The following is excerpted from The Bowl of Light: Ancestral Wisdom from a Hawaiian Shaman, available from Sounds True
In 1996, a momentous trail crossing
occurred in Hawai'i between anthropologist Hank Wesselman and the Hawaiian
elder and kahuna nui Hale Kealohalani Makua. A friendship took root and over
the next eight years, their philosophical discussions about the nature of the
self and the nature of reality took Dr. Wesselman into uncharted spiritual
territory. Before his untimely passing in 2004, Makua, as he was generally
known, gave Hank permission to write about him and their discussions, including
some of his teachings, encouraging him to bring them to the wider world.
next meeting occurred in a curious location, the small restaurant at the golf
club near Volcanoes National Park. Jill and I had returned to the island in
March of 1998 to conduct the first of many workshops at the New Millennium
Institute in Waimea, and we had gone over to the volcano to visit with the
chief before the event began.
Makua was waiting for us when we arrived, and after a warm
reunion, we shared a light lunch while watching the golfers plying their craft
on the dazzling green fairways bracketed by long dark galleries of ohia
trees, all studded with brilliant red flowers. We shared news about the ins and
outs of our lives, keeping it light as we ate with gusto; then we returned to
Makua's office near the crater overlook, a short drive from the club.
In the conversations that follow, it appears that Makua
and I were alone, yet Jill was also there, witnessing all that occurred and passed
This time I had intentionally brought a gift for him — a
bronze image of Pele about a foot tall, which I had created in 1986 during our
time on the island, and which I cast later in Berkeley. My depiction of Pele
was enhanced with a ferric nitrate brown patina, with the image itself emerging
from a base made of polished black stone. As Makua admired the powerful piece,
he pointed to the stone base, and our discussion began.
"In considering the structure of one's life," he observed
thoughtfully, "it is important to consider the foundation of that life. We must
ask ourselves important questions such as What is the nature of our
foundation? How is our foundation guiding us as well as our relationships and
our work in the world?' All this — our foundation, our relationships, our work,
our intention — composes the structure of our lives, what it is and what it
isn't, as well as what it will become."
Makua again tapped the base of the sculpture for emphasis.
"And how is our foundation responding to the life we have created,
chosen — the life to which we have become accustomed?"
"It's really all about choice, isn't it?" I added. "It is
indeed," confirmed the kahuna. "At each moment, we are faced with
choices — whether to remain here or travel there, whether to say this or not,
whether to stay with the known or whether it's time to huli-to shift."
Makua did not define what he meant as "our foundation,"
and I realized that I would have to figure this one out for myself, and in fact
that was his intention. As I thought about this, I assumed that it varied from
person to person and included our beliefs about ourselves as well as those
convictions that we hold to be true. In time, Jill and I would work this
concept of one's personal foundation into our workshop curricula, asking our
participants to engage in journeys of personal divination to discover more
about their foundation.
Makua then continued with his line of thought. "People in
the Western world hold the monotheist perspective. They believe that they have
one life that begins with birth and ends with death. They have one father god
who lives off-planet and works in mysterious ways. And they believe that we
have one soul. This Christian belief has insinuated itself into our Hawaiian
thought as the belief that we have one spiritual soul — the uhane. But in
the indigenous kahuna perspective as it existed before Christian overlay, we
understood that we actually have many lives spread out across the time-space
continuum, that there are many deities that may come into relationship with us,
and we have more than one soul. To be precise, we have three.
"We can refer to these levels of the self as distinct
souls rather than selves, for they originate from the same Source," Makua
stated, while glancing upward, "but each of these soul aspects exist in very
different states of quality."
Makua watched me as I absorbed this, then he reiterated.
"It could be said," Makua stated, "that each of us
possesses three souls. These are: one, our Aumakua, our higher spiritual soul
and the Source of the immortal spark of light that came into us when we
received our divine breath, our Ha; two, our uhane, our middle,
mental-intellectual soul that expresses our higher mind functions and that
develops as we grow and mature in each life; and three, our unihipili, the
lower soul associated with the physical body as well as its functions.
"All of the three embodied souls (immortal Aumakua seed
of light, uhane mental-intellectual soul, and unihipili physical soul) form a
unity in life, a personal soul cluster that serves us as our foundation. What
we call our 'self' in each life is composed of these three souls."
The Mental Soul
briefly withdrew into himself, and when he reemerged moments later, it appeared
that he was accessing information directly from his spiritual advisers.
Although I have written what follows in contemporary English, the chief
sometimes lapsed into an almost archaic way of expressing himself. This was
something we would witness repeatedly over the time that we knew him. He did so
on this occasion.
"As I have just said, many Hawaiians equate the uhane
with a singular indwelling soul or spirit that inhabits us during life and that
leaves us when we die. In a sense, this is not inaccurate. Some Christians even
identify it as the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, hemo lele, but in reality
the uhane is that embodied soul essence that provides us with certain higher
mind qualities and abilities during life. For example, the power of choice and
creative thought is a function of our uhane, revealing it to be the
mental-intellectual aspect of ourselves that comes into being in each lifetime
in response to our life as we live it."
"Sounds like what you call uhane is equated with what
Westerners call the ego," I interjected. "The ego is the higher mind aspect of
ourselves that thinks, analyzes, integrates, and assigns meaning to what we
encounter during our lives; it is what the psychologist Carl Jung called 'our
"Yes, that's it," Makua continued. "We are here on Earth
to develop the uhane ego-soul, as it serves us as our decision maker and thus
our inner chief — our inner director. As such, it steers us successfully or
unsuccessfully through life according to the beliefs and convictions that it
holds to be true. And these beliefs and convictions are part of our
foundation," he said with a smile. "If our uhane believes itself to be
powerless, we will live our life in the victim role, as a slave. If our mental
soul believes itself to be powerful, we will have quite a different life."
"I have heard many speakers in what I call the
transformational community say that we have to get rid of the ego," I observed.
Makua laughed at the very thought of my comment, then shook his shaggy head and
responded. "I don't think so. The reason we are here as embodied beings on
Earth is to develop the ego, as it is this soul aspect, the mental soul, what
we call uhane, that is the source of our intentionality and our will forces,
as well as our creativity — our creative imagination.
"When we develop a well-balanced and fully awakened
uhane, we can carry the qualities and abilities that it enables back with us
into our personal spiritual Aumakua field when we make transition at the end
of each life cycle. It is through us here, on the physical plane of action,
that our immortal Aumakua acquires higher and greater levels of ability, and
that includes the ability to function as a creator."
The weather seemed to be turning as I considered Makua's
words, and clouds were gathering above "the office" near the crater, promising
rain. Let me put in here that I would learn from Makua that most Hawaiians use
the word Aumakua in two different ways. When aumakua is
spelled with a small "a," it refers to a totemic guardian spirit complex, often
in relationship with a family or clan. These often take the form of a helping
spirit or power animal such as the shark or the owl, the Hawaiian hawk, or a moo
(lizard or water spirit), or even an elemental like stone or fire or water.
When Aumakua is spelled with a capital "A," it refers to our immortal
ancestral spiritual lineage that Makua often referred to simply as "the
ancestors," as it incorporates all of our former lives and thus all our former
selves. As such, the Aumakua is our Higher Self that modern mystics often call
the Oversoul, a term coined by the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo
"You see," Makua continued, "it is through our embodiment
here in the material world that we develop our ability to create, a function of
our uhane soul, and when our Aumakua receives this gift with the death of our
physical body, it acquires all the qualities and abilities that we developed
during life. It is in this way that we, as immortals, acquire the ability to
"As we travel across eternity, our life force weaves
itself in and out of countless lives, and with each transition, this creative
ability is transferred into our immortal aspect, our Aumakua."
Makua, after pausing for a few long, thoughtful moments,
then offered a profoundly interesting thought: "We actually come into this
world as a god. It's just that we have forgotten who we really are as well as
what our objectives for this life really are." I could tell by Makua's
detached, yet focused expression that his thoughts were moving along well-known
trails and that he was seeking to bring what was so familiar to him in his
Hawaiian cultural perspective into a framework understandable to an outsider.
We were talking about the critical information that, when
known, digested, and understood, conveys to us the experience of authentic
"Our Aumakua itself is our spiritual 'dream body,' our
distinct and separate immortal soul — our Higher Self that lives always in the
spirit world. This can serve us as a portal through which we dream and can
travel into the worlds of spirit while we are still embodied here. Through its
gift of our light that comes into us in each lifetime, it becomes part of each
of us here," Makua said, grinning at the wonder of it.
"The Buddhists maintain that there is no such thing as a
self," I added cheerfully. "They believe that the self is actually an illusion.
What do you think about this, Makua?"
"Interesting idea," he responded with a bellow of
laughter. "You see," Makua's eyes looked upward as if he was searching for
terms, for words, to express his thoughts in English, "this Buddhist idea is
merely a theory. I don't believe that the one called the Buddha ever said this.
If he had experienced authentic initiation, and we can assume that he did," he
grinned widely, "he would have known differently."
With a soft smile, Makua continued, "There is indeed a
self, and when we are embodied, there are actually two. There is the immortal
self that serves as our personal creator and source that remains always in the
spirit world, our Aumakua, and there is the self that we develop in each
lifetime, a composite of our three souls — spiritual soul seed, mental soul, and
"When our physical body dies, our energetic aspect, our kino
aka that carries the composite of the three embodied souls, detaches. It
then exists for a period of time independent of the physical body in a free
state, thus maintaining its integration as a personal pattern for as long as it
needs. The breath is the connecting link between the energy body and the
physical body, and when we release our last breath at life's end, we release
our Ha, and our soul cluster is free.
"Slowly at first and then with increasing speed, our
energetic body, along with our personal soul cluster, loses its attachments to
this world and returns to its source, to its Aumakua. At that point, the
personal self in whom we have invested so much during life is subsumed into
our immortal soul-field — into our real self. So perhaps what people have come to
believe regarding Buddha's statements on the self is not what the Buddha really
meant. Perhaps his students simply didn't understand it."
I considered Makua's perspective at some depth, and as one
who studied Zen and Taoism for many years, it resonated."In my book Spiritwalker,"
I said, "I have written about deep trances in which I sometimes perceive my
immortal self — or maybe it's more like I'm remembering that part of my self. The
experience is like 'think-feeling' accompanied by the power of vision." The
chief looked interested, so I went on.
"Think-feeling is a Melanesian way of achieving a certain
perspective on life at large. Among the hill tribes in New Guinea, for
example, when something challenging or new happens or comes up, the people
think about it; then they feel about it; then they think-feel about it.
"Think-feeling is a most useful concept when experienced
directly because it enables us to achieve a deepened perspective on just about
everything, because it suggests that we pull the mental and the body souls
together and into right relationship, creating harmony as well as balance
between these two levels of the self.
"This creates unity within what the Greeks called the
psyche," I continued. "In the Classical period, thinkers from Pythagoras on
down the line considered the psyche to be the organ of both thought and
emotion." Makua looked interested, but said nothing, so I decided to expand on
my thoughts even more.
"If I've got this right, the kahuna tradition in Polynesia
perceived these two quite separate functions, thought and emotion, to be
products of two quite separate souls," I concluded.
"Foundation stones again," he responded with enthusiasm.
"If it's time to restructure our life, it's always the foundation that must
change first. Knowing this, we must ask ourselves, What is the nature of our
foundation? Do we have foundation stones? What are they? How many are there,
and are there any missing?'"
Makua smiled, then added as an afterthought, "Each
lifetime starts with the descent of the brilliance of our seed of light into
the darkness of form, the gift from our Aumakua to our new embodiment for a
"As we have said, it is with that first breath that the
light of our immortal soul seed takes up residence within us, and as it does,
it encounters another distinct and separate soul that is already in residence,
our unihipili, our lower body soul that imbues the physical with life. This is
the self aspect that we received from our parents, and it serves as the
energetic link to the field of our paternal and maternal ancestors as well."
The Physical Soul
any of my readers who feel uncertain or confused here, let me put in that I
felt the same and asked Makua to explain. "I thought that the Hawaiian word unihipili
described the soul of a deceased person, one that exists in the afterlife
state, yet is still earthbound."
"Yes, that is true," Makua continued. "Yet our Hawaiian
words have many meanings that can shift according to the context in which they
"Our body's soul has very specific functions," he said.
"For instance, the entire operation of the body, as well as its repair and
restoration, is under its direct control. It serves us in many other ways as
well. It is able to access our memories that are stored in our energetic
matrix, and it is also the source of our emotions and feelings."
"This sounds like the level of self that transformational
speakers like Deepak Chopra refer to as the emotional body," I suggested.
Makua nodded, and I continued, "Perhaps this self aspect
is roughly analogous to what Westerners call the subconscious, a term used by
the psychologist Carl Jung."
Makua thought about what I said, his face temporarily
blank of expression as he accessed his spiritual advisers. And then he resurfaced
with enthusiasm and responded, "The term subconscious' is somewhat misleading,
because the unihipili is the aspect of ourselves that perceives — and it
perceives everything: the outer world in which we act as well as the inner worlds
where we think, feel, and dream. It perceives both the seen and the unseen
worlds, and all the time, and so it is really much more conscious than the
so-called conscious mind. It is through this bodily soul that all psychic
experiences, as well as all visionary experiences, are perceived."
Makua looked as though his thoughts were drifting off for
a moment as he walked down some inner path known only to him. I sensed that he
was accessing his inner sources of ancestral wisdom and waited for him to return.
Then, abruptly, he did and turned to me with a gentle yet commanding knowing
and said, "The shamanic experiences that you have described in your book, these
are achieved through the unihipili. This is where that doorway into the inner
levels of reality is located. It's just there, within ourselves, and despite
Western views to the contrary, it has always been there, waiting for us to
"Sexuality is one of the great gateways to transcendent
experience," he continued, "because the unihipili is very impressed by
physical experiences that it likes. In fact, sexuality is probably the fastest
way we can reach spirit," Makua went on. "But we have to be in love for that to
happen. When we are in that intense and focused state of aloha, this sexual
energy brings us into connection with transcendence. And it is then, precisely
then, that we may touch the universe — and it may touch us. Yet the key is always
"Tantra," I nodded. "Perhaps this is why sexuality has
been repeatedly demonized by the various organized religions. What chance is
there of creating a monopolistic business based upon privileged access to a few
holy prophets or books if everyone is making the direct transformative
connection with what we call God through having sex?"
We both laughed.
"What are the other ways of achieving transcendence?" I
asked with enthusiasm.
"Well, there is what we ehaeha — pain and
suffering. You call it trauma, and this can be a great gateway into connection
with the inhabitants of the other world as well. Many of the Native American
peoples endure great suffering when they engage in their versions of the vision
quest. Vision quests are initiations designed to bring people into connection
with their ancestors and their guardian spirits, and the physical suffering
they endure is much of what powers the experience for them.
"And then there is what we call hookuanoo — or
meditation," Makua added thoughtfully. "Another term for it is hoonalu — it
means to go with the flow. The ancestors don't let me sleep much beyond 3:00
a.m., you know. They get me up and sit me down in meditation almost every day
at that time. This is why all the kahuna are up and at 'em before dawn."
Together we laughed at this observation. This was one of
only three instances when I ever heard the chief obliquely refer to himself as
kahuna. Humility is not mere convention. Authentic shamans as well as authentic
kahuna never refer to themselves as such, for to do so would express spiritual
arrogance. They know that their power is on loan, so to speak. It is the power
of the universe, an unthinkably immense energetic field that is most easily
accessed as well as conveyed through the spirits who choose to help the
shaman, the mystic, or the kahuna in various ways. To become too full of
oneself and proclaim oneself as a shaman or a kahuna or a healer just isn't
done, as it is a sure way to lose one's power.
When you encounter someone proclaiming himself or herself
as a shaman or as a kahuna, or when you read an ad in a periodical or on the
Internet in which someone is seeking to draw attention by referring to himself
or herself as a shaman or as a kahuna, that's your first red flag — an indicator
that this person is not authentic, because no authentic spiritual practitioner
or teacher will ever do this — no exceptions!
"When the seed of light derived from our Aumakua arrives
with the first breath of life and takes up residence within us, it's like a
probe," Makua said. "The unihipili soul is already present in the new physical
body, having been sourced to us by our mother and father. In the same way that
the egg within the mother and the sperm from the father carry a genetic pattern
sourced from both parents, those sex cells also carry a psychic-energetic
matrix from both mother and father as well. When they come together, they
create union of both the physical template and the psychic-energetic template
from both parents at the time of conception. This combined matrix is also our
connection to our maternal and paternal ancestral lineages."
Makua watched me and waited; he made it a habit of making
space for a comment or observation from me.
"The laws of thermodynamics reveal that energy can neither
be created nor destroyed," I said, accessing my inner scientist. "But it can
shift to a new state. This implies that energy is immortal." The idea that
energy is immortal was an idea that felt immensely hopeful to me. "This truth
also suggests that we cannot disconnect from our ancestors," I went on,
"because energy is the connection, and energy never dies."
Makua looked at me approvingly and waited for me to
"And this realization reveals that our energy body
actually has three sources — the mother, the father, and our personal Oversoul,
"That's it precisely," he confirmed. "The ancestors are
always connected with us because of this. And this contribution from each of
these three sources contains a pattern — you as a scientist would call it a
hologram — a composite matrix of everything recorded in those ancestral energetic
fields, each of which has its own unique fingerprint. All three souls are
carried by the energy body through which they can come together and form
something harmonious, on the one hand — or on the other, they can resist each
other, in which case there are lessons to be learned."
Makua chuckled at this last statement as he thought about
it. I glanced at him and added, "I sense from your description of it that our
unihipili carries as well all the evolutionary software programmed into the
body through the physical DNA code."
Makua nodded, so I continued.
"The resulting pattern must be like an architectural
blueprint of the physical body recorded within the body's soul. It is like a
computer program. The unihipili soul aspect is alive, and it must be able to
read this pattern, for through doing so, it uses the pattern as a guide in
making repairs to the physical body."
Makua nodded again in affirmation. "This physical soul we
call unihipili is that elusive inner physician that all true doctors and
healers know about."
This drew my excitement. "The placebo effect! The Greek
philosopher Aristotle was aware of it because he wrote about outer sensations
being taken in and worked on by what he called the sensus communis, generating
inner imagery that could affect both the cure as well as the cause of disease.
The Greek physician Hippocrates also knew about this: he stated that the
physician's role is essentially to understand and assist nature. Centuries
later, Galen the Roman recorded case studies of what we now call mind-body
medicine, or psychoneuroimmunology."
"Great word," Makua laughed.
I continued, "The Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus
was also very much aware of this mind-body relationship during the Renaissance
period. His writings record his thoughts on the three levels of self — the
spiritual, mental, and physical-emotional — a perception that comes down from the
Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, who called them the three principias.
Makua was riveted, so I persisted in my line of thought.
"Paracelsus observed that the real physician is in
ourselves. He also said that the mind (mental) is like the master in an
invisible workshop and that the body (physical) is the pliable material. From
his perspective, it is in this way that the mind can cure diseases or it can
cause them. He also is credited with having said that the fear of disease is
more dangerous than the disease itself.'"
"This is because," the chief stepped in, "the unihipili
takes everything literally. It does not distinguish between reality and illusion.
It perceives both as real. This is also the key to Hollywood's success," he
chuckled. "When we see Arnold the Terminator up on the big screen . . ."
"Or Sharon Stone in the throes of sexual passion," I
offered, laughing, "the body soul does not perceive it as an illusion, and the
degree to which this self aspect is drawn into the action vicariously is the
degree to which the film is successful at the box office."
The chief looked amused, yet thoughtful. "Yes, Hollywood
knows this, and unfortunately, they also know that the big money is to be made
by appealing to the dark side of our human character." Makua chuckled again.
"In many ways, the unihipili, the
physical soul, is like a warrior or a servant in that it does what it is told
to do by the uhane. Our middle egoic soul is our inner chief or CEO, and the
lower body soul is the one who does what is required. It's about relationship.
These two souls have to be in correct relationship, or there is trouble — pilikia — and
more lessons to be learned," he concluded with a laugh.
Photo courtesy of Sounds True.