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This article is about the use of mudrā in Indic religion. For mudra as used in Indian classical music, see Mudra (music)
A mudrā (Sanskrit: मुद्रा, lit. "seal") is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. While some mudrās involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers. Mudrā (Sanskrit) is "spiritual gesture" and energetic "seal of authenticity" employed in the iconography and spiritual practice of Indian religions and Taoism.
 Nomenclature and etymology
A mudrā [muːˈdrɑː] (help·info) (Devanāgarī: मुद्रा, holds the semantic field: "seal"). The Japanese term is "in".
108 mudras are used in regular Tantric rituals. Mudras are also used in Indian Classical Dance. There are over 200 mudras in bharatanatyam and over 250 in mohiniattam.
Mudrā iconography of Hindu and Buddhist art of the Indian subcontinent, and described in the scriptures, such as Nātyaśāstra that lists 28 asaṁyuta ("separated", meaning "one-hand") and 24 saṁyuta ("joined", meaning "two-hand") mudrās. Mudrā positions are usually formed by both the hand and the fingers. Along with āsanas ("seated postures"), they are employed statically in the meditation and dynamically in Nāṭya practice of Hinduism. Each mudrā has a specific effect on the practitioner. Common hand gestures are to be seen in both Hindu and Buddhist iconography. In some regions, for example Thailand and Laos, these are different from each other but related iconographic conventions are used.
 Vajrayana iconography
The 'symbolic bone ornaments' (Skt: aṣṭhiamudrā; Tib: rus pa'i rgyanl phyag rgya) are also known as "mudra" or 'seals'. The Hevajra Tantra identifies the Symbolic Bone Ornaments with the Five Wisdoms and Jamgon Kongtrul in his commentary to the Hevajra Tantra explains this further.
 Common Buddhist mudrās
 Abhaya Mudrā
's National Treasure no. 119. The right hand shows the fear-not gesture while the left is in the Varada (wish-granting gesture).
The Abhaya mudrā ("mudrā of no-fear") represents protection, peace, benevolence, and dispelling of fear. In the Theravāda it is usually made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, the arm bent and the palm facing outward with the fingers upright and joined and the left hand hanging down while standing. In Thailand and Laos this mudrā is associated with the walking Buddha often shown having both hands making a double Abhaya mudrā that is uniform. The mudrā was probably used before the onset of Buddhism as a symbol of good intentions proposing friendship when approaching strangers. In Gandhāra Art it is seen when showing the action of preaching and also seen in China during the Wei and Sui eras of the 4th and 7th centuries. The gesture was used by the Buddha when attacked by an elephant, subduing it as shown in several frescoes and scripts. In Mahāyāna the northern schools' deities often used it with another mudrā paired with the other hand. In Japan when the Abhaya mudrā is used with the middle finger slightly projected forward it is a symbol of the Shingon Sect. (Japanese: Semui-in; Chinese: Shiwuwei Yin)
 Dharmachakra Mudrā
The Dharmacakra mudrā represents a central moment in the life of Buddha when he preached his first sermon after his Enlightenment, in Deer Park in Sarnath. Gautama Buddha is generally only shown making this mudrā, save Maitreya as the dispenser of the Law. This Mudrā position represents the turning of the wheel of the Dharma. Dharmacakra mudrā is formed when two hands close together in front of the chest in Vitarka having the right palm forward and the left palm upward, sometimes facing the chest. There are several variants such as in the frescoes of Ajanta, India the two hands are separated, and the fingers do not touch. In the Indo-Greek style of Gandhāra the clenched fist of the right hand seemingly overlie the fingers joined to the thumb on the left hand. In pictorials of Hōryū-ji in Japan the right hand is superimposed on the left. Certain figures of Amitābha, Japan are seen using this mudrā before the 9th century. (Japanese: Tenbōrin-in, Chikichi-jō, Hoshin-seppō-in; Chinese: Juanfalun Yin)
 Dhyāna Mudrā
The Dhyāna mudrā ("meditation mudrā") is the gesture of meditation, of the concentration of the Good Law and the saṅgha. The two hands are placed on the lap, right hand on left with fingers fully stretched and the palms facing upwards, forming a triangle, symbolic of the spiritual fire or the Triratna, the three jewels. This mudrā is used in representations of the Śākyamuni Buddha and Amitābha Buddha. Sometimes the Dhyāna mudrā is used in certain representations of Bhaiṣajyaguru as the Medicine Buddha, with a medicine bowl placed on the hands. It originated in India most likely in the Gandhāra and in China during the Wei period. This mudrā was used long before the Buddha as yogis have used it during their concentration, healing, and meditation exercises. It is heavily used in Southeast Asia in Theravāda Buddhism; however, the thumbs are placed against the palms. (Dhyāna mudrā is also known as Samādhi mudrā or Yoga mudrā; Japanese: Jō-in, Jōkai Jō-in; Chinese: Ding Yin.)
 Varada Mudrā
The Varada mudrā ("favourable mudrā") signifies offering, welcome, charity, giving, compassion and sincerity. It is nearly always used with the left hand for those whom devote oneself to human salvation. It can be made with the arm crooked the palm offered slightly turned up or in the case of the arm facing down the palm presented with the fingers upright or slightly bent. The Varada mudrā is rarely seen without using another mudrā used by the right hand, typically with the Abhaya mudrā. It is often confused with the Vitarka mudrā, which it closely resembles. In China and Japan during the Wei and Asuka periods respectively the fingers are stiff and then gradually begin to loosen as it developed through time, eventually leading to the Tang Dynasty were the fingers are naturally curved. In India the mudrā is used in images of Avalokiteśvara from the Gupta Period of the 4th and 5th centuries. The Varada mudrā is extensively used in the statues of Southeast Asia. (Japanese: Yogan-in, Segan-in, Seyo-in; Chinese: Shiynan Yin.)
 Vajra Mudrā
The Vajra mudrā ("thunder mudrā") is the gesture of knowledge. It is made making a fist with the right hand, index extending upward, and the left hand also making a fist and enclosing the index. A good example of the application of the Vajra mudrā is the seventh technique (out of nine) of the Nine Syllable Seals, using the mudrā with mantras in a ritual application. Here is a video of a Sanskrit prayer to set the mind in a sacred state, followed by a quick version of the kuji-in ritual, using the Japanese kanji pronunciation (Sanskrit mantras are usually offered to the serious seeker).
 Vitarka Mudrā
The Vitarka mudrā ("mudrā of discussion") is the gesture of discussion and transmission of Buddhist teaching. It is done by joining the tips of the thumb and the index together, and keeping the other fingers straight very much like Abhaya and Varada mudrās but with the thumbs touching the index fingers. This mudrā has a great number of variants in Mahāyāna Buddhism in East Asia. In Tibet it is the mystic gesture of Tārās and Bodhisattvas with some differences by the deities in Yab-yum. (Vitarka mudrā is also known as Prajñāliṅganabhinaya, Vyākhyāna mudrā ("mudrā of explanation"); Japanese: Seppō-in, An-i-in; Chinese: Anwei Yin.)
 Jnana Mudrā
The Jñana mudrā ("mudrā of knowledge") is done by touching the tips of the thumb and the index together, forming a circle, and the hand is held with the palm inward toward the heart.
 Karana Mudrā
The Karana mudrā is the mudrā which expels demons and removes obstacles such as sickness or negative thoughts. It is made by raising the index and the little finger, and folding the other fingers. It is the same as the rude gesture known as corna in many western countries. (This mudrā is also known as Tarjanī mudrā; Japanese: Funnu-in, Fudō-in)
 Martial arts and mudrā
Mudrās are arm, hand and body positions used in the traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. The historic Buddha knew the use of mudrās and is often depicted using these ritual gestures. Various Kung Fu forms contain positions identical to these mudrās.
Muromoto (2003) in discussing his experience of mudrā in relation to his martial arts training makes reference to Mikkyō, Tendai and Shingon:
One of the more curious things that I encountered in my martial arts training was the use of mudra in combative arts. Mudra (Japanese: in), for those who aren't familiar with them, are these weird hand gestures that are derived from esoteric Buddhism (mikkyo), particularly the Tendai and Shingon sects. These gestures are supposed to generate spiritual focus and power which then are manifested in some way externally.
Muromoto (2003) states a lineage of mudrā in martial arts and evokes Koryū, Ryū, Kantō, Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, Risuke Ōtake and Donn F. Draeger:
In any case, I had known of the use of mudra in koryu ("old" martial arts) since the time I was privy to a discussion with the training master of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, Otake Risuke, and the late Donn F. Draeger. Otake sensei described some of the mudra used in his school, which is one of the oldest martial ryu still in existence in Kanto (Eastern) Japan.
In relation to charting a historical tributary to mudrā within Japanese fighting culture, Muromoto (2003) incorporates Shintō, Samurai, Tokagawa government, Neo-Confucianism, Zen Buddhism, Kamakura period, Edo, Takuan and Hakuin:
The use of mudra and other aspects of mikkyo are found in many instances in many koryu, because mikkyo and Shinto were the religions of the samurai who founded those ryu that were created before the 1600s. Subsequent ryu developed after the imposition of the Tokugawa government were heavily influenced by Neo-Confucianism, and then later by Zen Buddhism. Although Zen was popularized among the warrior class in the Kamakura period, the 1300s, it did not greatly affect martial arts until the latter part of the Edo Period, with the writings of the Zen priests Takuan and Hakuin. And even at that, Edo Period (1600-1868) martial arts were equally influenced by Neo-Confucianism and even, in the latter part, mystical Shinto.
Muromoto (2003) textually maps the execution of the Shutō mudrā:
Mikkyo uses mudra most often in combination with various rituals, chants and so on. One common mudra is that of the "knife hand," or shuto. The first two fingers are extended while the thumb and other fingers are clenched. If you look closely, you may see this movement subtlely hidden in some koryu kata, especially by old schools such as the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, or in statues of divine Buddhist beings. This represents the sword of enlightenment, which cuts away all delusions. Sometimes the tips of the extended fingers are grasped in the fist of the other hand. There is a symbolic meaning for this, derived from mikkyo.
 Cross-cultural correlates
Jimmy Ramirez (2003) ventures that an informing cross-cultural correlate to Mudra as employed in martial arts is evidenced throughout the process of anchoring in Neuro-linguistic programming.
Dale Schusterman (2005) explores cross-culture phenomena cognate with Mudra.
The East Orthodox and Catholic sacraments and holy rites of Exorcism, creation of Holy Water, Consecration, Baptism, Eucharist and Benediction involve sacr
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