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Buddha’s first sermon on the Four Noble Truths, delivered after attaining enlightenment at Sarnath was a moment of seminal importance. The occasion signifies his setting in motion the Wheel of Dharma, an event captured by the Dharmachakra Mudra.
The tips of the index fingers and thumbs touching each other form a circle that represents the Wheel – a metaphysical union of right action and wisdom. The three extended fingers of each hand are also rich in symbolism. On the right hand, the middle finger represents the Buddha’s audience, the ring finger stands for the few who realize his teachings, while the little finger is the Great Vehicle (Mahayana). The fingers of the left hand represent the Buddha himself, the law of Dharma and the Sangha.
The Buddha’s hands are held in front of his chest, signifying that his teachings come straight from his heart.
Other Buddha forms who display the Dharmachakra Mudra are Maitreya, Dipankara and Manjugosha. Indian and Tibetan Buddhist masters who are distinguished by this mudra are Atisha, Tsongkhapa, Asanga and Sakya Pandita.