Can I remain a Catholic (Mormon, Baptist, Buddhist, etc.) if I practice Hawaiian spirituality?
- Yes. Hawaiian spirituality is inclusive and not subtractive. You simple add more truth and meaning to your life and spiritual practice. Truth is truth--so continue adding more truths throughout your lifetime.
Is there a revealed book like The Bible in Hawaiian religion?
- No. Hawaiian spirituality is oral and was not “reified” in a book. Words were composed by our great poets and songwriters into prayers (pule), chants (ole), stories (histories, genealogies, myths, wisdom sayings) representing many levels of understanding (mana‘o). These were memorized so that more knowledge (ike) could be added with new and even deeper meanings. Thus, our tradition keeps growing until deliberate cultural and religious genocide persecuted it into hiding. But it has survived as a living tradition, as well as in books written with differing levels of understanding and intention.
How is Kanenuiakea different? What does it add spiritually?
- Western religions, especially Christianity, are belief-centered with creeds and dogmas. Hawaiian indigenous religions, especially Kanenuiakea, is naturalistic, experiencing the elements of Akua (God) everywhere as manifestation of the divine (the sacred, the holy). Each type of religion is a different path to apprehend or attempt to know something about the sacred.
Wherever there is unusual power (mana), beauty, meaningfulness, there is something that can point us beyond ourselves. Even Western religions call this “natural revelation.” Giving these manifestations of Akua Hawaiian names and linking almost every word in our language to divine reminders made us very spiritual. Perhaps one of the most spiritual cultures in history. There are special days for worship but every moment can be special, revealing the divine.
But, what about Akua as plural, as many Gods? Isn’t this polytheism and idolatry?
- Yes, Akua is both singular and plural in Hawaiian. And since there are many manifestations of the divine, many reminders of the sacred, and many symbolic levels to the dimensions of life that we can experience as humans, we do not limit Akua just to one concept, idea, or belief. At a child’s level, each manifestation or symbol of Akua is a separate God: a shark god, a forest spirit. One can say that there are four Akua (Kane, Kanaloa, Ku and Lono) or 400,000 Akua, when all the elements and manifestations of the sacred are counted.
According to our capacity and experience of life, we have our own wisdom about Akua. In Buddhism, there is a similar notion known as upaya, understanding of the truths of life according to our level of comprehension. Buddhists, like Hawaiian teachers, use “skillful means” in order to teach each person at the appropriate level.
At the literal level for a young child there is a polytheistic world, similar to the Western notion of angels and invisible beings for those at that literal level. But the next level of understanding is philosophically more complex and is known academically as “panentheism” (a word from Greek: “pan” or all, “en” or in “theos” or God, plus “ism,” conceptualization or a system of belief). That means that it is possible to see or know God’s presence or manifestation in everything in the natural world. That is why Hawaiian spirituality and other indigenous religions that share this outlook on life are called Naturalistic Religions (and different from supernatural natural religions). And our attitude is different from religions that believe that nature is alienated from Akua (God) and is evil. We affirm life as positive, our land (‘aina) as good and sacred, a Paradise on earth when cared for (malama‘aina) and not desecrated.
One extra benefit about this positive attitude toward life is that we do not fear death. In living a righteous (pono) life with love (aloha) and caring for our extended family (ohana) and our environment (malama ‘aina), we are ready for Po (the unknown dark, the cosmic void). Since we do not fear death, we do not waste energy speculating about Po. It must be good and full of aloha.
Tell about a naturalistic spiritual experience.
- Supernaturalism requires an invisible realm for its spirituality. Our revelations of the divine come from reality--from the natural world. Since anything in natural spirituality might point beyond itself, we are alert to sacred manifestations by which we directly experience something that is higher, better, more beautiful, wondrous, and awe inspiring. It may be a special sunrise, the vast expanse of the starry sky, or a unique rock or tree. We find Akua within our world, within nature and through ordinary experience that transcends the ordinary. Being connected to nature and being able to have spiritual experiences that lift us up to our highest potential and dreams, liberate us from fears that make us less human and angers that make us less loving, even falsehoods that bind us to literalisms and ideologies.
In the 21st century and for the more scientifically-minded Hawaiians, the multiplicity of Akua could be understood as the elements and processes of the universe, symbolically stated in a pre-scientific age. But science does not provide experiences that teach life values; so Hawaiian spiritually for the scientifically-minded helps us transcend facts to envision pono, lokahi, malama‘aina, aloha and so much more.
Our mystics springboard from natural manifestations of the holy to experiences of oneness and unity with all of life, consciousness, the cosmos. They commune with nature and become “lost” in it. But that is a gift that not everyone has.
Is there mystical experience in Hawaiian spirituality?
- There are wonders in the natural manifestations of the divine that may grant a momentary mystical experience to anyone. Meditate on our place in the vastness of the night sky and at times there is a gift of merging with oneness (or an emptiness like no other). Meaning and purpose are suddenly revealed, at least for that mystical, inexpressible moment.
Our masters (kahuna) and elders (kupuna) have reserved the deepest understanding of a word that ordinarily means “heaven” for that which is experienceable yet unknowable, inexperienceable yet knowable. I‘O means “heavenly” in the word Iolani (the Palace of Heaven). But it is a word that has a very special huna meaning referring to the mystical experience of oneness or unity with the Absolute, the unknowable that yet might be indirectly known.
In a mystical form of Daoism (an old spelling is Taoism) there is a similar wisdom saying: “The Dao that is spoken about is not the Dao at all.” The Absolute that is spoken about is not the Absolute.
How does Kane signify the highest manifestation of Akua?
- Kanenuiakea is the Hawaiian word that contain three elements: “Kane,” the name of God, “nui” very or most, and “akea” high, highest. Thus, our religion, Kanenuiakea, focuses of the natural phenomenon of the many manifestation of Kane as the highest symbol of God’s presence on earth. Like all symbols, it merely stands for or points toward a realm of spiritual transcendence, of meaningfulness, and life purpose. Other symbols like Christ or Buddha point to something that can be experienced as life changing, but all symbols are in danger of becoming liberalized into an idol. Perhaps, the concepts of Feuerbach (that our highest image of God is projected on the universe) and Tillich (every belief about God must be protested as idolatry and never absolutized) are too Western, intellectual, theological and philosophical. But we welcome philosophy and science since our spirituality in grounded in everyday experiences of Akua in the here and now, directly in nature beauty and wonder. There is even a religious paradox in the contextual meanings of God and man, Kâne and kane. Kâne needs kane to know and worship “him,” and kane needs Kâne to create him. Religious paradoxes are not for the literal minded. If one is too belief-centered, it is difficult to understand how something can point beyond itself.
What is the place of ritual in Kanenuiakea?
- Rituals have many forms--hula, prayers, chants, ceremonies, pilgrimages, washings in streams and the ocean, and much more. These are forms that others have encoded their wisdom, a collective vision, that unites us by learning and performing what has been passed down to us. Rituals teach us collective wisdom, humility, and cultural traditions. Ritual is conservative in the positive sense.
We are always free to create something new and spontaneous. Yet, the standard linguistically and ritually is very high. Our poets and songwriters, our hula masters and specialists (kahuna) have been remembered not only by their works but also by their names and their genealogies. They live as long as we live. Cultural genocide attempted to erase our traditions from global memory. Our graveyards are sacred because we reverence them just as Chinese and Japanese cultures reverenced their ancestors. Our iwikupuna are desecrated almost daily in another aspect of cultural and religious genocide. There are laws, but there is almost no enforcement.
A renaissance is now underway. We have stopped being shamed and are finding our voices. Akua lako.
Why was the use of the Hawaiian language suppressed?
- Hawaiian cannot be spoken without constant reminders of Akua’s manifestations everywhere. It presupposes immanent religion and spiritual experiences, while being open to transcendental experiences, like mysticism. The language itself promotes an openness to all truths that can be experienced and proven. It makes “blind faith” problematic. That is why Hawaiian was subtracted from our lives, and that was attempted cultural and religious genocide.
What are our deep values that are integral to our language, culture and spiritual traditions?
- Look at the Values page. Note that Hawaiian, like so many other indigenous languages, encodes and layers our deepest values in almost every word. The literal meanings that a young child learns mature into contextual, poetic and meta-poetic (philosophical and spiritual) meanings. Since learning (ike) was under the direction of a master (kupuna, kahuna), deeper levels could be revealed according to the ability and capacity of the student or apprentice. Prof. John Charlot’s Classical Hawaiian Education has documented the vast range of specialties and disciplines in pre-contact Hawai‘i. It is a must read. His more recent, A Kumulipo of Hawai‘i, is a unique word revealing the levels of understanding and the complexities of Hawaiian thought and vision.
What are some books to read in order to learn more about Hawaiian spirituality and deep culture?
- Ka Wai a Kane [The Water of Kane, unwritten Literature of Hawaii, by Nathaniel B. Emerson, 1909]
Mo'olelo o na Po Makole [Tales of the Night Rainbow]. A family story of Kane people on Moloka‘i.
Malcolm Nâea Chun, No Nâ Mamo: Traditional and Contemporary Hawaiian Beliefs and Practices (Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2011).
John Charlot, Classical Hawaiian Education: Generations of Hawaiian Culture (The Pacific Institute, 2005)
He Kumulipo [The Kumulipo translated by Queen Liliuokalani, 1897].
John Charlot, A Kumulipo of Hawaii‘i (Academia Verlag, 2014)
Valerio Valeri and Paula Wissig, Kingship and Sacrifice: Ritual and Society in Ancient Hawaii (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985)