The Earth-Touching Buddha

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on December 14, 2015.)

A jade Earth-Touching Buddha at Wolong Temple, Xi'an

There are many depictions of the historical Buddha born Siddhartha Gautama, whom we call Shakyamuni or "Sage of the Shakya Clan." Each reminds us of a key event in his life, and one of the most common shows the Bhumisparsha Mudra, the Earth-Touching Gesture.

The former prince is seated, looking straight ahead serenely, left hand in his lap with palm turned upward, the fingers of the right hand reaching down to touch the earth in front of his right knee.

The story is this: As he was seated in the final moments of meditation leading to his enlightenment, the Buddha-to-be was attacked by the demon king Mara, the Tempter. First Mara sent his lovely dancing daughters to try to distract the senses of the soon-to-be-Enlightened One. But he saw through this, and kept his focus.

Then an army of demons arose to frighten him. (These two, desire and fear, are the Scylla and Charybdis through which all must pass who seek enlightenment.) The Tempter even claimed that, as his spiritual attainment was greater, he should become the World-Honored One. He called on his army to witness to this, and the demons called out with one voice: "I am his witness!"

"And who," Mara asked, "will witness for you?"

With this, the Buddha touched the earth, which roared out from its depths, "I bear you witness!" With that the army dissipated, its leader disappeared, the morning star rose in the sky, and the Sage Gautama reached enlightenment and became the Buddha.

Thus the Bhumisparsha Mudra symbolizes his victory over temptation and the moment of his enlightenment.

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