Here we learn the meaning of an important Buddhist term.
We board the Vow-ship of Amida’s Great Compassion now
Master Shinran’s signature teaching is “heizei goujou.” “Heizei” means not after we die but in the present, while we are alive. “Gou” refers to the great task of life or the purpose of life. Why were we born? Why are we living? What is the reason we have to live even when life is suffering? For all humanity in all times and places, nothing is more important a matter than this. “Jou” means to complete or to achieve. Life has an important purpose that we were born to accomplish. Master Shinran taught us that we can complete it while we are alive, and urged us complete it quickly. So what is “the great task of life”? Master Shinran refers to our life, in which we are constantly struck by waves of distress, difficulties, and disasters, as “the sea of suffering.” If we end our present lives in the sea of suffering, we will go into another world of suffering after we die. Sakyamuni Buddha teaches this as, “Enter suffering from suffering, enter darkness from darkness” (The Larger Sutra of Infinite Life). Master Shinran, in the opening of Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment, asserted that there is a great ship that carries us across the sea of life, which is filled with suffering and pain, to the Pure Land in joy. Amida Buddha, who is the master of Shakyamuni Buddha and all other buddhas in the cosmos, vowed impassionedly to save all people who are drowning in the sea of suffering into true happiness both in this life and in the afterlife.
As the ship was created from this deeply compassionate wish of Amida, it is called “the Vow-ship of Amida’s great compassion.” Through the working of Amida’s great compassion, on being taken aboard the Vow-ship of Amida’s great compassion, our life of suffering transforms instantaneously into a life of joy. Until we are taken aboard this great ship, we have to keep on living no matter how hard our life may be. We are taken aboard the Vow-ship of Amida’s great Compassion now, in the present, while we are still alive (heizei).
To be taken aboard this great ship now and attain absolute happiness that does not change no matter what happens: that is what Master Shinran referred to with the term “heizei goujou.” We were born into this world to achieve a state of "heizei goujou"—to have life's greatest task fulfilled in the present.