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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
WINTER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 83 As Honolulu’s nearby skyscrapers gleamed pink in the late afternoon light, forty thou- sand people gathered in Ala Moana Beach Park on Memorial Day 2012. The festivities unfolded with taiko drumming, hula dancing, and traditional Hawaiian chanting. Then at twi- light, Shinso Ito, the leader of the Japanese Bud- dhist organization Shinnyo-en, took the podium, her bright orange robes contrasting with the pur- pling sky. The huge assembly filling the beach before her had come to participate in a toro nagashi, a Japanese lantern-floating ceremony to honor and commemorate the dead. After a brief address welcoming the crowd and explain- ing the ceremony, she ritually blessed and purified the lanterns and sounded a bell. The thousands of participants then waded into the water with their glowing paper lanterns, each inscribed with personal messages and prayers for the dead. With the hope that the deceased would move toward enlightenment with the tide, the participants released their lanterns into the waves. Since 1999, Shinnyo-en has held a lantern- floating ceremony in Honolulu every Memorial Day weekend, giving special thought to those who have died in war and to victims of natural disasters, famine, and disease. It has grown into a popular event that reaches far beyond the local Buddhist population. While it is not well known in American Buddhist circles, Shinnyo-en now counts more than one million members, mostly in Japan. An independent lay Buddhist order founded in 1936 by Shinso Ito’s father, Shinjo, and mother, Tomoji, the organization now has centers scattered across the globe, including six in the United States. Shinso Ito assumed her role as the head priest of Shinnyo-en in 1989, and today she remains one of the few women to have ever attained daisojo, the highest priestly rank of Japanese Shingon Buddhism. Shinjo Ito was originally an aircraft engineer, but he believed that despite the great advance- ments in modern engineering, technology did not have all the answers. He pursued monastic training in Shingon, a Japanese tantric Buddhist tradition that was founded in the ninth century, Profile By Andrea Miller SHINNYO-EN (Top) Japanese lanterns float in the waters off Honolulu during an annual ceremony organized by Shinnyo-en. (Inset) Shinso Ito conducts a fire ceremony at the USA Head Temple in Redwood City, California. PHOTO (TOP) JOE MARQUEZ SHINNYO-EN