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Her Holiness Shinso Ito

Her Holiness Shinso Ito is the current spiritual leader of Shinnyo-en and one of only a handful of women in the world to lead a Buddhist denomination.

Her Holiness, smiling, seated on the edge of a chair, leans forward to clasp hands with a man wearing a kesa; others seated nearby look on with palms pressed together.

Life, Education, and Buddhist Training

She was born Masako Ito on April 25th, 1942, to Shinjo and Tomoji Ito, the founders of Shinnyo‑en. As a child, Her Holiness learned about Buddhism from her parents, who were her principal spiritual teachers. As a young adult she studied at Taisho University, where she earned a degree in religious studies in 1965. The following year Her Holiness was ordained in the Shinnyo Dharma tradition, and subsequently undertook more than a decade of formal training as a Buddhist priest, receiving the Dharma name Shinso upon completion. In 1984 her father announced that she would be his successor as spiritual leader of Shinnyo‑en, a role she assumed upon his passing in 1989.

A photo of Her Holiness, gray-haired, wearing a bright orange robe with floral hem, eyes closed in deep concentration, holding a golden hand bell while performing a ritual.

Recognition as a Buddhist Master

In 1992 Daigo-ji, a 1100-year-old Buddhist monastery, conferred on Her Holiness the title of daisojo, the highest priestly rank in Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. She is one of only a few women to have been formally recognized as an accomplished master of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. Since then, Her Holiness has accepted invitations to officiate at important commemorative ceremonies at Daigo-ji in 1997 and 2009, the first woman to do so.

Her Holiness in ceremonial robes, carrying a staff, walks down an red-colored outdoor walkway accompanied by priests in robes and a Peruvian man in colorful native dress as a crowd looks on.

International Recognition

Her Holiness has also been recognized for her role as a Buddhist leader outside of Japan. In 2002, Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University of Thailand awarded her an honorary doctorate in recognition of her long-standing efforts to build mutual understanding and harmonious relations with Theravada Buddhism. In 2013, representatives from three orders of Sri Lankan Buddhism jointly conferred on Her Holiness the title “Most Knowledgeable and Venerable in the Field of Mahayana Buddhism” in honor of her work as a master of Mahayana Buddhism and as director of philanthropic activities in Sri Lanka. And in 2022, Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka conferred on Her Holiness an honorary doctorate for her lifelong commitment as a Buddhist leader.

In a large cloister with Catholic statues, Her Holiness, in orange robe, embraces the hands of a tall Catholic priest as they both look smilingly at each other; three other priests stand watching.

Leadership and Philanthropic Works

Believing that spiritual traditions and practices can help foster peace and understanding in the world, Her Holiness has organized and conducted a series of public ceremonies across the globe dedicated to cultivating harmony between cultures and religions. She has also partnered with secular philanthropic foundations throughout the world, acting on her belief that all life is interconnected and that Buddhism should actively engage in serving the global community. Her Holiness has also committed Shinnyo‑en to support programs for disaster relief, humanitarian and medical aid, social welfare, women’s empowerment, environmental protection, educational aid, and the preservation of traditional culture, and to promote innovative artistic and cultural programs.

Her Holiness and a diverse group of people, all smiling, laughing, and standing in a circle, place their hands together one on top of the other.

Promotion of a Spirit of Harmony

Her Holiness Shinso Ito’s palpable joy, warmth, and wisdom continue to inspire others as she shares the message of peace and enlightenment that the founders of Shinnyo‑en taught. Her Holiness sincerely believes that good communication is vital to bringing people closer together in this divided world, and in her role as spiritual leader of Shinnyo‑en she continues to promote harmony and cooperation between all religions and cultures.