By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
Significance of the hand & fingers bestowing grace and its impact for unity in a plural society
All religions have their accepted principles or beliefs. Yet they had led to rigidity and intolerance in the face of other’s beliefs. It is difficult to compromise whether the beliefs are the words of God, because interpretations of dogmas and scriptures have led to conflict as to whose interpretation is correct. It has been a futile exercise to compromise with the extremists (from all faiths) who engage in violence in order to achieve their aims. The behaviour of the divisive forces of religions had led them on their path towards the breakdown of human society in general and especially in Sri Lanka.
In spite of the conflicts of interpretations as to the ‘words of God’ caused by the religious extremists having a plan for themselves, God has an amazing plan for our unity through the symbolism of hands and fingers, one of which is known as ‘bestowing grace’ or ‘Abaya’ which is the subject matter of this essay. It is the realization of communication by way of gestures that can frustrate the aims of the divisive forces of religions.
In this world of greed for power, wealth, etc, there are allegations that religion has been the cause of all problems, but failed to realize that in every religion (whether organized or unorganized) God/Prophets/Messengers, who are considered as Lords of mercy and compassion, are depicted with a hand bestowing grace – meaning ‘why fear, when I am here’. It is a gesture of fearlessness which is a unique expression. It symbolizes protection to his devotees from evil forces. It also symbolizes the destruction of ignorance and awakens wisdom in his devotees. Upon a glance at the statutes of God/ Prophets/Messengers with the right hand palm facing outward at shoulder height, it is natural for any human being to raise or spread both hands and worship. In any religion, the hand bestowing grace has the force of fixing the mind absolutely for a moment, to calm the mind. But no person will shake hands with a statute of God or a Cross or any mark. Worshipping with both hands with the fingers joined, is a spiritual gesture and not a worldly one.
Greeting elevates one’s consciousness, reminding an individual that God exists in all beings. The communication in greeting reveals a truth – ‘I honour or worship the divinity within you.’ When an individual of eastern culture greets another through the traditional gesture of Namaskaram or Vanakkam, the greeting inspires reflection on the deeper realities, softening the interface between people. This practice promotes mutual respect and understanding which lays the foundation for a strong concept of unity within the people or communities, while discouraging hatred or hate propaganda. Greeting is a gesture of friendship, kindness and recognition. Shaking hands also reveal humanity, but greeting with both hands is divinity. If we realize that there is divinity in the person we meet, the question of animosity would not arise. This is what religious symbolism of hand and fingers bestowing grace had taught mankind.
A glance at the five fingers which are arranged in a semi-circular fan shape based on the palm, shows that all are not equal, but when all fingers join together it shows its firmness. This has been a great truth recognized by our ancient sages & seers and was demonstrated through the practice of Yoga and statutes of Hindu idols.
Thumb represents cosmic self, true consciousness. Though individuals are different from each other in their physical structure as well as in their intellect, their origin is from the infinite Self which is referred to as the Cosmic Self. Victory is also indicated by the thumb.
Index finger represents the individual self, i.e. the ego. The index finger has a character of accusing which is a reflection of guilty conscious and weakness. Politicians and leaders of divisive forces of religions thrive on pointing out the index fingers accusing at the opponents in order to thrive themselves at the expense of innocent citizens. The individual self has an ego which arises from a sense of expectation.
Middle finger represents intellect. The intellect is unprejudiced when the mind is prejudiced. Intellect is the sum-total distillate of all the experiences of the soul, encompasses in all its existence. The size of the middle finger is bigger than the rest signalling intellect is greater than the mind.
Ring finger represents mind. Mind is something that roams about. The intelligence guides and directs the mind. If the mind is controlled by the intelligence, it signals both are in unity. However, if the mind is not controlled by the intelligence, it signals the mind is the worst enemy. Similarly if the religious extremists are not controlled through good governance, then they become instrumental for the downfall of the country. Yoga is a means to control the mind by God conscious intelligence.
Little finger represents physical body.
The hand and fingers bestowing grace has a psychological stimulation activating or evoking both hands to raise and bow, which symbolizes greetings from the heart or warm welcome. It also signifies the demonstration of mutual respect and understanding – a sign of unity.
The hand is ineffective without the thumb i.e. consciousness. Similarly the body is ineffective without the true spirit that resides in it. The index finger touching the thumb, leaving the rest three fingers, reveals the possibility to conquer all things through love, selfless love, unconditional love and divine love – a lesson for the religious extremists to realize the Oneness of the Cosmos and not to create division among the people.
The function of fingers in using the Jaba Mala known as Rosary beads is also a mode of prayer in Hinduism. The fingers are moved along the beads as the prayers (mantras) are recited. According to the Hindu tradition, the rosary bead is always wrapped over the middle finger with the aid of the thumb, avoiding the use of the index finger signalling to get rid of egoism.
When a person engages in service to humanity, all fingers are joined together signifying a noble deed known as Dharma.
Accusing with an index finger is anti-religious which sends the message of voice of condemnation and reflects provocation and anger as could be seen from the behaviour of religious extremists generating interfaith fear and hostility.
When all fingers join, one can only touch another and cannot point or accuse – a sign of emerging divinity. Touch also denotes love and compassion.
Pointing out an index finger has been a controversial debate. The whole motivation behind the pointing out an index finger is to discredit the teachings of prophets such as Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ, Swami Vivekananda, etc. To err is human. Yet God forgives and it symbolizes the nature of divinity.
There is also a saying that when a person point out the index finger, there are three fingers pointing back to the person pointing. Jesus had reminded this philosophy. It is easy to accuse by pointing out a finger, but such accusations should follow with reason or might backfire. As Lord Buddha was walking through a village, he came across a young man who pointed with his index finger & shouted that he had no right to teach others and was a fake. But Lord Buddha was not upset, remained calm and raised his hand with his index finger touching the thumb and the palm facing outward, asked what he would do if his gift was refused. The young man replied that he would keep it as it belonged to him.
If one wants to stop hurting himself, then he must get rid of his anger and show love – a teaching, the BBS has to realize.
Dhammapada states – Happy is the unity of Sangha, Happy is the discipline of the united ones. Atharva Veda states –
Let us have concord with our own people,
And concord with people who are strangers to us,
The Divine Twins create between us and the strangers a unity of hearts.
May we unite in our minds, unite in our purposes,
And not fight against the divine spirit within us,
Let not the battle-cry arise amidst many slain,
Nor the arrows of the war-God fall with the break of day.
Likewise there are verses in Christianity, Judaism and Islam emphasizing the importance of unity.
Pointing a finger can mean many things – either through desire or hate – both of which reflect the behaviour of man. But readers are requested not to confuse this index finger of an umpire where his index finger points upwards. Similarly, readers are also requested not to confuse about the aspect of raising the fingers as there are different meanings according to different cultures. For instance, raising the little finger indicates that a woman is involved either as a lover or a girl friend. Similarly raising the thumb indicates that a man is involved either as a lover or a boy friend.
The time is ripe for supporters of divisive forces of religions to realize that God created human beings with hands and fingers to communicate, love, heal, express deepest feelings, write and learn, to receive, create great works of arts, play, etc., but not to demolish places of worship, establishments, engage in illegal activities and fight. They are a symbolization of the religion of love, religion of the heart and the religion of one caste of humanity. Religion does not preach difference. The posture of hands and fingers bestowing grace as portrayed in Hindu idols, Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ, Fathima, etc, strengthen the foundation of the community by teaching the virtues of co-operation, friendship, justice and public-mindedness, all of which create a spirit of unity by which community thrives and prosper.
OM SHANTHI SHANTHI SHANTHI