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Buddha Hand Gestures or Mudras and Meanings

Updated on August 29, 2017

Buddha hand gestures or mudras and their meaning

Buddhas are often depicted in paintings, sculptures and Indian dances with certain postures associated with hand gestures called mudras. A mudra is a symbolic hand or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism which represent a period in the life of the historical Buddha.

There are hundreds of mudras, and in time, only a few are represented in Buddhist art. What do these hand gestures mean?

Here are some buddha sculptures that I own which were placed in certain locations of the house based on the meaning of the hand gestures and the positive energy each one gave me.

All Photos were taken by yours truly (Bakerwoman). All rights reserved.

Vitarka Mudra - Mudra of discussion and intellectual argument

In the Vitarka Mudra, the thumb and the index finger touch to form a circle which symbolizes the constant flow of energy and information. The circle, having neither a beginning or end, is the symbol of perfection, resembling the Law of Buddha which is eternal and perfect.

The Vitarka Mudra is formed when the right hand is raised to shoulder level and the left hand sits upon the lap with the palm facing upwards.

This is my favorite hardcarved teak buddha which sits on a teak foyer sideboard in the entryway. The serene countenance, the gentle folds of the robe, and the beautiful overall carving of the hands in Vitarka Mudra pose give this buddha a commanding presence. Although the best feng shui placement for this is in a home office or library, I like the positive feeling this buddha brings as one enters the house.

A Vitarka Mudra buddha carved out of sandalwood sitting on a lotus flower

A Vitarka Mudra buddha carved out of sandalwood sitting on a lotus flower
A Vitarka Mudra buddha carved out of sandalwood sitting on a lotus flower

Dhyana Mudra or Yoga Mudra

Gesture of meditation or concentration

The Dhyana Mudra hand gesture is common to seated buddhas found in Asian décor, paintings, statues and garden fountains. In this mudra, the back of the right hand rests on top of the left palm with the thumbs lightly touching each other. The right hand, being on top, represents enlightenment and the other, the world of appearance. Thus, this gesture symbolizes overcoming the world of appearance through an enlightened state of mind. This was the state the spiritual leader, Gautama Buddha was found under the bodhi tree, when the armies of Mara attacked him and he called the Earth to witness his enlightenment and defeated the demons.

More on the Bodhi Tree

Meditating or Yoga room - A place to decompress and be enlightened with the calming energy of the meditating Buddha

The meditating buddha in the Dhyana Mudra gesture sits on top a wooden ice chest which could easily pass for an outdoor altar. To create a sense of serenity and a place to get away from it all, roll-up bamboo blinds were lowered in this covered porch. This is where I can read a favorite book at my leisure, sip a glass of Chardonnay or a cup of tea to relax, or just lay back in the lounge chairs and listen to the birds chirping and the gurgling of the fountain.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura - Amitabha Buddha - In the Dhyani Mudra meditative pose

This is a very small version of the Great Buddha of Kamakura (Daibatsu in Japanese) in Japan which I brought home as a souvenir. The Daibatsu was cast inside a temple in 1252 A.D. in Nara but a huge tsunami washed away the wooden structure in the 15th century and the Great Buddha has sat outdoors on the grounds of Kotukuin every since. I was fortunate enough to have been inside the cavernous bronze Great Buddha which is the most impressive Buddha monument in Japan today.

The Amitabha Buddha's mudra is two circles formed by his two hands: the index, middle and ring fingers touch while the thumbs and little fingers do not. This is mudra called "Jobon-josho-in (uppermost grade of the highest rank)" is considered the highest.

Visit The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Overview of Kotoku-in and How The Great Buddha was cast

Varada Mudra

Gesture of compassion and wish-granting

In the Varada Mudra, the open right hand is held palm outward, fingers pointing down. It represents open-handed generosity and granting of wishes.

The Varada Mudra could be switched to the left hand when combined with the Abhaya Mudra (right hand) commonly depicted in standing buddhas. The Varada Mudra is associated with the dhyani buddha Ratnasambhava and used extensively in the statues of East Asia.

Abhaya Mudra

Gesture of fearlessness and granting protection

This is a standing Thai buddha with the Abhaya hand pose aptly located in the entryway of my home. The right hand is raised (as if to say "Stop thief"), with the palm facing outwards, joined fingers extended upwards.

This was the gesture that Buddha Shakyamuni used to appease a drunken elephant immediately after his enlightenment. The Abhaya Mudra hand gesture asserts power and confers the absence of fear on others. The dhyani buddha Amoghasiddhi is often depicted with the abhaya mudra.

The Abhaya mudra is oftened accompanied with the Varada mudra (gesture of dispensing favors, charity, sincerity, welcome) as shown with the left hand. Standing buddhas are often depicted with this posture.


Bhumisparsa Mudra

Gesture of taking the Earth as witness

Bhumisparsa mudra means "gesture of touching the earth". This was the gesture of Gautama Buddha when he summoned the Earth to witness his enlightenment and his worthiness as a Buddha at Bodh Gaya as he thwarted the temptations of the demon Mara.

The left hand (in a Dhyana Mudra pose) rests with the palm upwards on the lap and the right hand hangs over the knee, all fingers extended, with the palm inward pointing to the earth and fingertips touching the ground.

The Bhumisparsa mudra is associated with the dhyani buddha Akshobhya as well as with the historical buddha, sitting in a lotus position, sometimes with a begging bowl on the left hand.


Dharmachakra mudra symbolizes the Wheel of Dharma - continuous energy of the cosmic order - Associated with Buddha's first sermon or teaching

This Buddha poses in the gesture of teaching (Dharmachakra mudra) with both hands in front of the breast and the heart with the tips of the index fingers and the thumbs touching forming circles. It symbolizes the teaching about the continuous energy of the cosmic order as coming from/through the heart.

Wisdom Arts #8213 - Handcarved Wooden Buddha Statue ~12.5'' High. Dharmacakra Mudra.
Wisdom Arts #8213 - Handcarved Wooden Buddha Statue ~12.5'' High. Dharmacakra Mudra.

The best feng shui placement for the Dharmachakra mudra buddha is in the living room or office. Beautifully handcrafted in Bali Indonesia by skilled craftsmen of hardwood.

 

Karana Mudra - Gesture of warding off evil

Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy and compassion sits on the moon in an attitude of deep serenity. Her left hand is in the Karana Mudra gesture (warding off negative energy, sickness and banishing evil), while the right hand cradles a fruit with the nectar of compassion.

In the Karana Mudra, the thumb holds down the middle two fingers, while the index and little finger extend upwards like the ears of a rabbit or the horns of an yak against an enemy.

The best Feng Shui placement for the Kwan Yin with the Karana Mudra is in our solarium with large windows facing two streets. The solarium is the problematic area of the house which need strong clearing of negative energy according the the Feng Shui Bagua. There are a lot of teenagers parking their cars outside and hanging out till late at night.

Kwan Yin, Quan Yin or Guanyin is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, hearing the cries of the world, blessing all with spiritual peace, healing and compassion. In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is an enlightened being.


Anjali mudra or Namaskara mudra - Gesture of greeting, adoration and respect

The palms of the hands are placed against each other at chest level with the right thumb placed over the left in a gesture of universal prayer and homage. The sacred hand position is often used in Yoga as it is an excellent way to induce a meditative state of awareness. The Anjali Mudra are also often seen in the armed Kannon in Japan. Kannon is the Japanese name for Kuan Yin, the goddess fo mercy.

Buddhas no longer are depicted with the praying hands because they do not have to show devotion to anything.

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Yoga for the hands - for health, spiritual, and mental benefits - Excellent tool for a beginner - a practical book that works

You don't have to go to the gym or be a contortionist to do these Yoga hand gestures. Mudras or hand gestures can be done anywhere, while standing, sitting, lying in bed, in the office, kitchen, or in a bus or car. Make the index finger and your thumb touch and this clears the mind. Switch the thumb and the little pinkie finger and this restores the body's fluid balance. How much easier can this get?

Each of the fingers, starting with the thumb, is identified with one of the five elements, namely the sky, wind, fire, water, and the earth. Their contact with each other symbolizes the synthesis of these elements.

Did you learn more about the buddha hand gestures after visiting this lens?

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    • lovetherain profile image

      lovetherain 4 months ago from Untited States

      Mudras can be very powerful. Make sure you know what you are doing.

    • profile image

      suresh 2 years ago

      Thank u...

    • Zdiddle profile image

      Zdiddle 4 years ago

      I watch a lot of traditional Indian dancing and recognize many of the hand gestures. Do they translate well to the hand movements in all Indian dance? Many of the dances I watch are based on Hindu mythology and I wonder if the meaning is still the same.

    • jlshernandez profile image
      Author

      jlshernandez 4 years ago

      @Elyn MacInnis: eynmac, getting a visit from one acquainted with mudras is a blessing enough. The different buddhas in my home indeed create a restful and peaceful environment.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Lovely. Since I am in China, I have become acquainted with mudras - all sorts. You have made a beautiful page here, and I wish they still had the Squid Angel program, because I would bless you for sure. So - sending a blessing to you anyway - thank you for making such a restful and informative page.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 4 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I knew nothing about them before, so everything here was new to me. Great lens.

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image

      Bellezza-Decor 4 years ago from Canada

      I found it really interesting when you explained the meaning of the hand positions. I will come back and read this again in more detail.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 4 years ago

      Some lovely photos of Buddhas - love your little retreat!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I overlooked these "hand" gestures. How informative.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I overlooked these "hand" gestures. How informative.

    • suepogson profile image

      suepogson 4 years ago

      I had no idea what these gestures meant. Now I do! What a beautiful lens. My little model of Great Buddha of Kamakura (as I now know) thank you.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      Thank you for publishing this amazing resource.

    • profile image

      Bartukas 4 years ago

      I found new information what I didn't knew thanks :P

    • Rosanna Grace profile image

      Rosanna Grace 4 years ago

      I had no idea that there was so much symbolism behind each and every gesture until I read your article. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

    • Rosanna Grace profile image

      Rosanna Grace 4 years ago

      I had no idea that there was so much symbolism behind each and every gesture until I read your article. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

    • jlshernandez profile image
      Author

      jlshernandez 4 years ago

      @julieannbrady: So glad you found what you are looking for. It must be good karma.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 4 years ago

      Gosh, I had been actually thinking about "hand gestures" earlier today and then found this remarkable page!

    • profile image

      fenellashorty 4 years ago

      Very interesting

    • jayavi profile image

      jayavi 4 years ago

      If you can do Mudras. its good to your health too. thanks for sharing

    • jlshernandez profile image
      Author

      jlshernandez 4 years ago

      So glad everyone who visited this lens felt enlightened, peaceful, and relaxed. Thank you so much for stopping by.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      You know, I've noticed different Buddhas over the years and that hand positions are different but had no idea that there were special meanings being spoken by them. I love how you drew from your personal reverence for Buddhas for a beautiful presentation....very nicely done! :)

    • Two Crafty Paws profile image

      Two Crafty Paws 4 years ago

      Yes! I had no ideas that they have different meaning. But it does make sense =). Informative read indeed.

    • JimboBimbo profile image

      JimboBimbo 4 years ago

      Wow! What a fantastic read and funnily enough I feel far more relaxed after reading this lens!

    • andrewdar profile image

      andrewdar 4 years ago

      Always was looking for information about Mudras. Thank you !

    • rasnasah profile image

      rasnasah 4 years ago

      Very Informative lens.Great work.

    • audrey07 profile image

      audrey07 4 years ago

      Yes, I have definitely learned something new today. I have a small Laughing Buddha statue sitting at home on a shelf. Looking at it always gives me a smile because he just looks so jovial!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What an enlightening lens. I am happy to understand better the different gestures of Buddha.

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 5 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      I have a friend who has a buddha in most rooms of the house! I didn't realise that hand gestures meant different things. I'll have to send him to your lens:)

    • publicdomain lm profile image

      publicdomain lm 5 years ago

      I had not idea the hand gestures meant anything. I learned something new! Now I need to go satisfy my curiosity about how Buddha Shakyamuni's elephant got drunk.

    • ofwdin lm profile image

      ofwdin lm 5 years ago

      Thank you, just learned about this because of you. :)

    • Spiderlily321 profile image

      Spiderlily321 5 years ago

      Excellent lens. I wasn't aware of any of this before. Nice information. Thanks for sharing and I love the pics too.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 5 years ago from Ohio

      SquidAngel blessings is an understatement for your thoughtful work.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great lens and lots of good info. I learned new things about buddha hand gestures. *blessed

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      I learned quite a bit from your lens.