Buddhist Symbolism

What is the Buddha Doing With His Hands?

Learn what the different hand gestures (mudras) the Buddha uses.


You probably have seen statues or paintings of the Buddha doing different gestures with his hands, which are called “Mudras”.  Here’s what the symbolism means:

  • Dhyana Mudra:  Symbolizes meditation.
    • How to identify: both hands are in the lap with palms upward with right hand on top of left.
  • Bhumisparsa Mudra:  “Calling the Earth to witness”.  Symbolizes enlightenment and steadfastness.   The Buddha was subjected to many temptations by Mara when he meditated, but the Buddha remained steadfast.
    • How to identify: the left hand lies in the lap with palm up, while the right hand bends over the right knee with fingers pointed to the ground (which symbolizes him calling to the Earth Goddess “Thorani”).
  • Abhaya Mudra:  Symbolizes fearlessness.  Sometimes this gesture is made with both hands, and he may be standing, sitting, or walking.
    • How to identify: hand raised and the palm is facing outward.
  • Vitarka Mudra:  Symbolizes teaching, instruction, and reason.
    • How to identify: The palm is facing outward and the Buddha is making a circle with the right index finger and the thumb. His three outer fingers point upward. Either hand can be doing this gesture.
  • Dharmachakra Mudra:  Symbolizes the teaching of the first sermon of the Buddha at Deer Park. 
    • This is the same gesture as the Vitarka Mudra explained above, however the hands are held closer to the chest.
  • Varada Mudra:  Symbolizes Charity.
    • How to identify: the Buddha’s hand is lowered and extending downward with the palm facing outward.

The Buddha’s hand positions, called “mudras”, symbolize many things such as meditation, enlightenment, fearlessness, teaching, and charity.

Images in this post are CC0 from Pixabay.

Featured Image: CC0 photo via Pixabay
Copyright © Alan Peto. All Rights Reserved.Featured image: CC0 photo by Vitamin on Pixabay

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