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Saturday, October 15, 2011
Skilled Buddhist sculptors use many symbols when creating a statue, in order to convey a plethora of subtle meanings. In particular, the hand gestures, known as Mudras, impart much to the symbolic meaning of meditating Buddhist statues. There are traditional artistic rules that must be followed when creating images or statues of the Buddha; the Mudras have specific meanings that are consistent in all periods and styles.
Mudras are defined by the specific posture of the hand and position of the fingers in relation to one another and to the body. They are a form of sign language, but with all the power of words actually spoken. In the minds of the viewer, they are meant to evoke specific events from the life of Buddha, as well as spiritual truths and teachings from the Dhamma. Highly stylized, the Mudras symbolize an external expression interior resolve.
Much as stained glass windows conveyed stories from the Christian Bible and early Church History, so the Mudras convey to the Sangha, the Buddhist spiritual community, the truths of the Dhamma. In a manner in which anyone can understand, whether lay or ordained, the spiritual truths of Buddhism are given physical form, in order to assist the viewer of meditating Buddhist statues on the path to enlightenment.
When seeing a Buddhist statue for the first time, people who are unaware of the teachings of the Buddha and the Dhamma will often inquire as to the meaning of the statue. Yet there are so many specific and purposeful variations of meditating Buddhist statues, that the more appropriate question would be to ask about the specific posture and Mudras being displayed by the sculpture.
There are, in fact, well over 100 accepted poses used by Buddhist sculptures, each of which can convey one of any number of the Mudras. One example that most of us has seen is the Meditation Mudra - where the Awakened One is seated with his legs crosses, hands folded up and together, resting in his lap. The meaning conveyed is thus - just as Siddhartha Gautama meditated under the pipal tree, and attained Enlightenment, becoming the Awakened One, so too can we, if we follow his example and teaching.
The Dhyana Mudra, or meditation Mudra, is made with either one or both hands. When the Mudra is made with one hand, the right hand rests in the lap, while the left hand is otherwise engaged; often the left hand holds a bowl for alms; this represents a state of renunciation to the world. When the Mudra is formed with both hands, they are placed in the lap, with the right hand over the left, finger extended, and palms facing up. The thumbs may reach inwards to touch the hips, forming a triangle - seen as representing the Triple Jewels: the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.
As the viewer gazes on meditating Buddha statues, he or she becomes aware of the importance of concentration, of growth towards spiritual perfection, of learning the Dhamma and following the Noble Eightfold Path. We, too, are inspired to achieve a perfect balance of thought, concentration, and equanimity - to enter into, as the Buddha said, "a peaceful abiding."