In Christianity and Judaism, God created Adam and Eve male and female "in his image," setting off centuries of debate about gender roles in religion. Hindus also believe in one God, and they worship both male and female representations of the divine. But they have one particular deity, Ardhanarishvara, who is both. Statues of Ardhanarishvara show a curved hip and voluptuous female torso on the right side, whereas the left is more angular, masculine, and trim. The image emerged in Indian art two thousand years ago and has remained one of the most common Hindu motifs.
In most monotheistic religions, believers see themselves as reflections of their creator. That's one reason God is so often described as being male or female. Many mystics--those who experience direct union with God--have seen something else. Like Ardhanarishvara, they look beyond the either/or of gender and seek a "oneness" or "unison" that transcends male and female.
The mystics have always taught this transcendent union. The Hindu mystic, for example, would see Ardhanarishvara as a symbol of the One, a unity beyond the sexes. Christian mystics frequently mixed their male-female images of God on the way to transcendence and lived lives, typically as single monks and nuns, which defied traditional gender roles.
Mysticism is generally defined as a quest for direct experience of, or union with, the divine. Many observers say mysticism is experiencing a revival today in meditation, prayer, and study.
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