Abhaya Mudra - Meaning, Benefits, and Significance
Abhaya Mudra, meaning the gesture of fearlessness, is also called the Buddha Gesture. This iconic hand gesture predates yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. In this post, we delve into the significance and benefits found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other dharmic traditions of Asia.
Most of us, who practice yoga and meditation, have used a hand gesture without knowing its true meaning or origin. For example, we use Chin mudra while meditating or Vishnu mudra while performing alternate nostril breathing in yoga.
A yoga mudra is called a ‘seal’ or ‘gesture’ in English. However, this is only at a physical level. The true essence of the gesture is in the attitude one must adopt while forming the gesture. This is a key element to experiencing it on an emotional and psychological level.
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. Abhaya mudra may not be a common yoga mudra but it is a part of many beautiful tales and traditions.
Also See: Cosmic Gestures: A Beginner's Guide to Yoga Mudras
Abhaya Mudra Meaning
The meaning of the Sanskrit word Abhaya is 'the absence of fear.' Thus, Abhaya mudra is often interpreted as the hand gesture of conquering fears or being fearless. However, "fear" must be conquered by following the path of dharma and walking on the righteous path.
The Abhaya mudra is always formed by the right hand. It signifies rising above ignorance and following 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.
In Indic religions, Abhaya mudra is also 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. Abhaya mudra is also a common motif in Jain imagery and the depiction of Hindu deities such as Shiva (Natraja) and Parvati.
Abhaya Mudra: The Buddha Gesture
Abhaya is the first gesture 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.
Abhaya Mudra is also the hand symbol of Amoghasiddhi (the Lord of Karma) - the 5th Dhyani Buddha in the Buddhist pantheon.
Lastly, Abhaya mudra 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 Abhya mudra is seen in the depictions of the ‘sea calming’ Buddha, mostly found in statues in South-East Asia.
How to form the Abhaya Mudra?
To practice 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 clamp them together. The breath, body, and hand should be in a relaxed state.
This hand position is called the Abhaya Mudra, it must be done with the right hand only. The left hand typically forms the Dhyana gesture.
The abhya + dhyana combination is considered to be ideal for self-awareness meditation.
Are there any Abhaya mudra benefits for 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 on ideas of devotion (Bhakti) in Hinduism and ritualistic exercises in Buddhism.
There are several claims regarding the use of Abhaya to decrease anxiety and blood pressure. We found no supporting literature to validate these claims. Nor do they correlate to any of the classical texts. We found that this particular hand gesture predates religion and yoga.
Mentions of Abhaya Mudra are found in the accounts of ancient travelers in the Indian sub-continent. The gesture was used to convey peace when strangers crossed paths. It indicated the person is unarmed. Thus implying they can be approached ‘without fear’.
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.
Now that you understand the Abhaya mudra meaning, you can adopt the attitude associated with the hand gesture. It will have a positive effect on your psychological state during meditation. Feel free to experiment with it to find how it can enhance your practice.
If the origins, meaning, and history of mudras fascinate you, here are some of our favorite books to expand your knowledge. They delve into an enchanting world of esoteric symbolism, ancient lore, and eastern mythology.
Links to Amazon Bookstore:
Mudra: A Study of Symbolic Gestures in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture - Ernest Dale Saunders
Mudras in Buddhist and Hindu Practices: An Iconographic Consideration by Fredrick W. Bunce