Images of the Buddha are made to remind us that once in history, a Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha, existed in history about 2,500 years ago. He was not a legendary figure or a myth. Buddhists worship the Buddha directly even without having images. Images of the Buddha are sometimes used for meditation.
It is believed that images of the Buddha began to appear only during the 1st century A.D., about five or six hundred years after the passing away of the Buddha into Parinibbana.
Images of the Buddha can be classified into four different postures – sitting, standing, walking and reclining in a lying position. More importantly, the hand gestures reveal the meaning of an image.
In Buddhist iconography every Buddha is depicted with a characteristic gesture of the hands. Such gestures (of teaching, protecting, and so on) and also to certain aspects of the Buddhist teaching or of the particular Buddha depicted.
The more commonly depicted mudras are:
(1) Dhayani or Jhana Mudra (hand gesture signifies deep meditation)
(2) Vitarka Mudra (hand gesture signifies teaching of the Dhamma)
(3) Dhammachakara Mudra (hand gesture signifies preaching of the First Sermon)
(4) Bhumisparsha Mudra (hand gesture signifies pointing to the Earth)
(5) Abhaya Mudra (hand gesture signifies fearlessness and granting protection)
(6) Varada Mudra (hand gesture signifies granting wishes)
(7) Uttarabodhi Mudra (hand gesture signifies attainment of supreme enlightenment)
(8) Mudra of Supreme Wisdom
(9) Anjali Mudra (hand gesture signifies greeting and veneration)
(10) Vajrapradama Mudra (hand gesture signifies unshakable confidence)
The 10 common mudras will be posted at regular intervals, starting off with the first mudra on the list, i.e. Dhayan or Jhana Mudra in my next posting. So keep a look out for it.
Contributor: Chin Kee Thou (YMBA, 3rd year)