What is a Mudra?
Mudras are a form of silent communication using hand gestures and finger positions. In Buddhist practice, they represent certain concepts or states of mind, such as compassion, fearlessness, or wisdom. As put by one source, Mudras are external expressions of “inner resolve” that not only replace but can be more powerful than the spoken word.
Many mudras are represented in statues and other artistic representations of the Buddha. Knowing the significance of these poses enhances our appreciation of Buddhist practice and helps in deciding where to place art objects in the home or meditation studio. According to the Buddhist magazine, Tricycle, every Mudra has both a symbolic, or outer, and experiential, or inner, function, communicating aspects of the enlightened mind to both the person performing the posture and the observer.
Mudra is a Sanskrit work that literally means a posture or seal, notes Fractal Enlightenment. They are used in yoga, together with Pranayama (breathing exercises) to revitalize the flow of energy to different parts of the body. Tibetan, Zen, Theravada, and Mahayana Buddhism all use mudras during mindful meditation. Following are 8 of the most commonly used Mudras and their meanings.
8 Common Mudras
Dhyana Mudra (Meditation)
The Dhyana Mudra is one of the most commonly seen in Buddhist statues, representing meditation, concentration and spiritual awakening. The hands rest in the lap, with the back of the right hand on top of the palm of the left hand and thumbs touching lightly together. The positioning of the hands, with one atop the other, represents transcending the world of appearance through enlightenment. It is the pose that Buddha assumed under the Bodhi tree to fend off attack by the demon armies of Mara.
Bhumisparsha Mudra (Touching the Earth)
In this Mudra, the left hand rests in the lap with palm facing upward while the right hand hangs down with palm inward, pointing to the earth. The pose represents the Buddha’s moment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, when he called the earth to bear witness to his triumph over the demons.
Abhaya Mudra (Fearlessness and granting protection)
The Abhaya Mudra shows the right hand raised with fingers pointing upward and palm facing out, while the left arm remains next to the body. It indicates the absence of fear and is meant to reassure others and free them from fear. It is used as a gesture of protection and blessing. The Buddha assumed this pose immediately after enlightenment.
Varada Mudra (granting wishes)
In the Varada Mudra, the right arm hangs down with the palm facing outward, with fingers fully extended, empty and exposed to the observer. It is the Mudra of generosity, representing charity, offering, and sincerity. This pose is often combined with the Abhaya Mudra, so that a statue would show the right hand making a gesture of fearlessness and the left hand one of generosity or wish granting.
Vitarka Mudra (Teaching)
In the Vitarka Mudra, the right hand faces outward with the thumb and index finger touching each other to form a circle. The left hand rests in the lap. It refers to the teaching phase of the Buddha’s life when he concentrated on preaching and discussing the dharma. The circle represents eternal perfection, having neither beginning nor end.
Dharmachakra Mudra (The wheel of law)
This Mudra shows the thumbs and forefingers of both hands touching to form a mystic circle, with left hand facing in and right hand out. The hands are held near the heart. It refers to a pivotal moment in the Buddha’s life when he preached his first sermon after his enlightenment and discussed the four noble truths. Dharmachakra means the Wheel of Law and is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism.
Buddhapatra Mudra (Alms bowl)
This Mudra is associated with Shakyamuni Buddha. The hands are placed horizontally at breast level, with one hand above the other as if holding an alms or begging bowl.
Anjali Mudra (Namaste greeting)
The Anjali Mudra is a universally recognized symbol of greeting and respect in Buddhism. It shows the palms together at heart level with fingertips pointed upward.
References & Resources
The following web sites were referenced in creating this post. Check them out if you’d like to read more about Buddhist history and practice.
- Plant the Seeds, Watch them Grow: Life Lessons from Frog & Toad
- Mexico’s Talavera Pottery
- The Folk Art of Peru
- Growing a Small Business: The Myth of Failure
- Tidying up, Mindfully: The Appeal of Marie Kondo’s Approach to Organizing
- Thoughts on Boredom: The Upside of Having Down Time