Gnostics considered the "human condition" to be one of ignorance, not original sin. In Gnostic-Christianity, the Christ was sent forth from the Godhead to bring us gnosis, or knowledge, of our true nature and divine origin. Ignorance can be dispelled by knowledge. Once we learn that we are sparks of Eternal Light, our souls are freed to return home to the All. The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) describes the soul's final ascent: 

That which has bound me has been loosed. The walls that have surrounded me have been torn down. My desires (cravings) have ceased and my ignorance has ended. From this hour on, for the duration of this aeon, I will receive rest in silence.

Through the ages orthodox Christian scholars and theologians have referred to Gnostics as radical dualists. I believe this is a misperception. Gnostics, like Hindus and Buddhists, saw the material realm as essentially illusory. All things emanated from the All, and all things would eventually be resolved back into the All. In Reality, only the All exists. Again in The Gospel of Mary, Jesus almost echoes Buddha's teaching on dependent origination:

Every nature, every modeled form, every creature, exists in and with each other. They will dissolve again into their proper root. For the nature of matter is dissolved into what belongs to its nature.

The Gnostic-Christian mystics understood the concept of apparent dualism as well, and called the pairs of opposites that make up the world of human perception syzgies. Again and again in the Gnostic Gospels, Jesus sounds almost like a Taoist, emphasizing the necessity of harmonizing "the two" into the One. The concept of spiritual androgyny runs throughout Gnostic-Christian literature, and the message is that one must unify one's own consciousness before it is possible to see that duality is ultimately illusory. In The Gospel of Thomas Jesus states the doctrine plainly:

When you make the two into one, and when you make that which is outside [you] like that which is inside [you] and when you make that which is above like that which is below (macrocosm and microcosm) and when you make the male and the female into a single one [being]... then you will be able to enter the Kingdom.

The nature of things might be quite different in a parallel universe, but in our universe virtually everything manifests itself in pairs of opposites: night and day, good and evil, hate and love, wealth and poverty, darkness and light, health and sickness, male and female. Even the human brain is composed of two hemispheres—one analytical, the other intuitive: masculine and feminine.

Pairs of opposites have male/female characteristics. Yin is feminine; Yang is masculine. Tao is the intermixing of both, and the Tao would not exist without both. Hindus use Shiva and Shakti to express the same idea, yet understand that Shiva and Shakti are dualistic aspects of the one monistic Brahman. Buddhists call this spiritual sexual pairing Yab/Yum. In Hebrew, knowledge is masculine, while wisdom is feminine.

In orthodox Christianity—though few Christians realize it—the Holy Spirit always appears in the original Greek of the New Testament as feminine. The metaphorical goddess, Sofia, or wisdom, is also feminine. In the Jewish Kabbalah, the female principle is known as the Shekinah. The human need for the feminine principle is so strong that even in patriarchal traditions like Roman Catholicism, the patriarchs were forced to re-invent Jesus' mother as an immaculate virgin (now the Queen of Heaven) in order to restore the lost feminine aspect to orthodoxy.

Gods and goddesses (consorts) are everywhere in religious mythology.

Even though we live in the apparent world of duality, there is a strong human need to heal separateness. Contrary to what many women believe today, in ancient texts, the goddess almost never exists alone; she is nearly always the consort of the male principle—which is to say that neither the god nor the goddess can exist without the other.

Coupling metaphors run through all mystical traditions. The third century Gnostic The Gospel of Philip hints that the historical Mary Magdalene was considered a personification of Sophia, or Wisdom and was, therefore, a goddess and cosmic consort of the Christ. In Tibetan Buddhism, the historical Yeshe Tsogyel is considered to be the consort of Padmasambahva, the founder of Buddhism in Tibet.

At some deep primordial level we seem to understand this need for wholeness. We need the balance between the pairs of opposites. Nondualism—androgyny—is the only thing that can overcome patriarchal bias and restore our gender balance that is so essential. In the material realm, however, the One always includes the Two.

Why is our universe manifested in this way? I think we can safely say that we'll never be able to answer the why question. But obviously we do not see ourselves as existing in the realm of pure Spirit. We believe that we do exist, however; and by all appearances, we do. And that is a paradox: in order to realize Ultimate Reality, we must (consciously) cease seeing ourselves as separate and apart—but without mystic insight, this is impossible.

Buddhists and Hindus believe that the phenomenal world is illusory, but many of them still live in houses, drive cars, go to work, and make love. The simple intellectual realization that only the One exists is obviously not sufficient for Enlightenment; nor is the mere belief that phenomenal reality is essentially an illusion. The only way we can become whole and illumined is to altogether disengage the thinking mind and overcome the misapprehension that we are individual, separate beings—separate from each other and separate from the One-Who-Is.

Like Taoists, the ancient Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna taught that "reality" exists in polarity. Everything exists in relationship to its opposite, and the opposites are continuously reversing poles. Modern science agrees: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction."

Nagarjuna pointed out that shortness exists only in relation to the idea of length. "When bigness is present, smallness comes into being. When smallness is present, bigness comes to be. When evil arises, goodness comes to be; and when goodness arises, evil comes into being." This is a radical idea for most people, but it is the law of the universe: Goodness, in effect, forces evil into existence and vice versa. Every action has an equal, and opposite, reaction. Nagarjuna and Taoists both taught that these polarities are fixed and immutable.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, the universe—the cosmos as a whole—is a closed system, which means the laws within it never vary, and there is nothing outside a closed system that can affect those laws. In a closed system, disorder can never decrease, and order can never increase. According to quantum theory, the information that creates or maintains order must be constant. It cannot increase or decrease, which means chaos cannot exist without an equal amount of order, and order cannot exist without an equal amount of chaos.

Thus, all polarities in relative understanding exist in perfect balance. The male cannot exist without the female and the "good" cannot exist without the "evil."

This concept is perfectly represented in the Yin/Yang symbol of the Tao: both polarities are constantly mutating into their opposites.

According to Hindus, a person's karma (action) is predetermined based upon his or her past karma. This is not fatalism or predestination; it is just the understanding that past karma influences who and what we are. If one becomes enlightened, then by definition one has already canceled one's past karma. Some Hindu philosophical systems argue that to act at all in the world once one is enlightened is counter-productive—it will only create new karma.

According to Taoism, Tao is simply what it is: a harmony of opposites which are always in a state of flux. Taoists have the philosophy of wu wei, which is best translated as "leaving things alone." To tamper with the way-things-are is to upset perfect balance; therefore Tao is disturbed. In an effort to change what is, say the Taoists, one can make things worse. To be in harmony with Tao is to make no effort, for effort upsets the perfect balance of Yin/Yang.

The rigid tree snaps in strong winds, while bamboo bends and thus survives. The continual resistance against negative things that come into our lives eventually becomes debilitating. Resistance is futile, and it can even drive us crazy. The ancient Taoist sages would tell us that we can only be happy in life if we accept, and not judge, that which changes—since change is inevitable.

Chuang Tzu, or Zhangzi, one of Taoism's greatest philosophers, was both a skeptic and a relativist, and the following short stories exemplify both:

Chuang Tzu and Huizi were walking by a dam when Chuang Tzu said, "See how the little fish are enjoying themselves, darting this way and that without a care."

Huizi replied, "How do you know the fish are enjoying themselves? You're not a fish."

Chuang Tzu countered with, "How do you know I don't know? You're not me!"

Once Chuang Tzu dreamt that he was a butterfly flitting around, happy with himself, doing what he pleased. When Chuang Tzu suddenly woke up, he didn't know whether he was Chuang Tzu dreaming that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu.

The philosophy of Wu Wei teaches that we should act without acting. When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts the primordial harmony. Wu Wei is not so much non-action as it is acting in harmony with the natural order of things.

Another related concept of Taoism is P'u, which encourages one to keep oneself in the primordial state of Tao. This is thought to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by knowledge and experiences. In the state of P'u, there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. There is only pure experience, or awareness, free from intellectual labels and definitions—pure potential, and perception without prejudice. In this state, everything can be seen as it truly is, without preconceptions or illusion. In this, Buddhists, Hindus, Sufi, and Christian mystics are all in agreement.

Ramana Maharshi once said, "There is nothing wrong with God's creation. Misery and suffering only exist in the mind." Uppaluri Gopala Krishnamurti expressed this same understanding less tactfully:

You want a different world so that you can be happy in it... Since you are determined to bring about change—a notion put into you by your culture—you remain discontent and want the world to be different. When your inner demand to be something different than what in fact you are comes to an end, the neurotic demand to change your society ceases. Then you cannot be in conflict with society; you are in perfect harmony with society, including its brutalities and miseries. All your attempts to change this brutal society only adds momentum to it. (From: Mind Is a Myth—Disquieting Conversations with a Man Called U.G.).

Copyright © 2013 The Essential Mystics, Poets, Saints, and Sages by Richard Hooper. Reprinted with permission from Hampton Roads Publishing. Available wherever books or ebooks are sold or from www.redwheelweiser.com or 1-800-423-7087.