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MUDRAS OF GAUTAM BUDDHA

10th June, 2021 Prelims

Introduction

A Buddha image can have one of several common mudras, combined with different asanas. Mudras are a non-verbal mode of communication and self-expression, consisting of hand gestures and finger postures.

The significance of these mudras can be gauged from the fact that each of the five transcendental (Dhyani) Buddhas is assigned one of these mudras, and they are invariably depicted in visual arts with this particular mudra only.

Dharmachakra mudra

  • Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the 'Wheel of Dharma'.
  • This mudra symbolizes the occasion when Buddha preached his first sermon after his Enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath.
  • It thus denotes the setting into motion of the Wheel of the teaching of the Dharma.
  • In this mudra the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle.
  • This circle represents the Wheel of Dharma, or in metaphysical terms, the union of method and wisdom.
  • The three extended fingers of the right hand represent the three vehicles of the Buddha's teachings, namely:
  • the middle finger represents the 'hearers' of the teachings
  • the ring finger represents the 'solitary realizers'
  • the Little finger represents the Mahayana or 'Great Vehicle'
  • The three extended fingers of the left hand symbolize the Three Jewels of Buddhism, namely, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
  • This mudra is displayed by the first Dhyani Buddha Vairochana.
  • Vairochana is believed to transform the delusion of ignorance into the wisdom of reality.

Bhumisparsha Mudra

  • Literally Bhumisparsha translates into 'touching the earth'.
  • It is more commonly known as the 'earth witness' mudra.
  • This mudra, formed with all five fingers of the right hand extended to touch the ground, symbolizes the Buddha's enlightenment under the bodhi tree, when he summoned the earth goddess, Sthavara, to bear witness to his attainment of enlightenment.
  • The right hand, placed upon the right knee in earth-pressing mudra, and complemented by the left hand-which is held flat in the lap in the dhyana mudra of meditation, symbolizes the union of method and wisdom, samasara and nirvana, and also the realizations of the conventional and ultimate truths.
  • It is in this posture that Shakyamuni overcame the obstructions of Mara while meditating on Truth.
  • The second Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya is depicted in this mudra.
  • He is believed to transform the delusion of anger into mirror-like wisdom.

Varada mudra

  • This mudra symbolizes charity, compassion, and boon-granting.
  • It is the mudra of the accomplishment of the wish to devote oneself to human salvation.
  • It is nearly always made with the left hand and can be made with the arm hanging naturally at the side of the body, the palm of the open hand facing forward, and the fingers extended.
  • The five extended fingers in this mudra symbolize the following five perfections:
  1. Generosity
  2. Morality
  3. Patience
  4. Effort
  5. Meditative concentration
  • Ratnasambhava, the third Dhyani Buddha displays this mudra.
  • Under his spiritual guidance, the delusion of pride becomes the wisdom of sameness.
  • The Varada mudra is the key to this transformation.

Dhyāna Mudrā

  • The dhyāna mudrā ("meditation mudra") is the gesture of meditation, of the concentration of the Good Law and the sangha.
  • The Dhyana mudra may be made with one or both hands.
  • When made with a single hand the left one is placed in the lap, while the right may be engaged elsewhere.
  • The left hand making the Dhyana mudra in such cases symbolizes the female left-hand principle of wisdom.
  • Ritual objects such as a text, or more commonly an alms bowl symbolizing renunciation, may be placed in the open palm of this left hand.
  • When made with both hands, the hands are generally held at the level of the stomach or on the thighs.
  • The right hand is placed above the left, with the palms facing upwards, and the fingers extended.
  • In some cases the thumbs of the two hands may touch at the tips, thus forming a mystic triangle.
  • This triangle is said to represent the Three Jewels of Buddhism, mentioned above, namely the Buddha himself, the Good Law, and the Sangha.
  • The Dhyana mudra is the mudra of meditation, of concentration on the Good law, and of the attainment of spiritual perfection.
  • This mudra is displayed by the fourth Dhyani Buddha Amitabha, also known as Amitayus.
  • By meditating on him, the delusion of attachment becomes the wisdom of discernment.
  • The Dhyana mudra helps mortals achieve this transformation.

Abhaya Mudrā

  • The Abhayamudra "gesture of fearlessness" represents protection, peace, benevolence, and the dispelling of fear.
  • It is made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, the arm crooked, the palm of the hand facing outward, and the fingers upright and joined. The left hand hangs down at the side of the body
  • In Gandhara art, it is seen when showing the action of preaching. It was also used in China during the Wei and Sui eras of the 4th and 7th centuries.
  • The Abhaya mudra is displayed by the fifth Dhyani Buddha, Amoghasiddhi.
  • Amoghasiddhi helps in overcoming the delusion of jealousy.
  • By meditating on him, the delusion of jealousy is transformed into the wisdom of accomplishment.
  • This transformation is hence the primary function of the Abhaya mudra.

Vajra Mudrā

  • This gesture denotes the fiery thunderbolt that symbolises the five elements—air, water, fire, earth, and metal.
  • It is performed with the help of right fist and left forefinger, which is placed 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.

Vitarka Mudrā

  • The Vitarka mudrā "mudra of discussion" is the gesture of discussion and transmission of Buddhist teaching.
  • It is done by joining the tips of the thumb and the index together, and keeping the other fingers straight very much like the abhaya and varada mudrās but with the thumbs touching the index fingers.
  • This mudra has a great number of variants in Mahayana Buddhism.

Jñāna Mudrā

  • The Jñāna mudrā ("mudra of wisdom") is done by touching the tips of the thumb and the index together, forming a circle, and the hand is held with the palm inward toward the heart.
  • The mudra represents spiritual enlightenment.

Karana Mudrā

  • The karana mudrā is the mudra which 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.
  • This mudra is also known as tarjanÄ« mudrā.

Uttarabodhi Mudra

  • This denotes the supreme enlightenment through connecting oneself with divine universal energy.
  • It is performed with the help of both the hands, which are placed at the heart with the index fingers touching and pointing upwards and the remaining fingers intertwined.

Anjali Mudra

  • It is also called Namaskara Mudra or Hridayanjali Mudra that represents the gesture of greeting, prayer and adoration.
  • It is performed by pressing the palms of the hands together in which the hands are held at the heart chakra with thumbs resting lightly against the sternum.

In a nutshell,