Buddha’s Subtle Sign Language

Dambulla Buddha

In our travels in Southeast Asia, seeing beautiful, serene statues of Buddha was a daily occurrence … and we never tired of it. Each sculpture was a work of art.

For the Faithful, Buddha’s different postures are symbolic and have distinct religious meanings. For instance, long earlobes are associated with wisdom, because people with large ears can listen well.

The position of Buddhas’s hands, called “mudras,” is also significant. There are literally hundreds of them, each with a precise meaning. The common pose with the legs crossed, the left hand in the lap, and the right hand pointing to the ground with the palm facing inward toward the Buddha, is the “Calling the Earth to Witness,” which represents the moment of enlightenment.

Buddha Colombo

A standing or sitting Buddha with both palms facing forward is the Teaching Buddha.

Luang Prabang Buddha Orange Blossoms

Both hands resting face up in the lap, with ankles tucked is the Meditation Buddha, signifying inner wisdom, emotional balance, and clarity.

Dambulla Cave Buddhas

This statue is the Alms Collecting Buddha, which signifies compassion and caring for all beings.

Luang Prabang Buddha

The Buddha in a reclining pose has reached enlightenment, lost all his desires, and is preparing to leave this world, to enter into Nirvana.

Dambulla Cave Reclining Buddha

Buddhism is a tradition rich in symbolism, and every symbol has a meaning. And as a traveler unfamiliar with the religion, it helps to understand some of the inspirations that worshippers feel when they pray to a beautiful statue of Buddha.

Happy Trails,

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

36 thoughts

  1. I just slipped outside to look again at my garden Buddha. He is a meditation Buddha – both hands resting in his lap, palms facing upwards. Every morning I place a flower in his lap. He sits close to the front door – welcoming all into our home. Beautiful and informative photographs. V.

    1. Thanks V. I’ve always loved having a statue of Buddha in my garden (even before I knew what the gestures meant). It’s also really nice to have a small fountain to complete the space.

    1. Thanks Marilyn, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. One of the interesting things about Buddhism is their placement of statues just about anywhere. It makes for wonderful photo ops and some fun surprises.

  2. Thank you for sharing James and Terri . . . I knew that the various positions had meaning (I just didn’t know the various interpretations). Great pictures too!

  3. Thanks Kelly. For me, one of the fun things about blogging is the motivation to learn more about the places I travel. In my research for this post, I also found how complicated the interpretation of Buddhist statues can be (I should have expected this). As it turns out, it varies from country to country, and sect to sect. Now that I know this, I can be a bit more observant in future travels.

    1. This particular pose wasn’t common in our travels, but for Buddhists it’s a very big deal. This photo was taken in a fabulous temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Thanks for the comment. I envy your RV lifestyle.

      1. And I envy your international travels. We are planning to do some ourselves next year. I’m sure I will be perusing your blog to get some ideas. 🙂

  4. Thank you for that post – I was actually wondering about all the different gestures and postures I spotted. Now I feel a bit better “prepared” for my next wat visits 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. This post covers most of the basic postures, but I’m still trying to sort out the one that has hands with fingers forming circles at the chest. We saw this in Sri Lanka. Let me know if you find an answer.

  5. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. Finding yours was timely indeed! Tomorrow I will be visiting Wat Po, and will see that beautiful reclining Buddha. It will be more meaningful to me thanks to your explanation.

    1. Thanks Shelley, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. Wat Po is very cool, and you’ll love it. In addition to the reclining Buddha, the other buildings and grounds are interesting as well. Enjoy!

    1. Thanks Greg, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. I just loved the Dambulla Caves. The Bhuddas were incredible, but also, the day I visited there were tons of families there, and it was great people-watching.

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