Buddhism

Mudra Monday: Vitarka Mudra

Oceana-Mariani-Blog_Vitarka-Mudra.jpg

The term Vitarka comes from the Sanskrit meaning 'reasoning,' 'consideration' or 'deliberation.'

Vitarka mudra is a symbolic, ritualistic hand gesture used in yoga, Buddhism and Hinduism. In addition to their symbolic nature, mudras are also used in yoga and meditation to control the flow of energy in the body and unblock the chakras. Although hand mudras are the most commonly used in yoga, there are also head, postural, lock and perineal mudras.

In Vitarka mudra, the circle formed by the index finger and thumb symbolises the flow of information and energy. This mudra is most often associated with the Buddha and represents the transmission of his wisdom. It is therefore frequently used to explain and unpack Buddhist teachings. Additionally, it is a common hand gesture used in Buddha statuary, particularly in those of the Dvāravatī ages in Thailand.

To perform Vitarka mudra, the tip of the index finger and thumb touch while the other fingers extend toward the sky. The hand with the tips of the thumb and index finger joined together is held closer to the chest than in Abhaya mudra for instance, while the palm faces outward, away from the body.

There are variations of this mudra. Historically, only the right hand displayed the mudra, but today it is often practiced with both hands. Sometimes the thumb and middle finger touch, symbolising compassion, or the thumb and ring finger touch, to invoke good fortune. Another version of Vitarka mudra asks the practitioner to rest the left hand palm up in their lap while the right hand is raised to shoulder level with the thumb and index finger touching.

This mudra and its many variants is still in continuous use in regions where Mahayana Buddhism is prominent, specifically in East Asian countries. In Tibet, Vitarka mudra is often taken as the mystic gesture of Taras and Bodhisattvas with some variations by the deities in Yab-Yum. There, it is also referred to as Prajnalinganabhinaya or Vyakhyana mudra (the mudra of explanation).

Elements: Fire & Air.

If you'd like to know more about Hasta Mudras you can read my introduction to the topic here and find all previous Mudra Monday blogs here.

Illustration © estudio mosa 2018

Mudra Monday: Bhumisparsha Mudra

Bhumisparsha.jpg

This particular mudra is also known as the Earth-Touching or Earth-Witness Mudra

Following on from last week's Mudra Monday this is another important mudra from the Buddhist tradition. In fact, Buddha is thought to have reached enlightenment while using Bhumisparsha mudra.

As the legend goes, one day, while sitting in meditation under the Bodhi tree, Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) sensed that a breakthrough was near and vowed not to arise until he was enlightened. The Evil One, realising that his antagonists success was imminent, rushed in to disrupt his concentration.

First, he came in the form of Kama, the God of Desire, and paraded three voluptuous women in front of Siddhartha. When the Buddha-to-be remained unmoved, he changed his guise to that of Mara, the Lord of Death and began sending hurricanes, torrential rains and showers of flaming rocks his way. Gautama however, had emptied himself so completely of his finite Self that these weapons found no target to strike and turned into flower petals as they entered his field of concentration. In desperation, Mara challenged Gautama's right to do what he was doing. In response, Gautama touched the Earth with his right fingertip (i.e. Bhumisparsha mudra), whereupon the Earth responded, "I bear you witness," with a hundred thousand thunderous roars, causing Mara's army to flee. The Gods of heaven then descended to tend to the victor with garlands and perfumes.

After this, Gautama's meditation steadily deepened. First, he saw, one by one, his many thousands of previous lifetimes. As his vision widened he surveyed the death and rebirth of the whole universe of living beings, noting the law of karma i.e. that good actions lead to happy rebirths, bad actions to miserable ones. This lead him to the realise what made everything tick: the universal law of causal interdependence, or as he called it, dependent arising. This was to become the very heart of Buddha's message. Armed with this insight, he quickly shed the last layers of ignorant clinging that bound him to the wheel of birth and death and thus, the Great Awakening had occurred. Freedom was his and he emerged as the Buddha.

As this mudra is symbolic of such an important moment in the life of Buddha, it allows us to feel more connected to him and his teachings. It enables us to follow in the path that he has paved for us as we become part of the Wheel of Dharma that he set in motion through his teachings. As we reach down and connect to the Earth, our mind is settled through a sense of grounding, which in turn promotes a state of deep relaxation and a calm mind, preparing us for a focused meditation practice.

To perform this mudra, sit comfortably, reaching the crown of the head towards the ceiling, whilst equally rooting down into the ground through the sitting bones. Place your left hand in your lap with the palm facing up. Bring your right hand over your right leg so that the finger tips touch the Earth. Meditate in this position for up to 30 minutes.

Elements: Earth.

If you'd like to know more about Hasta Mudras you can read my introduction to the topic here and find all previous Mudra Monday blogs here.

Illustration © estudio mosa 2018

Mudra Monday: Karana Mudra

Oceana-Mariani-Blog_Karana-Mudra.jpg

This mudra is often also referred to as the 'gesture for warding off evil'

As the Buddha is commonly seen performing Karana Mudra, it is a mudra often favoured within the Buddhist tradition. It works by removing what Buddhists refer to as 'obstacles' as well as enhancing positive emotions such as inner peace, serentiy and a deep sense of relaxation. Obstacles can include negative thoughts, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment and depression. When we remove these obstacles, we inch closer to enlightenment.

When the mind is quiet we are able to be at peace with ourselves, but to quiet the mind we have to first remove negativity. Just as we must clean the body, we must clean the mind too in order to make space for positive sensations to replace the negative ones.

To perform this mudra, bring the right hand up to the heart, palm facing forward. The ring and middle fingers fold in toward the palm centre and the thumb is used to hold them down. The index and little fingers point upwards.

Different sources describe how this mudra should be performed in varying ways. Sometimes it is performed by folding the middle finger, little finger and thumb, instead of pressing the thumb on top of the middle and ring fingers.

When practicing Karana mudra, repeat the following mantra slowly and intentionally. Allow the energy of the mudra and the power of the mantra to penetrate your body ever more deeply with each breath.

Inhale: “May obstacles be removed.
Exhale: “May negative energy be thwarted. 

Elements: Fire & Ether.

If you'd like to know more about Hasta Mudras you can read my introduction to the topic here and find all previous Mudra Monday blogs here.

Illustration © estudio mosa 2018