Mudra: The Authentic Seal of Awareness

This posterized photo is the hand gesture of the Buddhist practice of awareness. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi called it the cosmic mudra.

I have always understood the definition of gesture to be a motion of the hand or hands. I have resisted using the term when I demonstrate and describe the mudra during meditation instruction, because there is no movement expected once the hands are placed. Instead, I describe the mudra as a hand position.

Looking up the word gesture, I see now that its archaic definition refers to carriage corresponding to the state of mind. This discovery brings a smile, though awareness is not a state of mind. Awareness is openness; life not crimped by held assumptions.

Awareness is first, original; the base and whole of experience. Assumptions are interpretations of this direct experience.

An obsolete definition of gesture refers to the position or attitude [of the hands] especially in prayer, a tip-off to the word’s religious roots. Is Buddhism a religion? That’s a topic for a future post. Meditation is far from the popular understanding of prayer (to ask, entreat, or implore). If prayer is to live as open response (“how can I help?” rather than “please, may I have?”) then this obsolete definition brings a smile, as well. Mudra; the expression of open response.

The cosmic mudra hand gesture is stationary, but expresses the life of wholeness, openness, spontaneity, fluidity. To fill this hand gesture with awareness is authentic practice. Our peonies burst into full bloom today. To flower, to open, to respond to sunlight, is the mudra of peony. A flower does not put partial effort into its aliveness. To fulfill the life of the zazen posture—including the cosmic mudra—is the authentic seal of awareness.

© 2012 Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.


5 thoughts on “Mudra: The Authentic Seal of Awareness

  1. Ken Christenson says:

    Researchers are telling us now something our teachers have been saying from the start: when we hold a certain posture (frown, smile, fear expression) for a few minutes, we begin to feel the emotion thus “gestured”. I find the cosmic mudra helps me when feelings of “compassion” arise during practice because I don’t need to “note” compassion (as one of my teachers instructed); rather, I let the openness, and the delicacy, of the mudra do the “expressing” for me. Of me? Of this bodymind?


  2. Wanda Isle says:

    I don’t usually sit with the cosmic mudra as is customary in Zen. I think I’ll start. Thanks.


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