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The Women's Conference
Address by Her Holiness Shinso Ito
October 25, 2010 • Long Beach, California
I am grateful to be invited to participate in this wonderful event and honored to speak to this distinguished audience as a leader entrusted with the spiritual care of others.
Today I would like to introduce you to another leader: my late mother, Tomoji. She reached the highest priestly rank, which few women have achieved. Her strength and leadership inspired me to take a path of religious and priestly training. She was a wise, loving, and compassionate leader, and nurtured leaders of the future.
Tomoji demonstrated that leadership comes from love for those around us, a love that deepens through empathy for those in difficulty and suffering. She showed how a true leader empowers others to turn hardship into joy. Her leadership was born from devotion to others, sound judgment, and putting ideals into practice.
Buddhism abounds with examples of outstanding women leaders. Queen Shrimala, for example, learned about the path of awakening from the Buddha. As she followed this path, she understood the role she could play and guided others with wisdom, kindness, and compassion. My mother, Tomoji, also led like this. She saw every facet of life as an opportunity to practice her beliefs and demonstrated Buddhist values with every action.
While cooking in the temple kitchen, she spoke to other women about having gratitude for everything and everyone that supports our lives. "We must care for the earth and all life, and not take one grain of rice, or one drop of water, for granted." When cleaning the temple, she would guide others to act mindfully like seeing the dust on an object as the dust in one's heart that prevented it from shining. In her daily life, she put others first, exemplifying basic Buddhist principles. She took people's stories to heart when they poured out their troubles. She taught people to put themselves in others' shoes, and learn and grow in the process and she led them to practice the altruism at the heart of Mahayana Buddhism.
Hardship shaped Tomoji's personality, and misfortune seemed to rule her life. When young, she lost her father and sister, and was separated from her mother. The hardship continued after she became a Buddhist leader and role model. But she taught me: "Constructive solutions never come from hatred or resentment." She encouraged me to reach out, believe in people, be patient, forgive, and as a leader, to speak with conviction in order to guide others to what is right.
As a leader myself, I expect much from women's leadership in this century. As architects of change, let's work together to transform our planet and nurture wise and compassionate leaders for a hopeful future. One day we will be grateful to live in these challenging times, which present us with opportunities to know there's meaning and joy in living.
I will conclude with my mother's words, "The challenges we face are those we can overcome. Now is the time."
Thank you so much for your kind attention.