by Vineet Kaul
Most of us have used a mudra in one form or another without knowing the true meaning of the gesture. For example, we hold Chin mudra while meditating or Vishnu mudra while performing alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shuddi).
A mudra is called a ‘seal’ or ‘gesture’ in English. However, this is only at a physical level. The true essence of a mudra is the attitude one must adopt while forming the seal/gesture. This is an important aspect of enabling it to impact us at an emotional and psychological level.
In this post, we will explore the Abhaya mudra and its significance in meditation, Hindusim, Buddhism, and other dharmic traditions of Asia.
The Meaning of Abhaya Mudra
The Sanskrit word Abhaya means the absence of fear. Thus, Abhaya mudra is often interpreted as the gesture of conquering fear (by following the path of dharma - the righteous path). It is also common in Jain imagery and the depiction of Hindu deities such as Shiva (Natraja) and Parvati.
In Indic religions, the abhayamudra is a symbol of divine protection. Abhaya (She without fear) is one of the avatars of the Hindu Goddess Shakti (Feminine Energy), alternatively referred to as Mahamaya or Chandika.
The Abhaya mudra is always formed by the right hand. It signifies rising above ignorance and follow the path of dharma. The left hand is either hanging downward (while standing) or forming a complementary gesture such as Varada mudra or Dhyana mudra.
Abhaya Mudra: The Buddha Gesture
Abhaya is the first mudra used by Gautama Buddha after attaining enlightenment. It is one of the most important Buddhist mudras found in the iconography of Buddhist frescoes and statues - depicted in one or both hands of Buddha.
Based on the context, the hand gesture may represent benevolence, peace, and/or fearlessness. When use solely on the left hand, it signifies harmony and benevolence. It corresponds to tales of Buddha resolving quarrels and heated arguments.
It is also the hand symbol of Amoghasiddhi (Lord of Karma) - the 5th Dhyani Buddha in the pantheon. Additionally, Abhayamudra is found in many Buddha depictions, especially the Leela Buddha (walking or swaying depiction of Buddha) and paintings that describe how Gautama Buddha calmed an enraged elephant with this gesture (the tale of Devadatta attempting to murder Buddha).
The double abhyamudra is the ‘sea calming’ Buddha, a depiction seen in many statues found in South-east Asia.
How to form the Abhaya Mudra?
Bring your bent arm to the side of your chest with your palm facing outward (away from you).
You palm will be beside your chest with the tips of your fingers at shoulder level.
All fingers should face the sky. Don't tighten them or clamping them together .
The left hand typically forms the dhyaana mudra
The abhya + dhyana combination is considered to be ideal for self-awareness meditation
Abhaya Mudra for Yoga and Meditation
In Hindu and Buddhist meditation, hand positions often symbolize manifestation and ways to invoke a particular deity. For example, there are several forms of the Buddha, each with a hand gesture that symbolizes a certain expression and intent.
Monks recreate these gestures to focus on the nature or function of the deity or avatar it represents. These are spiritual and based in devotion (Bhakti) in Hinduism and ritualistic exercises in Buddhism.
There are several claims regarding its use to decrease anxiety and blood pressure. However, I found no supporting literature that validates these claims. Nor do they correlate to any of the classical texts. It is evident this particular hand gesture predates religion and yoga.
The abhaya mudra is an archetypal gesture with religious significance - one that can be performed to channel your awareness towards a particular thought or feeling or to feel protected by the idea it symbolizes.
It is repeatedly found in the accounts of ancient travelers in the Indian sub-continent. The abhayamudra was used to convey peace when strangers crossed paths. It indicated that the person is unarmed and harmless. Thus implying that they can be approached ‘without fear’.
Mudras span the imagery of the Hindu pantheon of Gods, the great sages of the Indian sub-continent, and the depiction of monks in the Jain and Buddhist traditions. Abhayamudra may not be a common yoga mudra but it is a part of many beautiful tales and traditions.
If you can adopt the attitude associated with the hand gesture, it may have a positive effect on your psychological state during meditation and yoga. Experiment with it to find how it can enhance your practice without falling for the plethora of miraculous claims and overnight results associated to it.
I will leave you with some of my favorite books that delve into this enchanting world of esoteric symbolism, ancient lore, and eastern mythology.
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