Inso (the gesture of the hands of an image of Buddha or a god of Hinduism) (印相)

Inso is a Buddhist and Hinduism term which refers to the gesture of the hands having a certain symbolic meaning. It is a translation of a Sanskrit term mudraa, which originally means 'seal,' 'stamp,' and so forth. In Japanese terms, it has the same meaning as the term ingei (印契) or its simplified form in (印), referring mainly to the symbolic gesture of a Buddhist statue.

There are several fixed patterns of inso in a Buddhist statue existing in a Buddhist temple or the like, which include the followings: one formed by hands clasped in the lap, like that of Kamakura Daibutsu (the Great Buddha of Kamakura); one formed by the right hand being raised and the left hand resting on the lap, like that of the huge image of Rushana Buddha of Todai-ji Temple. Each form of inso has a doctrinal meaning that represents the details, nature and function of the spiritual awakening experienced by a Buddha; accordingly, ascertaining what form of inso is assumed by a Buddhist image allows, to some extent, the guessing of what Buddha is represented by the image.

Buddhas and Bosatsu (Bodhisattva) assuming various forms of inso are depicted in mandala (place of practicing Buddhism to attain spiritual enlightenment) of Esoteric Buddhism; however, this column briefly explains about several typical types of inso that are seen in Buddhist temples, and so on.

Major Types of Inso
Semui-in (mudra for bestowing fearlessness)
It is the inso formed by a hand raised with the palm facing outward. As the meaning of the kanji, this is a sign indicating to a viewer that he or she 'does not need to fear' to encourage him or her. It is assumed by Fukujoju Nyorai (Amoghasiddhi, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas).

Yogan-in (wish-granting mudra)
It is the inso formed by a hand pointing downward with the palm facing outward. In the case of a seated statue, the palm may face upward; in this case, however, the finger side of the palm is tilted downward so that a viewer can see the palm. This form imitates a gesture made when a person gives something to others and is assumed by Hosho Nyorai Hosho Nyorai (Ratnasambhava, one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas), and so on.

Semui-Yogan-in
It is the inso formed by a combination of the right hand taking the form of Semui-in and the left hand taking the form of Yogan-in. In the case of a seated statue, the palm of the left hand points upward while resting on the lap. This is a sign indicating that believers' wishes will be granted. Semui-Yogan-in is one of the typical forms of inso shown by an statue of nyorai (Tathagata), and many statues of Shakyamuni Nyorai show inso of this form. An statue of nyorai with the palm of the left hand taking the form of Yogan-in and bearing a medicine pot is a statue of Yakushi Nyorai (the healing Buddha). However, some of the statues of Yakushi Nyorai lack a medicine pot because of loss or originally there was no medicine pot. In addition, some of the statues of Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata) represent Semui-Yogan-in; therefore, it is impossible in many cases to identify what Buddha is represented by this inso only. Figure 1 shows Tian Tan Buddha assuming Semui-Yogan-in, which is located in Lantau Island, Hong Kong.

Tenborin-in (teaching mudra)
It is one of the forms of inso that may be assumed by Shakyamuni Nyorai, which is formed by both hands turned upward in front of the chest with the tips of the thumbs of both hands put together and the tips of the same fingers of both hands put together to form a circle. This imitates a gesture made when a person explains something to another, and therefore is called Seppo-in (the term "seppo" means preaching).
The term 'tenborin' refers literally to spinning the dharma wheel and metaphorically to 'expounding the truth.'

Because of the existence of many patterns for which fingers and a thumb are put together, in what direction a palm is oriented (outward, inward, upward or otherwise), and so forth, there are many variations of this inso. In the case of Shakyamuni Nyorai depicted in Shakyamuni-in (one of the 12 sections ("in" in Japanese) constituting Taizokai mandala) in Taizokai ((Womb Realm) mandala, for example, the right and left hands face outward and inward, respectively, with the finger tips of both hands pointing upward. In this case, the right hand represents preaching to the audience while the left hand represents preaching to oneself.

Jo-in (samadhi mudra, gesture of meditation)
It is used with a seated statue formed by the palms of both hands facing upward and put on top of one another in front of the abdomen (in the lap). This indicates that the Buddha is absorbed in contemplation (meditation).

It is assumed by Shakyamuni Nyorai or Dainichi Nyorai (the Great Sun Buddha) (in Taizokai) formed by the right hand put on top of the left hand with the tips of both thumbs put together and other fingers stretched. This gesture is specifically called Hokkaijo-in, which is famous for being taken on the occasion of Zen meditation. According to Esoteric Buddhism, Jo-in assumed by Amida Nyorai is supposed to be Hokkaijo-in; however, a variation formed by both hands placed together in the same manner and the thumbs and the forefingers (or otherwise, the middle or annular fingers) forming a circle may be assumed by Amida Nyorai of the Jodo Sect, and so on. There are many variations of inso assumed by Amida Nyorai, which will be explained in full detail.

Sokuchi-in (Earth-Touching Mudra)
It is also referred to as Goma-in (literally, mudra of conquering the devil). It is used with a seated statue and formed by a palm facing downward with finger tips touching the earth. Shakyamuni is said, according to legend, to have sustained interference with his ascetic practices by a devil. It is said that Shakyamuni touched the earth with finger tips at that time to cause a god of the earth to appear, thereby defeating the devil. Therefore, Sokuchi-in symbolizes a strong mind pursuing the truth without being overcome by temptations or obstacles. It is assumed by Ashuku Nyorai (Immovable Buddha) or Tenkuraion Nyorai (or Divyadundubhimeganirghosa, literally, Buddha of Thunderous Sound of the Heavenly Drum) besides Shakyamuni Nyorai.

Chiken-in (the knowledge-fist mudra)
It is formed by the left hand with the forefinger stretched and the thumb clenched by the middle, annular and little fingers. And the right hand clenching the forefinger of the left hand with the tip of the thumb of the right hand and the tip of the forefinger of the left hand put together. It is assumed by Dainichi Nyorai (in the diamond-world mandala), Ichiji Kinrin Buccho (the principal Buddha of the "Court of the Perfected") or Taho Nyorai (Prabhuta-ratnam in Sanskrit).

Kozanze-in (Mudra of Subjection)
It is formed by the little fingers firmly crossed in front of the chest.

Types of Inso Assumed by Amida Nyorai

There are several types of inso assumed by Amida Nyorai, any of which is formed in principle by the thumbs and the forefingers (or otherwise, the middle or annular fingers) forming a circle.

Jo-in
It is formed as mentioned above. In the case of Amida Nyorai, there may be a statue assuming inso formed by both hands pointing upward in front of the chest with the thumbs and the forefingers (or otherwise, the second or third fingers) forming a circle. Examples of statues assuming Jo-in existing in Japan include the principal statue in Hoo-do Hall (the Phoenix Pavilion) of Byodoin Temple in Uji City and the principal statue in Kotokuin Temple in Kamakura City (Kamakura Great Buddha) shown in Figure 2.

Seppo-in (the exposition of the Dharma mudra)
It refers to Tenborin-in. It is formed by both hands pointing upward in front of the chest with the thumbs and the forefingers (or otherwise, the middle or annular fingers) forming a circle. Examples of statues assuming Tenborin-in existing in Japan include the principal statue enshrined in the hall of Koryu-ji Temple in Kyoto; however, this inso is relatively rare. The central Buddhist image in Taima mandala also assumes this inso.

Raigo-in (Reasoning Mudra)
Similar to Semui-Yogan-in, it is formed by the right hand turned upward and the left hand turned downward with both palms facing outward and the thumb and forefinger (or otherwise, the middle or annular finger) of each hand forming a circle. This inso is assumed by Amida Nyorai coming to fetch a believer on his or her deathbed. Examples of statues assuming Raigo-in existing in Japan include the central Buddhist statue among the statues of the three Amida divinities in Sanzenin Temple in Kyoto. The principal statue enshrined in a temple of the Jodo sect or the Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) assumes in principle this inso. Figure 3 shows Ushiku Daibutsu (the Great Buddha of Ushiku) in Ibaraki Prefecture, which assumes Raigo-in.

In Joshin-ji Temple (commonly known as Kuhonbutsu) in Setagaya-ku Ward, Tokyo, nine statues of Amida Nyorai, which assume nine different types of inso respectively, are enshrined. This is based on the idea of kubon-ojo (the nine classes of people reborn in the Land of Happiness according to the nine levels of religiousness), as preached in 'Kanmuryoju-kyo sutra' (The Sutra of Visualization of the Buddha of Measureless Life, meaning Amida). It is assumed that there are nine grades of gokuraku ojo (dying peacefully to be born in the Pure Land) from very religious people to accomplished villains as listed below: starting with 'jobon josho' (Upper grade: upper birth), 'jobon chusho' (Upper grade: middle birth), 'jobon gesho' (Upper grade: lower birth), 'chubon josho' (Middle grade: upper birth), 'chubon chusho' (Middle grade: middle birth), 'chubon gesho' (Middle grade: lower birth), 'gebon josho' (Lower grade: upper birth), 'gebon chusho' (Lower grade: middle birth) and 'gebon gesho' (Lower grade: lower birth). In the case of the nine statues of Amida Nyorai enshrined in Joshin-ji Temple, the three types of inso assumed by Amida Nyorai, that is, Jo-in, Seppo-in and Raigo-in are assigned as 'Josho-in' (inso representing josho (upper birth)), 'Chusho-in' (inso representing chusho (middle birth)) and 'Gesho-in' (inso representing gesho (lower birth)), respectively, and combinations of the thumbs and the forefingers put together, those of the thumbs and the middle fingers put together and those of the thumbs and the annular fingers put together are assigned to 'jobon' (upper grade), 'chubon' (middle grade) and 'gebon' (lower grade), respectively. It should be noted, however, that there are no explicit doctrinal grounds for the representation of kuhon ojo (nine grades of birth in the Pure Land) by nine types of inso and they seem to have been contrived in early-modern times in Japan.

Inso Referring to the Design of a Seal
The design of a seal imprint is called inso, and fortune may be told from such a design. A symmetric arrangement of characters is assumed to be inauspicious; moreover, fortune is told from the appearance of the fracture of a seal arising from long-term use.