Heian period (794–1185)
Japan, 11th–12th century
Handscroll; ink on paper
This handscroll depicts hand gestures known as mudras in Sanskrit, the Indian language in which many early Esoteric Buddhist texts were written. In Japan, the gestures are called insō, the Japanese term for a Chinese word that combines the characters for ‘seal’ and ‘form.’ In Esoteric Buddhism, mudras are physical enactments of ultimate truths revealed through the Buddha and other deities.
Practitioners of Esoteric Buddhism in Japan form mudras during meditation and rituals and use them to interpret the meaning of painted and sculpted Buddhist images. This scroll was passed down in the Kyoto temple Shōren-in, a Tendai School temple traditionally administrated by imperial princes who had taken religious vows.
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