Mudra is Sanskrit for ‘seal’, ‘mark’, or ‘gesture’. In Buddhism, mudras are often used in depictions of the Buddha. Different mudras represent different aspects of the Buddha and each mudra has its own distinct meaning and use. Many practitioners enjoy using mudras during their meditation practice in order to help them go deeper in their meditations. Even if you prefer to simply place your hands on your knees during your practice, you may recognize different mudras from varying Buddhist statues.
The Cosmic Mudra is also known as the Dhyana Mudra. This mudra helps forge a strong internal connection during our practice and helps us get to a space of deep contemplation. The right hand symbolizes wisdom and awareness, while the left hand symbolizes the illusion of existence. This mudra is great for any practitioner of meditation and can help to immerse yourself deeper in your practice.
The Earth Witness Mudra is one of the most famous mudras to both practitioners and non-practitioners alike. It is also known as the Bhumisparsha Mudra and it is a symbol of the Buddha reaching enlightenment. It is one of the most common mudras to see in Buddha statues. This mudra dates back to when the Buddha was seated under the Bodhi tree. It is said that just as he was to reach enlightenment the demon king, Mara, came out and tried to distract him from his meditation with fear and intimidation. He threatened him with an army of demons. But the Buddha remained strong and steadfast in his practice. Instead of giving into Mara, giving into fear, he placed one hand upon the earth and the earth declared “I bear you witness.” Then, the demon king disappeared. The next morning the earth was greeted by “the one who is awakened” - the Buddha.
The Vitarka Mudra is also known as the gesture of debate and/ or discussion. This mudra is most commonly seen in depictions of Buddha and is meant to show the transfer of wisdom as the Buddha spreads his teachings. Historically, this mudra is only used with the right hand but newer statues may display it on the left as well. This mudra is formed with the thumb and index fingers touching, therefore creating a circle that symbolizes an uninterrupted flow of wisdom. The other three fingers are pointing up towards the heavens with the palm facing outwards.
Thank you for this beautiful lesson! I never knew there were actual terms for these hand positions. I only knew the purpose of the one of the Buddha touching the earth. And the teaching position was just something that seemed similar to that used by Catholic saints. I’d seen Thich Nhat Hahn use it on stage as he put his circled thumb and forefinger to his heart for awhile and then gradually face it out towards the audience, opening his fingers. It looked like he was sending out waves of love…. Thank you for the deeper understanding of when and why to use these hand positions. I wonder what the Mudra is called for the standing Buddha stopping the rampaging elephant? I love that statue. /\