FAQs about Adi Da & Adidam > Miscellaneous > The Sign of Open Hands

The Sign of Open Hands

Chris Tong, Ph.D.

the sign of open hands
click to enlarge

Question: I sometimes see pictures of devotees with their hands raised. What's the reason for that?

  1. Open Hands: A Sign of Relationship
  2. Open Hands and Radical Understanding
  3. The Gesture of Beholding: Surrender and the Reality of the Divine
  4. Open Hands and Art

Open Hands: A Sign of Relationship

Adi Da spontaneously making the <span class=caption>same gesture many years later

From the formal beginning of His Teaching Work in 1972, Adi Da Samraj has used the gestures of the "closed fist" and the "open palm" to contrast egoity — the source of all suffering — with the transcendence of egoity via unqualified relationship:

the closed fist:
sign of egoity
the open palms:
sign of relationship
Adi Da not only "symbolizing" relationship, but
demonstrating it, by actively drawing devotees
into relationship with Him

Adi Da has said many times that, in a certain sense, His entire Teaching is summarized by these two gestures.

My first Teaching Sign to everyone was this gesture of My hand, clenching the fist versus opening the hand. Well, it's presuming darkness versus being Radiant. There are many ways I could describe the fundamental process — but one way to describe it is that, in every moment where there is the dark tendency to identify with self-contraction and all the things that come with it, or to identify with the body-mind, just in and of itself, and all that comes with that, in every moment as that comes up, the process is about being Radiant instead.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj

Adi Da spontaneously making the <span class=caption>same gesture many years later
Adi Da spontaneously making
the same gesture many years later

Love is the Sacrifice. Love is the Law. Love is Radiance, not contraction. Love is the action in which ego and all reactions are dissolved, since all such things are only contraction. Fear is only contraction. Sorrow is only contraction. Anger is only contraction. Mind in all of its realms, high or low, is only contraction. Where contraction ceases, there is no ego to survive, no reactions to dramatize into separation, no fear, no sorrow, no anger, no thought, no other. . .

When Love is altogether true, when Its Radiance Shines so hard it opens up the hand, then there is only Real God — and Real God Is Love. Love is the Sacrifice of Man.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj
Chapter One, The Paradox of Instruction

What I am Saying is a simplicity — and, also, a necessity.

Will you turn to Me — or will you protect "self"?

It is that simple.

Whether to be the closed fist, or else to be the open hand? — that is the moment to moment question of life.

Therefore, by always turning to Me, always choose and be the open hand.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, "Be The Open Hand"
Part Nine, The Aletheon

During The Years of My Own Ordeal of Transcendental Spiritual Re-Awakening. . . I spontaneously Developed the total process of the understanding (and the transcending) of the ego. . . Nevertheless, even all of My "Years of Testing-by-experience" were founded on The same basic Insight (or Heart-Awakening), and all those Years were punctuated by sudden Great Moments of Awakening and sudden Great Leaps of Understanding.

One such (and early) Incident of Heart-Awakening occurred quite gently (but most profoundly), in a moment when I was mindlessly regarding My right hand, observing the (apparent and, suddenly, revealing) contrast between the natural (or open and functionally relational) attitude of the hand and the unnatural (or contracted and functionally dissociated) attitude of the clenched fist.

The natural sign of the human body is relatedness, not separateness and independence!

Therefore, when this sign convicted the heart,the "subjective" commitment to "self"-contraction was spontaneously released. In that moment, there was a quiet revolution in the body-mind. I "Knew" The "Always Already" State. And this began a period of Enquiry into the "self"-contraction (which appears, in action, as the avoidance of relationship).

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, The Aletheon

I often make a fist out of My hand to represent this activity of avoidance, because it shows very clearly what happens when there is self-contraction. If you curl your hand in upon itself, a sensation is generated at the center of the hand that concentrates attention. That sensation in the hand is differentiated from every possible thing outside the hand. That sensation becomes the center of concentration.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, My "Bright" Word

Of course these gestures — the fist and the open hand — are not unfamiliar to us: we use them in many conventional circumstances. We threaten (and sometimes punch) each other with our fists. We gesture a friendly "hello" to somebody with one raised open hand. And we "shake hands" in a gesture of friendship and good will by pressing open hands against each other. Indeed, to make Adi Da's point linking relationship with open palms: there simply is no other way to shake hands![1] When Adi Da first gave us the gesture of open hands, He commented that it was simultaneously the most receptive and the most giving asana.[5]

Open Hands and "Radical" Understanding

Adi Da reveals that there is only One, Indivisible, Divine Reality, which is Free and Full and Happy.

clenched fist Clench your fist as tightly as you can. This is something like how it feels to be separate from the Divine Reality.
Now open up your hand. This is something like how it feels to be in relationship, or perfectly coincident, with the Divine. open hand
I and the sense of separation As the ego-fist, each of us believes ourselves to be separate from the Indivisible Divine. We experience this as the sense of "I" or "self and other". Once we feel separate from the Divine, we also start feeling separate from other beings and things. We feel as though we are a separate being living in an objective world of separate objects and beings.
This sense of separation makes us feel unhappy, and we seek to find a way to feel better again. "I" believes that "I" has to do something to get Freedom, and Fullness and Happiness back. We try to get rid of the sense of separation by trying to "union" with other beings and things (hugging our family and friends, eating food, etc.) seeking
I is an activity But Avatar Adi Da shows that, in Truth, "I" is not who we really are. Rather, "I" is an activity of contraction away from the Divine Reality — an activity that each of us is doing in every moment. In Reality, there are no separate "I"s! There are no separate beings! There is only One Being — the Divine. We are That, but we are not feeling That because of our activity of contraction.

True Happiness, or "Satisfaction", doesn't come when we get the things we want. . .

True Happiness, or "Satisfaction", comes when we stop doing self-contraction!

Recognizing this (not just as an intellectual insight but as an experienced revelation) is what Adi Da calls "Radical Understanding".


open hand

Of course, now that you have read this, you may want to try to gain such Radical Understanding! (That's what the "I" does — it always turns everything into a search for happiness.)

But "I" cannot cause Radical Understanding to occur. "I" is the result of the activity of self-contraction. "I" can only seek happiness; but seeking perpetuates un-happiness.

Instead, Radical Understanding occurs naturally, when the "I" and the self-contraction are spontaneously forgotten (and released) in Communion with the Divine.

The Gesture of Beholding: Surrender and the Reality of the Divine

The Gesture of Beholding is a particular expression of "open-handedness" where we raise both our hands face forward.

The Gesture of Beholding

It's interesting to compare the Gesture of Beholding with that other social occasion where one's hands are raised: when someone is surrendering to someone else.

Some sociologists suggest that the reason behind such "open palm" gestures is to show the other person that are not holding a concealed weapon [2]. While there may be some truth to this in the ordinary functioning of human society, this manner of explanation fails to capture the (ultimately) spiritual and transcendental significance of this relational gesture.

Raised hands indicate surrender — not just surrender in the abstract, but surrender to someone. We are facing the one we are surrendering to, and holding up our open hands to that person. In the Gesture of Beholding, raised hands indicate our spiritual surrender to the Divine, which opens the way to Communion with the Divine — a way to be continuous with, or "be holding" [4], the Divine; as they raise their hands, devotees are intimately, whole bodily pressed against the Divine Spirit (non-separately, for they are also immersed in that All-Pervading Spirit). Ultimately, this opens the way to God-Realization: awakening as the Divine Consciousness.

So this is why you often will see us raising our hands! Turning to the Divine is a core part of our moment-to-moment practice of the Way of Adidam. Over time, this turning Gracefully becomes genuine surrender.

Devotees in Trinidad, California, December, 2016
Devotees in Trinidad, California celebrating Danavira Mela
click image to enlarge

Often, this gesture spontaneously occurs when we are experiencing Communion with the Divine: it occurs without our consciously intending it. We ourselves don't usually reflect on this point — but from a conventional (materialistic) viewpoint, it is quite amazing to feel one's hands being lifted into this gesture by a force other than one's conscious will. (Such spontaneous gestures occurring in the course of spiritual practice are well-known and hold a respected place in the Hindu tradition, where they are called "mudras".)

The Gesture of Beholding, then, is most importantly a reflection and acknowledgement of the Reality of the Divine, to Whom we are turning and surrendering.

The Gesture of Beholding in Adi Da's Company
The Gesture of Beholding in Adi Da's Company
click image to enlarge

During Adi Da's human lifetime, devotees would often spontaneously raise their hands toward Adi Da in the Gesture of Beholding, when in His physical company, in response to His Spiritual Transmission.

During Adi Da's human lifetime, we also engaged the Gesture of Beholding when someone was taking a picture of us that we knew was going to be sent to Adi Da, to show our devotion and spiritual surrender to Him, as our Spiritual Master, and more specifically, our spiritual recognition of Him as human Incarnation of the Divine (which is the basis for our devotion and spiritual surrender to Him). In a similar manner, our Gesture of Beholding is often directed toward a picture of Adi Da (and, with or without a picture, we are always contemplating Adi Da as the Divine as we engage this Gesture).

God cannot be surrendered to in the abstract — only God appearing in tangible form can be found, related to, and surrendered to. The entire point of Adi Da's human lifetime was to provide (through His own bodily human form) the means by which all of us could actually locate the Divine for real, and enter into a genuinely God-Realizing process on that basis.

If you enter into the heart-relationship with Me, then the Divine Process begins to duplicate Itself in your case. It is not as if you are a robot that is being transformed through the effect of some computer no. The Process is a living and human relationship with Me.

But that Process has nothing to do with the conventional "doctor-patient" and "mommy-daddy-baby" games. Irresponsible people cannot enter into this Process. You must be responsible for yourself at the human level, and in a profoundly uncommon way.

You must live the discipline of ordinary life. You yourself must be love under all ordinary, daily conditions. You must make this change in your life. There is no way whereby you can be relieved of this necessity and nobody else can do it for you.

Nevertheless, all of that ordinary responsibility simply prepares you for the right relationship to Me (in and As My Avatarically-Born bodily human Divine Form and Person).

I Am your Unique Advantage, because I Am Present in the same kind of bodily form as you Manifested in the same kind of physical condition, the same kind of nervous system, the same kind of brain. In My Case, however, all these mechanisms are Raised to an Absolute level of Functioning, such that your entering into Communion with Me brings changes even at the level of the psycho-physical body that you present to Me.

No abstract Divine Principle can serve you in that manner, because the physics of this Process must be directly Present, and the bodily (human) Demonstration of the Process must be Present in a Form that can Do Its Work in your case. That Work is My Purpose. My Divine Avataric Incarnation Fully Manifests the State of the Ultimate Physics of things Which is your Potential, but not your actuality at the present time.

The "abstract Divine" and the powers of the universe are not (in and of themselves) organized for the sake of the immediate transformation of human beings.

If people truly enter into right devotional and (in due course) Spiritual relationship with Me, they will (inevitably) Realize the progressive process of transformation characteristic of the only-by-Me Revealed and Given Way of Adidam.

I Am here to Reveal the Perfect Teaching of Truth and to Initiate the great culture of compassion and Wisdom among human beings. However, those Purposes are secondary aspects of My Divine Avataric Service to humanity. Those Purposes are the Transformative Effects of My "Bright" Divine State and My Ultimate Divine Function.

My True and Ultimate Divine Avataric Function is to Instigate the Super-Physics of Most Perfect Real-God-Realization (or Divine Enlightenment) among My true devotees.

My Avataric Self-Manifestation in bodily (human) Divine Form is an Advantage That is Unique in human time.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj
"The Super-Physics of Divine Enlightenment"
Part Three, The Aletheon

Open Hands and Art

Adi Da also links the sign of "open hands" with the history of art and the nature of true art:

Australian hand painting
Australian hand painting
click image to enlarge

It is significant that among the earliest art-forms human beings ever made are images of open hands.[3] The artist would apparently put a hand up against a cave wall and blow contrasting materials out of the mouth (thus creating a silhouette of the hand), or (otherwise) immerse the hand in a contrasting material and press the hand on the wall (thus leaving an impression of the hand).

Mesa Verda hand painting
Mesa Verda hand painting
click image to enlarge

Such images of open hands are among the oldest art that still exists. And, indeed, the quality of open-handedness in the sense of freedom from the "self"-contraction of egoic existence does, in fact, have something to do with why people in prehistoric times would blow contrasting material around their hands or put hand-impressions on cave walls, and with why anybody might do so now.

The breath and the hand that happening-conjunction says something about what right and true art is.

Right and true art is an open-handedness not a closed fist, not a dissociated or "self"-contracted gesture.

Pre Columbian sculpture
Pre-Columbian sculpture[6]
click image to enlarge

Right and true art flows to the viewer rather than being at war with the viewer, or aggressively trying to control and defeat the viewer.

The Indivisible Space of Conscious Light
Adi Da: The Indivisible Space of Conscious Light
click image to enlarge

Altogether, right and true art enables and serves the viewer in an open-handed, ego-transcending manner.

the sign of open hands
Adi Da: Image 2004 #7376
42 x 58 inches/107 x 147 cm
click image to enlarge
available from DaPlastique

Right and true art is infinitely generous.

from Avatar Adi Da Samraj
"Open-Handed Image-Art"
in Transcendental Realism


[1] These days, of course, there is also that curious gesture, the "fist bump" which at the same time as it connects (sort of), also withholds from connecting as completely as the handshake.
[2] See, for example, Peter M. Hall and Dee Ann Hall, "The Handshake as Interaction." SEMIOTICA v.45, Mouton Publishers: Amsterdam, 1983, pp. 249-264.
[3] See, for example, the Bradshaw Foundation's article, Hand Paintings and Symbols in Rock Art.
[4] Many of Adi Da's choices of word or phrase reflect His very careful attention not only to the overt meaning of the word, but to its etymology and root meanings. In choosing words or phrases, He also is very aware of any "double entendres" (literally, "two ways of hearing the same thing"), including "Beholding" and "Be Holding"; or "Understanding" and "Under-Standing" as in "Standing Under or Prior".

So "Beholding" of the Divine is not at all looking at the Divine from a distance; it is to "be holding" the Divine. It is an embrace — utterly intimate and non-separate Divine Communion.
[5] Thanks to Frank Marrero for this.
[6] Thanks to Steve Alexander for bringing this sculpture to our attention.

Quotations from and/or photographs of Avatar Adi Da Samraj used by permission of the copyright owner:
Copyrighted materials used with the permission of The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam Pty Ltd, as trustee for The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam. All rights reserved. None of these materials may be disseminated or otherwise used for any non-personal purpose without the prior agreement of the copyright owner. ADIDAM is a trademark of The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam Pty Ltd, as Trustee for the Avataric Samrajya of Adidam.

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