HAWAIIAN SPIRITUALITY AND MEDITATION
by Ian Ellis-Jones
A REVISED AND ENGROSSED COPY OF AN ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE SYDNEY UNITARIAN CHURCH
SUNDAY, 15 JANUARY 2006
For almost 30 years I have been a student and admirer of Hawaiian
spirituality. I’ve been privileged to visit Hawai'i (1) on many occasions
since 1977 and each time I go there I try to learn something new …
something that I can use and apply in my daily spiritual life. One of the
many good things about Hawaiian spirituality is that, even though it’s
extremely profound, it’s also very practical and workable. There’s a
minimum of ‘hocus pocus’, and you don’t need a guru or have to believe in
supernaturalism to practise it. Another good thing … the Hawaiians
remind us that the power is within us, and the power is in the doing.
For the most part the Hawaiians are very spiritual people, even though
Hawaii appears to be the most non-religious state in the United States of
America with the vast majority of residents of the Hawaiian Islands not
subscribing to any religion. Some 25 per cent of the population have at
least some native Hawaiian ancestry, and over 20 per cent of Hawai'i’s
residents have ancestors of more than one race.
There is a Hawaiian legend to the effect that when the first ha'ole
(Hawaiian slang for Caucasian), presumably one of Captain Cook's crew,
arrived at Kealakekua Bay on the Hawaiian island now known as Hawai'i
(the ‘Big Island’), he came ashore, and asked the first native Hawaiian he
saw, ‘What's the name of this island? Where do you live?’ The Hawaiian
purportedly replied, ‘Hawai'i’. Not long thereafter the ha'ole went to
another part of the Big Island and asked the next Hawaiian he saw,
‘Where do you live?’ The second Hawaiian purportedly replied, ‘Hawai'i.’
In due course other native Hawaiians gave the same answer, so the island
was named ‘Hawai'i’.
What each Hawaiian was really saying was, ‘I live in the supreme mana
[‘life force’, life’s force, energy, power, the very livingness and essence of
life] that rides on the life's breath’. (Ancient Hawaiians called the trade
wind makani, the life-giving spirit of air, which supposedly brought the
god Lono, the god of fertility and healing. The wind is also called ha, the
breath of life.)
Later, when the ha'ole visited the next island in the Hawaiian chain, he
asked the first native Hawaiian he saw, ‘Where do you live?’ The Hawaiian
replied, ‘Hawai'i’. The same thing happened when the ha'ole visited the
other islands in the Hawaiian chain. Always the same answer - ‘Hawai'i’.
So Captain Cook (who, in 1778, became the first European to visit the
Hawaiian Islands) supposedly named all the Islands ‘Hawai'i’. (Actually,
Cook named the islands the "Sandwich Islands" after the 4th Earl of
Sandwich, the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.)
Now, I have some important news for you. Hawai'i isn't just a set of
islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it's a state of consciousness
within you. Here, then, are the various layers of meaning that are said to
be embedded in the word Hawai'i (2):
ha: breath, or the breath of life,
wai: water, but also a code word for mana or ‘life force’, and
You see, the native Hawaiians saw themselves as living in the stream of
life’s supreme life force riding on life’s breath. What about us? Yes, we,
too, are part of life’s self-livingness. Although for the most part we
aren’t consciously aware of it, we all live in the stream of life’s supreme
‘life force’ that rides on life's breath which we ‘carry’ with us, and with
which we can ‘connect’ at any time and anywhere. We carry ‘Hawai'i’ with
us. It’s a state of spiritual consciousness, a state of Being, and a way of
Now, let’s practise our breathing, which is extremely important in all
forms of meditation, especially Hawaiian. We’re now going to take a full
breath in, through the nose and then breathe out through the mouth,
exhaling completely, making the loud whispering sound “haaaa”. The out-
breath is whispered loudly, and should be about twice as long as the in-
breath. Let’s do that, now. Breathe in through the nose. Now breathe
out through the mouth …’Haaaa’ … . Shortly, I will introduce you to a
special form of Hawaiian breathing known as piko piko breathing, which is
an essential part of all Hawaiian meditation.
The meaning and spirit of aloha
Most, if not all, of you would be familiar with the traditional Hawaiian
word of friendly welcome, aloha (love, mercy, compassion). As a greeting,
the word means hello, welcome, goodbye and farewell. However, there
are several layers of meaning embedded (some say encoded) in the word.
No one English word can adequately capture the meaning of the word, the
derivation of which is most interesting and instructive. What follows is a
brief but by no means complete exposition of some of the layers of
meaning embedded in the word:-
alo: to be with, to face or to front, or, simply, face-to-face
ha: the breath of life, life, energy, life energy, creation
Thus, alo-ha, face, or turn to, the breath of life.
The word is, however, even richer:-
a: burn, sparkle, ferment [cf the spiritual flame that is said to burn within
each of us; also a reference to the 2 supposed pathways of alchemy, viz
heat (burn method) and fermentation (wet method) reportedly used to
obtain the pure white life energy, the animating breath of life]
lo: claim, obtain, procure; lo also refers to the front part of the cranium
encasing the brain or consciousness
Thus, a-lo-ha, consciously seek the source of life’s animating energy.
o h a : joy, happiness.
Thus, alo-oha-ha, to be with joyfully, or, more fully, the joyful (oha) sharing
(alo) of the life energy (ha) in the present (alo).
In full, the composite multilayered expression aloha then becomes:
Eye to eye, face to face, consciously,
I greet you and joyfully give to you
my peace and my breath of life
My conscious self joyfully gives you
the gift of my life's breath [or my breath/my life].
In esoteric Christianity, ‘the Christ in me salutes the Christ in you’. In
the words of Hawaiian pastor Abraham K Akaka, aloha is ‘the love of God’
and ‘the power of God seeking to unite what is separated in the world –
the power that unites heart with heart, soul with soul, life with life,
culture with culture, race with race, nation with nation. It is the power
that can reunite where quarrel has brought separation; it is the power
that reunites a man with himself when he has become separated from the
image of God within.’ Aloha ke akua. Aloha is God. God is aloha.
The word aloha implies, and conveys, a wonderful reverence for that which
has life - all Life - and for what Hawaiians call the mana, the Power, the
Spirit, which life implies and which is the very Livingness of Life. As we
share this energy (ha), we become attuned to the Divine Power, mana.
Liberal Catholic Bishop James Wedgwood, in his excellent little book,
Meditation for Beginners, writes:
‘There is but one love throughout the universe, given by the Divine Father
into the custody of His creature; it is the one primal force which in its
elementary creative aspect produces multiplicity of form and in its higher
aspect draws souls together towards unity in the One Life.’
In the words of the psalmist, ‘They shall prosper that love thee’ (Ps 122:6).
‘Every one that loveth is born of God’ (1 Jn 4:7). Love is in accordance with
the natural eternal order of the Universe, for ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8). The
Kingdom of God which we find within us is a kingdom of love. Love is the
one and only reality. It is love that heals. It is love that saves.
The most curative thought in the world is the thought of love (aloha).
Love increases as judgment decreases, because judgment (eg criticism,
anger, resentment) creates a separation. Self-centredness, with its
misbelief in separation, is, according to Archbishop William Temple, the
true original sin and is the source of all actual sin. We are to ‘judge not
according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment’ (Jn 7:24) and to
‘resist not evil’ (Mt 5:39). This is the way, the path of wisdom and
attainment, recognising the innate unity of all life. You will know the
truth, and the truth will make you free (see Jn 8:32).
You know, the law requires that decision makers be both rational and
humane in their decision making. Here's something interesting from the
State of Hawai'i. It's called ‘The Aloha Spirit Law’ (Hawai'i Revised
Statutes, L 1986, c 202, §1, s 5-7.5), and it's all about kindness and other
lovely qualities. Indeed, Hawaiian decision makers, including the
executive and the judiciary, may give consideration to this ancient law
when making decisions. The Hawaiian statute acknowledges that what is
known as the Aloha Spirit ‘was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians
and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawai'i’.
Here is the full text of ‘The Aloha Spirit Law’:-
[§5-7.5] The Aloha Spirit
(a) The Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each
person. It brings each person to the Self. Each person must think and
emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the
life force, Aloha, the following unuhi laulâ loa (free translation) may be
Akahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
Lôkahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
`Olu`olu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
Ha`aha`a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and
sincerity of Hawai'i’s people. It was the working philosophy of native
Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawai'i.
Aloha is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation.
Aloha means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in
caring with no obligation in return.
Aloha is the essence of relationships in which each person is
important to every other person for collective existence.
Aloha means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen
and to know the unknowable.
(b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of
their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature,
governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the
chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and
district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give
consideration to The Aloha Spirit.
The power and technique of blessing
Hawaiian shaman (kahuna (3)) and author Dr Serge Kahili King (4), in The
Aloha Spirit, says that blessing is the ‘most powerful technique in the
world and the way to tune into [the] Power’. The 'secret' is to bless
everyone and everything. Blessing may be done with imagery or touch, but
the most usual way to do it is with words. There are various forms of
verbal blessing, namely admiration (the giving of compliments or praise),
affirmation (a specific statement of blessing for increase or endurance),
appreciation (expression of gratitude) and anticipation (a blessing for the
We are to bless people, animals, circumstances, and all potential for
happiness that we notice around us - in other words, everything. In the
words of the New Testament, we are to ‘bless them which persecute [us]:
bless, and curse not’ (Rom 12:14). In fact, the Old Testament injunction to
bless the Lord your God for ever and ever (see Neh 9:5) means, in effect,
that we are to recognise and affirm the life of the Lord in all things and
in all people. ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Prov 18:21).
‘By our words we will be justified, and by our words we will be condemned’
(Mt 12:37). So never underestimate the power of blessing.
The seven basic principles of Hawaiian spirituality
Hawaiian spirituality is extremely rich and diverse. It includes sacred
chanting, accompanied by drums, as well as many forms and techniques of
meditation. Chanting is said to release mana in the ha, that is, in the
actual breath forming the various sounds.
According to Dr King there are seven basic spiritual principles embedded
in Hawaiian spirituality and meditation which purport to explain the way
the world works. These principles (each represented by a distinctive
Hawaiian word) are said to be universal and all-encompassing. The seven
principles are as follows:-
1. IKE - The world is what you think it is.
The word ike means knowledge or understanding.
There is an ancient Hawaiian saying, he hale ke kino no ka mana'o (‘the
body is a house for your thoughts’). Indeed, our world, for the most part,
proceeds from within, and especially from thought. To think is to create.
What we think, that we do; what we do, that we are. ‘For as he thinketh
in his heart, so is he’ (Prov 23:7). Remember, God (as you understand
God) can do for us only what God can do through us. That is a most
important spiritual truth.
2. KALA - There are no limits … We are all one.
The word kala means release, freedom, forgiveness. When we let go, and
surrender to what is, anything is possible. ‘All things are possible to him
who believes’ (Mk 9:23).
Also, there are no limits between us. In truth, we are all one.
3. MAKIA - Energy flows where attention goes.
The word makia means conscious endeavour or purpose.
Thought is creative. Our dominion lies within our own mentality. Like
attracts like. If we habitually send out negative thoughts into the world
around us, we tend to draw back negative results to ourselves: ‘the thing
that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me’ (Job 3:25).
4. MANAWA - Now is the moment of power.
The word manawa means time, turn, season.
We have no power in the past, nor in the future. Here we are, and have
always been, in the Eternal Now. The Spirit of Life within each of us,
says H P Blavatsky, ‘appreciates neither past nor future, but sees all
things as in the present’. Thus, it is in the Now that we must find our
peace of mind, our serenity, our way out. ‘Now is the accepted time;
behold, now is the day of salvation’ (2 Cor 6:2).
5. ALOHA - To love is to be happy (or to be happy with).
I have already spoken about the meaning and spirit of aloha, so I will
move on to the next important spiritual principle.
6. MANA - All power comes from within.
As I’ve already mentioned, mana refers to vital force, divine power,
creative power. Where there is no mana there is no life, and no thought.
The kahunas used the word mana-o for ‘to think’. It means literally
something done with mana. All of us have vital force, the Spirit of Life,
Truth and Love within us. In the words of the New Testament, the
Kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17:21). Within us is the one and only
Presence and Power active in the universe, the Power that makes all
things new – in esoteric Christianity, the ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’
(Col 1:27). What is especially important is the flow of power.
7. PONO - Effectiveness is the measure of truth.
The word pono means correct behaviour.
What matters is what works. You may mentally assent to some doctrine
or dogma, but if it doesn’t make a difference for good in your life it’s
worthless. It’s as simple as that. The New Testament says that we are
to prove all things and hold fast to that which is good (see 1 Thess 5:21).
Abandon any idea that proves erroneous. That which makes for peace,
wholeness and unity is good, the rest is not.
The following is a blessing chant you can use to empower yourself. Each
affirmation - in the case of some, there is a variant - is said to represent
one of the seven basic principles of Hawaiian spirituality to which I’ve
A HAWAIIAN BLESSING CHANT
I am aware … I am free … I am focused … I am here (now) … I am loved [or I am
happy] … I am strong [or I am confident] … I am healed [or I am positive].
The Hawaiian kahunas used ha, the breath of life, as the primary tool for
all blessing and healing rituals. Now, I mentioned the word ha'ole at the
start of my address. Ha'ole, meaning ‘without breath’ or ‘without life’,
was the term given to the missionaries by the Hawaiians, because the
missionaries appeared not to breathe at all, breathing ever so shallowly
According to the Hawaiian kahunas all sacred rituals and spiritual
practices require the pumping of copious amounts of mana in conjunction
with piko piko breathing in order to boost and properly radiate outwards
the ‘life force’. There is a form of breathing that is an integral part of
Hawaiian meditation called piko piko, which, it is said, greatly expands
one’s energy field:-
HAWAIIAN PIKO PIKO BREATHING
As you breathe in fully, and deeply, through the nose, completely filling your
lungs, focus all of your attention on the crown of your head. As you exhale fully,
through the mouth, with the sound ha, focus all of your attention on your navel.
As previously mentioned, the out breath is whispered loudly, and should be twice
as long as the in-breath. Continue for about 5 minutes. At all times, remain
poised and relaxed. NOTE. If, at any time, you feel light-headed or start to
hyperventilate, stop and wait for it to pass.
In practising this breath, we are reminded of some of the spiritual
principles already referred to, especially, ‘energy flows where attention
goes,’ and ‘there are no limits’ to how connected you can be, and in truth
are, to everyone and all that is.
The following Hawaiian meditation, which I practise daily, can assist you
to become aware of your essential connectedness and oneness with your
aumakua (‘higher self’, ‘true self’):-
A HAWAIIAN MEDITATION
Sit comfortably, with a straight back. Gently relax. Lay your hands in your lap,
palms cupped upward, left palm resting gently on top of the right palm. Lightly
being together and touch your thumbs. Now close your eyes. Commence piko
piko breathing, focusing your attention on the crown of your head as you
breathe in deeply, and on your navel as you exhale fully. Observe your breath.
As you breathe in and out ever so deeply and fully, think of something really
beautiful (for example, a beautiful lake, beach or mountain, or perhaps a rainbow
or sunset). See it clearly in your mind’s eye and hold it there. Visualise its
beauty. As you hold this image of great beauty in your mind begin to bless it
with your breathing. Continue blessing all that you are visualising. Continue to
observe your breath. Should memories, thoughts or feelings arise, just notice
them, but don't cling to them. Don’t resist them or try to make them go away.
What you resist, persists. Just observe the thoughts gently and
dispassionately, without judgment, and let them go. Continue to follow your
breath. Stay awake and aware … and perfectly relaxed. Now, envision yourself
being in a cocoon of white light. Visualising the white light radiating out from
your heart as you send forth mana (‘life force’) to your loved ones, in fact, to all
persons, especially those with whom you are currently experiencing difficulties.
Bless them all. Relax … and let go. Feel the brilliance of the white light. Feel it
intensify into every part, indeed every cell, of your body. Continue to follow
your breath. Stay quietly in this meditation until you feel that you are ready to
come back, then gently slip back into the now. Just before you open your eyes,
take a quick deep breath. … Now, gently open your eyes. Now say mahalo, which
means … thank you. Mahalo, Spirit of Life within us.
When you finish this simple meditation, you should feel not only very
relaxed but also quite peaceful and serene.
Practising this meditation on a daily basis will help to bring you inner
peace, serenity and emotional equanimity, and you will become increasingly
aware of your innate connection to and oneness with your aumakua (‘true
self’), which is said to be the Divine Life within you. The Hawaiians
affirm that this Divine Life (Light and Love) manifests itself and shines in
all the peoples of the world, in fact in all things. In fact, the loving power
and energy of what is sometimes referred to as alohamana binds the
entire universe together. It is the very livingness, oneness and self-
givingness of life itself, and there is no other. We only have to turn our
attention inwards to make a conscious connection with this presence and
power. Remember, all power comes from within.
Hawaiian spirituality and mediation is multifaceted and very rich indeed.
The daily practice of the techniques I’ve described will help you to better
connect with your body and your emotions as well as with the world around
you. It’s a powerful form of self-healing.
Please bear in mind that what I’ve presented to you today is only a brief,
even superficial, overview of the topic. I encourage you to explore the
I will now conclude with an ancient Hawaiian chant which can be translated
more-or-less as follows:-
I come forth from the Void into Light
I am the breath that nurtures Life
I am that emptiness, that Hollownesss beyond all Consciousness
The I, the Id, the All
I draw my bow of rainbows across the water
The continuum of Mind with Matter
I am the incoming and the outgoing of Breath
The invisible, untouchable Breeze
The indefinable atom of Creation
I am the 'I'.
(1) Hawaiians favour the pronunciation Havai'i. As regards the Hawaiian
language and Hawaiian pronunciation, the written Hawaiian language is
nowadays based on English letters, with the 8 consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w
and the glottal stop ' ['Okina, being a brief break in a word, also an
official consonant]) being pronounced for the most part as in English
(except that w is pronounced ‘v’ after ‘i’ or ‘e’ or when it is next to the final
letter in a word, and pronounced like ‘w’ or ‘v’ at the start of a word or
after a), with the 5 vowels being pronounced more-or-less as in Latin or
Spanish (a as the ‘a’ in ‘star’, e as the ‘e’ in ‘bet’ [alternatively, as the ‘ai’ in
‘bait’], i as the ‘i’ in ‘machine’, o as the ‘o’ in ‘obey’, and u as the ‘oo’ in ‘too’).
Some vowels have a macron (a kahakō) above them, making the vowel sound
slightly longer. Ordinarily, each letter in a Hawaiian word is sounded.
Rising dipthongs (ae, ai, ao, au, ei, eu, oi and ou) are ordinarily stressed on
the first member; the vowels are slurred and not blended together as in
English. As regards the consonants, the missionaries removed the native r
and replaced it with a l, changed the t to a k, and substituted w for v.
Every syllable of every word ends in a vowel. No 2 consonants (except in
the case of the grafted word Kristo, Christ) may come together. Any
number of vowels may come together. Hawai'i is the only US state to have
2 official languages (Hawaiian and English) with Hawaiian Pidgin as a third
unofficial and widely spoken language (the latter for the most part being
little more than ungrammatical English foreshortened with superadded
native and Asiatic words).
(2) According to the so-named ‘Huna code’, which is said to have been revealed
to the West by theosophist and famed student of Hawaiiana, Max
Freedom Long (the author of such books as The Secret Science Behind
Miracles, The Huna Code in Religions and What Jesus Taught in Secret),
there is supposedly a secret code of healing and self-transformation (said
to subsist in many religions including but not limited to Christianity) in
which each syllable of the Hawaiian language allegedly has a special
meaning (and often multiple meanings as well). When combined in the form
of a single word, the multiple meanings of the individual syllables taken
separately and in various combinations within the word are said to reveal
meanings that supposedly illuminate the code and its meaning.
(3) The word kahuna is derived from ka (keeper of) and huna (that which is
‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ or ‘not obvious’). Hawaiian Shamanism, also known as
Huna, may best be described as an ancient philosophy of healing, based on
love and co-operation and a recognition of the oneness of all life (that ‘One
reality, the Absolute’, to quote from H P Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine).
(4) Dr King is the author of such best sellers as Imagineering for Health,
Kahuna Healing and The Hidden Knowledge of Huna Science.