Friday, March 9, 2007

Mudras in Christian Imagery

For Greeks and many Christians, this time of year—Lent—is a time for restraint, reverence, and reflection. In the 40 days leading up to Easter, Greeks practice fasting as a means of physical cleansing that also aids in our mental preparation for the holiest day of the year, that of the resurrection of Christ. Many of our restraints are similar to the yamas (ethical restraints) of yoga, and during Lent—ahimsa (non-harming) and bramacharya (chastity), are especially important.

As a Greek Orthodox Christian, this is a time to be pure of heart, mind, and action. During Lent, I always find myself more attuned to my innermost thoughts—the regular fasting brings thoughts about my religion, my own beliefs, my actions, other religions, the afterlife, and related topics to the forefront. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about hand mudras, and while searching for images of mudras, discovered quite a bit about my own religion in the process. Since we are in the midst of Lent, I thought it a perfect time to point out, especially for those Christians who feel conflicted about the yoga/Hinduism connection, that Hinduism, mudras, and yoga aren’t as far from Christianity as one might think.

Christian Imagery and Mudras
I’ve spent my entire life as a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian. Greek churches are breathtakingly beautiful houses of worship that are decorated with ornate carvings and Byzantine-style paintings. I’ve been looking at Byzantine imagery of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and various other angels and saints for as long as I can remember—but it wasn’t until I began practicing yoga and learning about mudras that it my eyes registered what I’ve been seeing all these years.

Prithvi Mudra
Mudras have been depicted not only in Buddhist/Hindu imagery for centuries, but in Christian as well. Christ is often painted with His right hand in prithvi mudra, in which the tips of the thumb and ring finger are joined. Prithvi mudra is said to provide stability and cure weaknesses of the body and mind.


Icons of Christ and Saint Nicholas with hands in prithvi mudra.

Another interesting realization I had is that occurrences of prithvi mudra aren't limited to Byzantine religious icons alone. To this very day, Greek Orthodox priests often hold the fingers of their right hand in prithvi mudra while making the sign of the cross during a spoken blessing, say over a meal. Prithvi mudra is also known as the Sign of Benediction or Blessing.

Pran Mudra
There are also depictions of Christ with His right hand in pran mudra (little finger and ring finger connect with the thumb), which is said to increase vitality and protect the body against disease. Of course, one can hardly avoid the most obvious mudra in Chrsitian imagery—anjali mudra—Christ with prayer hands at heart center. I don’t know about what others think of all this, but I am completely and utterly fascinated by it. Because this is yet another common thread linking Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism—three belief systems that I am increasingly intrigued by as I learn more about them.

Some final thoughts: I've written this before, but I have to write it again. I'm completely blown away by the fact that the more I study yoga, Buddhism, and Hinduism, the more apparent it becomes that in life, everything is connected in the most divine and mysterious way. Think me a kook if you'd like, but I tell you that the more I seek knowledge, the more it comes to me—even when the questions haven't yet formed in my head, the answers are appearing everywhere—in my own research, through the exchange of information with others, through happenstance and circumstance. Maybe it's the Law of Attraction, or maybe I'm finally waking up. Whatever it is, in the words of Oprah, what I know for sure is there more to this world than meets the eye. There is some wisdom well beyond us, and all our religions and beliefs and numbers are just bits and pieces of the puzzle.

Curious?
If your interest in mudras and the commonalities in Christianity and other religions is piqued, there's some very interesting writing out there on mudras, the similarities between Christianity and Buddhism, the ancient Indian/Greek relationship, symbolism, and more. I encourage you to do your own reading and exploration—but definitely check out these sources out:

20 comments:

Robert Joseph said...

I would like permission to reprint your excellent article on Mudras in Christian imagery on our site --ChristianYogaMagazine.com. Thanks. If it's okay, email me at robert(at)christianyogamagazine.com. thanks mucho.

nikoeternal.com said...

I am also a Greek Orthodox yogi, and I asked a priest about what you say is prithvi mudra before I read this, and he said that it is the Byzantine letters IC XC, which as you probably know stand for Jesus Christ. The index finger represents the I, the middle finger the C, the thumb and ring finger cross to form the X, and the pinky is the final C. Of course, he also told me that I'm inhaling demons whenever I do yoga, so who knows? LOL Fortunately he was an old calendar priest, and I follow the new calendar. LOL

V said...

Nikoeternal~

Your comment is very interesting. Thanks for asking your priest about the mudra and for sharing his response. I may well have to ask my priest and see what he says as well!

In the meantime, I've been off the mat for a while. Maybe this is a sign for me to get back on it already!

nikoeternal.com said...

Yes! Don't forget to practice japa with our beautiful mantras "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner", and the original Orthodox Hail Mary as well! P.S. One of my favorite Christian mudras is the one we use to bless ourselves. The Holy Trinity of fire, air, and ether come together to bless our chakras with the sign of the cross! =)

V said...

That's brilliant, Nikoeternal. Never thought about reciting that that prayer during yoga. Very cool.

Mike said...

I Googled "Christ mudras" and your site was the first in the list. I too only recently realized that some of the very old plates, some of which date back to the days of Christ or not long thereafter, depict Christ with his fingers clearly touching such as would be in Eastern Yoga, specifically Raj or royal yoga.

I have an image hanging on the wall which I obtained from a church in South Texas that was affiliated with the Russian Orthodox as I recall. The style reminds me of a similar drawing commonly believed to have been produced by Luke (the doctor and author of 3rd book of the Gospel). I haven't been able to find the exact one I have hanging on the wall, but it is similar to the following:

St. Nick: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_UqZGoGtwMO8/S3wXEPljpLI/AAAAAAAAABo/NL7qh7a9cG0/s1600-h/St+Nicholas+Byzantine++Icon_Anna+Edelman.jpg

Christ: http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/christ-the-word.jpg

More about icons: http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/Icons_and_Frescoes

So the question is, what happened to these teachings? Like the doctrine of reincarnation, apparently lost in the Christian church today, what more did Christ teach that was not carried over in the accepted scriptures? [Christ says John the Baptist was Elijah, but Elijah ascended and John was "born of women". This is typically downplayed by the church but could Christ have been hinting at this specifically when he said "if you are willing to accept it...this is the Elijah that was to come. He who has ears let him hear."

Indeed, Christ spoke of other flocks which I'm thinking implies a merging of the various faiths back into a single fold. This is often accepted to mean that all "non-Christians" will perish, but there may be some irony when the monks of India and Tibet, for example, fill in the holes in his teaching that the church has forgotten.

Thanks for the post. If I am crazy in thinking along these lines at least I'm not alone. :)

Grit and Glamour said...

Mike, I thoroughly enjoyed your comment...thanks for sharing your perspective and raising some very interesting questions!

Lauren Horton said...

Hi there
Im a yogi and a yoga teacher and my son is Greek/Australian and will be brought up in both the Greek Orthodox religion and Yogic philosophies (the yamas and niyamas) Its so nice to read such open responses. I have been asked if teaching my son both philosophies will be confusing to him. I couldn't disagree more. I think combining the two will give him a very grounded upbringing. I think children should be given choice of their beliefs. Any thoughts?

Varun said...

Hi!
I think you will totally love to read this book 'The Rozabal Line' it connects the religions using facts.. while being a good story to read. Lot of the book is already available on books.google.com

Monette@MCSquaredonline.com said...

I love this post and want to quote it in the "malas & mudras" section of my forth-coming book—Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga.

I can't find any contact info. I would love to credit you by name. Currently, I have your blog's name only. Please let me know at your earliest convenience how you'd like to be credited. I'm submitting my manuscript to my publisher this week but will have the ability to make changes over the summer.

Thanks for your wisdom!

Best,
Monette Chilson
www.SophiaRisingYoga.com

Tiberiu said...

For all of you above, something that comes in my mind, you ow it to yourselfs to pray to Jesus Christ every day and ask Him to show you the true path and the truth about Him. He is present everywhere, He hears your prayers and there is no way He won't answer or guide you in some way.

May you have good health both in body and soul!

Tiberiu, orthodox christian from Romania

bornagainsimple said...

Thank you Tiberius, this is a very good reminder.
In practicing Hatha Yoga, I never felt confused, as I always prayed and meditated "to the Most High of all Beings in Heaven"; though very recently I decided to learn Bharatanayam (the dance). Then I realized when I danced with Mudras I started to have visions of Krishna...! and when without Mudras, or very little Mudras, I still closed my eyes (when praying or meditating) to see the steps being danced in front of me; as -many- were dancing it. I would not call it demons, but it seems something like the "Astral world"; but Krishna seems a lot higher than this, I think. But it is definitely not the same religion!
So, stopped completely with the Mudras for now, and I started praying more while I learn the dancing, and am getting information on it also with other Christian Bharatanatyam dancers, and I hope tonight I will not see anything.
God Bless you all and thank you for the post!

I am glad I am not alone.
This is not the only mix I do. I go to a Russian Orthodox Church (I had converted Orthodox many years ago but just re-started after a hiatus), and to a Brazilian evangelical church, and I am recently a born again Christian (which happened outside both churches)...!

Tiberiu said...

Hello, bornagainsimple!

I just think that if you really get to know Orthodoxy, you really don't need anything else spiritualy wise. Honestly, I regard anything else as dangerous.

I am happy for your experience with the Russian Orthodox Church. It would' ve been a good thing if you kept in touch with a confesor priest from that Church.

With your permission, I recomend you to find some books about Seraphim Rose, an american youngman interested in spirituality, yoga, budhism etc. that became a russian orthodox converse, monk and priest (sometimes in the 70's)- the reading is inspiring for all seekers of Truth.
Also maybe you can find something by Saint Siluan of Mount Athos, a 19 cent. orthodox monk and saint. His writings are a true balm for a wounded or troubled soul of any kind, and his insight of God is truely remarcable and surprising.

Sorry for the short novel I wrote!
I wish you all the best!

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

Thanks for this post. I've been looking for Christian based mudras because the ones out of Hinduism are in direct conflict with my faith. I think you ought to research what you're doing by looking at the ancient Vedic texts like the Rig Veda and then the Bhagavad Gita to get a sense of what yoga really is. You are trying to unleash your Shakti energy as a woman to be a yogini, but that will very well lead you to the shrine of your own ego, having sacred sex under the guise that you are a goddess. Hinduism is totally incompatible with Christianity in all but the most superficial of ways. I prefer the mudras passed down through Siddhartha Gautama because they come from a different place than invocation of polytheistic gods. Try Praise Moves as a substitute for yoga instead:)

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

http://praisemoves.com/

Catalin Oancea said...

What bornagainsimple is describing as visions of Krishna are in fact visions of demonic beings which deceive you into believing you are getting close to God when instead you are heading towards the "light" of Lucifer, for he is the teacher of this damned world. Don't be fooled by thinking you can save yourselves and conquer death by following perverted teachings of fallen angels. I urge you also not to listen to what Tiberiu is saying, he is an indoctrinated fool of the orthodox cult, which is the same as catholicism and every other institutionalized religion on earth. I know this very well for I came out of this blasphemous religion and I also know what you feel doing yoga for I have knowledge of that also, of power and self control and of living under the impression of achieving something (look into the New Age teachings, you are being programmed to accept their false messiah with these teachings of ascension). This is the biggest and first lie ever told by Satan, and it started in the Garden: "And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:4-5
Look into Sanat Kumara, Gaia and the ascended masters teaching, it's the same lie refurbished for this century, it teaches that God was once human, as Sananda Esu Immanuel is their false teaching about Jesus, implying that Jesus wasn't God, but a man who ascended to their version of god: "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ." Jude 1:4
Using this twisted logic they teach the world that God was a human once, but evolved, accomplishing a satanic tandem with their evolution theory (notice it's a theory taken as fact, theory doesn't imply reality).
Please, don't listen to your perverted mind and feelings for no good will come of them.
http://www.contendingfortruth.com/?p=1085
http://www.contendingfortruth.com/?cat=98
Allow your spirit to return to God for only He is the source of knowledge and wisdom.

Tiberiu said...

Orthodoxy is the one true (single) Church of Jesus Christ and not a blasphemous religion!

I wish the best for everybody!

Elfilo de Sofía said...

These themes about the connectivity between religions, or really the beliefs, morals, and ethics taught by religion is an important one. We all need to start thinking more about the messages and lessons and less about who, and where they came from.

Joseph Campbell, a very thorough and impassioned theology professor,researcher, and author often spoke and wrote about the fact that religions are more alike than they are different, showing that ultimately WE are all more alike than we are different. Yes, undoubtedly there are discernible, obvious differences between religions, but most of those differences are cultural and deal in dates and names of people and places. But the similarities between world religions, or rather spiritual belief systems ("religion" to me, after all, is a word that tends to politicize a spiritual belief system) are unquestionably striking. The morals, ethics and lessons are virtually identical when dealing with violence, theft, waste, want, hatred, greed, forgiveness and compassion. Each cultural belief system also seems to have its own set of exceptions, too. Is this irony, coincidence, mental or moral inter-connectivity or shared human instinct, learning by another culture's example (trade, cultural exchange)? Whatever the reasons, probably a bit of all of the above, it is undeniable that the spiritual lessons humanity has been teaching to each other and sharing with one another are more similar than different.

Spiritual teachings, writings, and rituals, are also part of the human artistic expression. Fables, Myths, Parables and the like are a part of how we teach lessons. Let us not forget this. Of course a tortoise and a hare were never in a race. But the story teaches us that perseverance, diligence and patience will get us to the finish line. It teaches us that arrogance and belittling and disrespectful underestimation will get us nowhere. So let's not get caught up arguing about "tortoises" and "hares" really existing, and whether or not the "race" took place or not, and whether it took place in the desert, or the jungle, or the spring or the summer. When we do that, the message, the lesson gets overshadowed, gets lost. Such are the arguments and judgement on the spiritual beliefs of others.

If we all follow our own moral compasses, regardless of their origin, without judging other's, the world would be a better place. It's our judgement of "others" being wrong or on the "wrong side" that is our ethical and therefore
social downfall. Be proud of the names, places, and dates that your belief system holds holy, but just as you wouldn't want someone to revile those, don't revile someone else's. After all, love, respect, compassion, and good deeds are what most religions teach as the path to a respectable life, an honorable death, and a better afterlife.

Elfilo de Sofía said...

Oh, and in other words; Yes, the mudras shown in depictions of Christ are but one way to show that Christianity has been influenced by spiritual belief systems that came before it. That isn't meant as being disrespectful towards Christianity at all. I don't believe any religion has "stolen" anything from another. It is only the ignorant, the naive, or the narrow minded zealot who would come to those conclusions, make accusations like that, or assume that their "religion" is the "first", or the "best", or the only "legitimate" belief system.

Hinduism and Buddhism (which developed out of Hinduism) most commonly use mudras (hand gestures used for sacred, symbolic, spiritual, and physiological/psychological purposes). Other Indic belief systems as well as Taoism do, too.

Certain points in Egyptian spirituality flirted with the concept of monotheism which surely influenced Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was arguably the first major monotheistic religion which would have influenced Judaism in that sense. And Judaism, of course, is the mother religion of Christianity and Islam. This shared, spiritual connectivity and cumulative evolution of spirituality is beautiful and something to be proud of, not something to be scoffed at, ridiculed, dismissed, or ignored. No followers of specific belief systems should feel offended or ashamed by the fact that their beliefs evolved from another system. That should be celebrated. Just as their belief system will influence another after it. Celebration of cultural uniqueness is wonderful, but cultural superiority is shameful. Pride, in fact, is not considered to be a positive attribute by most spiritual belief systems.

All knowledge, spiritual/eternal or temporal/scientific, is cumulative. Human's wouldn't have reached the moon and created satellites and space stations without early man first learning how to create fire or how to incorporate round discs into wheels to move heavy objects. No wheel; no satellites. Therefore, a satellite is no more important than the wheel. No grunting; no language, history, or poetry. No rhythmic sticks and rocks hitting logs; no Mozart, Shankar, Kuti, Monk, or Hendrix.

Likewise, no early spiritual cave drawings and fire/water/hunting rituals;
no Egyptian spirituality, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam.

Peace, love, and respect to all.

Tavi said...

I noticed those "mudras" (without realizing those were mudras) when I was little. My grandmother had a very emotional picture of JC in the living room and his hands were in a lovely position, which I now know is a mudra. Very nice topic. Keep up the good work :)Cheers from Brazil.