Folded hands are the symbol and expression of devotion.
Devotion is the fast lane of spiritual progress. Devotion and meditation help each other like two arms, left and right. Devotion deepens, sweetens, purifies, clarifies and intensifies our meditation practise. Meditation reveals, strengthens, liberates, protects and perfects our devotion. It is impossible truly to experience one without the other. As one grows and develops, so must its twin.
Devotion is love in action. Devotion is not content to accept oneness as a state of being: it must taste, explore, express and celebrate oneness as fully lived, manifested reality. This oneness is with our own higher self, with the Divine within and all around us.
Love adores and yearns to approach the Divine. Devotion storms the heart of the Divine. Where love may flow as a stream, devotion surges as a torrent. If love is a wave, devotion is a tsunami. If love is honey, devotion is ambrosia.
Devotion reverberates with overwhelming sweetness and inexplicable bliss.
To meditate well, devotion is indispensable. Devotion compels us to meditate, for devotion knows that meditation is the doorway to its goal.
To gain true devotion, meditation is indispensible. As meditation draws aside the curtain of the mind’s illusion, the force of devotion from within becomes irresistible just as the gravitational pull of a large planet increases as we approach and the brilliance of the sun brightens as we come nearer.
Folded hands act as a magnet to attract devotion. Our folded hands draw devotion into our hearts, and from within our hearts. Our folded hands not only recognise the presence of a higher power, light, love and bliss within us, they impel us to enter into, embrace and become that very power, light, love and bliss as our reality-self.
We talk about going deep in meditation, and we also talk about going high in meditation. Ultimately, a deep and a high meditation lead to the same reality-goal.
Depth and height are both relative concepts, which pertain in the realm of the finite. We strive to go deeper or higher in our meditation because both height and depth lead us ultimately beyond our finite selves into our infinite, wherein we long to dwell. All attributes and barriers of the finite – thoughts, desires, limitations, ignorance, space-time – are dissolved in height and depth alike.
To go deep in meditation means to still our surface consciousness – our bodies, our emotions and our minds – in order to dive into our spiritual hearts. As we dive ever deeper and deeper within, our awareness expands into the infinite.
To go high in meditation means to muster all of our mind’s determination, our emotional intensity and our heart’s inner cry to fly upward, rocket-like, to transcend the gravitational pull of our thoughts, desires and attachments. As we soar higher and higher, our awareness expands into the infinite.
Folding our hands in front of our hearts when we meditate helps and focuses our effort in whichever direction we are trying to go in our meditation – either deep or high – or both at once.
The very act of folding our hands injects purpose and momentum in whichever direction we are seeking to go, inward or upward.
Placing our folded hands in front of our spiritual heart is a call within. Immediately we feel the way within beckoning, and a surge to plumb our inner depths.
Placing our folded hands with fingers pointing upward to the heavens ignites and powers up our heart’s aspiration to rise ever upward and scale infinity’s heights.
“You can increase
Your heart’s intensity
Your mind’s purity
Just by folding your hands
During prayer and meditation.”
– Sri Chinmoy
When we sincerely aspire for a goal, we will take help from any quarter and explore any means to reach our goal. We will listen to advice, read books, attend classes, practise techniques, make sacrifices, travel to far places, we will adjust our diet, daily schedule, exercise regime and sleep patterns – anything to help us reach our goal sooner.
Meditation is at once our goal and our means to reach our goal. The practise of meditationis our means; the perfect state of meditationis our goal. So let us be open and ready to welcome anything that will improve the quality of our practise and hence expedite our progress towards our goal.
In our practise of meditation we are concerned principally with our mind and our heart. We are striving to make our mind still, clear and empty while invoking the depth, vastness, silence, peace and beauty of our heart. Purity in the mind and intensity in the heart are the two indispensable ingredients of successful meditation – yet these two rare exotic birds are scarcely glimpsed in the dense hectic forest of our lives, and even more rarely caught and tamed.
As Sri Chinmoy’s poem states, our heart’s intensity and mind’s purity are enhanced when we fold our hands. How and why are matters not for conjecture, but experience. Folding our hands is a lightning rod that attracts intensity, purity, focus, speed, progress and success into our practise more effectively than anything else we can do on the physical plane. If our goal is important to us, then doing whatever we can to quicken the journey is a no-brainer.
Meditation is the withdrawal of our mind’s engagement with the outer world, to enter into our heart’s realm of peace, light and delight.
Our hands are the executors of our will in the world. When we fold our hands, we both practically and symbolically withdraw our means of action from the outer world. With the outer world – which is our biggest distraction – set aside, our will and focus can now more readily settle within.
With my hands now occupied, there is a sense I am no longer the doer: that whatever will now transpire is no longer my responsibility. The “doer” is elsewhere, within. With my hands occupied, I am outwardly helpless – I cannot act or defend myself. This helplessness intensifies my sincere inner cry, my yearning, my need to enter into the higher power, guidance and nourishment of the inner silence.
With our hands folded, we are surrendering our will to a higher Will within. We embrace the Christ’s words, which embody the highest prayer and deepest meditation: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
For the mind to accept and embrace the submersion of its will and authority in the light and love of the heart requires humility, a quality unfamiliar to the average mind. Humility immediately increases the moment we fold our hands. Humility deflates the ego’s pride and opens wide the door of the heart. Through this open door, sincerity, simplicity, purity, sweetness and devotion all enter and play their roles to deepen, expand and illumine our meditation experience.
Then slowly dawns the truth of another of the Christ’s sublime utterances, which can never be grasped with the mind, only realised and become:
Closing the palms together in front of one’s heart is known in hatha yoga as the “Anjali Mudra”, “mudra” meaning “sign” referring to a posture or positioning of the hands; “anjali” meaning to offer, salute or revere.
The gesture is traditionally used throughout India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and South-East Asia for both social interaction and worship. As a formal greeting and parting gesture, folded hands are associated with the Sanskrit terms “namaste” and “pranam” – roughly translating as “the divine in me bows to the divine in you”, a beautiful recognition of our innate oneness. The gesture is also used to convey gratitude, respect and sincere apology – all deep feelings of the heart.
The first time I flew with Thai Airways, I was surprised and moved when the hostesses greeted the passengers with their hands folded (known as “wai” in Thai) as we boarded the plane. Instantly I felt at home and truly welcomed.
This experience taught me more directly and profoundly than any theoretical understanding or historical or cultural knowledge the significance of folded hands – for in an instant, by sheer magic, my heart was opened. Folded hands connect hearts, bringing forward the best hearts’ qualities – the divine – in both the one folding the hands and the one who is being approached with folded hands: humility, simplicity, sweetness, sympathy and concern.
If two people approach me with the same request – one with hands on hips, the other with folded hands – I am more likely to be sympathetic to the one whose very appearance touches my heart…
When I sit to meditate, I am the one making an ardent request – for peace, light and bliss. With my hands folded … or without – how is my case more likely to receive a sympathetic hearing?
“A theory must be tested.
A fact must be honoured.
A truth must be lived.” – Sri Chinmoy
Everything in meditation and spirituality has to be practical. While theories may be fascinating and sometimes inspiring, only experience is real.
Practical also means personal. We are all unique. Just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for me at this time. Meditation is my journey of self-discovery. Along the way I will take whatever inspires me. If it works, then for me it is real. Of course as I grow, what works for me will also evolve. Something I now put aside may later become an indispensable part of my practise.
Try this simple experiment: for one week, every morning practise meditation for 5 minutes with your hands folded in front of your heart, and for 5 minutes with your hands elsewhere. You will see which works best for you.
Folding our hands plays a similar role to having a designated place in our room for meditation. The mind is reminded that this is where we meditate and this is the posture we assume for meditation – so we must be meditating. Simple but profoundly effective.
Do not press the hands firmly together. There should be no pressure or tension, just lightly touching. If the hands are held properly the arms will not become tired. Your hands are aligned with and match your straight spine.
With our hands folded, our energy is focused in our heart and not in our head or elsewhere, bringing a heightened sense of purpose and vigilance. With this vigilance you may find it is both easier to still the mind and to bring it back to attention when it does wander.
Our energy meridians end in our fingertips; our hands form the left and right “poles” of our bodies’ energy fields. These fields are sometimes expressed as representing left brain/right brain, male/female, ida/pingala or sun/moon energies. When we bring these poles together there is a tremendous focusing of energy, consciousness and will – so the place where they meet is most significant.
Central and equidistant between these two poles is our spiritual heart, our centre of peace, love, light and joy, the seat of our soul and goal of meditation. Our spiritual heart is the great harmoniser of our being, solver of problems, remover of suffering, father of wisdom and mother of bliss. It is here into the heart that we eagerly yearn to dive in our meditation. When we fold our hands – our thumbs gently resting in front of and lightly touching our heart – we are focusing our energy, consciousness and will right where we are aspiring to be and become. It is like facing the direction we want to travel, or looking at the target we are aiming at.
My fingers indicate the direction of my energy and will. When my fingers are pointing directly upwards, there is a strong feeling of a rising flame, aspiring only for the highest. Often we can intensify our aspiration simply by ensuring our fingers are pointing upwards and not forwards or to the side.
Of course folding our hands in front of our hearts with fingers pointing upwards will not guarantee a good meditation; yet every little thing helps. We meditate to deepen our inner awareness and to bring this awareness into our outer lives: folding our hands is more than a pose, it is a powerful bridge to align our inner and outer aspiration.
What should we do with our hands during meditation?
We do not meditate with our hands: yet our hands are extremely significant parts of our being – practically, energetically and symbolically – and what we do with them can tremendously influence our consciousness, actions and environment.
Our hands are agents of our will, our means of acting in, on and for the world: we use our hands to do, express and execute – to make, build and construct; to write, draw, illustrate, design and play music; to give and receive; to bless; to greet (by shaking hands, waving or pressing together in pranam); to communicate and gesture; to point and direct; to caress and strike; to operate tools, instruments, devices, playthings and weapons; to squeeze, press, push and pull; to throw and catch; to protect and defend. Our hands are an interface between our inner and outer worlds.
Our body language reveals much: we cross our arms to shield ourselves; fold our arms to project confidence or strength; spread our arms to embrace; raise our arms in surrender; sit on our hands to avoid engagement.
Body language signifies our inner state, and can also influence our outer state.
The posture known as “folded hands” – where the palms are lightly pressed together in front of one’s heart – has been used for millennia across continents, cultures, religions and spiritual traditions for one simple reason … it works.
There are numerous theories and explanations for why this simple, humble, noble gesture has gained such wide currency from time immemorial amongst humans seeking a deeper meaning and resonance. Ultimately the theories are of little value, for this elegant pose – like sunlight, our heartbeat or the mantra “AUM” – houses in silent eloquence all the beauty, power and mystery of the universe.
If you can dispel unhappiness from your system before you sit down to meditate, your meditation will be freer, easier and more effective.
Sri Chinmoy once offered three practical tips to help remove unhappiness. Each of these tips involves getting out the house, going somewhere and doing something. The very act of moving somewhere immediately challenges unhappiness. Unhappiness likes to brood in inert stillness, whereas movement invokes energy and a stirring of our spirit.
1) Go running to a garden near your house. Look at the flowers in the garden; appreciate and admire their beauty. Find one flower that particularly appeals to you and just gaze at that one flower, losing yourself in its beauty, purity, subtlety, simplicity and especially its fragrance. Touch your flower, feeling its delicate texture between your thumb and fingers. Unhappiness has to surrender…
2) Play with young children. If there are no young children around that you can play with, simply imagine them. Become yourself a 4 or 5-year old child, eager to play. Children have spontaneity, boundless bright imaginations and an inexhaustible appetite for fun. No room for unhappiness here…
3) Lie on your back on the grass and look up at the sky. (This one doesn’t work so well on a rainy day!) While breathing, imagine you are breathing in the sky itself. Already vast, feel the blue sky expanding and expanding without end within you. Or imagine that the sky itself is breathing, and it is inhaling you into itself. Either way, you are becoming the sky and its ever-expanding blue vastness. In vastness and expansion, unhappiness dissolves…
Of these three techniques, the flower is the easiest and most immediate, while the sky is the most difficult and yet the most lasting and effective.
Desire is a yearning to possess the unpossessable. It juggles chimeras and grasps at thin air while feasting on reflections in its castle in the sky.
The world we sense around us is but a projection of our own being. The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly – all are within ourselves. As we are, so we project, and so we see and feel.
We see or feel beauty, purity, love, light, peace, joy or freedom – all of which we want and need – in things, people or experiences around us. Desire says: “let me possess this thing, this person or this experience and I will possess the beauty, purity, love, light, peace, joy or freedom that I see and feel in them.”
Just as objects reflect the light of the sun, we fail to realise that what lures us is but a reflection of our own inner light. We can never grasp these qualities without, we can only realise and become them within.
Desire is a child of the finite, operating and relying on two entirely finite concepts – possession and definition. Yet the finite can never possess or define the infinite. The infinite cannot be housed. We are spiritual beings, and can only be fulfilled by the infinite. With a net you may catch fish but you cannot catch the sea. You can own a cage but never the bird.
The outer world is a giant puzzle. All the clues to solve this puzzle are within the puzzle itself. And they all point back towards us. Desire itself is a giant clue – follow it! To find its solution, we have to look beyond the apparent, beyond the distractions, beyond the smoke and into the mirror – we have to meditate.
“There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”
– George Bernard Shaw
When we do not get what we desire, we are left feeling frustrated and empty: if only our desire had been fulfilled, surely happiness would be ours and all would be well.
Yet when we get what we desire, we are again left feeling frustrated and empty: somehow the fulfilment of our desire has not given us the happiness and satisfaction we had hoped for.
The root of both these “tragedies” is desire itself.
From the spiritual point of view, it is not desire which is the problem, but rather attachment: our attachment to the fruits of desire, and attachment to desire itself.
Desire is neither good nor bad, but neutral like water. Water can be coloured or flavoured according to what is added. A few drops of poison can render water deadly: attachment in a desire can blind our judgement, destroy our happiness and cripple our will.
Attachment in desire will always lead to frustration, pain and suffering, for the moment we grab hold of desire with one hand, from our other hand spills our freedom and personal sovereignty. We vainly imagine we possess a desire, while that very desire secretly possesses us. Desire promises to empower us as master; instead it makes us its slave.
Desire is delusion founded upon falsehood. The delusion is that desire can and will lead to lasting happiness. The falsehood is that happiness and fulfilment are to be found elsewhere than our own being.
This fundamental falsehood of our age, which spawns the delusion which inspires desire which punishes us with endless suffering, can only be illumined and eradicated through inner discovery – through sincere, eager, patient, persistent meditation.
From the perspective of the river, its current appears to be its own doing, its own driving force. Yet when we step back and view from a larger perspective, we see it is actually the ocean that is drawing the river towards it. The ocean is calling each river, each stream and each drop of water in the world and in the skies, beckoning them all to return home to their source … and so they must, eventually.
This call of the ocean is the source of grace, the all-powerful compelling motive force of all evolution and progress. All life is subject to grace. Grace is the action of the highest within us, beckoning and carrying all our lesser, unconscious parts of our being. Grace is ultimately inescapable.
The source of grace is the ocean towards which our life-river is flowing; the source of our aspiration is also the goal of our meditation. Our very life-flow is our ultimate goal drawing us towards itself by the action of its grace.
To attempt to meditate by my own will is to shine a flashlight in a dark room. To meditate by the action of grace is to open all the windows and allow the sun to flood the room with light. This becomes easier once we realise that the sun is not external to ourselves: it is within. Grace is our inner sunshine, the action and revelation of our own highest, most powerful, all-illumining Self. To allow grace to take responsibility for our meditation and spiritual progress is our fastest, most direct course and our wisest choice, for grace is the irresistible, unstoppable call of the infinite Ocean, our Soul, our Goal, our God, our Supreme, our All.
The current of a river flows always strongest in its depths. This underling current is the guarantee that the river will reach its destination.
When you look at the surface of a river, you may see little eddies and swirls flowing in many different directions. Rocks and snags initiate all manner of disturbances, convolutions and conflicts in the surface flow. If there is a strong wind, the surface water may even appear to flow upstream.
So is it with our lives. In the surface parts of our being – bodies, vitals and especially our minds – we observe eddies and swirls occasioned by the rocks and snags of daily life: challenges, problems, doubts, conflicts, fears and worries. If there is a strong wind of mental or emotional turmoil, our life may even appear to be heading in the wrong direction.
When our consciousness is bound inside our minds and emotions, we identify only with the surface of our being. Our life-river flows this way and that. Our different parts struggle against each other in opposing directions. We are confused and conflicted.
Yet the underlying current of the soul must always ultimately prevail. This current is the action of grace in our lives. Grace always flows unrecognised as long as we are engrossed in our surface dramas.
When we imagine meditation is our own effort, everything is a struggle, like swimming against the stream. When we learn to swim with the current, meditation becomes easy and natural, our progress swift and assured.
To meditate is to dive deeper into our being to find our home in the swift-flowing current of grace carrying us inexorably to our goal.
Surrender. Let grace do the work. Grace is happiness and fulfilment guaranteed.