Buddha the Mediator

Buddha in Abhaya mudra
Buddha in Abhaya mudra

We’ve all heard of Buddhist Meditation.  But have you heard the one about Buddha the Mediator?

Today, Allyson and I visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore.  One floor of the temple is a museum, dedicated to collecting, preserving and researching Asian Buddhist artifacts.  The museum experts described the Buddha Abhaya gesture, or mudra, pictured here, as, “Pacifying the Relatives, after an incident where Buddha mediated with two feuding but related families over the water used for irrigation.”

The key portion of the gesture is the right hand, facing outward.  Many authorities say the gesture symbolizes fearlessness, or protection, peace and the dispelling of fear.  Another described the gesture as imparting fearlessness or reassurance. 

All of those descriptors should apply to mediators.  Mediators join with two parties who often begin the negotiations angry and fearful that their dispute will only escalate and not resolve.  I have been in joint sessions where people screamed at each other, yelled at me, insulted each other, and sobbed uncontrollably.  Just as Buddha used the gesture to calm an angry elephant that was charging him, mediators must, above all, model strength, optimism, and confidence. We must settle down the parties before the parties settle their disputes.

A mediator must dispel fear and reassure parties.  Successful negotiations require people to release or let go of something.  I’m not just talking about one party releasing a legal claim and the other party letting go of money.  That is only part of the typical situation.  Almost always, at least one side must work through deeply-held feelings of righteousness, resentment, hurt or other emotion.   Sometimes, people fear settlement will allow the other party to get the better of him or her one last time. The mediator must encourage people to work through these feelings until they let go of their fears and want to make peace.

Jeff Merrick, Merrick Mediation
Copyright, 2013