You probably have seen statues or paintings of the Buddha doing different gestures with his hands, which are called “Mudras”.  Here’s what the symbolism means:

Dhyana Mudra:  Symbolizes meditation. How to identify: both hands are in the lap with palms upward with right hand on top of left.

Photo by Ananta Bhadra Lamichhane on Flickr.

Photo by Ananta Bhadra Lamichhane on Flickr.

Bhumisparsa Mudra:  “Calling the Earth to witness”.  Symbolizes enlightenment and steadfastness.   The Buddha was subjected to many temptations by Mara when he meditated, but the Buddha remained steadfast. How to identify: the left hand lies in the lap with palm up, while the right hand bends over the right knee with fingers pointed to the group (which symbolizes him calling to the Earth Goddess “Thorani”).

Photo by Andy Hares on Flickr.

Photo by Andy Hares on Flickr.

Abhaya Mudra:  Symbolizes fearlessness.  Sometimes this gesture is made with both hands, and he may be standing, sitting, or walking. How to identify: hand raised and the palm is facing outward.

Photo by Phil Lee on Flickr

Photo by Phil Lee on Flickr

Vitarka Mudra:  Symbolizes teaching, instruction, and reason. How to identify: The palm is facing outward and the Buddha is making a circle with the right index finger and the thumb. His three outer fingers point upward. Either hand can be doing this gesture.

Photo by Wonderlane on Flickr

Photo by Wonderlane on Flickr

Dharmachakra Mudra:  Symbolizes the teaching of the first sermon of the Buddha at Deer Park.  This is the same gesture as the Vitarka Mudra explained above, however the hands are held closer to the chest.

Varada Mudra:  Symbolizes Charity. How to identify: the Buddha’s hand is lowered and extending downward with the palm facing outward.

Photo by Laura Longenecker on Flickr

Photo by Laura Longenecker on Flickr