Shakyamuni Buddha's Teaching Mudra
A particular teaching mudra is derived from Shakyamuni Buddha. The thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle. They represent the wheel formed from the union of wisdom and method or skillful means. There are three extended fingers of the right hand - the middle, ring, and little fingers. They symbolize the three yanas or vehicles of the Buddha's teachings.
The shravaka or 'hearers', of the pratyekabuddhas or 'solitary realizers.' And of the Mahayana or 'great vehicle'. The three extended fingers of the left hand symbolize the three scopes or capacities. Small, medium, and large; of beings following these three yanas. The three fingers of both hands also symbolize the Three Jewels of Buddha, dharma, and sangha.
The hands go in front of the heart with the right palm facing outwards. It represents the 'method' aspect of the transmission of the teachings to others. The left is inwards indicating the wisdom gained through the teachings within oneself. In early Buddha images the left hand often Mudras holds a corner of Buddha's monastic robe. It symbolizes the inner teaching of renunciation.
The Dharmachakra Mudra
The dharmachakra mudra is the principal teaching mudra of the Buddha. It reflects his teachings from the heart. Many Buddha forms, such as Vairochana, Shakyamuni, Dipankara, and Maitreya, display this mudra. Along with many Indian and Tibetan masters; Atisha, Asanga, Tsongkhapa, and Sakya Pandita. The drawing shows the hands reversed dharma chakra mudra.
It holds the stems of two lotus blossoms. It may bear the particular emblems of the lama or teacher depicted. This reversal emphasizes the simultaneous teachings of wisdom and compassion. It also indicates the gestures of explanation and argumentation.
The Vairochana Mudra
The enlightenment mudra of Vairochana Buddha is the bodhyangi mudra (Tib. byang chub mchog gi phyag rgya), or vajra mudra (Tib. rdo rje phyag rgya). Here the index or 'vajra' finger of the left hand, represents the vajra nature of Akshobhya. It holds itself within the 'lotus' of the right fist in a gesture of sexual union. This symbolizes the perfection of wisdom vajra finger of the left hand. It is in union with the five perfections of skillful means. The enclosing of the fingers of the right hand represents it.
Variation of the Vairochana Mudra
A variation of this mudra has the thumb enclosed within the center of the closed fist. It symbolizes Vairochana at the center of the mandala. It is also surrounded by the Buddhas of the four directions. When Vairochana reappears as one of the Five Buddhas in the mandala he is in dharmachakra mudra. But when he appears as in the primordial Adi Buddha in the Yoga Tantra mandalas it is different.
Then he displays the bodhyangi mudra as Lord of all Five Buddha Families. This mudra is also known as jnana mudra (Tib. ye shes phyag rgya), as the five fingers symbolize the knowledge or wisdom of all Five Buddhas. The somewhat general term vajra mudra' takes a variety of forms. In Newari Buddhism, the vajra mudra forms by joining the tips of the first and fourth fingers. This meditative gesture is the dhyana mudra. It goes with holding down the second and third fingers of each hand with the thumbs.
The Vajrahumkara Mudra
The vajrahumkara mudra takes form by the crossing of the right wrist over the left wrist. The palms are facing inwards. The name vajrahumkara (Tib. rdo rje hum mdzad) denotes the wrathful form of Samvara or Shiva. He is also known as Humkara or Trailokyavijaya. Humkara means sounding the syllable Hum, and kara also refers to a wrist bracelet. The prefix vajra means, belonging to the Vajra Buddha Family, of which Akshobhya is the lord.
Who Shows this Mudra?
Many of the semi-wrathful yidam deities that emanate from Akshobhya display this mudra. For example; Chakrasamvara, Vajrahumkara, Hevajra, Kalachakra, and Guhyasamaja display the vajrahumkara mudra. They have their main arms locked around their consorts in die vine embrace. And they hold the polarity symbols of vajra and bell as the union of method and wisdom. Vajradhara is the dharmakaya form of the Adi Buddha; reveals the tantric transmissions. He also displays this mudra whilst holding the vajra and bell.
The 'Seal' of the Consort
The posture adopted in vajrahumkara mudra is one of power. It is the stance of a warrior sounding the syllable Hum of Akshobhya. He is the lord of vajra-wrath, energy, and transmuted anger. The mudra is of the great embrace or 'seal' of the consort. The 'male' right-hand crosses over the 'female' left hand at the wrist. It symbolizes the union of compassion or skillful means with wisdom.
It is the union of great bliss and emptiness, and the attainment of 'clear light' (Tib. 'od gsal) and the 'illusory body' (Tib. sgyu lus) in the completion stage of Highest Yoga Tantra.
But Without the Vajra and Bell?
In some cases, the hands show in the vajrahumkara mudra without the attributes of the vajra and bell. Like, unadorned hands with the middle finger and thumb in the gesture of 'snapping the fingers.' It sounds like the syllable Hum. There can be empty, braceleted hands, with the index finger and thumb almost touching. It makes the symbolic gesture of holding the vajra and bell. The right arm over the left reflects the interlocking leg posture or Vajrayana.
"Victory Over the Three Worlds"
There are also 'proper' illustrations of the mudra such as the trailokynvijaya mudra. Like, the drawings of hands holding the vajra and bell in vajrahumkara mudra. There is the symbolic dominance of the right 'vajra' hand over the left 'bell' hand. It represents the outward manifestation of skills over the inner left hand of wisdom. When the palms of the hand face outwards the mudra becomes trailokynvijaya mudra. In other words, it is the mudra of "victory over the three worlds."
Variations of the Trailokyavijaya Mudra
There are variations of trailokyavijayn mudra, known either as bhutadamara mudra (Tib. 'Byung p0 'dul byed phyag rgya), or humkara mudra (Tib. hum mdzad kyi phyag rgya). Bhutadamara stands for 'spirit subduer.' It is a four-armed form of Vajrapani, who makes this mudra with his two principal arms. Humkara, as in the previous example, means sounding the syllable Hum.
In this mudra, the palms of the hand go outwards, with the little fingers linked to form the shape of a chain. The two hands resemble Garuda's wings. The index fingers of Akshobhya's syllable Hum points outwards in a threatening gesture. One shows the right wrist forward, whilst the other shows the left wrist forward. The latter is in the mudra of Bhutadamara Vajrapani, the subduer of spirits.
The Varada Mudra
The varada mudra (Tib. mchog sbyin phyag rgya), or 'boon granting mudra of supreme generosity and accomplishment. This mudra forms when the right hand has an open palm with the fingers extended. It usually rests upon the right knee of seated deities. It is the mudra of Ratnasambhava, the yellow Buddha of the south. And also of deities that hold wish-granting objects - such as the fruit of Jambhala.
The stem of myrobalan of the Medicine Buddha, or the auspicious jewels held by a host of other deities. Both Green and White Tara make this boon-granting gesture with their right hands. It symbolizes the bestowal of the realization of the 'two truths.' It is either relative or conventional truth (Tib. tha snyad bden pa), or ultimate truth (Tib. don dam bden pa).
The Three Baskets
The first three fingers extended and the thumb and little finger joined is a special gesture. It is a variation of the Tripitaka mudra. Tripitaka means "the three baskets". They are the Buddhist teachings on Vinaya Pitaka, Sutra Pitaka, and Abhidharma Pitaka. They are ethics, meditation, and wisdom. Triratna refers to the Three Jewels of Buddha, dharma, and sangha.
The Namaskar Mudra and its Variations
There is a gesture of the right hand with the thumb and second finger touching. This hand gesture depicts deities holding ritual implements. Like; a bow, an arrow, a rope snare, or the shaft of a weapon such as a trident, spear, ax, or hammer. There are the palms pressed together in the gesture of salutation, adoration, or prayer. This mudra, known as the namaskar mudra, is the earliest of all Indian mudras.
It is a gesture of respectful greeting or namaskar in Indian society. This gesture parallels the Western handshake in its common usage. The palms folded together at the heart are a special symbol. It shows friendship, respect, supplication, devotion, and non-violence. In Buddhism, it forms the Anjali mudra (Tib. thal mo sbyar ba phyag rgya), or samputanjali mudra of or adoration.
It is present in the iconography of the four, eight, and one-thousand armed bodhisattva. It is the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. Variations of Avalokiteshvara's hands hold the wish-fulfilling jewel to his heart.
The mandala mudra (Tib. dkyil 'khor phyag rgya), symbolizes Mt Meru and its four continents. The index fingers and thumbs press down the second and little fingers. They represent the four continents. The two ring fingers are upwards back-to-back, symbolizing Mt Meru at the center. The Jalandhar mudra is a specific Hatha Yoga posture. It's adopted by the Buddhist and Hindu Mahasiddha, Jalandhar.
The Bhumisparsha Mudra
The earth-touching mudra, bhumisparsha, or bhumi-akramana mudra (Tib. sa gnon phyag rgya), is better known as the 'earth witness' mudra. This mudra forms with all five fingers extended. It symbolizes the Buddha's enlightenment under the bodhi tree. The right-hand goes upon the right knee in earth-pressing mudra. The left stays flat in the lap in the dhyana mudra of meditation.
It symbolizes the union of method and wisdom, samsara and nirvana. And the realizations of the conventional and ultimate truths. Bhumisparsha mudra is characteristic of many Buddha, deities, and human forms. Those of Shakyamuni and Akshobhya Buddha are more frequent. The first four drawings in the top row show examples of blossoms.
Variations of the Dhyana Mudra
There are seven variations of both hands held in the posture of dhyana mudra. The left hand is below the right. The accomplishment skills have to arise from a direct understanding of wisdom. The tips of the thumbs are together. This represents the union of the 'mind of enlightenment.' They are the two psychic channels of white and red bodhichitta which end in the thumb.
Some depict examples of the nidrata hasta gesture of 'royal ease.' The inclined body of a seated deity stays above a hand placed flat on the ground. The raised index finger of Akshobhya's syllable Hum points in a threatening manner. On wrathful forms, such as Vajrakilaya, flames twist around the raised index finger. It symbolizes the ability to destroy the five obscuring emotions.
Next, the second, third, and fourth fingers curled inwards with the index finger making the shape of a hook. This gesture is known as ankusha hasta (Tib. Icags kyu) or 'iron hook.' There is also the closed fist of the 'stopping or repelling' mudra.
Tarjani, Abhaya, Varada Mudra
Hands can make the threatening pointed index finger of tarjani gesture. The tarjani (1ib. sdigs mdzub) or 'threatening pointer' is not classified as a mudra. Rather, it is a gesture. An open-palmed hand facing upwards is the Abhaya mudra (Tib. mi jigs pa'i phyag rgya) of protection, fearlessness, or giving refuge.
The varada mudra (Tib. mchog sbyin gyi phyag rgya) symbolizes generosity or boon-granting. The palm is facing downwards and the fingers extended. Divine beings, such as the goddess Mahalakshmi, circle the hand in this mudra. She produces a rain of jewels or nectar from the palm.
Variation of the Abhaya Mudra
A variation of the Abhaya mudra of giving refuge has the thumb and forefinger uniting. It shows method and wisdom. The three extended fingers representing the Three Jewels. A right handheld at the heart depicts an open-palmed hand in the varada mudra. It shows generosity or boon granting, with an eye in the center of the palm. Such eye-endowed hands are specific to the deities White Tara and Thousand-Armed Avalokiteshvara.
The five extended fingers symbolize the five perfections (paramita) of method or skills. They are generosity, morality, patience, effort, and meditative concentration. The eye in the palm symbolizes the sixth perfection of wisdom or insight. It represents how the five perfections originate from the sixth perfection of wisdom. The left hand of White Tara has an eye in the palm forming the Abhaya mudra of protection or giving refuge.
The thumb and ring finger touching represents the coincidence of method and wisdom. The three extended fingers symbolize taking refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha. A right hand with the index finger and thumb forms the dharmachakra mudra.
Artists show two pairs of hands in the virtaka mudra of reasoning or argumentation. The virtaka mudra forms in the same manner as the dharma chakra mudra. The index finger and thumb touch. Or in the manner of the varada mudra with the third finger and thumb touching. The third finger and thumb touching are virtaka.
Hand Holding Rituals
There are examples of hands holding ritual implements. Hands holding a five-pronged vajra symbolizes the realization of all Five Buddha wisdom. The vajra stays held in a vertical position at the level of the heart. The vajra can also be sometimes extended outwards. Or, examples can show the vajra held downwards at the level of the knee.
The right hand of a wrathful deity performs the activity of circling the vajra in the ten directions. The long curved nails of this wrathful hand come to a sharp point, like a tiger's claws. The hand in vajra mudra, with the index and little finger pointing upwards. There are illustrations of Vajrasattva's mudra. It holds the five-pronged vajra up right at the level of the heart.
Placement of the Bell
Artists depict Vajrasattva's gesture of holding the inverted bell or ghanta (Tib. dril bu) at the level of his hips or navel chakra. The bell can be outwards and horizontal. There is the braceleted hand of a semi-wrathful deity holding a rope noose or pasha (Tib, zhags pa). The raised index finger of a hand holding a noose makes the threatening tarjani gesture.
Symbolisms of Rings
Rings are on the thumb and third finger of this depicted hand. Certain deity descriptions may mention rings on two, three, or all five fingers. They correspond to the colors of the elements or planets. In the Indian tradition rings made of copper placated the Sun and Mars. It was brass for Mercury and silver for Venus. Gold for Jupiter and bronze or conch for the Moon. Lead for Rahu and Ketu, and a hammered iron nail from a horseshoe for Saturn.
Manjushri holds the hilt of his flaming sword of wisdom. The left hand in dhyana mudra holding a conch shell symbolizes dharma. Two other hands hold the shafts of ritual implements.
Ritual Daggers or Buddha's Activity?
Artists depict hands holding ritual daggers, and a skull cup with a curved knife. The two principal hands of the deity Vajrakilaya hold a three-bladed dagger or kila. Vajrakilaya rolls it between his palms. Its rotating point destroys all malevolent forces, hostile enemies, and obstructions. This dagger is as vast as Mt Meru, representing the pinning down of the universe as Buddha's activity.
Around Vajrakilaya's wrists are two bracelets entwined with great naga kings or Nagaraja. There are alternative positions for the single hand-held dagger. The threatening tarjani gesture reveals itself.
What Do the Hands Hold?
Goddess Vishvamata holds the brocade handle of a damaru, making the tarjani gesture. The damaru can be at its center. A group of hands holds blood-filled skull-cups. The tilting of the skull-cup to drink the blood reflects the Indian custom. They pour liquid from a container into one's mouth to avoid contamination.
Mahakala's hands hold the blood-filled skull-cup in the left hand. And there is the curved flaying knife on the right. The right hand holding the vajra-topped kartri is in vajra mudra. The left hand holding the skull cup displays the tarjani gesture.
A hand holding the shaft of a ritual tool. A hand holds a paintbrush, and a left hand in Dhyana mudra holds the base of a bowl or vase. In the lower right corner are examples of hands holding Tibetan religious texts. Two left hands in Dhyana mudra hold folios of Tibetan texts.
Can the Hands Play Instruments?
The hands can play musical instruments. The hands of the Mahasiddha Lilapa play the Indian shehnai. This oboe-like instrument plays with the left hand stopping the higher notes. It is in reverse fashion to the Western oboe or flageolet. To the right of this are the hands of the Mahasiddha Naropa playing a short horn (Tib. rkang gling), fashioned from an antelope horn. The hands of one of the offering goddesses of music - fingering a transverse bamboo flute.
Hands finger the necks of two four-string Central Asian lutes. Illustrations have the singing posture. It is of the Tibetan yogin Milarepa, or his disciple Rechungpa. A modern theory asserts that Milarepa is pressing with his thumb on a certain nerve behind the right ear. Pressing the ears forward is a well-established tradition in Indian classical music. It shows in the ancient Bengali Doha tradition of singing spontaneous of realization.
Buddha's Feet: Illustrations and Symbolisms
There can be interesting illustrations of foot postures. The feet of the Buddha bears auspicious marks. The mark of the dharmachakra wheel lies on the sole. The toes each have swastikas and a thousand-spoked wheel on the upper sole. There is a jewel-tipped trident on the mid-sole and an eight-petalled lotus design on the heel. The trident symbolizes the Buddhas of the three times.
They are the past, present, and future, and the Three Jewels of Buddha, dharma, and sangha. The eight auspicious symbols of the seven royal jewels are on Buddha's footprints. They carve them on stone. The Vinaya Sutra relates that these precious marks formed from tears. The tears belonged to Buddha's repentant female devotee, Amrapati, who wept at his feet.
The Vajrasana Posture
Feet locked in the 'adamantine posture' is Vajrayana. The right foot forward over the left thigh. In the Hindu Hatha Yoga tradition, this posture stays reversed. The left foot is forward over the right thigh in padmasana or 'full lotus' posture. The drawing on the right depicts the outline of the soles and under toes. They remain in a paler color tone than the general body color.