Scroll of Mudras
Heian period (794–1185)
Handscroll; ink on paper
11 3/16 x 97 1/2 in. (28.4 x 247.6 cm)
The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975
Not on view
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 buddhas 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.