The word ōjō has two meanings, I have heard: “salvation in this life” and “salvation after death.” Is there some basis for this?
Master Shinran taught unequivocally that there are two meanings of ōjō. One is salvation of the mind, meaning “to be brought into absolute happiness,” and the other is salvation involving the flesh, meaning “to go to Amida’s Pure Land and be born as a buddha.” Let us begin with documentary evidence from the sutras for salvation of the mind. This distinctive revelation from Master Shinran is based on Śākyamuni’s Explanation Passage on the Vow.
Śākyamuni Buddha appeared in this world for the express purpose of explaining Amida’s Vow, and in this Passage, he reveals the true intent of Amida’s salvation. That is why Master Shinran called it the ultimate teaching in Buddhism. Concerning ōjō, the Explanation Passage on the Vow explains it as sokutoku ōjō (instantaneous birth). Master Shinran provided the following commentary: “Instantaneously attain birth” means that when a person attains faith, he or she is born immediately. “To be born immediately” means to dwell in the stage of non-regression. “To dwell in the stage of non-regression” means to be settled in the stage of the truly settled. This is also called attainment of near-perfect enlightenment. Such is the meaning of “instantaneously attain birth.” “Instantaneously” means without any passage of time and without any passage of days; no time elapses. ----Notes on “Essentials of Faith Alone”
In Śākyamuni Buddha’s Explanation Passage on the Vow, it says, “instantaneously attain birth.” This means the attainment of non-regressive true settlement (absolute happiness). This is also called attaining the highest spiritual stage before supreme enlightenment. “Instantaneously” means taking place here and now, without any lapse of time. In Concerning Single Invocation and Many Invocations, Master Shinran wrote as follows: “Instantaneously attain birth” (sokutoku ōjō): Soku means “instantaneously,” without any time elapsing or a day elapsing. The same word also means “to attain,” as in to attain a certain rank. Toku means to receive that which one ought to receive. The gaining of true faith means being immediately embraced to the heart of Amida, never to be forsaken. “To embrace” (sesshu) means to take in (setsu) and to receive and hold (shu). When we are grasped by Amida, immediately – without a moment or a day elapsing – we attain the stage of the truly settled; this is the meaning of “attain birth.” In the Explanation Passage on the Vow, Śākyamuni taught “[they] instantaneously attain birth.” This means one is saved by the power of Amida in a split second (ichinen) into absolute happiness (sesshu fusha, to be grasped and never forsaken).
In speaking of “instantaneously attaining birth,” Śākyamuni spoke of attaining “true settlement” as “dwelling in the stage of non-regression.” He also said that since once we attain this level we will attain supreme enlightenment without fail, it means attaining near-perfect enlightenment. He also spoke of it as “reaching avinivartaniya” or “reaching avaivartika.” This is also called “immediately entering the level of definite settlement.”
----Concerning Single Invocation and Many Invocations
When Śākyamuni spoke of “instantaneously attaining birth” he meant being saved to the stage of “non-regressive true settlement.” Since such a person is certain to become a buddha, they are called the “definitely settled.” As these passages make abundantly clear, Master Shinran used the word ōjō to refer to being saved by the power of Amida’s Vow from a life of suffering into absolute happiness. Master Kakunyo, in his Notes on Oral Transmissions, referred to this as “salvation without loss of the body,” or salvation while alive.
Next let us examine documentary evidence from the scriptures for the other meaning of ōjō, that of going to Amida’s Pure Land and being born as a buddha, or salvation involving the flesh. Since until birth in the Pure Land one is at the level of non- regression, this is called “true settlement.” The settling of faith refers to the moment when one is held fast by Amida. From that moment until actual birth in the Pure Land, one is at the level of true settlement. ----Lamp for the Latter Age, 13 Until birth in the Pure Land, one is at the level of non-regression, so this is called true settlement. The settling of faith means obtaining the happiness of being held fast, never to be forsaken (absolute happiness). From then on, one is at the level of what is called true settlement, meaning one can go to the Pure Land without fail. Now I am drawing near the end of this life. It is absolutely certain: I will precede you to the Pure Land, and there I will surely, surely await your arrival. ----Lamp for the Latter Age, 12 I have come near the end of this life. I will go to the Pure Land and await your coming. Be sure that you come, without fail. In addition to these, there are many other passages that refer to salvation (ōjō) involving the flesh. In this way, you can see that Master Shinran taught two different kinds of ōjō: salvation of the mind, known as “salvation without loss of the body,” and salvation involving the flesh, known as “salvation with loss of the body.” Let us consider the relationship between these two types of salvation. In secular practice as well, the ascension of a nation’s king is called sokui [coronation; literally “immediate (attainment of) rank”], where i means “rank.” A person at the rank of crown prince will attain the rank of king without fail. True settlement is like the rank of crown prince. Ascension to the throne corresponds to attaining supreme enlightenment (salvation involving the flesh). ----Concerning Single Invocation and Many Invocations
In this world, becoming a king is called “sokui” [coronation; literally “immediate attainment of rank”]. Just as a crown prince is someone who will surely become king, someone who is at the level of true settlement will surely become a buddha. Master Shinran kindly provided side annotations for crucial Buddhist terms. Shōjōju, “true settlement,” he glossed as “ōjō subeki mi to sadamaru nari,” or “settled to attain salvation.” Next to futaiten, “non-regression,” he wrote the annotation “hotoke ni naru made to iu”, or “until becoming a buddha.” Tōshōgaku, the penultimate stage of enlightenment (near-perfect enlightenment), he explained as “hotoke ni naru beki mi to sadamareru o iu nari,” “makoto no hotoke ni naru beki mi to nareru nari,” or “settled to become a buddha; fixed to become a true buddha.” Next to mujōdai nehan, “supreme enlightenment” (great Nirvana), he wrote makoto no hotoke nari, or “a true buddha.” Only those who now attain salvation of the mind can attain salvation of the flesh. This is why Master Shinran encouraged us to hasten to achieve salvation of the mind. This is also known as salvation without loss of the body, where one achieves completion of life’s purpose in this life, realizing non-regressive happiness (absolute happiness): Master Shinran taught this and nothing else.
*1: Explanation Passage on the Vow: a text in which Shakyamuni Buddha explained the true meaning of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow in a way that is easier to comprehend.