Shinnyo Fire and Water Ceremonies

The contemporary Shinnyo-en fire and water ceremony was created by Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en, in 1992, and she has celebrated the ceremonies several times in various locations around the world since then.

As one of the few women in history to become a Buddhist master and attain the highest priestly rank of daisojo as designated by the 9th century Shingon monastery in Kyoto, the center of esoteric Buddhist study in Japan, Shinso Ito has an extraordinary authority to officiate at these ceremonies. She furthermore has uniquely adapted the rites to be more accessible to the contemporary world and adapted each individual ceremony for the circumstances of the time and location where she has performed them. She has brought lay members of Shinnyo-en into participating in the ceremonies, and she has invited clergy and representatives of many other faiths and creeds to share in the rites.

While most traditional Buddhist fire rituals focus on personal purification and awakening, the Shinnyo-en ceremony is dedicated to awakening people to their innate compassionate and altruistic nature, transcending all boundaries of age, gender, nationality, ethnicity, and religious tradition, and directing the positive energy of the ceremony outward with the hope that all people can live in a world of hope and harmony.

The ceremony, therefore, is meant not just for some personal benefit, but deeply to inspire compassion - for all life forms, past, present, and future as well as to empower altruistic actions that benefit others. The Shinnyo-en ceremony is designed to be an impetus both for personal spiritual awakening but also for selfless, courageous action.

Shinso Ito has performed the fire and water ceremonies to extraordinary gatherings and circumstances at several locations in Japan; in Taipei, Taiwan; at the edge of the Great Rift Valley in the Laikipia District of Kenya; in Paris, France; in Berlin, Germany; in Redwood City, California, U.S.A.; in New York, New York, U.S.A.; and annually for the past sixteen years in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.

Significance of the Fire Element

The primary meaning of the fire in the ceremony is to spark the joy of serving others. The wisdom of the Buddha symbolized in the flames burns away ignorance that is another cause of suffering. Ignorance can be explained as a state of mind that lacks clarity or wisdom of seeing ultimate reality and truth. Ignorance clouds one's true nature and leads to unwise acts, speech and thoughts that would cause suffering. Like light illuminates darkness, wisdom dispels the gloom of ignorance. The rite of fire, therefore, signifies purification and awakening. By removing delusion/ignorance, it awakens one's compassion and innate altruistic aspiration. The fire rite also invokes spiritual support for our altruistic acts. It ignites the light of hope and courage, allowing individual spirits to shine - to see clearly and to illuminate the way to help others.

Flames of fire remind us of the sun. We all possess passion, which is like a burning fire or the bright sun. The fire rite of Shinnyo-en is conducted to remind people that we all have altruistic passion that can carry us forward and that wishes to create a better, brighter future. When misused, fire can become destructive, but without fire we cannot live. So we need to learn how to use fire wisely; likewise we need to use our passion wisely. The fire element is meant to help people awaken to this wisdom.

Significance of the Water Element

The water element of the ceremony represents the "compassion." In Buddhism, incessant and excessive unfulfilled desire and ignorance are believed to cause suffering. "Thirst" metaphorically depicts the state of suffering caused by incessant unfulfilled desire. Water that symbolically represents Buddha's compassion gently relieves and soothes the thirst of suffering and infuses complete spiritual contentment. This consolatory/reconciling power of the water rite washes away and heals one of unfulfilled desires, regrets, and grievances of the past, present and future, and it reconciles one's fundamental nature with all living beings.

The water element can be expressed as the lantern floating ceremony. The lantern floating provides a venue for many people to celebrate and reconnect, beyond the boundary of life and death, with the lives of those who transitioned to a spiritual realm, and to offer heartfelt appreciation to those who passed. Many participants write names of their lost loved ones on lanterns and float them to the water with their prayer of love and appreciation. Our ancestors gave lives to their children and they then gave lives to their children. This infinite connection of lives has brought each of us to be here today. When we deeply comprehend the meanings of this connection, we naturally come to find our profound appreciation to our past (our ancestors) and preciousness of our lives. This recognition gives us a higher aspiration to fully live every present moment, and it inspires us to build a better world for future generations.

The ceremony also provides an opportunity for us to deeply contemplate on the preciousness of water and other elements of the nature and how they support the human lives and all other living beings. Water (as well as other elements of the Nature) is essential for nurturing/nourishing/maintaining life. Celebrating water is to celebrate our firm resolve to preserve the environment of our planet Earth and protect the future of all living beings.