The right hand shows abhaya mudra while the left is in the
varada mudra. The Abhayamudra “gesture of fearlessness” represents
protection, peace, benevolence and the dispelling of fear. In Theravada
Buddhism it is usually made while standing with the right arm bent and
raised to shoulder height, the palm facing forward, the fingers closed,
pointing upright and the left hand resting by the side. In Thailand and
Laos, this mudra is associated with the walking Buddha, often shown
having both hands making a double abhaya mudra that is uniform. This
mudra was probably used before the onset of Buddhism as a symbol of good
intentions proposing friendship when approaching strangers.
In Gandharan 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. This gesture was used by the Buddha when
attacked by an elephant, subduing it as shown in several frescoes and
In Mahayana Buddhism, the northern schools’ deities often paired it with another mudra using the other hand.
Buddha sitting in bhūmisparśa mudrā. Birmany. White marble with traces
of polychromy. Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière The bhūmisparśa or
“earth witness” mudra of Gautama Buddha is one of the most common iconic
images of Buddhism. It depicts the Buddha sitting in meditation with his
left hand, palm upright, in his lap, and his right hand touching the
earth. It represents the Buddha asking Pṛthivi, the devi of the earth,
that she witness his enlightenment when he was threatened by demon king
Bodhyangi Mudrā The Bodhyangi mudrā, the
“mudrā of the six elements,” or the “fist of wisdom,” is a gesture
entailing the left-hand index finger being grasped with the right hand.
It is commonly seen on statues of the Vairocana Buddha.
The Buddha preached his first sermon after his Enlightenment
in Deer Park in Sarnath. The dharmachakra or “turning of the
wheel” mudrā represents that moment. In general, only Gautama Buddha
is shown making this mudrā except Maitreya as the dispenser of the Law.
Dharmacakra mudrā is two hands close together in front of the chest
in vitarka with the right palm forward and the left palm upward,
sometimes facing the chest. There are several variants such as in
the Ajanta Caves frescoes, where the two hands are separated and the
fingers do not touch. In the Indo-Greek style of Gandhara, the clenched
fist of the right hand seemingly overlies the fingers joined to the
thumb on the left hand. In pictorials of Hōryū-ji in Japan the right
hand is superimposed on the left. Certain figures of Amitābha, Japan are
seen using this mudra before the 9th century.
Reproduction of the Amitābhastatue of Phật Tích Temple, Hanoi,
demonstrating the dhyāna mudrā The dhyāna mudrā (“meditation mudra”) is the gesture of meditation, of the concentration of the Good Law and
the sangha. The two hands are placed on the lap, left hand on right with
fingers fully stretched (four fingers resting on each other and the
thumbs facing upwards towards one another diagonally), palms facing
upwards; in this manner, the hands and fingers form the shape of a
triangle, which is symbolic of the spiritual fire or the Three Jewels.
This mudra is used in representations of Gautama Buddha and Amitābha.
Sometimes the dhyāna mudrā is used in certain representations
of Bhaiṣajyaguru as the “Medicine Buddha”, with a medicine bowl placed
on the hands. It originated in India most likely in Gandhāra and in
China during the Northern Wei. It is heavily used in Southeast Asia
in Theravada Buddhism; however, the thumbs are placed against the palms.
Dhyāna mudrā is also known as “samādhi mudrā” or “yoga
mudrā”, Chinese: 禅定印; pinyin: [Chán]dìng yìn; Japanese
pronunciation: jōin, jōkai jōin.
Hands of Amitābha statue at Kōtoku-in, Kamakura, demonstrating mida no
jōin, a variation of the Dhyāna_Mudrā The mida no jōin (弥陀定印) is the
Japanese name of a variation of the dhyāna mudra, where the index
fingers are brought together with the thumbs. This was predominately
used in Japan in an effort to distinguish Amitābha (hence “mida” from
Amida) from the Vairocana Buddha, and was rarely used elsewhere.
The Varadamudrā “generosity gesture” signifies
offering, welcome, charity, giving, compassion and sincerity. It is
nearly always shown made with the left hand by a revered figure devoted
to human salvation from greed, anger and delusion. It can be made with
the arm crooked and the palm offered slightly turned up or in the case
of the arm facing down the palm presented with the fingers upright or
slightly bent. The Varada mudrā is rarely seen without another mudra
used by the right hand, typically abhaya mudrā. It is often confused
with vitarka mudrā, which it closely resembles. In China and Japan
during the Northern Wei and Asuka periods, respectively, the fingers are
stiff and then gradually begin to loosen as it developed over time,
eventually leading to the Tang dynasty standard where the fingers are
naturally curved. In India, varada mudra is used in images
of Avalokiteśvara from the Gupta Empire (4th and 5th centuries). Varada
mudrā is extensively used in the statues of Southeast Asia.
Vajra Mudrā The Vajra mudrā “thunder gesture” is the gesture of
knowledge. An example of the application of the Vajra mudrā is the
seventh technique (out of nine) of the Nine Syllable Seals.
Vitarka mudrā, Tarim Basin, 9th century 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.
In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the mystic gesture
of Tārās and bodhisattvas with some differences by the deities
in Yab-Yum. Vitarka mudrā is also known as Vyākhyāna mudrā (“mudra of
explanation”). Gyana Mudrā The gyāna 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.
Joseon figure on the left makes the 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. It is nearly the same as the
Western “sign of the horns”, the difference is that in the Karana mudra
the thumb does not hold down the middle and ring finger. This mudra is
also known as tarjanī mudrā; Japanese: Funnu-in, Fudō-in.
Martial arts and mudra
Various Asian martial arts forms contain positions
identical to these mudras. Muromoto (2003) in discussing his
experience of mudra in relation to his martial arts training makes
reference to Mikkyō, Tendai and Shingon Buddhism: One of the more
curious things that I encountered in my martial arts training was the
use of mudra in combative arts. Mudra (Japanese: in), for those who
aren’t familiar with them, are these weird hand gestures that are
derived from esoteric Buddhism (mikkyo), particularly the Tendai and
Shingon sects. These gestures are supposed to generate spiritual focus
and power which then are manifested in some way externally.[dead
link] Muromoto (2003) states a lineage of mudra in martial arts and
evokes Koryū, Ryū, Kantō, Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, Risuke
Ōtake and Donn F. Draeger: In any case, I had known of the use of mudra
in koryu (“old” martial arts) since the time I was privy to a discussion
with the training master of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, Otake
Risuke, and the late Donn F. Draeger. Otake sensei described some of the
mudra used in his school, which is one of the oldest martial ryu still
in existence in Kanto (Eastern) Japan.[dead link] In relation to
charting a historical tributary to mudra within Japanese fighting
culture, Muromoto (2003) incorporates Shintō, Samurai, Tokugawa
shogunate, Neo-Confucianism, Zen, the Kamakura shogunate,
the Edo period, Takuan Sōhō and Hakuin Ekaku: The use of mudra and other aspects of mikkyo are found in many instances in many koryu, because
mikkyo and Shinto were the religions of the samurai who founded those
ryu that were created before the 17th century. Subsequent ryu developed
after the imposition of the Tokugawa government were heavily influenced
by Neo-Confucianism, and then later by Zen Buddhism. Although Zen was
popularized among the warrior class in the Kamakura period, the 14th
century, it did not greatly affect martial arts until the latter part of
the Edo Period, with the writings of the Zen priests Takuan and Hakuin.
And even at that, Edo Period (1600-1868) martial arts were equally
influenced by Neo-Confucianism and even, in the latter part, mystical
Muromoto (2003) textually maps the execution of the knifehand strike mudrā: Mikkyo uses mudra most often in combination
with various rituals, chants and so on. One common mudra is that of the
“knife hand,” or shuto. The first two fingers are extended while the
thumb and other fingers are clenched. If you look closely, you may see
this movement subtly hidden in some koryu kata, especially by old
schools such as the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, or in statues of
divine Buddhist beings. This represents the sword of enlightenment,
which cuts away all delusions. Sometimes the tips of the extended
fingers are grasped in the fist of the other hand. There is a symbolic
meaning for this, derived from mikkyo.