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Shinnyo-en (真如苑, Borderless Garden of Truth) is a Japanese new religion[1][2] in the tradition of the Daigo branch of Shingon Buddhism. It was founded in 1936 by Ito Shinjo (伊藤真乗, 1906-1989) and his wife Tomoji (友司, 1912-1967) in a suburb of metropolitan Tokyo, the city of Tachikawa, where its headquarters is still located.[3][4]

FoundersIto and Tomoji Shinjo
Founded atTachikawa
Membership (2012)
Head Priest
Shinsō Itō
AffiliationsShingon Buddhism

It is open to lay and monastic practitioners alike. Its principal teachings are based on the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra. 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), a master (大阿闍梨 dai ajari) of Shingon Buddhism,[citation needed] and his wife Tomoji Itō (born as Tomoji Uchida), the first woman in the thousand-year history of Daigo-ji in Kyoto to receive the rank of Daisōjō (大僧正) as a laywoman.[citation needed]

In 2011, Shinnyo-en was reported to have 860 000 members, and temples and training centers in several countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas.[5] The temples are characterised by the Nirvana image, a statue of the reclining Buddha.

Central to Shinnyo-en is the belief, expressed in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, that all beings possess Buddha-nature, a natural, unfettered purity that can respond creatively and compassionately to any situation in life.

As of 2017 the head of Shinnyo-en was Shinsō Itō (born 1942, also known as 'Keishu'), who holds the rank of Daisōjō, the highest rank in traditional Shingon Buddhism.



Shinnyo-en was established in 1936 by Shinjō Itō and his wife Tomoji in the Tokyo suburb of Tachikawa. In December 1935, Shinjō Itō and Tomoji Itō had enshrined an image of Acala 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 (霊能, 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.[citation needed]

In May 1936, Shinjō Itō was ordained by Daisōjō and Chief Abbot Egen Saeki at Sanbō-in, a 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 "Vajra", in December 1938. Accordingly, he changed his name from Fumiaki Itō to Shinjō Itō in April 1942.[6]

The community was first named Risshō-kaku, then the Tachikawa Fellowship of Achala (Tachikawa Fudoson Kyokai, 1938-1948). Formally registered in 1948 under the Religious Corporations Ordinance (Japanese: Shukyo Hojinrei, enacted in 1945) the name changed to Sangha of Truth (Makoto-Kyodan) with Shinchō-ji as its Head Temple.

In spring of 1949, a young man who worked in the temple office, filed formal charges against Shinjō in 1950. His primary claim was that he had been beaten during one of the sesshin trainings. Shuten Oishi, director of the Federation of New Religious Organisations of Japan, testified that sesshin training does not involve physical abuse. Shinjō was given a sentence of eight months in prison, suspended for three years.[7]

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 its administrative head. 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, was consecrated on November 3, 1957.

Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, a Thai vihara, presented Shinnyo-en with śarīra (relics of Gautama Buddha) on July 30, 1966.

The first Shinnyo-en Sanctuary outside Japan was inaugurated on March 2, 1971 in Mililani, Hawaii, followed by the dedication of temples 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).[8]

On September 11, 1997 the "Shinnyo Samaya Hall"[9] was 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 Sutras on which the Shinnyo teachings are based on are the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra, the Lotus Sutra and the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra. According to Shinnyo-en, the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sutra teaches four key points:[10]

  1. Buddhahood is always present
  2. All beings possess a Buddha-nature
  3. There is hope for everyone to attain nirvana
  4. Nirvana is of the present moment and characterized by permanence-bliss-self-purity.

According to the Junna Nakata, the 103rd Chief Abbot of Daigo-ji Monastery:

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.[11]

Schrimpf commented on the introduction of the Mahaparinirvana sutra to Shinnyo-en members in 1956,[12]

By choosing a text that is rather irrelevant in esoteric Buddhism, Shinjō Itō left the doctrinal path of Shingon, thus emphasizing the uniqueness of his Buddhist teachings and training. This direction was further underlined by the replacement of Fudō Myōō as the main object of veneration by Kuon Jōjū Shakyamuni Nyorai, the dying Buddha who taught his last sermon (...).

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.

As all religious organizations founded since the middle of the 19th century Shinnyo-en is classified by Japanese scholars as a new religious movement.

Organizational structureEdit

According to Schrimpf, "the community is divided into various units that form a hierarchical pyramid."[13] The basic organizational unit of the Shinnyo-en sangha is said to be the “lineage” (Japanese: suji), which consists of a group of members mentored by a “lineage parent” (Japanese: sujioya). Practitioners usually gather at the temple and training centre for prayer, meditation and training, and, if they so wish, also at home meetings.[14] The sangha as a whole encourages and participates in volunteer activities in the spirit of Buddhist practice.

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. (The Most Venerable Junna Nakata, the 103rd Chief Abbot of Daigo-ji Monastery)[15]

In 1982 Shinsō Itō (born 1942 as Masako Itō), the third daughter of Shinjō and Tomoji, completed her Buddhist training. Shinjō announced her to become his successor in 1983 and gave her the priestly name 'Shinsō'. 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.[16]

In Shinnyo-en's Dharma School (Japanese: Chiryu-Gakuin) members study buddhist doctrine and learn ritualistic aspects. After graduating as a Dharma Teacher they can further qualify for undergoing Buddhist ordination (Japanese: Tokudo-Jukai) and receiving traditional monastic ranks.

Social actionEdit

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.[17]

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)[18]

Shinnyo practiceEdit

Shinnyo-en practitioners are encouraged to practice Sesshin Training and undertake the Three Practices (三つの歩み, mittsu no ayumi), which are a distillation of the Pāramitā taught by Shakyamuni Buddha.

Three PracticesEdit

The Three Practices (三つの歩み, mittsu no ayumi) are:

  1. Joyful donations (歓喜, okangi, giving/generosity): Monetary or other types of material donations; the giving of kind, encouraging, harmonious words; offering one's home to guests or those in need of shelter; offering one's seat in public transit etc. Monetary contributions are voluntary and can be made to the organization of Shinnyo-en or to any other organization/cause the practitioner deems as meritorious.)
  2. Sharing of the Dharma (お救け, otasuke): This essentially means helping people grow spiritually by sharing the Buddhist teachings. Sharing the dharma can be done explicitly or implicitly: The practitioner can explicitly share the content of the Shinnyo practice or his/her experience in the practice, or merely be there as an empathizing friend or listener, (thereby implicitly expressing the essence of the Buddha's teachings with his/her sincere and caring demeanor). Though the practice of sharing the dharma may sometimes lead to registering someone as a new member, true otasuke is not about winning new members, but about guiding a person out of a self-absorbed or ego-centered state of mind and ultimately towards true happiness/spiritual liberation.)
  3. Giving time and service (ご奉仕, gohōshi: This is volunteer work done within the order of Shinnyo-en or society at large. As with the other 2 practices, the goal is to cultivate a heart of sincerely wanting to benefit others, as opposed to asking for something in return for one's efforts.)


Sesshin (the word is composed of the two Chinese characters, “touch” and “heart”[19]) is the central element of spiritual practice for Shinnyo practitioners.[20] This is not to be confused with the sesshin in Zen Buddhism. Whereas in Zen Buddhism, sesshin refers to a period of intensive meditation, with many hours of meditation each day, sesshin in Shinnyo-en has an entirely different meaning.

A sesshin involves receiving guidance from a 'Spiritual guide' (霊能者, reinōsha, medium), a person who has been specially trained and whose spiritual faculty (霊能, reinō') is recognized by the Shinnyo-en organization.[21][22] This kind of guidance is given only at a Shinnyo-en temple and should help members to understand themselves in light of Buddhist concepts. This guidance lasts for about three minutes per person.[23]

Shinnyo-en refers to the spiritual world from which the guiding messages emanate as the shinnyo reikai (真如霊界). This is not merely the dwelling place of the spirits of the dead, it also encompasses and is equated with the Buddha realm (仏界, bukkai). The spiritual guides' contact with this world is not direct, but aided by the intercession of two 'children' (両童子, ryō-dōji) and various dharma protectors, who are viewed as being one with forces of the heavens and earth. The Two Dōjis are none other than the first and second sons of Ito Shinjo, posthumously named, respectively, Kyodoin (教導院, died aged one year old)[24] and Shindoin (真導院, died aged fifteen).[25] Guidance from the Buddha realm is passed to the spiritual guides and subsequently to the practitioners.[26]

Schrimpf describes the practice of sesshin as follows:[27]

In a regular meditation, up to fifty or sixty followers will gather in a room, sit in a circle and meditate. They are faced by five to ten reinosha who are also in meditation. After a while, the media experience some kind of intuitive cognition. It is interpreted as something indicated (shimesareta) to them from the spirit world. They transform this cognition into words - the so-called spiritual words (reigen) - and transmit them to the person they are directed at. Often, these are rather abstract phrases, but usually the listener can relate them to a certain problem or situation he is coping with.

Dharma SchoolEdit

Practitioners have the opportunity to further their practice by studying at Shinnyo-en's dharma school. After three years of classes and fulfilling various requirements, including passing a written test and assessment of everyday practice, they are granted priestly ranks (僧階 sokai) and become dharma teachers.[citation needed]

Fire and Water CeremoniesEdit

According to the Shinnyo-en website they practice water and fire ceremonies. "While most traditional Buddhist fire rituals focus on personal purification and awakening, the Shinnyo-en ceremony is dedicated to awakening people to their innate compassionate and altruistic nature, transcending all boundaries of age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, and religious tradition, and directing the positive energy of the ceremony outward with the hope that all people can live in a world of hope and harmony."[28]

Other PracticesEdit

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.[citation needed]

Shinnyo-en practitioners in pursuing the Path to Nirvana vow to abide by the Five Precepts (Pali: pañca-sīlāni) and follow the Eightfold Path, although no reference can be found of Shinnyo-en teaching Right Mindfulness, nor Right Concentration, these being the last two steps on the Eightfold Path and those which contain traditional Buddhist meditation practice.

By learning to identify with others (or "place oneself in the shoes of another"), practitioners aim to cultivate the virtues of a bodhisattva.[citation needed]

Missionary ActivitiesEdit

In Shinnyo-en a school for the training of missionaries has been developed, and lectures are given on Shinnyo-en doctrine, history, and missionary methods. Members allowed to enter this school take three years to complete the prescribed course of study. The system of missionary ranks is called sokai or “stages in Buddhist discipleship.”[29]

Shinnyo Buddhist ceremoniesEdit

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.[30]

With the wish of creating cultural harmony and understanding, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en, officiated the inaugural Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony on Memorial Day, 1999.[31]

Traditional fire ceremonies such as homa are performed to help practitioners overcome obstacles that hinder their spiritual progress and liberation.[32]

Shinnyo-en and the artsEdit

Shinnyo-en believes art is a way to communicate universal, spiritual truth. Shinnyo-en sponsors many international cultural events to share their aesthetic philosophy.[33] In addition, Shinnyo-en has staged several concerts showcasing the drumming of the Shinnyo-en Taiko Drumming Ensemble.[34]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Mikiko, Nagai (1995). Magic and Self-Cultivation in a New Religion: The Case of Shinnyoen, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 22, No. 3/4, p.  302
  2. ^ Usui 2003, p. 224
  3. ^ Mikiko, Nagai (1995). Magic and Self-Cultivation in a New Religion: The Case of Shinnyoen, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 22, No. 3/4, p.  303
  4. ^ Shiramizu, Hiroko (1979). Organizational Mediums: A Case Study of Shinnyo-en, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6, No. 3, p. 415.
  5. ^ Pokorny, Lukas (2011). Neue religiöse Bewegungen in Japan heute: ein Überblick [New Religious Movements in Japan Today: a Survey]. In: Hödl, Hans Gerald and Veronika Futterknecht, ed. Religionen nach der Säkularisierung. Festschrift für Johann Figl zum 65. Geburtstag, Wien: LIT, p. 191
  6. ^ The Path of Oneness, p.392
  7. ^ The Path of Oneness, Shinnyo-en, English Revised Edition, 2009, p.402-406
  8. ^ A Walk through the Garden Vol.II p.65-72
  9. ^ Daigo-ji official website
  10. ^ Starting Out p.57
  11. ^ A Walk through the Garden Vol.II p.29
  12. ^ Schrimpf, Monika (2011). "Shinnyo-en"; in Staemmler, Birgit; Dehn, Ulrich (ed.), Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religions in Japan. Münster: LIT Verlag, . ISBN 978-3-643-90152-1, p. 184
  13. ^ Schrimpf, Monika (2011). "Shinnyo-en"; in Staemmler, Birgit; Dehn, Ulrich (ed.), Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religions in Japan. Münster: LIT Verlag, . ISBN 978-3-643-90152-1, p. 184
  14. ^ Usui, p.234–235.
  15. ^ A Walk through the Garden Vol.II p.29
  16. ^ RNS April 25, 2013[full citation needed]
  17. ^ Shinnyo-en official Japanese website
  18. ^ Tricycle Magazine, Interview with Shinso Ito
  19. ^ The Path of Oneness, p.193
  20. ^ Ishii Kenji 石井研士 1986 Sezoku shakai ni okeru Bukkyo no kanosei 世俗社会における 仏教の可能性. Riso 633: p. 173.
  21. ^ Nagai, Mikiko. 1995. Magic and self-cultivation in a new religion: The case of Shinnyoen. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 22: p. 305.
  22. ^ Shiramizu, Hiroko (1979). Organizational Mediums: A Case Study of Shinnyo-en, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6, No. 3, pp. 421.
  23. ^ Shiramizu, Hiroko (1979). Organizational Mediums: A Case Study of Shinnyo-en, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6, No. 3, pp.  428.
  24. ^ Shiramizu, Hiroko (1979). Organizational Mediums: A Case Study of Shinnyo-en, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6, No. 3, pp. 421.
  25. ^ Shiramizu, Hiroko (1979). Organizational Mediums: A Case Study of Shinnyo-en, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6, No. 3, pp. 424.
  26. ^ Mikiko, Nagai (1995). Magic and Self-Cultivation in a New Religion: The Case of Shinnyoen, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 22, No. 3/4, pp. 305-306.
  27. ^ *Schrimpf, Monika (2004). Notions of Secrecy in a New Religious Movement in Japan: A Study of Shinnyo-en. In: Kleine, Christoph; Schrimpf, Monika; Triplett, Katja (eds.), Unterwegs - Neue Pfade in der Religionswissenschaft. München: Biblion Verlag. p. 314. ISBN 978-3-932331-93-0.
  28. ^
  29. ^ Organizational mediums: A case study of Shinnyo-en. Author: Shiramizu Hiroko 1979 Vol:6:3 Journal: Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. p 434.
  30. ^ Kealii, "Ninth Annual Lantern Floating Ceremony," May 2007
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Address by Her Holiness Keishu Shinso, Saisho Homa, Taiwan, October 27th, 2007." 'In Step', Number 7, November 2007.
  33. ^ "Buddha Ripples," p. 7
  34. ^ Melville, 'More than a Drop in the Ocean,' "Buddha Ripples," p. 162–167.


  • A Walk through the Garden Vol.II | Foundations of Shinnyo-en, Shinnyo-en, Japan, 1999
  • Starting Out | An introduction to Shinnyo Practice, Shinnyo-en, 2010
  • The Path of Oneness, Shinnyo-en, English Revised Edition, 2009
  • Melville, Sinclair. 'More than a Drop in the Ocean,' "Buddha Ripples," IAD publishing, 2009
  • Usui, Atsuko. Women's 'Experience' in New Religious Movements: The Case of Shinnyo-en. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 30/3–4: 217–241. Nagoya, Japan: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 2003


External linksEdit