Symbols and art

The gestures that Buddhist figures such as buddhas, bodhisattvas and other deities perform with their hands are called mudras (Skt.). Every gesture has its own special meaning. The mudras shown in representations of the historical Buddha usually refer to episodes from his earlier life (Buddha legends). The most common gestures are:


The gesture of fearlessness/encouragement (Skt. abhayamudra):

this gesture represents protection; it is used to encourage believers to follow the path of the Buddha without fear.


The gesture of discussion/teaching (Skt. vitarka-mudra):

this gesture pertains to the exposition of the Buddhist teaching (dharma).


The earth witness gesture (Skt. bhumisparshamudra):

by touching the earth with his hand, the Buddha is recalling the moment of his awakening.


The gesture of generosity (Skt. varadamudra):

the open hand suggests the fulfilling of wishes.


The gesture of meditation (Skt. dhyanamudra):

the two hands placed in the lap with fingers touching stand for concentration and meditation.


The gesture of wisdom/the turning of the wheel (Skt. dharmachakramudra):

this gesture symbolizes the turning of the wheel of the law and brings to mind the Buddha’s teachings.


The gesture of greeting (Skt. anjalimudra/namas-karamudra):

the Buddha is never shown performing this gesture; only his followers may be depicted with this gesture.