Determined to get rid of the Buddha, a treacherous demon unleashed an elephant to charge and destroy him. Just as the wild, raging beast was about to trample him, the Buddha raised his right hand with fingers held close together and palm open, facing the oncoming animal. The gesture of fearlessness completely subdued the dangerous animal. Once having faced the terrible threat of annihilation, the Compassionate Buddha cupped his other hand with its palm up, extending it as an offering of an open heart. This gesture of forgiveness restored the elephant’s natural tranquility.
The Sanskrit word for these symbolic gestures is mudra. The Buddha’s first mudra allowed him to face his fear. Having turned back terror, the Buddha was then free to confer on the elephant the second mudra of compassion that calmed the bewildered beast.
If we learn to raise our right hand against fear, we can extend the other in compassion.