Pride: One of the Greatest Delusions
by Swami Kriyananda
A notorious example of someone who fell spiritually due to pride was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ and brought about his crucifixion. It was not only the fact of that betrayal, but also that Judas fell from such a height, that makes his example so appalling. For Judas was, as we all know, one of the twelve apostles. Necessarily, therefore, he was a great soul. Yet the seeds of that betrayal were evident already long before the tragedy he caused.
The seeds of betrayal
The following episode, recounted in the Gospel of John, occurred less than a week before the Crucifixion. It reveals, however, an attitude that must have been festering in Judas for a long time:
Mary took an earthenware jar containing pure and expensive oil of spikenard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, then wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
And Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, who was about to betray him, said, “Why was not this oil sold for three hundred pennies, and given to the poor?”
He said this, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and the purse was with him, and he carried whatever was put into it.
Jesus then said, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of my burial. For the poor you have always with you, but me you have not always.” (John 12:3–8)
Pride: the last defect to go
Let us reconstruct the story of Judas’s downfall from what is known about him. The above story mentions his dishonesty with respect to money. Would a thieving tendency suffice to account for his betrayal? It seems most unlikely. Indeed, had Judas been a thief from the beginning it seems very unlikely that Jesus would have chosen him as an apostle.
Much more probably, Judas’s personality was already tainted by a far more insidious fault: pride. “Pride,” as we’ve all heard, “goes before a fall.” Pride is also, frequently, the last defect to go. The ego assumes too easily to itself the power acquired in meditation, and only unwillingly gives to God alone the credit for this power. No sincere disciple—and surely Judas was sincere at least in the beginning—would have presumed to correct his spiritual teacher, least of all in spiritual matters!
Judas, in his obvious spirit of rivalry, revealed a pride that must have entered him long before his act of betrayal. He actually implied that he, himself, was the wiser of the two!
Whence could such a delusion have arisen? For Judas was no buffoon, preening himself on a merely imaginary excellence. His pride must have been based on some actual ability.
From what we can gather, Judas was highly intelligent. He was also, according to tradition, personable, handsome, and magnetic. Many of his fellow-followers, so one imagines, considered him the Master’s foremost disciple. Indeed, anyone as susceptible as Judas was to the delusion of pride would hardly have kept his gifts a blushful secret!
Worldly values vs. spiritual values
Still, on what possible grounds could this exalted disciple have ended up so deluded that he betrayed Jesus to his very death? That he was being critical of Jesus in the above passage, not of Mary, is clear. For although Mary was anointing the Master’s feet, it was with the consent of Jesus. She continued doing so, moreover, until (as the Bible tells us) “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
Although the intellect of Judas was clouded, surely only a fool would have imagined himself equal in wisdom to Jesus Christ. What tortuous reasoning could have led Judas to the conclusion that he himself knew better, even if that “wisdom” was in worldly matters? For him as a disciple, this was a fatal assumption, for in his pride he saw more importance in worldly than in spiritual values.
The descent into delusion
Conceited as he was in the thought of his practicality, Judas followed the descent into delusion that was outlined by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. His thinking must have gone something like this: First, he dwelt on the thought of practicality itself, and on the need for it in his master’s mission. Next, he allowed attachment to this concept to grow until it became for him all-important. One imagines him thinking, “I know the Master is a great soul, and I believe in him deeply. He could even be our people’s salvation. But what a way for him to fulfill his destiny! It is totally inappropriate.
“Who will listen to him, sleeping casually as he does on the ground, mixing with the lower classes (who lack any social standing or influence!), and scorning the need for the approval of the religious leaders of our day? Is it possible that he is actually indifferent to his glorious mission? He tells us to be unconcerned for the morrow. Is this the right attitude for a great man, empowered by God with a great mission? The Master laughs—good heavens! like a child. He sings. He tells quaint little parables. And he talks as though we all lived in eternity instead of here, in measurable time, on solid earth.
“I do believe in him. Still, let’s face it, the man’s head is in the clouds! How can anybody so unworldly understand how to get his teachings out to people on the scale they deserve? The sad truth is that, great though he surely is, Jesus is not a practical man!”
“Jesus lacks my practical common sense.”
Perhaps Judas never dared to voice even to himself the logical corollary to this line of reasoning: “Jesus may be wise spiritually, but he lacks my own down-to-earth, practical common sense!” It seems very probable that Judas was in fact practical. Otherwise he would not have been given responsibility for the finances of the group.
He must have tried to persuade the Master to tailor his “public image” to fit the mentality of “responsible” members of society: persons in positions of power, like the Pharisees. Oh, he would never have urged Jesus to adopt their materialism. He would only have urged him to respect them, and to make his teachings more “accessible.” We can imagine him saying (or at least thinking), “After all, acceptance by important people would guarantee the success that our mission deserves.”
Instead, Jesus denounced priestly hypocrisy. “How could he be so lacking in tact?” Judas must have marveled; “so blind to every accepted principle for achieving worldly success?”
Indeed, Jesus scoffed at worldly success.
Brooding, as Judas must have done, on the Master’s indifference to “public relations” as people speak of it today, he must have identified himself ever more deeply with those who, to his way of thinking, needed to be “won over.” From this growing identification with them, it would have been only a step to desiring money, for it is on wealth, ultimately, that worldly power rests.
The need for self-justification
The Gospel states plainly that Judas was a thief. Dishonesty, however, must have developed in him only gradually. One imagines him mentally justifying even his dishonesty by some rationalization such as, “Jesus deserves to lose his money! Maybe only this will convince him that wealth does, in fact, count for something in this world.”
On the other hand, Judas Iscariot could not have offered this rationale to anyone else, no matter how much he nourished it in himself. Anyone as anxious as he was for worldly acceptance would have conjured up only reasons that, in his opinion, would be acceptable to worldly people. Thus, as we’ve seen, he spoke of selling the oil and giving the proceeds to the poor. Doesn’t this very argument point to the next step in his downfall, as Krishna outlined the process: anger? ”Desire,” he says in the Bhagavad Gita, “impatient for fulfillment, flames to anger.”
Judas’s arrogance; his disdain for the Master’s lack of practicality (a quality so exaggeratedly important to himself); his inability to convince Jesus of the need for being more “down to earth”: all of these, as the Bible hints openly, stirred him to anger. Thus one sees how the need for self-justification led him beyond anger to that final act of betrayal.
His betrayal of Jesus Christ set into motion also a mass karma that has not yet been expiated, for it has continued ever since then to influence Christian history and thinking. “From anger,” Krishna continues in that passage from the Bhagavad Gita, “there arises infatuation. From infatuation ensues forgetfulness of the higher Self. From forgetfulness of the Self follows degeneration of the discriminative faculty.”
Pride in his own practicality
Judas, persuaded by the pride he indulged in his own practicality, and incited by a natural tendency toward arrogance, became angry first at the Master’s “obtuseness,” then so infatuated with his own “rightness” that he lost all ability to discriminate between truth and error.
Judas fell so deeply into the delusion of money-attachment as the corollary of worldly acceptance that he was capable, as if in a dream, of accepting silver from the chief rabbi for his betrayal of Jesus.
Lest anyone doubt the terrible power of delusion to draw people into actions that are diametrically opposed to everything they most deeply believe, the fate of Judas must stand forever as a salutary, even a terrifying, lesson. No one, no matter how brilliant, is safe from delusion until he is established in God-consciousness. Jesus placed the strongest emphasis on inner communion with God. It is God alone who can save us, through our inner communion with Him.