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Prestigious Sri Lankan university awards honorary doctorate to Her Holiness

April 25, 2022

A maroon ceremonial hand-held fan decorated with a circular pattern, Singala letters, and the words, “Gift of Honour, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka.”

Japan / Sri Lanka

On April 6th, Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka recognized Her Holiness Shinso Ito’s lifelong commitment as a Buddhist leader with the conferral of an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy at the institution's 22nd General Convocation. Venerable Shuichi Arai represented Her Holiness at the ceremony and received the honorary doctorate on her behalf.

Master Shinjo Ito, wearing a ceremonial garment over a dark suit, exchanges a bowl with a shaven-headed monk in front of a large statue of the Nirvana Buddha.

Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka is a prestigious institution for Buddhist studies, with graduates working in Sri Lanka and abroad. It is a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and International Association of Theravada Buddhist Universities.

“Most respectfully, I request your reverence, to award with high regard, the honorary degree of Doctor of Philosophy, as approved by the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka on the recommendation of the Senate of the university, to Her Holiness Venerable Shinso Ito who has been an emblem of Buddhism by following the altruistic path in Buddhism and honored by the people, local and foreign, for the yeoman welfare services rendered by her to the whole world as a true disciple of the Buddha,” read the citation for Honorary Degree of Doctorate.

Her Holiness addressed the audience via video message:

“I am deeply honored and grateful to receive this prestigious degree from the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka. Your university provides learning opportunities throughout the world through sincere research and human resource development.

I would like to express my sincere respect to the Venerable Chancellor, Venerable Vice Chancellor, and all the professors of your university for your wide-ranging educational activities in line with the wisdom and compassion of Buddhism.”

Her Holiness, in an orange robe, holds a golden cylinder, standing next to a shaven-headed monk who holds a large ceremonial fan decorated with words, in front of a large statue of Buddha.

Shinnyo‑en’s relationship with Sri Lanka dates to the 1980’s, when the country’s revered leader, Most Venerable Palipana Sri Chandananda, visited the Head Temple in Japan to offer a sapling of the sacred Bodhi tree. In October of 1986, Master Shinjo Ito was conferred the Honorary Title “Mahayana Buddadharma Visharada Keerthi Sri',' for his great contributions to the religious world and society. It was the first time in the more than one thousand-year history of the Asgiriya buddhist tradition that this title was conferred to a foreigner. That visit led to the creation in 1988 of the Shinnyo‑en Lanka Free Nursery School, which is dedicated to providing free state of the art pre-school education to underprivileged children in the local community.

A group of children wearing blue shorts and tee-shirts with the words “Shinnyo-en Lanka Nursery School” printed on them sit mindfully in front of a statue of Buddha.

Shinnyo‑en covers all of the school's operating costs while also providing uniforms, school supplies, tuition, and snacks for the children. The opening of the school, Shinjo Ito said, “is for the children of this precious gem that is Sri Lanka to cultivate lives full of blessings and joy that will light the way to a bright future.”

A standing gray-haired man in a suit, wearing a kesa around his neck, accepts a golden cylinder from a seated shaven-headed monk in orange robes; a statue of Buddha can be seen in the background.

Students from the school have gone on to pursue careers in medicine, engineering, banking, law and academia. One former student reflected, “the culture, discipline and good habits they taught us those days have now become life long habits and sometimes it makes us unique and I'm very grateful for that.”

Three girls in yellow and pink tutus, white tights, and wearing yellow and pink butterfly wings perform a dance.

“It was really a home away from home for two years back in 1992-93,” another added, “where I can still recall the fond memories at the nursery and the warmth of the teachers. Having the best education and life skills at the very beginning of life has laid the foundation for me to become a reputable and responsible independent in society.”

Her Holiness said of the school: 

“Over the past 35 years since the nursery school's inauguration, some 8,000 students spent meaningful years learning here. They have gone on to play important roles in a wide variety of fields in your country.

As an expression of our heartfelt support to Sunday Schools at temples in Sri Lanka that nurture the younger generation, we have contributed to projects that provide uniforms and school supplies.”

The citation also commends Her Holiness for her leadership during the aftermath of the Tsunami that brought much devastation to Sri Lanka in 2004. Shinnyo‑en provided relief volunteers to aid in the recovery efforts, offering humanitarian relief to the citizens of Sri Lanka that were impacted by the disaster. Additionally, Shinnyo‑en has provided assistance for the construction and renovation of buildings in Sri Lanka including, Sri Lanka Federation of University Women (SLFUW) in Colombo and the Diwaguhawa Cave Temple in Kuruvita.

In 2013, representatives from the three main orders of Sri Lankan Buddhism—the Asgiriya Chapter of the Siam Nikaya, the Amarapura Nikaya, and the Ramanna Nikaya—all jointly conferred on Shinso Ito titles that are given to “the most knowledgeable and venerable in the field of Mahayana Buddhism” in honor of her achievements as a master of Mahayana Buddhism and leader of Shinnyo‑en’s philanthropic activities in Sri Lanka. Her Holiness has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University in Thailand in 2003 in acknowledgment of her long-standing efforts to build mutual understanding and harmonious relations with Theravada Buddhism.

Five smiling school children in blue and white school uniforms pose side-by-side for a photograph.

Her Holiness concluded her message with the words:

“It is exactly in these times with the ongoing pandemic and global conflicts that I keenly feel the importance of our actions and messages for peace as religious leaders. Together with our dear Sri Lankan people I wish to continue to pray deeply and devote myself to working for world peace.”

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