Once upon a time, I spent four months living in a monastery in the town of Bodh Gaya, India. I was on a Buddhist studies program along with 32 other students, including my friend Hunter. One morning, sitting up straight and fighting off sleep, I looked across the meditation hall to see Hunter slowly reaching down and touching the ground. I was astounded. Was Hunter declaring his awakening?

The story goes that about 2,500 years earlier, not far from where we sat, a young Siddhartha Gautama, on the cusp of enlightenment, was tempted by the demon Mara with divine maidens and vicious storms. Instead of succumbing to these trials, he reached down and touched the ground, with the whole earth confirming his realization and status as the Buddha, “the Awakened One.”

The earth-touching mudra, as it is known, is featured in many depictions and statues of the Buddha, and by touching the ground in the meditation hall, I could only assume that Hunter was signifying his own profound realization.