Her Holiness Shinso Ito is the head priest and spiritual leader of the global Buddhist sangha known as Shinnyo-en. She was born in Japan on April 25, 1942, to Shinnyo-en’s founders Shinjo and Tomoji Ito, who also served as her principal spiritual teachers. Shinso Ito studied and trained in Buddhism from childhood, and in 1966 she was ordained in the Shinnyo Dharma tradition. Her formal academic study was at Taisho University where she majored in religious studies, graduating in 1965 from the Department of Philosophy at the Faculty of Letters. In 1984, Shinjo announced that Shinso would become his successor, and upon his passing in 1989, Shinso assumed the leadership of Shinnyo-en.
In 1992, the head temple of the 1,100-year-old Daigo school of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism bestowed on Shinso the title of daisojo, the highest priestly rank of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. In accepting this title, Shinso became one of the few women to be recognized as an accomplished master of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. Shinso also accepted invitations to officiate at the monastery’s important commemorative ceremonies in 1997 and 2009, making her the first woman to do so.
Outside of Japan, in 2002 Shinso was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University in Thailand in acknowledgment of her long-standing efforts to build mutual understanding and harmonious relations with Theravada Buddhism. 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 titles that are given to “the most knowledgeable and venerable in the field of Mahayana Buddhism” in honor of Shinso’s achievements as a master of Mahayana Buddhism and leader of Shinnyo-en’s philanthropic activities in Sri Lanka.
Believing that faith-based efforts can contribute to promoting peace and understanding in the world, Her Holiness has been conducting a series of global ceremonies 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. Shinso is also committed to assisting with disaster relief, humanitarian and medical aid, social welfare, women's empowerment, environmental protection, educational aid, the preservation of traditional culture, and the promotion of innovative artistic and cultural programs.
As Her Holiness values education as a primary tool of growth and understanding, in 2014 she decided formally to make a commitment to partner with USC. In October 2017, Shinso gave a public lecture at the university on effecting positive change for the future, during which she conducted an empowerment ceremony for bringing out one’s inner light.