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In Buddhist iconography the figures are illustrated or depicted with various hand gestures. The symbolic hand gestures are called mudras. What is the significance of a Buddhist mudra? What are the various meanings for different popular mudras?

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Courtesy of Jordan

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Courtesy of Asia Society

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According to Dr. Robert Thurman:

The mudra “is a sacred gesture symbolically expressing inner wisdom, or, in tantra, a female consort for yogic practices that harness sexual energies to the path. Some of the main gestures we see in Tibetan images are abhaya, the gesture of fearlessness, the right hand held in from with open palm raised up: dana, the gesture of giving, the right hand held open and downward; dharmacakrapravartana, the teaching gesture, each hand held with thumb and index fingers touching and the other three fingers upraised, the two hands touching each other in front of the heart center; dhyāna, contemplation gesture, either one or both hands held flat in the lap; trisharana, the Triple Refuge gesture, similar to the teaching gesture, with the emphasis on the three upraised fingers, representing the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; tarjanī, threatening gesture, with either hand held forward in a fist, the index and little fingers raised up; varada, boon-granting gesture, just like the giving gesture; and vitarka, analytic or fine discernment gesture, like a one-handed teaching gesture, one hand held up with thumb and index finger forming a circle, the other three fingers raised up.” 1

Abhaya Mudra:

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Courtesy of Acerca de Ernest Cappa

Dana Mudra:

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Courtesy of Angela Wheeler on Ink me

The righthand is in the dana mudra gesture.

Dharmacakrapravartana Mudra:

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Courtesy of Acerca de Ernest Cappa

Dhyāna Mudra:

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Courtesy of eric_m #dhyanamudra - Instagram

Tarjanī Mudra:

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Courtesy of erinhosfield #tarjanimudra - Instagram

Varada Mudra:

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Courtesy of buddhabe #vitarka

Right hand in varada mudra.

Vitarka Mudra:

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Courtesy of buddhabe #vitarka

  1. Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment by Leidy and Thurman pg 168
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If I can give an answer with reference to 5 Buddha mandala as I think it draws together the iconography into a satisfying whole.

As it's name suggests the 5 Buddha mandala 5 Buddhas at each compass point with one at the center. Each Buddha displays their own mudra. Each mudra points to a quality of that Buddha and thus to a quality of the enlightenment experience.

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1. Aksobhya The blue Buddha

Mudra is the bhūmisparśa or earth touching mudra. The hand touches the earth. This points to the imperturbable.

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2. Ratnasambhava - the yellow Buhha

Mudra is the dana or giving mudra. The hand points downward and out (shown by NeilD). This points to generosity.

3. Amitabha - the red budda

Mudra is the meditation or dhyana mudra. Hands together (show by NeilD). This obviously points to contemplation

4. Amoghasiddhi - the green buddha

Mudra is the fearlessness or abhaya mudra. Hand is up and poitn forward (shown by NeilD). This is self explanatory I think.

5. Vairocana - the white buddha

Mudra is the wheel-turning or Dharmacakrapravartana mudra (again shown by NeilD). This which fits his central place in the mandala, bringing all the other qualities together.

  • Where you able to find any images of the trisharana mudra? I found other mudras but not that one. I would like to add an image of that to the answer. Any help would be appreciated. I like the context you added. :) – DharmaEater Jul 13 '14 at 15:57
  • @NeilD I've put a put up of Aksobhya showing the mudra a bit more. I think I'll try to get decent pictures of all the buddhas up when I get a moment. – Crab Bucket Jul 15 '14 at 18:49
  • @Crab_Bucket Thanks for the additional picture. I think you have a great idea. The answers for this question need to include illustrations to help the readers. – DharmaEater Jul 15 '14 at 19:03

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