If you look at images of the Buddhas, their hands are always in one mudra or another. Hands folded in the lap signify meditation; a palm held up facing outward signifies the act of teaching; and an open palm pointed downward represents generosity.
Basically, a mudra is a hand gesture; some are simple, others more complex. Mudra means “sign” in Sanskrit. You have probably learned a few basic mudras in yoga classes. Mudras have profound spiritual significance. Your home, your practice, and your entire life can be a mudra. It can be a symbol of great meaning.
Mudras evoke a particular state of mind. Every mudra has both outer (symbolic) and inner (experiential) aspects. A mudra communicates, both to the performer and to the observer, qualities the enlightened mind.
Looking at imagery with the mudras—as well as making the mudras yourself—supports overall wellbeing and brings a sense of calm and relaxation. Keep reading to learn the forms and meanings of powerful mudras from the Yogic and Buddhist traditions.
10 Beloved Buddhist Mudras
Form the mudra of supreme wisdom by grasping the right forefinger in the fist of the left hand.
Also known as “the mudra of the six elements,” this position represents the five elements (earth, water, air, fire and ether) surrounding and protecting humans.
Anjali or Namaskar Mudra
To form the mudra of greeting, place the palms together at the level of the heart with the fingertips pointed upward. This universal devotion, greeting and gesture of respect is widely used throughout the Buddhist and Hindu world.
This meditation mudra from Mahayana Buddhism is formed by placing the right hand on top of the upturned left palm in the lap, with the thumbs lightly touching. The top hand symbolizes enlightenment and the bottom, the world of appearances. The connected thumbs symbolize the union of masculine and feminine in mind, body and spirit. Buddha meditated in this way under the Bodhi tree. Since this mudra relates to contemplation, it is ideal to display and practice in your meditation area at home.
To perform the earth touching mudra, from a cross-legged position, place the right hand with the fingertips downward touching the earth and the palm facing inward. The left hand is in the meditation mudra as described above. Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, is often seen in a seated posture with this mudra. When the Buddha became enlightened, he touched the earth with this mudra during his meditation and said, “The earth shall be my witness, I will not let myself be seduced.”
The teaching or discussion mudra is created by touching the thumb and index finger, creating a circle that symbolizes the uninterrupted flow of wisdom. The other three fingers point up toward the sky with the palm facing outward. This mudra is held at the chest level. Since this mudra invites teachings for growth and awakening into your life, the library, study, or office area of the home benefits from imagery of this mudra. This gesture is often in depictions of the Buddha, as well as in pictures and sculptures of Tara.
Fearless mudra is a gesture of courage and protection. The left hand is in the meditation (dhyana) mudra, while the right hand is held upright at chest or shoulder level with the palm facing outward. All fingers point upward. Attributed to the Buddha immediately following his enlightenment, the Abhaya is a gesture of reassurance. It can help you strengthen your boundaries while still opening your heart to trust. It symbolizes protection, peace and the elimination of fear.
The dharma wheel mudra is created when the right index finger touches the right thumb and the left index finger touches the left thumb so that two circles (or wheels) are created. The left palm faces inward in front of the outward-facing right palm. This mudra is typically held at the level of the heart. The wheel represents movement, flow and transition.
The Gesture of Perfection represents supreme enlightenment and invites positive energy and high vibrations. Perform this mudra to connect with the universal divine energy. Fold both hands across the chest with the index fingers touching and pointing upward. The thumbs are interwoven, and the remaining fingers encircle each opposite hand.
This mudra is a gesture of warning or admonition often seen in depictions of wrathful deities in Buddhism. It is performed with the right hand held vertically in front of the chest and the index finger is stretched upward while the other fingers and thumb roll into a fist.
This gesture of generosity, charity and compassion pertains to the granting of wishes, blessings or pardon. It symbolizes the gift of truth of Buddha’s teachings. The five fingers represent the five perfections: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, and meditation.
The palm is directed outward and hangs down, usually touching the right leg. The mudra is found in representations of green and white Tara.
7 Splendid Yoga Mudras
With both hands resting on your knees, touch your index fingertip to the tip of your thumb, while holding your other three fingers straight. This popular meditation mudra is the most well-known in mainstream society. Gyan mudra aims to improve concentration and sharpen memory. Try using this mudra while meditating to gain insight into a specific issue or life in general.
Touch your thumb to your pinky finger while holding the other three fingers straightfor mental clarity. Use it when you are seeking to understand or clarify messages from your intuition or dreams. This mudra is said to improve communication and facilitate internal and external dialogue.
Touching the tip of the middle finger to the thumb tip, keep the other three fingers straight and relaxed. This position aids intuition, alertness and sensory awareness and purifies your emotions and thoughts.
Touch your ring and pinky fingers to the tip of the thumb, while keeping the other two fingers straight. Prana mudra can activate dormant energy in your body. Prana is the vital life force within all living beings. This mudra helps awaken your prana!
Bend your ring finger to the base of your thumb and touch the ring finger’s knuckle with your thumb. Stretch your other three fingers straight while keeping the hand relaxed. Surya mudra increases the fire element in the body and enhances metabolism and digestion. It can reduce heaviness in the body and help ward off colds, since it increases core body temperature.
The Hindu elephant god Ganesha is said to be a remover of obstacles. The mudra that bears his name can help you regain positivity and courage in the face of challenge. It draws your attention and energy to the heart center.
To do it, place your left hand in front of your chest with your palm facing outward and left thumb down. Next, place your right hand in front of your left with your right palm facing toward you and your left palm. Lock your fingers together, holding them in a half-bent position like a claw.
Aside from the mental and spiritual benefits on your heart chakra, the pulling motion is also beneficial to your cardiac muscles.
Connect your thumb to your index and ring fingers while keeping your other two fingers relatively straight. This mudra associated with Shiva relates to your internal transformative abilities and your personal power center—the solar plexus. It improves clarity and concentration. Rudra mudra can help energize your physical body and empower you to reach your highest potential.
This is just a handful of the 100+ known mudras that spiritual teachers have developed over the centuries. Try integrating these mudras into your meditation practice to benefit from their subtle yet powerful effects.