Mudras

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Mudras

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Mudras are the symbolic hand gestures found primarily in statues of Buddhist deities and bodhisattvas. Mudras consist of hand gestures and finger positions and derive from a system of nonverbal communication between students of yoga. To one who understands the intention behind the various mudras, they evoke both meaning and power. Throughout the East, from Tibet to Korea and Japan, mudras will manifest in rituals, dance, and the performance of spiritual exercises.

There are a large number of mudras, but five have become central to the presentation of images of the Buddha. The Dharmachakra mudra, for example, recalls the Buddha’s first sermon at Sarnath. Both hands are pictured with the thumb and forefinger touching to form a circle (the Wheel of the Dharma), and the three remaining fingers extended, to which additional meaning is ascribed. The Bhumisparsha mudra recalls the Buddha’s enlightenment, with the right hand touching the earth and the left hand placed flat in the lap. The Varada mudra, emphasizing the Buddha’s charity and compassion, shows the left hand, palm up and fingers extended. The Dhyana mudra is made with the left hand placed in the lap, a symbol of wisdom (a feminine virtue). Various symbolic objects may then be placed in the open palm. The Abhaya mudra, usually pictured with a standing figure, shows the right hand raised and the palm facing outward. The left hand is at the side of the body, often with the palm also facing outward.

Throughout the Buddhist world, one will find statues of Kuan YIn/Avalokitesvara showing one of the five mudras or variations thereon. There is even one figure, the thousand-armed Kuan Yin, in which each hand is arranged to show a different mudra.

Mudras may be very complicated, among the most intricate being the Yonilingum mudra, which is one of a set of mudras symbolic of the human generative organs and used in Tantric practice.

Sources:

Chandra, Lokesh. Mudras in Japan. Vedam eBooks, 2001.
de Kleen, Tyra. Mudras: The Ritual Hand-Poses of the Buddha Priests and the Shiva Priests of Bali. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1924.
Hirschi, Gertrud. Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands. Weirs Bach, ME: Weiser Books, 2000.
Premakumar. The Language of Kathakali: A Guide to Mudras. Allahabad, India: Kitabistan, 1948.