Dr. Paula Arai to Join IBS Faculty: She Will Be First Eshinni and Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies

Gesshin Claire Greenwood  |  August 22, 2022

The Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) is pleased to announce that acclaimed scholar and author Dr. Paula Arai will be joining the faculty in January 2023 as the first Eshinni and Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies. Dr. Arai is well known for her scholarship on women in Buddhism, in particular, her books, “Women Living Zen” and “Bringing Zen Home: The Healing Heart of Japanese Women’s Rituals.”

Dr. Arai blends a rigorous academic background with a compassionate, embodied, and person-centered approach to teaching. 

“History sweeps us along in currents that rage with tumultuous whitewater –– threatening to destabilize and disorient us –– as well as nourish us with streams that inspire us to live out of our ideals,” Dr. Arai said about the announcement. “The establishment of The Eshinni and Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies chair is an historic moment for the empowerment of women committed to the Dharma. 

“I am profoundly humbled and honored to be its first steward,” she continued. “Joining the core faculty of IBS feels like a homecoming. With gratitude and enthusiasm abounding in my heart, I am committed to refining and deepening our understanding of the contributions, teachings, challenges, and triumphs of Buddhist women and look forward to working in an enriching community and environment in which we develop our wisdom, strengthen our compassion, and blossom as lotuses rising from the mud.”

In November 2020, IBS Board of Trustees formally established “The Eshinni and Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies Endowment Fund” to support an IBS professor specializing in the academic study of women and Buddhism, particularly Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, and/or related disciplines.

 Lady Eshinni (1182-1268) was the wife of Shinran Shōnin, the founder of the Jōdo Shinshū Buddhist tradition. She is recognized for her wholehearted support of her husband’s Nembutsu teaching and his efforts to share these teachings with people from all walks of life. 

Kakushinni (1224-1283), the youngest daughter of Shinran Shōnin and Lady Eshinni, was responsible for keeping alive both the memory of her father and the faith that he had awakened within Nembutsu followers throughout Japan. She was the first guardian and caretaker of Shinran Shōnin’s shrine, a role she carried out with diligence and devotion. As a result, descendants of Shinran Shōnin came to form the lineage of the Ōtani family and establish the Hongwanji.

Lady Eshinni and Kakushinni provided wise and generous leadership, which enabled Jōdo Shinshū to become a major religious movement in Japan and throughout the world. All Nembutsu followers — women and men — owe a debt of gratitude to Lady Eshinni and Kakushinni. The Eshinni and Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies endowment was created to honor these women and help encourage the study and participation of women in Buddhism. 

With this endowment, IBS will add the Eshinni and Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies to its core faculty, filling an underrepresented, but very significant area of research, writing, and instruction. Dr. Arai will examine the social, symbolic and spiritual impact that women have had across the wide span of Buddhist traditions, eras and societies. In this way, IBS will be able to contribute to the growth of religious scholarship that recognizes the central role that women continue to play in the shaping of Buddhist thought and religious life.

Recognizing Dr. Arai’s lifelong dedication to the academic study of Buddhist women, we believe she is the ideal scholar to be appointed to this role. She is already an exemplary leader in the field of women and Buddhism, and students will benefit from her compassion and wisdom. 

Peggy Okabayashi, president of the FBWA, offered congratulations to Dr. Arai and to IBS for the appointment. “The Federation of Buddhist Women’s Associations (FBWA) is thrilled that Dr. Paula Arai has agreed to become the Eshinni and Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies (Professor) at IBS,” Okabayashi said. “To have such a distinguished individual be our very first Professor is a dream come true.”

We look forward to welcoming Dr. Arai in 2023. The Eshinni and
Kakushinni Professor of Women and Buddhist Studies Endowment Fund is
now a designated part of the Dharma Forward campaign. FBWA has
accepted the position of lead donor for this fund. IBS welcomes the
participation of anyone who would like to support this addition to the IBS
educational program.