I have been thinking recently about the power, significance, and symbolism of using our arms, particularly our right arm or hand. I’m not sure what it is that gives this power to the way we use our arms and hands, but there is a fundamental force that comes from using them. It could be that we use our arms and hands to accomplish most of what we do in a day; they are our main tools of action. We use our arms and hands to get dressed, eat, drive, use a computer, handle objects, express ourselves, shake hands, signal to people, communicate, and do many of the things we do every day. But there is something else that makes our arms and hands powerful, especially when we raise them up. [Read more…]
In response to a comment by Rick on my post “Consecrate = ‘A Filled Hand’ in Hebrew” I did some searching to see if I could find any commentary or studies of palm up/palm down symbolism in scholarship or art. What I found was interesting. The palm up/palm down posture has a significant place in Christian art throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, particularly in the figure of Christ. They have been called the “judging gestures.” ((Jane C. Long, “Salvation through Meditation: The Tomb Frescoes in the Holy Confessors Chapel at Santa Croce in Florence,” Gesta, Vol. 34, No. 1 (1995), pp. 79.))
I first happened upon a depiction of The Last Judgment by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Veneto, Italy. This artwork was completed about in about 1305. The scene is a typical judgment, with Christ in the center, the saved on his right, and the damned on his left. One commenter adds some interesting insight into his posture:
The seven virtues and seven vices are sometimes shown in opposition. In the Scrovegni chapel, the Last Judgement shows God with his right hand palm up towards the saved, and along the right wall are the seven virtues. His left hand is palm down towards the damned, and along the left wall are the seven vices, each opposite its corresponding virtue. ((Number Symbolism in the Middle Ages.))
I was reading a blog of a friend of mine, Dave Stoker, over at Thoughts of a Seeker when I noticed a photograph of a statue he used in a post. This statue, that he identified as the Tian Tan Buddha, was intriguing to me because of its unique posture that I had not before recognized in Eastern art. Dave informs us that these arm and hand gestures are quite universal in historical depictions of Buddha, and are known as mudras. He further says that this particular statue is the largest outdoor seated Buddha in the world, completed in 1993 in Hong Kong.
Tian Tan, I have come to find out, is Mandarin for “Temple of Heaven,” or more literally “Altar of Heaven,” and is the same name given to a Taoist temple in Beijing. The term mudra is Sanskrit for “seal” or “seal of authenticity.” Wikipedia further defines the mudra:
A mudrā (Sanskrit: मुद्रा, lit. “seal”) is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. While some mudrās involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers. Mudrā (Sanskrit) is a ‘spiritual gesture’ and energetic ‘seal of authenticity’ employed in the iconography and sadhana of Dharmic Traditions and Taoic Traditions; particularly those influenced by Tantra, Shinto and Shamanism. [Read more…]