Master Shinran’s Distinguishing Feature: Teaching of Heizei-Gojo

Though there are many religions in this world, only Master Shinran taught heizei gōjō (平生業成 achieving life’s purpose while alive). Indeed, the teaching of heizei gōjō encompasses all that Master Shinran taught, and it is not taught in any other religion or Buddhist sect. It is only elucidated in the teachings of Master Shinran.

“Heizei” (平生) means “the present,” and “gō” (業) means “the great task of life.” “The great task of life” does not mean doing such things as ruling over a country like Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu did. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who worked his way up to earning the title of Regent Emeritus, is said to have installed secret escape routes all over his castle, even in his bathroom and lavatory, in case of a sudden attack.

As the ruler of Japan, he could not let his guard down for a moment. How much more carefree his life must have been when he was still the peasant boy Hiyoshimaru, who would sleep under a bridge with a straw mat as a cover. Hideyoshi’s final words before departing this world were that “even the glory of Naniwa (Osaka) was but a dream within a dream.”

To gain happiness that merely disappears like a dewdrop, just as Hideyoshi’s did, cannot be called the great task for which we were born human. Rather, the great task of life is to attain “absolute happiness,” which remains unchanging for an eternity. All people go through life seeking happiness. In Buddhism, it is taught that there are two types of happiness. One of them is relative happiness, and the other is absolute happiness.

Relative happiness is the kind of happiness that doesn’t last, but turns inevitably to sadness and suffering. It includes the joy of marrying someone you love, the satisfaction of building your dream house, and any of the myriad other kinds of happiness that we long for and live for day by day.

Society is filled with grieving widows and widowers, and parents enraged by their children’s betrayals. Others feel anguish as the house they built after a lifetime of toil is reduced overnight to ashes. Today’s traffic accident or disaster can plunge yesterday’s peaceful, affectionate family into a hell of heartache and torment. The happiness we know is fleeting, here today and gone tomorrow. Such happiness is by definition not true happiness, since it is haunted by the perpetual fear of loss.

Even if life continues without calamity, in the face of death whatever happiness a person has acquired is doomed to collapse. Since none of us can escape death, happiness of this sort can never bring heartfelt peace or satisfaction.

By contrast, absolute happiness never changes and never crumbles no matter what happens. “Jō” in “heizei gōjō” means “to complete” or “to attain,” and Master Shinran taught that to attain this eternal happiness is the great task of life (“gō”). Therefore, “heizei gōjō” means attaining absolute happiness while you are alive; to do so is to complete the great task of life. It is also called “genshō futai.” “Genshō” means this present life, and “futai” means absolute happiness that will never collapse or fade away. Master Shinran called this “ōjō.” Since attaining this salvation does not take a long time but rather happens in the shortest possible length of time, known as an “ichinen,” it is called “ichinen ōjō.”

The reason why we can encounter Amida Buddha’s salvation, which is beyond our imagination, is that he promised to “save all people into absolute happiness in a split-second (ichinen) without fail.”

Master Shinran expounded only this Vow of Amida, and what he taught was attaining ōjō in a split-second of ichinen in this present life (attaining absolute happiness). This is why the teachings of Master Shinran are called “heizei gōjō.” Indeed this is the one and only true religion, and there is no other path on which all people can be saved.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #53 | 2015, Master Shinran’s Distinguishing Feature: Teaching of Heizei-Gojo

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