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Buddha Hand Gestures (Mudras) and Their Meaning

The author is an art collector who is interested in nature and photography. She enjoys researching and writing about spirituality.

This article teaches 8 of the Buddhist mudras (hand gestures) and explains what they mean. It also provides info on where best to place various buddhas in your home. Finally, you'll find a relaxing video to teach you yoga for your hands!

This article teaches 8 of the Buddhist mudras (hand gestures) and explains what they mean. It also provides info on where best to place various buddhas in your home. Finally, you'll find a relaxing video to teach you yoga for your hands!

Buddha Mudras (Hand Gestures) and What They Mean

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

There are hundreds of mudras, and 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. I'll be covering the following mudras:

  1. Vitarka Mudra
  2. Dhyana (or Yoga) Mudra
  3. Varada Mudra
  4. Abhaya Mudra
  5. Bhumisparsha Mudra
  6. Dharmachakra Mudra
  7. Karana Mudra
  8. Anjali (or Namaskara) Mudra
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.

1. Vitarka Mudra

The Vitarka Mudra is the mudra of discussion and intellectual argument. In this 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.

A hand-carved teak buddha portraying the Vitarka Mudra hand gesture.

A hand-carved teak buddha portraying the Vitarka Mudra hand gesture.

Pitcured above is my favorite hardcarved teak buddha which sits on a teak foyer sideboard in the entryway of my home. 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 buddha portraying the Dhyana (or Yoga) Mudra hand gesture.

A buddha portraying the Dhyana (or Yoga) Mudra hand gesture.

2. Dhyana (or Yoga) Mudra

The Dhyana Mudra is a gesture of meditation or concentration. This 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 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.

A meditation or yoga room. A place to decompress and be enlightened with the calming energy of the meditating Buddha.

A meditation or yoga room. A place to decompress and be enlightened with the calming energy of the meditating Buddha.

My meditating buddha in the Dhyana Mudra gesture sits on top of a wooden ice chest that 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.

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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.

A replica of the Great Buddha of Kamakura – Amitabha Buddha – in the Dhyana Mudra meditative pose.

A replica of the Great Buddha of Kamakura – Amitabha Buddha – in the Dhyana 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 Kotuku-in ever 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 mudra is called "Jobon-josho-in (uppermost grade of the highest rank)" and is considered the highest.

A buddha portraying the Varada Mudra hand gesture.

A buddha portraying the Varada Mudra hand gesture.

3. Varada Mudra

The Varada Mudra is a 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 (as depicted in the photo above). The Varada Mudra is associated with the Dhyani buddha Ratnasambhava and is used extensively in the statues of East Asia.

A standing buddha portraying the Abhaya Mudra hand gesture.

A standing buddha portraying the Abhaya Mudra hand gesture.

4. Abhaya Mudra

The Abhaya Mudra is a 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 often 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.

A buddha portraying the Bhumisparsha Mudra hand gesture. This statue is at the archeology gallery of Indian Museum, Kolkata.

A buddha portraying the Bhumisparsha Mudra hand gesture. This statue is at the archeology gallery of Indian Museum, Kolkata.

5. Bhumisparsha Mudra

The Bhumisparsha Mudra is a gesture of taking the Earth as witness. Bhumisparsha 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 pointing inward to the Earth and fingertips touching the ground.

The Bhumisparsha 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.

A buddha portraying the Dharmachakra Mudra hand gesture. This statue is at the National Museum in New Delhi.

A buddha portraying the Dharmachakra Mudra hand gesture. This statue is at the National Museum in New Delhi.

6. Dharmachakra Mudra

The Dharmachakra Mudra gesture symbolizes the Wheel of Dharma, which is the continuous energy of the cosmic order. This gesture is associated with Buddha's first sermon or teaching.

This gesture is formed by moving both hands in front of the breast and the heart, turning the left palm up and allowing the right palm to face outwards. Then, you touch the tips of the right index finger and thumb to the middle finger of your left hand while allowing the left ring and pinky fingers to remain straight.

This mudra symbolizes the teaching about the continuous energy of the cosmic order as coming from/through the heart.

A buddha portraying the Karana Mudra gesture.

A buddha portraying the Karana Mudra gesture.

7. Karana Mudra

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 a 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 needs strong clearing of negative energy according to 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.

buddha-hand-gestures-or-mudras-and-meaning

8. Anjali (or Namaskara) Mudra

The Anjali (or Namaskara) Mudra is a gesture of greeting, adoration, and respect. In this mudra, 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 is also often seen in the armed Kannon in Japan. Kannon is the Japanese name for Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

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

Yoga for Hands, Fingers, Wrists

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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

Yasmin on March 29, 2018:

Thank you for explaining the mudras. I’m familiar with similar hand gestures as I have done Indian classical dances in my younger days. Your lens very informative, love it. I have many buddhas around the house as have studied Buddhism at University. Find them serene and peaceful.

CC from Untited States on May 11, 2017:

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

suresh on July 13, 2015:

Thank u...

Zylo from Georgia, USA on July 18, 2013:

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 (author) on June 20, 2013:

@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 from Shanghai, China on June 19, 2013:

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.

June Campbell from North Vancouver, BC, Canada on June 12, 2013:

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

Bellezza-Decor from Canada on May 30, 2013:

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.

RinchenChodron on May 27, 2013:

Some lovely photos of Buddhas - love your little retreat!

anonymous on May 16, 2013:

I overlooked these "hand" gestures. How informative.

anonymous on May 16, 2013:

I overlooked these "hand" gestures. How informative.

suepogson on May 16, 2013:

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.

SteveKaye on May 03, 2013:

Thank you for publishing this amazing resource.

Bartukas on April 23, 2013:

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

Rosanna Grace on April 06, 2013:

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 on April 06, 2013:

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 (author) on March 24, 2013:

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

julieannbrady on March 24, 2013:

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

fenellashorty on March 19, 2013:

Very interesting

jayavi on March 18, 2013:

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

jlshernandez (author) on March 16, 2013:

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

anonymous on March 16, 2013:

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 on March 04, 2013:

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

JimboBimbo on February 02, 2013:

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

andrewdar on January 30, 2013:

Always was looking for information about Mudras. Thank you !

rasnasah on January 20, 2013:

Very Informative lens.Great work.

audrey07 on December 05, 2012:

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!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 02, 2012:

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

LynetteBell from Christchurch, New Zealand on August 23, 2012:

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 on August 14, 2012:

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 on August 13, 2012:

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

Spiderlily321 on August 06, 2012:

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

Stephen Bush from Ohio on July 27, 2012:

SquidAngel blessings is an understatement for your thoughtful work.

Angela F from Seattle, WA on July 25, 2012:

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

WriterJanis2 on July 19, 2012:

I learned quite a bit from your lens.

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