Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine a person in the most profound state of calmness. Chances are you’ve pictured a smiling Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged with his gaze directed inward.
This pose is known as the Lotus position and it is the most iconic form of Buddhist meditation. Though it is not a complicated pose, to do it properly you need to follow a very particular form.
Every detail, down to the way the hands lie on their lap, has a deep significance. If done correctly, Buddhists believe that this pose is the way to achieve harmony with the universe.
What is a Mudra?
The Cosmic Mudra is known as Hokkaijoin in Japanese or Dhyana-mudra in Sanskrit. It is a gesture that is said to bring calm and help with concentration. It’s commonly associated with Japanese Zen Monks.
However, “mudra” is a Sanskrit word for a symbolic hand gesture. There are more than a hundred mudras in Yoga scriptures. Many of these are used in Buddhist and Hindu meditation, each with their own unique purpose.
How to perform the Cosmic Mudra?
To perform this Mudra, the first step is to find a comfortable space facing a blank wall and get into the lotus pose. Legs crossed, back straight, and the head, neck, and back in alignment.
You may sit in a chair or lie down. There are alternatives for people with mobility issues or those who feel discomfort while sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Once you assume the posture, you cup your hands together with palms facing up and rest them one atop the other in your lap. Your left hand should be on top.
Keep your thumbs straight as you bring the tips together – they should remain touching. Let your wrists relax and fall comfortably onto your thighs and make sure the inner edges of your hands rest lightly against your belly.
Imagine you’re cradling a delicate egg in your hands – an egg that contains the entire universe!
Cosmic Mudra: How does it work?
The Cosmic Mudra is designed to enhance your ability to concentrate. Because in the Zen system there is only one pose, it is easy to feel when your concentration is slipping.
As a beginner, when you try it you will notice your hands start drooping, your thumbs stop touching, or you may even feel a sudden twitch in your arm.
The lesson that Zen masters teach is that the body and the mind become one through this pose. When your body starts to get restless, your mind begins to wander or vice versa. When you achieve perfect concentration both are completely still.
Most Buddhist meditations involve attaining peace of mind through chanting mantras, breathing exercises, or focusing on sacred objects. Zen, on the other hand, opts for a simpler approach.
This form of Zen meditation is called Zazen.
How is the Cosmic Mudra used in Zazen meditation?
In Zazen, all you need to do is sit in the Lotus pose (a yoga asana) with your hands in the Cosmic Mudra. If you can maintain it long enough, around 30 minutes a day according to some teachers, it will direct your attention to the place they call Nirvana.
Interestingly, the duration isn’t important. Meditating longer isn’t always recommended.
There may even be a misconception that monks meditate like this non-stop. The greatest masters of Zen don’t need to. They can remain at this level of consciousness all the time, putting perfect mindfulness into every action.
A Brief History of the Cosmic Mudra and Zen Meditation:
One of the great Zen authorities was Dogen Zenji, a Japanese monk who lived in the 13th century. He called this pose “sitting immovable like a bold mountain.”
He spent his life traveling through China and Japan, visiting monasteries, and trying out a whole variety of Buddhist schools. In the end, he was dissatisfied with all of them.
He differed in his belief that it was our actions that shaped our lives, more than our thoughts. The key was to go through life with a mindful intent in all we do.
When he returned home he took charge of a monastery and wrote several widely-quoted books to explain his philosophy. All you needed, he claimed, was to do Zazen.
Because of this emphasis on action, Zen meditation is referred to as a practice, not simply a belief or a religion. Once you master it, you will be able to carry these realizations with you, understand them beyond what words can explain, and incorporate them into every aspect of your life.
Along this path to enlightenment, the Cosmic Mudra is a powerful symbol that helps shape our understanding. Let’s think back to that egg. Imagine how fragile it is, how tenderly and carefully you have to hold it.
Now remember that in Buddhism all is one – you and I are one, and so is the entirety of existence. That means you are not only holding the universe in the palm of your hand, but you’re holding your own mind as well, all your actions and your whole being.
Significance of Cosmic Mudra:
You might still be wondering why the Cosmic Mudra came to be at the heart of Zazen. Why not one of the other mudras?
The reason they chose the Cosmic Mudra has to do with Buddhist numerology. This is because when forming the Cosmic Mudra, the hands take the shape of a triangle.
The three sides represent The Three Actions, which are very important in the Zen school of thought. They are action in your body, speech, and thought.
Another famous trio is the Three Jewels of Buddhism. Buddhists find hope in these gems:
The Buddha: A person who is fully enlightened with the teachings of the Buddha.
The Dharma: The teachings of the Buddha.
The Sangha: The community of other believers.
As Buddhists form this shape with their hands, their minds are guided into a wordless understanding of these teachings, a place where they find truth and comfort.
Again, it is the physical act that leads to a state of mind and leads the believer to attain oneness and perfect awareness.
Because of all this significance, the Zen monks, starting with Dogen Zenji, adopted the Cosmic Mudra hundreds of years ago and it became their personal seal, a trademark if you will.
Yet, every Mudra has its own meaning and it changes for every individual. They are like personal symbols of the Buddha, a signature to authenticate his teachings.
The Mudra’s significance in Hinduism and Vedanta:
In Hinduism, the Cosmic Mudra is called Dhyana Mudra, which translates very directly to the ‘Meditation Mudra’. In certain yoga traditions, it’s the pose of choice for peaceful contemplation.
Although Hindu people use a whole array of other Mudras, like the Gyan Mudra, the knowledge mudra, which is the most popular choice for yoga and meditation.
Start in the Lotus pose, place your hands on your knees, palms facing up. Make a gentle circle with your thumb and your index fingers. The hand should be relaxed and the fingers open.
We’ve all seen this one.
There are depictions of people from almost every religion in that pose. It’s said to represent expansiveness and airflow. A way of opening people up to the realizations that come from dedicated Buddhist practice.
You’ve probably also seen people doing the heart mudra, Anjali Mudra. This is the classic gesture of thanks and something Hindu people do when they greet one another, saying ‘Namaste.’
Keep your fingers straight and press your palms lightly together in front of your heart. It is a way to show respect, but it also brings health benefits. It is said to unite the left and right hemispheres of your brain which brings harmony to the body and self.
Many of the other mudras are more intricate, but each has a specific function – to increase circulation, help digestion, or to expand your consciousness.
The History of the Cosmic Mudra
The Cosmic Mudra is derived from representations of the original Buddha – Siddhartha Gautama, who is often depicted in this very pose.
Some historians believe that he adopted it from other monks and religious seekers in his homeland in northwest India, sometime around the fifth century BC.
Though it is widely used in Zen, it is also used in many other Buddhist schools and different styles of meditation.
Buddhism reached Japan in the sixth century CE where it flourished and split into different schools. The famous Zen school emphasizes inner realizations – understanding the emptiness of the material world and liberating yourself from it.
They began as a movement that tried to strip away the chanting and the complicated rituals, some of which involved long periods of fasting and other grueling feats of endurance.
The original Buddha would have rejected all of that, claim the Zen. Their aim continues to be to reach enlightenment through the simple formula of mindful action and inner contemplation.
Final Thoughts: Conclusion
There is only so much you can do to explain these techniques and the deep ideas that go along with them using words. In the true spirit of Buddhism, it’s up to you to go out and give it a try.
For this very reason, it’s designed to be easy and accessible to anyone. There are many local teachers and online guides to answer any questions you have and to help you get started.
We hope this article has prompted your interest in inner exploration and that you’ll share it with your loved ones to inspire them too.