This is the last in a 3-part series about different parts of ancient Hawaiian Philosophy of Life. We went over a small part of what ancient Hawaiian people came to believe through the teaching of their Kahuna or priests. We have already covered the 7 Principles of Huna, The 3 Selves or Minds, and today we will cover briefly the 4 levels of Reality ancient Hawaiians believed in.

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The levels themselves are simple in meaning, though not all that simple to say and they categorize all experience into these four levels or categories of belief:

Ike Papakahi covers Objective reality.

Ike Papalua covers Subjective reality

Ike Papakolu covers Symbolic reality

Ike Papaha covers Wholistic reality

The kupua (Hawaiian priest, shaman, or sorcerer) learned to move between these realities to change experience more definitively.

Ike Papakahi – Objective reality (facts)

This level is taken to mean our conscious and physical state of the body. This level is an objective state of being that is outside the context of being interconnected with the world. This view extends to other life forms as well. The plants are separate from each other. A banana tree is separate from a coconut or Durian tree. The fruit of the tree is separate from the roots and branches and trunk of the tree which are all separate from each other. In this reality everything is separate and can be looked at in a different and unique way. In the case of the trees for instance the leaves might be used to create some medicine. The trunk for wood to build something. The roots to steep tea. The fruit – to be eaten by hungry Hawaiians that have been surfing or hunting all day!

When we look at the organism in terms of it being a combination of all the elements that make it up and each of the elements as having completely different uses and functions then we can expand our knowledge about that organism. In the same way we can look at ourselves… Our minds have different parts. We have a logical part of our mind, a realistic part, a common sense part, an emotional part, an inquisitive part, and so many more different parts that we can say comprise the one mind. Each part responds differently to stimuli and thought. Each one contributes MUCH to our lives. We have a foot that is different from our neck which is different from our hair which is different from our gonads. Yet, taken together – they form a piece of the puzzle creating one thing, us. Separately – they perform very different functions.

In this level of reality if you trip over your shoe-string there is an objective reason for it. Your shoe string is too long, or it became untied because it wasn’t tied tightly enough to start with or some other variables entered the equation like maybe it began to rain and that loosened the knot.

Ike Papalua – Subjective reality (psychic)
This view of reality is where intuition, psychic or telepathic experiences, and all other input outside of the objective facts is taken into account. It is a reality that differs with each individual.

All things are connected in this realm of reality. We are not separate from anything – not as a hand to the body and not as our whole self in relation to the table, computer, wall, tree, flower, and other people. We feel a connection with things at times like we feel a connection with people that cannot be explained, it is just there.

When we are alone with an animal or with our garden we might feel connected to them on some level. When we are affected by something that we believe has power – a cross, an image of Buddha, a Pentagram, these are subjective reality influences that are specific to you and that mean something to you. There is a connection between you and the things that you feel connected with.

This level of reality would include other ways to access and collect information from sources that are outside of the factual arena… things like tarot cards, crystal balls, good luck charms, a deceased person’s cremation ashes, crystals, stones, types of metals are all used to give us a different take on objective reality.

In this level of reality if your shoestring became untied you might reason that it was a dead-relative or a ghost that untied it – either to do you harm, or to do you good so you slow down and don’t forget something.

Ike Papakolu – Symbolic reality (shamanic)
In this level of reality all of our experience is seen as a dream. Everything is dreaming it’s own dream. If we look at another person – they are part of our dream. If we interact with that person – that too – is part of the dream.

If we are dreaming at night and we are seeing whole scenes of life playing out before us – the whole point of the dream is the symbolic meaning of the scenes playing out. In this view, even our experiences during our 16 hours we’re awake everyday are experiences that are put into symbols as they enter the storage of our minds. They are recalled as symbols, no the real experience.

I can remember my sister’s 1 year old birthday party when I was just 3 years old. Does that mean that I can recall objectively what happened at the party? No. I remember the feelings – the basic symbols that were stored in my mind about that time. Everyone was happy and asking me about my sister and if I loved her. I remember that they talked more to me than my sister because she couldn’t speak – just eat. I remember how they were so gentle with her and took care of her like a precious doll. The security, the safety, the warm loving feeling, the happiness of a celebration. These are the things I remember, not the objective facts.

In this way, our whole lives can be said to play out. We interpret everything going on around us as symbolic in nature – and it’s phenomenological. It means, specific to each person. So, here already we have 2 realities to one that deal with experiences speicifc to the individual and not necessarily shared between people as objective facts are.

When we look at a tree, we recall what a tree is. The symbol for a tree is what we see – not the tree in front of us. The tree becomes a reflection of – a mirror of the symbols in our mind about the tree.

There is not any sense of believing in the idea of “coincidence” in this level of reality. Everything is a symbol for something. If you trip over your shoe string, it has a deeper meaning. If you mean to say, “societal” and you say, “sexual”. It is no accident – there is a meaning as to why it happened as it did. Freud liked this same idea, and attributed things to the unconscious mind giving us a message.

If you kill a dog as you drive your new Lexus SUV it means something. The type of dog or color of dog may mean something.

Carl Jung and Alan Watts produced some outstanding work on symbols if you want to dig into it a little deeper.

Ike Papaha – Holistic reality (mystical)
This level of reality is the holistic or mystical level. The reality is that everything in the universe is as “one”.

You, your friend, your CD Player, your mp3 player, your table, bed, bottled water and bra are all made of the same “stuff”. Everything is made up of the same energy, the same underlying building blocks of matter.

Hawaii by Nan Palmero is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Image may have been resized or cropped from original

There are no dichotomies of “this vs. that” in this level. Since it is all the same in the big picture, it is all the same in the small picture – in the details, as well.

In this view of reality if you trip on your too-long shoelaces it is nothing to become upset at. There is no difference between you and the shoelaces. Everything is one – and your shoelaces are undone or they are tied, no matter. If you hit a dog in the road you might “feel” the pain of that dog dying on the side of the street… and you might know that that dog is you and that you are also that dog. You are interconnected with everything so as a result you take care of everything, not just yourself. There can be no selfishness or preferential treatment towards something instead of another thing. You cannot treat other people badly because you realize that we’re all in this game together and that you don’t want your actions to hurt others in any way.

Ultimately, reality is what you think it is…
There is good reason that the molecular biologist, the Roman Catholic Pope, Alan Watts, and a fully-conscious Zen monk will not agree on WHY things happen as they do in this life.

People today tend to live as believing one of the realities above, or maybe two – a blending of two. Everything that we experience is interpreted according to our own reality. A person that engages in swinging or polyamory has a different mindset than myself. A person that attends a Christian church, Buddhist Temple or other religious service regularly and believes in their religion has a different reality than I do.

I tend to identify with the scientific based fact reality since it’s what I feel good with. There are 2 other realities that strongly conflict with mine – and the holistic reality is somewhat comfortable to me because I’ve meditated in the past and felt that “oneness” or connectivity between all things – all matter and organisms… Yet it isn’t something that base many decisions on.

Each of us interprets in our own way and live our lives according to our beliefs about reality. None of us is correct absolutely – meaning that our interpretation cannot be good for others – but, it’s good for us because that’s all we have. There is no universal reality that people share. That’s one thing that separates us all – we are profoundly different in this area as it’s very hard to find even 2 people that believe exactly the same about reality and interpreting experiences.

The Kahuna, or the Hawaiian priest, practiced traveling in all these realms of reality to gain a greater more holistic understanding not only for himself, but for others so that he might share what he experienced and learned. If we can also do this – take the role of examining other realities away from the one or two that we traditionally live our entire lives in – we may become more rounded, operating from a higher plane or a more grounded center than we would without experimenting with other realities.


Peter Kay
Did You Ever Consider Moving to Hawaii to Live?