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Shinnyo-en's story began in 1936. Shinjo Ito was enjoying a comfortable career as an aircraft engineer, but felt a strong desire to pursue a spiritual path and guide people to happiness.

With the support of his wife Tomoji, Shinjo began training in Shingon, a major school of Japanese esoteric Buddhism founded in the 9th century CE, at the Daigoji monastery complex in Kyoto. According to the teachings of Shingon, enlightenment is not a distant reality that can take countless lifetimes to attain. Rather, it is a part of the reality we live in. With the guidance of a genuine teacher, awakening can be realized through practice for the spiritual growth of both oneself and others.

​As a qualified Buddhist master, Shinjo studied sacred Buddhist texts (known as sutras), searching for means that would capture Shingon's esoteric truths yet also make them accessible to laypeople. Shinjo concluded that the Nirvana Sutra—which focuses on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha in the final moments of his life—provided the doctrinal means for him to share such profound Buddhist truths and create a path of practice open to all.