Symbolic Buddhist Gesture – Dharmacakra Mudra
The Symbolic Buddhist Gesture – Dharmacakra Mudra – Wheel Of Dharma signifies the initial proclamation of the law by the Buddha at Sarnath when he delivered his inaugural sermon in a park on the outskirts of the city of Benares, also referred to as the Deer Park (in Pali Language “Mrigadava”). Dharmachakra mudra is a hand gesture that represents the wheel of dharma, the cosmic order and the teachings of the Buddha. It is also known as the gesture of teaching and turning the dharma wheel. The wheel symbolizes the continuous flow of energy and the cycle of time. The mudra is a hand gesture that expresses a certain meaning or intention.
Images of the Buddha from the Gupta period onwards exhibit the Dharmacakra Mudra typically shown with the left hand facing the heart and the right hand facing outward, symbolizing the inner and outer worlds. The circle formed by the fingers signifies the continuous flow of energy and the union of wisdom and method. The three extended fingers of the left hand represent the three jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The three extended fingers of the right hand represent the three types of followers of Buddha’s teachings: those who listen, those who realize and those who practice Mahayana (the great vehicle).
Conversely, the Gandhara representation of the Buddha in the Dharmacakra Mudra Wheel of Dharma shows a different arrangement of the hands. The palm of the left hand is cupped and turned upwards, while the palm of the right-hand faces inward, towards the heart. Metaphorically speaking, the positioning of the hands in both instances signifies the initiation of the wheel of the law and is one of the most common mudras in Buddhist iconography with some variations in the positioning of the hands.
The dharmacakra mudra is said to be used by the Buddha himself when he delivered his first sermon after his enlightenment. This sermon is known as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, or “The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma”. In this discourse, the Buddha explained the four noble truths (the truth of suffering, its cause, its cessation and the way to end it) and the noble eightfold path (the ethical and spiritual guidelines for achieving liberation). By doing so, he set into motion the wheel of dharma, which has been turning ever since.
“Now, monks, this is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, and death is suffering. Contact with unpleasant things is suffering, separation from pleasant things is suffering, and not attaining one’s desires is also suffering. In short, the five aggregates of grasping are suffering. Now, monks, this is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is the craving that leads to rebirth, accompanied by pleasure and lust, seeking pleasure here and there, namely, the craving for sensual pleasures, the craving for existence, and the craving for non-existence.”
This passage elucidates the noble truth of the cessation of pain, as expounded by the Buddha to his monastic disciples. It emphasizes the complete cessation of craving, abandonment, forsaking, release, and non-attachment as a means to achieve this noble truth. Furthermore, the passage expounds upon the noble truth of the path that leads to the cessation of pain, known as the Noble Eightfold Path. This path encompasses the right views, right intention, right speech, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Moreover, the Dharmacakra mudra hand pose holds significance not only as a representation of the Buddha’s first sermon at Mrigadava (Sarnath) but also as a symbol of the miracle of Sracasti.