche.
Peter did not speak, knowing the other could read his thoughts.
He sat on the ivory-inlaid stool, brought his mind to the pristine state then glanced at his superior, the one established in the Self.
'So,' Aaron said, 'are you prepared to pay for your lack of presence?'
'With my life, if I must.'
'Nero will see to that.'
'You'll journey to Rome. To establish things there—and die there.'
Tears rolled down the big man's cheeks. 'How can I be forgiven?'
'There is no forgiveness in this place. Acknowledge your weakness and pay. We fail and then try again. We can always begin again. You must learn to die to yourself completely. Psychologically, birth is the other side of death. You need to be born again. Now. Now is the appointed hour—the only time there is. You can only pay now. Pay with your effort, yourself. Ourselves is the only coin we have.'
'I will pay.'
'Then no more words. Begin.'
When the sobbing man had left, Aaron shook his head and sighed. There was still much to be done. And the labourers were fewer now.
Copyright (c) Clinton Smith 2014
If you relate to this story, you may be interested in Smith's story anthology, Tales from a Country Town, available on Buzzword. You never know what goes on behind the scenes in a small town - in this case, the elegant provincial city of Ballarat in Victoria. The theme of the collection is the world behind what we take as actuality. These stories have won six literary awards including three Fellowship of Australian Writers Awards and an Alan Marshall Award as well as numerous commendations.