Shinnyo-en (真如苑?) (meaning "Borderless Garden of Truth") is a Buddhist sangha open to lay and monastic practitioners alike. Its principal teachings are based on the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra. They also integrate elements of traditional Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism as well as teachings and practices initiated by the founders of Shinnyo-en, Shinjō Itō (born as Fumiaki Itō; March 28, 1906 – July 19, 1989),a grand master of Shingon Buddhism, and his wife Tomoji Itō (born as Tomoji Uchida, May 9, 1912 – August 6, 1967), the first woman in the 1,000-year history of Daigo-ji monastery in Kyoto to receive the rank of Daisōjō (大僧正) as a laywoman.
Today, Shinnyo-en says to have more than one million practitioners worldwide, and temples and training centers in several countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas. The temples are characterised by the statue of the reclining Buddha.
Central to Shinnyo-en is the belief, expressed in the Nirvana Sutra, that all beings possess Buddha-nature, a natural, unfettered purity that can respond creatively and compassionately to any situation in life.
The current head of Shinnyo-en is Her Holiness Shinsō Itō (born 1942, also known as 'Keishu'), who holds the rank of Daisōjō, the highest rank in traditional Shingon Buddhism. She was invited twice by the Daigo-ji monastery to officiate at a ceremony held in Daigo-ji's central hall Kondō, becoming the first woman to preside a Buddhist service there; on September 11, 1997 on the occasion of the dedication of the Shinnyo Samaya Hall, and on October 16, 2009, marking Great Master Shōbō Rigen's 1,100th memorial. 
Shinnyo-en was established in 1936 by Shinjō Itō (born as Fumiaki Itō) and his wife Tomoji Itō in the Tokyo suburb of Tachikawa. In December 1935, Shinjō Itō and Tomoji Itō had enshrined an image of Mahavairochana Achala (believed to have been sculpted by the renowned Buddhist sculptor, Unkei) and they began a 30-day period of winter austerities in early 1936. Tomoji cultivated her spiritual faculty (Jpn. Reinō) on February 4, inheriting it from her aunt. From that time, Tomoji and Shinjō began a new life together entirely devoted to encouraging people's spiritual growth.
In May 1936, Shinjō Itō was ordained and given the priestly name of 'Tensei' by Daisōjō and Chief Abbot Egen Saeki, at the Sanbō-in Temple of the Daigo school of Shingon Buddhism. The Chief Abbot conferred to him the monastic name of 'Shinjō', meaning 'True Vehicle', and the title of 'Kongō-in', which means 'Adamantine', in December 1938. Accordingly he changed his name from Fumiaki Itō to Shinjō Itō in April 1942.
The community was first named 'Risshō-kaku', then known as the 'Tachikawa Fellowship of Achala' (Jpn. Tachikawa Fudōson Kyōkai, 1938-1948). Formally registered in 1948 under the Religious Corporations Ordinance (Jpn. Shūkyō Hōjinrei, enacted in 1945) the name changed to 'Sangha of Truth' (Jpn. Makoto-Kyōdan), having Shinchō-ji as its Head Temple.
In 1950, Shinjō was arrested on an accusation by a former disciple. While the accusation could not be proved during the trial Shinjō Itō was given a sentence suspended for three years. During the investigations evidence was given to the fact that Shinjō Itō had trained at Daigo-ji Monastery and became a Maha-acharya (Jpn. Dai-Ajari 大阿闍黎), the highest rank of a Shingon practitioner and a qualified grand master.
The sangha was permitted to continue, but under a different name. It was reorganized and renamed Shinnyo-en on June 21, 1951 and Tomoji Itō became the administrative head of Shinnyo-en. After the revision of the Japanese Religious Corporation Act in April 1951, Shinnyo-en filed an application in the following year and received approval from the Minister of Education on May 16, 1953.
The first image of the reclining Nirvana Buddha, sculpted by Shinjō Itō, is consecrated on November 3, 1957.
The Theravada monastery Wat Paaknam in Thailand presents Shinnyo-en with relics of the Buddha on July 30, 1966.
During June and July 1967 Shinnyo-en's co-founders visit seven European countries and Israel on a religious goodwill mission and presented a nirvana image to the following institutions:
University of Copenhagen (Denmark), University of Uppsala (Sweden), University of Oslo (Norway), The Buddhist Society (U.K.), A Buddhist Society (France), The Holy See (Vatican), Hebrew University (Israel), The World Council of Churches (Switzerland)
The first Shinnyo-en Sanctuary outside Japan is inaugurated on March 2, 1971 in Mililani, Hawaii, followed by the dedication of Sanctuaries in Honolulu (1973), San Francisco (1982), Taiwan (1985), France (1985), Los Angeles (1990), Italy (1990), Belgium (1991), Hong Kong (1992), U.K. (1994), Germany (1994), Singapore (1994), Australia (1999).
On September 11, 1997 the 'Shinnyo Samaya Hall' (Jpn. Shinnyo-sanmayadō) is dedicated at Shimo-Daigo, the lower part of Daigo-ji monastery in recognition of Shinjō Itō's founding of a new school of Buddhism.
The principal Sutra on which the Shinnyo teachings are based is the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra. According to Shinnyo-en, the Sutra teaches four key points:
• Buddhahood is always present
• All beings possess a Buddha-nature
• There is hope for everyone to attain nirvana
• Nirvana is of the present moment and characterized by permanence-bliss-self-purity.
"If we view the Buddhist tradition as a vertical line, and the world we live in as a horizontal line, Shinjō Itō placed the teachings of Nirvana to work as a link between the two, and proved the validity of the Nirvana teachings." (Most Venerable Junna Nakata, 103rd Chief Abbot of Daigo-ji Monastery)
The teachings also integrate elements of traditional Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, cultural influences characteristic to Japanese Buddhism, as well as practices and rituals initiated by Shinjo Ito, the founder of Shinnyo-en.
- "The spirit of Buddhism is, more than anything, about valuing harmony and unity, in which others are respected and embraced rather than denounced. This has been the way of Buddhism since the beginning, and this is true Buddhism".
- "The Buddha shared his teachings so that everyone, without exception, could reach the same supreme state of liberation that he had attained through practice and effort".
- "Examine the present and learn from the past to see how the future will unfold. Too often we just look at the present and base our actions solely on that".
- "What is most important is to go deep into ourselves and discover the loving kindness and compassion of the buddha within – the awakened nature we all possess".
- “When we act for the sake of others, it gives rise to joy. Mutual understanding is a result of our efforts to expand the practice of loving kindness and altruism, starting with those around us. I believe that such efforts will ultimately lead to lasting peace in the world.”
The leadership in Shinnyo-en follows the Buddhist tradition of Dharma succession from master to disciple.
"In Daigo-ji there are two Dharma streams (lineages) - that of lay Buddhism (Ein) and that of monastic Buddhism (Diamond and Womb Worlds). Shinjō Itō succeeded to both from the 96th Dharma-successor and Chief Abbot of Daigo-ji, Egen Saeki. [...] I believe Shinjō Itō had the intention of merging the two Dharma-streams from the beginning. By doing so, he gave rise to a new Dharma-stream. The Shinnyo Dharma-stream unites the Buddhist tradition and society." (Most Venerable Junna Nakata, 103rd Chief Abbot of Daigo-ji Monastery)
In 1982 Shinsō Itō (born 1942 as Masako Itō), the third daughter of Shinjō and Tomoji, completes her Buddhist training and becomes a successor in the Shinnyo dharma lineage. Shinjō announces her to become his successor in 1983 and gives her the priestly name 'Shinsō'. A ceremony to confirm this dharma succession is held at Daigo-ji monastery on April 24, 1984. After Shinjō's passing on July 19, 1989 Shinsō Itō becomes the head of Shinnyo-en. In 1992, Shinsō Itō was conferred Daisōjo, the highest priestly rank in traditional Shingon Buddhism, by the Daigo-ji Shingon Buddhist monastery. She also received an honorary doctorate from Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University in Thailand in 2002 for her long-standing efforts to foster relations with Theravada Buddhism.
The basic organizational unit of the Shinnyo-en sangha is said to be the “lineage” (Jpn. suji), which consists of a group of members mentored by a “lineage parent” (Jpn. sujioya). Practitioners usually gather at the temple and training centre for prayer, meditation and training, and, if they so wish, also at home meetings. The sangha as a whole encourages and participates in volunteer activities in the spirit of Buddhist practice.
Spiritual guides, (Jpn. Reinōsha), are practitioners who have been specially trained in order to perform the so-called Sesshin Training, with face-to-face guidance. This kind of meditation training is given only at a Shinnyo-en temple and should help members to understand themselves in light of Buddhist concepts.
In Shinnyo-en's Dharma School (Jpn. Chiryu-Gakuin) members study buddhist doctrine and learn ritualistic aspects. After graduating as a Dharma Teacher they can further qualify for undergoing Buddhist ordination (Jpn. Tokudo-Jukai) and receiving traditional monastic ranks.
Shinnyo-en believes an individual's action can contribute to creating a harmonious society. Working towards this goal, the organization engages in interfaith dialogue, environmental activities, and disaster relief.
Shinnyo-en also supports organizations such as Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the Red Cross Society, and the World Wildlife Fund.
Their cultural projects include the reconstruction of ancient musical instruments, support for the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, the excavation of ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and collecting Cambodian oral folk tales for a children’s book project. (See also Press report of The Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage(INTACH))
Shinnyoen, in 2001 planned to build nonreligious facilities — including parks and sports and cultural centers — on part of the 1-million-sq.-meter plot between Musashimurayama and Tachikawa in western Tokyo that it planned to purchase from Nissan. “We are hoping to make space accessible and spiritually appealing to the public,” said Minoru Shitara, a Shinnyo-en spokesman.
During 2005-2007, Shinnyo-en supported and cooperated with the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue to enact the Palestinian-Jewish Family Peacemakers Camp—Oseh Shalom - Sanea al-Salam,  at Camp Tawonga that brought hundreds of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish youth and adults into relationship.
"People who are interested in traditional Buddhist training are always welcome, but volunteer activities provide an additional avenue for Shinnyo-en to contribute to the wider secular community." (Shinso Ito)
Shinnyo Buddhist practice
Shinnyo-en practices a form of meditation called sesshin training. Sesshin (the word is composed of the two Chinese characters, “touch” and “heart”) is meditation with the addition of guidance or insights given to trainees by specially trained “spiritual guides” (Jpn. Reinōsha).
Through mindfulness and seated meditation, practitioners reflect on themselves and resolve to practice harmony, gratitude, kindness, and acceptance. The school teaches that one realizes his or her true potential by acting with compassion and concern for others. Therefore, practitioners are encouraged to cultivate mindfulness and self-reflection, and to apply in daily life the insights gained in seated meditation.
Shinnyo-en practitioners in pursuing the Path to Nirvana vow to abide by the Five Precepts (Pali: pañca-sīlāni) and follow the Eightfold Path. By learning to identify with others (or "place oneself in the shoes of another"), practitioners aim to cultivate the virtues of a bodhisattva.
Shinnyo Buddhist ceremonies
Traditional ceremonies, derived from Shingon Buddhism — many of which can be traced back to ancient Vedic and Hindu ceremonies — are an important aspect of Shinnyo Buddhist practice. Rituals are used as means to purify the mind, awaken compassion, or to express gratitude for the chance to develop oneself and practice the Buddhist teachings.
Prayers for ancestors and departed souls, such as the Lantern Floating ceremony, and O-bon (Sanskrit: Ullambana), are believed to also help cultivate kindness and compassion within practitioners.
Traditional fire ceremonies such as homa are performed to help practitioners overcome obstacles that hinder their spiritual progress and liberation. (See also Saisho Goma ceremony and Lantern Floating ceremony).
Shinnyo-en and the arts
Shinnyo-en believes art is a way to communicate universal, spiritual truth. Shinnyo-en sponsors many international cultural events to share their aesthetic philosophy. In addition, Shinnyo-en has staged several concerts showcasing the drumming of the Shinnyo-en Taiko Drumming Ensemble.
See also articles in the Huffington Post, "Shinnyo-en Buddhist 'Eye Opening' Ceremony In Japan", New York Times, and the New York Sun. Also a "Review: Shinjo Ito’s Art @ Milk Gallery Chelsea 11 march 2008"
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