Hunting the Great Awakened Elephant


Dharma Glimpse – April 6, 2014 by  Wendy Shinyo Haylett

Dedication to a spiritual path is a treacherous activity and dedication to a path as a Dharma teacher is ever more treacherous. The innate hazards of attaching to our egos and our self-power as our refuge is ever-present and proportionate to our desire to attain the “end” we have set our sights on … whatever that “end” may be: Dedicated practitioner, teacher, Enlightenment, rebirth in the Pure Land … or whatever.

In the past two months I’ve been involved in two activities for the Bright Dawn Center, one was researching and writing an article about Rev. Gyomay Kubose, Rev. Koyo Kubose, and the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism, which recently published in the Amida Order journal, Running Tide. The other was facilitating a sutra study module for the Lay Ministry 6 Class of 2014, focusing on the Tan Butsu Ge and The Heart Sutra translations and commentaries by Rev. Gyomay Kubose.

I have been immersed in the spiritual, philosophical, and teaching history of our Bright Dawn lineage … rereading teachings, exploring lineage teachers, listening to Dharma talks, and, well… something wonderful has happened. I know Rev. Koyo Kubose’s saying is “the Dharma is my rock” but what I have recently experienced is more of the feeling of floating. Immersed in our lineage teachings, I found myself suddenly more buoyant in life, in all aspects of my life. Not like a rock anchoring me, but a natural ability to float. Not a drowning in the details of life, but a floating above.

I felt like I had become one with me, for the first time in many years. Like I was naturally me. I began enjoying every part of my life. I was floating through work, through stress, through chores … even through the endless snow shoveling and cold of the winter of our discontent.  I wasn’t worried about what I should be doing or how I should be acting. I was just living my life, being with my friends, family, co-workers, and clients, but feeling more authentically myself, connected to a natural flow in everything I did, and at ease.

Everything seemed so natural, so free. It reminded me of Dharma song that first captivated me some 25 years ago when I was studying and practicing in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is called Free and Easy: A Spontaneous Vajra Song by Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche.


Free and Easy: A Spontaneous Vajra Song

By Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche

Happiness cannot be found
through great effort and willpower,
but is already present, in open relaxation and letting go.

Don’t strain yourself,
there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises in the body-mind
has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with, and become attached to it,
passing judgment upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves
without changing or manipulating anything
and notice how everything vanishes and
reappears, magically, again and again,
time without end.

Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it.
It’s like a vivid rainbow which you pursue without ever catching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.

Although peace and happiness do not exist
as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.

Don’t believe in the reality
of good and bad experiences;
they are like today’s ephemeral weather,
like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there—open, inviting and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness, this freedom and natural ease.
Don’t search any further.
Don’t go into the tangled jungle
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.

Nothing to do or undo,
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
and nothing missing—

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.


So there it was, a profound and beautiful Dharma song that I didn’t really hear. And it was only in my rediscovery of the riches and power of our Bright Dawn lineage teachers and teachings that I felt this freedom and natural ease. One of the books I have been rereading is the essay collection by Dr. Alfred Bloom Sensei, Living in Amida’s Universal Vow.

Reading that I kept coming back to the first essay by the great reformer in our Bright Dawn Center lineage, Kiyazawa Manshi, “The Great Path of Absolute Other Power and My Faith.” In this essay he talks about his quest to find “the meaning of life at all costs.” It is this quest that brought him to his belief in the Tathagata.

He describes something I believe many of us can relate to, because we have struggled with the same thing. I know I certainly can. He talks about the journey he took to his faith and his belief that self-power is absolutely useless. He said it had been a trying process and he could only reach that conclusion of the uselessness of self-power when he exhausted the entire resources of his knowledge and devices.

He would reach conclusion after conclusion of what the meaning was, then each one would be invariably undermined. As he wrote: “One can never escape this calamity so long as one is hopeful of establishing religious faith by way of logic or learning.”

My recent Bright Dawn immersion experience has brought me, too, to that place Manshi Sensei hinted at; the place where all your previous conclusions about the meaning of life are undermined. They are undermined because they were formed based on logic or learning alone.

I can’t tell you how many times during my life as a spiritual seeker, I have reached that place where I look back and laugh—

out of frustration—laugh because I see I have been traveling for miles and miles, months and months, and sometimes years and years, heading in the wrong direction.

Now what? Now what do I have to learn to get myself oriented and walking in the right direction toward Enlightenment or whatever it is I’m seeking?

Each time I reach that place, I come closer and closer to the discovery that it’s not what I have to learn or acquire, but what I must unlearn and give up.

But to be student, one must learn, right? And there is the rub. That is the treacherous territory of being a student of Buddhism or any true spirituality or religion, and the heightened danger of being a teacher on the same path.

It was Shinran who realized in his own life that the path is not so much about Enlightenment or being reborn in the Pure Land, but about the awakening of faith and a naturalness, or “Amida’s Sincerity.” This awakening of faith is described by Kaneko Daiei, a student of Manshi Sensei, in his essay, “The Meaning of Salvation in the Doctrine of Pure Land Buddhism” also in the book Living in Amida’s Universal Vow.

He describes it as “breaking through at the root of delusion.” When that happens, he writes, we are broken, our self-complacency and our faith in self power, logic, and concepts is shaken.  He says “we are emptied through and through” yet “at the same moment we find ourselves taken in by Amida’s Sincerity” and “for the first time attain true restfulness, because our deepest root of our existential anxiety or suffering, namely ignorance, is cut through forever.”

Of course this doesn’t mean that we won’t experience suffering as long as we remain in the world, but he says “they no longer disturb the fundamental restfulness and serenity.”

All this circles back to what Rev. Gyomay Kubose teaches in so many of his essays in Everyday Suchness and Everyday Suchness. Reread for yourself the essays “Naturalness”, “Living Life”, “Life without Regret”, “Buddhism is Everyday Life”, “Simplicity”. “The Natural Way”, “Gateless Gate”, and “Transcending Means and Ends”, to name a few.

Yes, I have been a student of these teachings … constantly whispering in my ear … while I was still trying to be student, trying to be a teacher, hunting that illusive “self” or lack of self I thought I needed to find, and trying to go wherever I thought I needed to go to find it.

I was listening, but I wasn’t hearing. I wasn’t actually living my life. I was doing what I thought I should to reach the goal of … of … what? Hunting the great awakened elephant!

Running away from myself, looking beyond my own life to find it. I hadn’t emptied myself through and through. No, instead, I had been loading myself up with elephant-hunting gear and elephant-hunting instructions and books. I was collecting that gear from every teacher and it was weighing me down until I was lost and spinning, not knowing what direction I was heading.

Had I listened deeply—not mouthing the words to be a model student or give the right teachings—but listened in me, for me, I would have heard. I would have heard that Enlightenment is everyday … that acceptance is transcendence … that ends = means. And that only in emptying myself, releasing me from the tight grasp of me, that I can truly live as me.

Had I truly listened, I would have heard Rev. Gyomay Kubose saying to me “Only when one lives his life does he know its meaning.” I would have heard him say, “Whatever the true inner heart says is the right way. Listen to its voice.” I would heard him say the true way “is simply the natural way.” I would have heard him say that “the true self is selflessness” … the teaching of “forget yourself.”

And I would have heard the voice of Rev. Akegarasu, as Shuichi Maida wrote in Heard By Me. He wrote, “Rev. Akegarasu is always whispering in my ear, ‘There is nothing to worry about. You had better do whatever you want to do.’ This is the Buddha-Dharma I heard from him.”


_/|\_ A deep Gassho to our precious teachers.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s