I often hear that True Pure Land Buddhism teaches “dual benefit” salvation. What does that mean?
The Letters contains a passage where someone asks if True Pure Land teaching confers one benefit or two, and Rennyo replies “Not one but two,” clarifying that Shinran did teach dual salvation. “Dual benefit” refers to the benefits of salvation in this life and in the life to come. It is known as “dual salvation of the present and future.” Benefit in this life means happiness now, in this life. Śākyamuni declared “Life is suffering,” and indeed, although science, medicine, and civilization have made great strides, human suffering has not diminished in the least. The annual number of suicides in Japan continues to top 30,000, a clear sign of how suffering and anguish abound. Śākyamuni taught that “having and not-having are the same”: if we have things we suffer on their account, and if we lack them we suffer as well. He taught that all people suffer, regardless of whether they have money and things or not. The source of the suffering is the long darkness of mind that has tormented us from time without beginning. The only thing that can break that darkness of mind and enables us to enter into absolute happiness is Namu Amida Butsu, the Name created by Amida Buddha: this is what Shinran taught.
The Name of the Buddha of Unhindered Light and His Light of Wisdom Destroy the darkness of the "long night" And fulfill the wish of sentient beings. ----Hymns on the Masters
The Name of Amida Buddha (Namu Amida Butsu) has the function of destroying our long darkness of mind and leading us into absolute happiness.
Now that I have boarded the Vow-ship of Amida’s great compassion, now that I am afloat on the vast ocean of brightness, the breezes of supreme joy blow softly and the waves of all woe are transformed. ----Chapter on Practice in Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment Life aboard the ship of Amida’s great pity is a vast ocean of dazzling brightness. How wonderful it is to be alive, like voyaging over the sea with a fair wind in the sails!
He of the nembutsu is on the path of no hindrance. ----Tannisho, Section VII A person of the nembutsu who has received the Name of Namu Amida Butsu is a person of absolute happiness, free of all hindrances.
Such is the benefit (happiness) of this life. We are saved into absolute happiness in this life. Once saved, what will happen at the time when our ties to this realm of endurance are severed? We will be born into Amida’s Pure Land and achieve the same enlightenment as Amida, the buddha of infinite life and light, able to freely take an active part in the salvation of sentient beings. This is the benefit of the life to come. However, this benefit is limited to those who have received salvation in this life. “This life is hopeless. Save me when I die”: anyone who misconstrues Shinran’s dual-benefit teaching as single benefit will achieve salvation neither in this life nor in the next, and wind up with no benefit at all. What a terrible waste it would be if anyone heard the precious teaching of dual salvation and yet gave up on this world in despair and, forgetting to achieve salvation in this life, dreamed only of salvation in the life to come.