BUDDHIST MUDRAS-HAND GESTURES

Mudras are symbolic gestures, used symbolically in Buddha images and in practice to evoke particular ideas or buddhas in the mind during Buddhist meditation or ritual. The gestures performed by the hands of a Buddha image (mudras) have specific meanings that refer to some event in the life of the Buddha or denote a special characteristic. There are six main hand gestures of the Buddha in Thailand (and Asia).

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1. ABHAY MUDRA: Abhaya is translated from Sanskrit as fearlessness. The Abhaya mudra is made with the open palm of the right hand extending outwards at the chest level or slightly higher.

  1. DHYAN MUDRA:It This mudra signifies meditation,  concentration of the Good Law and the saṅgha. The two hands are placed on the lap, right hand on left with fingers fully stretched (four fingers resting on each other and the thumbs facing upwards towards one another diagonally), palms facing upwards; in this manner, the hands and fingers form the shape of a triangle, which is symbolic of the spiritual fire or the Triratna (the three jewels). This mudra is used in representations of the Śākyamuni Buddhaand Amitābha Buddha. Sometimes the Dhyāna mudrā is used in certain representations of Bhaiṣajyaguru as the Medicine Buddha, with a medicine bowl placed on the hands.
  2. BHUMISPARSA -:Calling the Earth To Witness the TruthIt is one of the most common iconic images of Buddhism. It depicts the Buddha sitting in meditation with his left hand, palm upright, in his lap, and his right hand touching the earth. It represents the Buddha asking Prithvi, the devi of the earth, that she witnessed his enlightenment. This gesture symbolizes enlightenment, as well as steadfastness (imperturbability).
  3. VARADA –Compassion, Sincerity & Wish Granting: This expresses the energy of compassion, liberation and an offering of acceptance. The hand is extended downward, palm out. Mostly on standing Buddha images, but sometimes also represented in the sitting position.  In India, varada mudra is used in images of Avalokiteśvara from the Gupta Empire (4th and 5th centuries). Varada mudrā is extensively used in the statues of Southeast Asia.
  4. Karana Mudrā – Karana mudra expresses a very powerful energy with which negative energy is expelled. This hand gesture is also called warding off the evil. It expels demons and removes obstacles such as sickness or negative thoughts. It is made by raising the index and the little finger, and folding the other fingers. It is nearly the same as the gesture known as corna in many western countries, the difference is that in the Karana mudra the thumb does not hold down the middle and ring finger.Confidence in Self Vajra mudra is formed by by enclosing the erect forefinger of the left hand in the right fist with the tip of the right forefinger touching (or curled around) the tip of the left forefinger. This is also known as the six elements mudra, the fist of wisdom mudra or by its Japanese name of Chi Ken-in. It symbolizes the unity of the five worldly elements (earth, water, fire, air, and metal) with spiritual consciousness. It is characteristic gesture of Dainichi Nyorai (Vairochana), an important Buddha to adherents of Esoteric Buddhism (Shingon), particularly in his form as Mahavaircana, the ‘Great Resplendent One’, as the white Lord of many of the early yogatantra mandalas. Although rare, sometimes the positions of the left and right hands are reversed. An alternative form of Vairocana’s bodhyangi mudra is made by enclosing the raised thumb of the left fist in the four clenched fingers of the right fist. Here the thumb symbolizes Vairocana at the center of the mandala, and the four embracing fingers of the right hand represent the four directional Buddhas that surround him.The Vajra mudra transforms ignorance into wisdom. The mudra stresses the importance of Knowledge in the spiritual world and is also known as the Mudra of Supreme Wisdom. Another interpretation claims that the erect forefinger represents Knowledge, which is hidden by the world of appearances (the right fist). In Tibet, this mudra represents the perfect union between the deity and his feminine power.

6. Anjali Mudra:Anjali mudra is performed by pressing the palms of the hands together. The fingers are together with fingertips pointing up. The hands are pressed together firmly and evenly.In the most common form of anjali mudra, the hands are held at the heart chakra with thumbs resting lightly against the sternum. The gesture may also be performed at the brow chakra with thumb tips resting against the “third eye” or at the crown chakra (above the head). In some yoga postures, the hands are placed in anjali mudra position to one side of the body or behind the back.

Anjali mudra is normally accompanied by a slight bowing of the head.

Westerners associate this gesture with prayer, but in Buddhism the anjali mudra represents “suchness” (tathata) — the true nature of all things, beyond distinction.

The term anjali literally means “two handfuls’, and is derived from the cupped hands being pressed edge to edge.

7. VITARKA – Teaching Transmission: The Vitarka mudra (“mudra of discussion”) is the gesture of discussion, intellectual argument and transmission of Buddhist teaching. While the right hand is held at chest level and palm outward, vitarka mudra is done by touching the tips of the thumb and the index together forming a circle, and keeping the other fingers pointing up. Sometimes the left hand is held with fingers pointing downward, at hip level, also with palm outward and with the thumb and index finger forming a circle. The circle formed by the thumb and index finger is the sign of the Wheel of Law. This mudra is mainly used for images of the Great Buddhas, and symbolizes one of the phases of the preaching of the Buddha, that of discussion or teaching of the dharma. The circle formed by the thumb and the index, a complete form, having neither beginning nor end, is that of perfection; it resembles the Law of the Buddha, which is perfect and eternal.

This mudra has a great number of variants in Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia. In Tibet it is the mystic gesture of Taras and Bodhisattvas with some differences by the deities in Yab-yum. This mudra is also a universal sign outside of its Buddhist context, especially as witnessed by its frequent appearance in Christian iconography.

8. DHARMACHAKRA – Wheel of Dharma (Cosmic Order): Dharmachakra mudra expresses the continuous energy (symbolized by a wheel/chakra) of the cosmic order. The hands are placed at the heart level with the thumbs and index fingers forming circles (similar to Vitarka mudra). The right palm faces outwards and the left one faces towards the heart. This mudra is associated with Buddha’s first sermon, or teaching. It is often referred to as the representation of teaching about the cosmic order as coming from (or through) the heart center.

9. UTTARABODHI : The Uttarabodhi mudra is a gesture that identifies with a supreme enlightenment and symbolizes perfection.

In this position all fingers are intertwined. The index fingers are extended and touch one another, pointing toward the sky. Remaining fingers are crossed and folded down. Thumbs are cross and folded or held next to each other. Clasped hands are held over the head or at the level of the chest.

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