Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. Abhaya mudra or a mudra of no-fear represents protection, peace, benevolence, and the dispelling of fear.
In the Theravāda Buddhism, it is usually made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, the arm bent and the palm facing outward with the fingers upright and joined and the left hand hanging down while standing. In Thailand and Laos, this mudrā is associated with the walking Buddha, often shown having both hands making a double Abhaya mudrā that is uniform.
This mudra, which initially appears to be a natural gesture, was probably used from prehistoric times as a sign of good intentions - the hand raised and unarmed proposes friendship, or at least peace; since antiquity, it was a plain way of showing that you meant no harm since you did not carry any weapon.
In Gandhāra art, it is seen when showing the action of preaching. It was also used in China during the Wei and Sui eras of the 4th and 7th centuries. The gesture was used by the Buddha when attacked by an elephant, subduing it as shown in several frescoes and scripts.
In Mahāyāna Buddhism, the deities often paired this mudra with another one using the other hand to form it.
In Japan, when the Abhaya mudra is used with the middle finger slightly projected forward, it is meant to symbolize the esoteric Shingon sect.
Buddhist tradition has an interesting legend behind this mudra:
Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha, through jealousy caused a schism to be caused among the disciples of Buddha. As Devadatta's pride increased, he attempted to murder the Buddha. One of his schemes involved loosing a rampaging elephant into the Buddha's path. But as the elephant approached him, Buddha displayed the Abhaya mudra, which immediately calmed the animal. Accordingly, it indicates not only the appeasement of the senses, but also the absence of fear.
The Abhaya mudra is displayed by the fifth Dhyani Buddha, Amoghasiddhi. He is also the Lord of Karma in the Buddhist pantheon. Amoghasiddhi helps in overcoming the delusion of jealousy. By meditating on him, the delusion of jealousy is transformed into the wisdom of accomplishment. This transformation is hence the primary function of the Abhaya mudra. But it is not just the divine Buddha who is credited with making mudras.
Every position assumed and every gesture performed by our mortal body may be said to imprint its seal on the Ether, and sent forth a continuous stream of vibrations that impress the atmosphere. But to be really effective there must be a deliberate and intended arrangement of the body or parts of the body. Such an arrangement is nothing but the yoga of mudra. It is interpreted as being able to bring the physiological system in harmony with the cosmic forces and so form a magical microcosm through which the macrocosm can be represented, channeled, and utilized. The mudra in all its variations is, therefore, a traditional body pattern; an archetypal posture of performed occult significance.
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