In an attempt to keep our content accurate and representative of evolving scholarship, we invite you to give feedback on any information in this article.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


    ARTICLE

    Bhumisparsha Mudra

    Map Academy

    Articles are written collaboratively by the EIA editors. More information on our team, their individual bios, and our approach to writing can be found on our About pages. We also welcome feedback and all articles include a bibliography (see below).

    A symbolic gesture in Buddhist iconography and practice – and one of five common mudras in Buddhist art – the bhumisparsha mudra symbolises the moment of inception of the Buddha, when the prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment under the pipal tree. Literally translated to “earth touching mudra,” it is also often referred to as the “earth witness” and is usually associated with the Dhyani-Buddha Akshobhya.

    The figure depicting the mudra is always shown in the seated position, with the right hand reaching over the knee so that all five fingers extend downwards to touch the earth. Representing unshakability, the bhumisparsha mudra is symbolic of the triumph of the spirit over matter and its liberation from worldly trappings. The gesture is believed to be an invocation of the earth goddess, who witnessed the Buddha’s ascendance to the state of enlightenment. When this gesture of the right hand is combined with the placement of the upturned left hand on the lap, in the dhyana mudra, is thought to signify the union of skillful means, or upaya, and wisdom, or prajna.

    The mudra is also thought to proclaim the defeat of temptation and evil intention, personified by the demon king Mara, and challenge his supremacy. The defeat of Mara is an important episode in Buddhist art canon and is a popular narrative. According to the story, Mara tried to frighten and distract Siddhartha with armies of demons and the seductions of his daughters. Claiming the throne of enlightenment for himself, Mara produced his army as witnesses to this claim. In response, Siddhartha reached out and touched the ground in a gesture that declared the earth as his witness. The moral triumph over evil is also therefore built into the symbolism of the mudra.

    Some traditions hold that the bhumisparsha mudra was used by Akshobhya to transform the delusion of anger into the mirror of wisdom. This signification is borne out in Buddhist teachings, in which a mastery over one’s senses and emotions is often emphasised as a means to achieve true awakening. The bhumisparsha mudra is an important mudra, as it refers to the very moment of achievement of buddhahood.

     

     
    Bibliography

    Asian Art|Mudras: Buddhist Hand Positions. n.d. “Bhumisparsha mudra.” Accessed 6 August 2020. https://www.burmese-art.com/about-buddha-statues/hand-positions/bhumisparsha-mudra

    Beer, Robert. 1999. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston: Shambhala.

    Bruce, Fredrick W. 2005. Mudras In Buddhist and Hindu Practices: An Iconographic Consideration. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld (p) Ltd.

    Samad, Rafi. 2011. The Ancient Buddhist Civilization of The Swat, Peshawar, Kabul and Indus Valleys. New York: Algora Publishing.

    Munsterberg, Hugo. 1970. Art of India and South East Asia. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc.

    Ables, Kelsey. n.d. “The Complex Meanings behind Hand Gestures in Buddhist Art” Artsy. Last Accessed July 8, 2020. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-complex-meanings-hand-gestures-buddhist-art

    Kossak, Steven. 2011. “The Arts of South and Southeast Asia” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin LI, No.4.

    Behrendt, Kurt. 2014. “Tibet and India Buddhist Traditions and Transformations” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin LXXI, No. 3.

    Feedback
     
    Related Content
    loading