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Huna: Ancient Hawaiian Secrets for Modern Living

Huna: Ancient Hawaiian Secrets for Modern Living

by Serge Kahili King

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The ancient wisdom of Hawai’i has been guarded for centuries—handed down through line of kinship to form the tradition of Huna. Dating back to the time before the first missionary presence arrived in the islands, the tradition of Huna is more than just a philosophy of living—it is intertwined and deeply connected with every aspect of Hawaiian life


The ancient wisdom of Hawai’i has been guarded for centuries—handed down through line of kinship to form the tradition of Huna. Dating back to the time before the first missionary presence arrived in the islands, the tradition of Huna is more than just a philosophy of living—it is intertwined and deeply connected with every aspect of Hawaiian life.
Blending ancient Hawaiian wisdom with modern practicality, Serge Kahili King imparts the philosophy behind the beliefs, history, and foundation of Huna. More important, King shows readers how to use Huna philosophy to attain both material and spiritual goals. To those who practice Huna, there is a deep understanding about the true nature of life—and the real meaning of personal power, intention, and belief. Through exploring the seven core principles around which the practice revolves, King passes onto readers a timeless and powerful wisdom.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book is the blueprint that unlocks the secrets to everything you want in life." — Mary Olsen Kelly, author of Path of the Pearl and Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

"Outstanding! Think your whole new world into being as you follow Serge's simple yet powerful ways to apply the ancient, deep, and hidden wisdom of Huna, offering you the gift to make change happen now." — Yvonne Oswald, PhD, award winner in the field of hypnotherapy and author of Every Word Has Power

"Huna is a wealth of knowledge and systems to improve and celebrate one's life. Framed in the wisdom and meaning of selected authenticated and personally interpreted Hawaiian words and proverbs, Serge Kahili King stands out as a beacon and voice of the contemporary school and movement called Huna." — Patrick Ka'ano'i, author of Kamalamamalama

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What Is Huna?

Hu'ea pau 'ia e ka wai
All scooped up by rushing water
(Everything is told, no secrets are kept)

On the islands of the South Pacific, influenced by a world of sea and sand, volcanoes and palm trees, hurricanes and gentle breezes, there exists a unique path of living that is sometimes called "The Way of the Adventurer." It is an ancient path that is so powerful and so practical that it works as well in modern times as it did in the misty past. This way is based on a Polynesian philosophy called Ka Huna, which means "The Secret."

Before describing it in detail, however, it would be best to "talk story," as the Hawaiians say, in order to introduce the ideas that form the basis of Huna.

What Is New Is Old and What Is Old Is Also New

It is 207 AD, and a middle-aged man, wearing a pure white robe made from the bark of a tree, squats down on an outcropping of lava rock facing the ocean. From out of a woven raffia pouch he takes a worn stone carved to resemble a fish and sets it down on the black lava. In a trilling, chanting voice, he speaks to the stone, moving it in various directions in response to some internal impulse that only he is aware of. Finally, he stops chanting, relaxes, and smiles down at the piece of stone that now points toward the mountains behind him. Then he stands up and shouts to the fishermen who have been waiting, "Get the nets ready! The fish will be here in abundance when the sun reaches kahiki-ku, (the sky overhead) in the late afternoon."

It is 2007, and a young woman in a well-tailored business suit is on her way to an important meeting. Strapped comfortably in the window seat of the 777 jet, she leafs through the airline magazine to pass the time. Suddenly she puts the magazine down, aware of an event forming in her environment. Moments later the plane shakes as it enters rough air, the warning lights for seat belts go on, and the captain's voice announces that everyone should stay seated because there will be considerable turbulence ahead. The woman calmly takes a deep breath and extends her spirit beyond the confines of the airplane. There she blends her energies with those of the wind, talks to it soothingly, and smoothes it out with her mind. Less than two minutes later all the turbulence is gone, so she lets go of the wind and returns to her magazine.

These two people, separated in time by almost two thousand years and living in radically different cultures, have something important in common: Both of them are practitioners of Huna, and they have learned how to integrate its seven basic principles into their daily lives.

The First Principle: The World Is What You Think It Is

To begin with, the man and woman in the example above have learned that the world quite naturally responds to their thoughts. Their personal experience is, in effect, an exact reflection of how they think it is — no more and no less than a dream. As Huna practitioners, they know that this dream we call physical reality is generated from beliefs, expectations, intentions, fears, emotions, and desires. In order to change the dream, they use Huna's first principle to shift "mindsets" at will in order to produce specific effects under various conditions.

The Second Principle: There Are No Limits

This Huna principle states simply that there really are no limits, no actual separations between beings. The ancient man was able to communicate with the stone, and through the stone with the fish out in the ocean. And the modern woman could leave her body in the seat to become one with the wind, and then go back again without the slightest difficulty. Believing that there are no limits is a way of granting oneself tremendous freedom, but its corollary is total responsibility for one's actions and reactions.

The Third Principle: Energy Flows Where Attention Goes

In the third principle, energy flows where attention goes, a poetic way of saying that the concentration of attention on anything produces a concentration of energy connected with the object of focus, whether physical or not. And the energy thus concentrated will have a creative effect according to the nature of the thoughts that accompany the attention. The man on the lava rock face focused on the fish with the intent to influence their direction for the good of the community, and the woman on the plane focused on the wind with the intent to eliminate the turbulence for her comfort and that of her fellow passengers.

The Fourth Principle: Now Is the Moment of Power

Both the man and the woman in the example operated with Huna's fourth principle, knowing that power exists only in the present moment. However, they also knew that this present moment is as large as their present focus of awareness. Their sense of time, then, is quite different from that of the typical modern person. Because one cannot act in the past or the future, one should not waste time on past regrets or future worries. At the same time, one can change both past and future in the present moment.

The Fifth Principle: To Love Is to Be Happy With

One of the most far-reaching and profound discoveries of those ancients who produced the Huna philosophy is that love is the greatest tool for effective action. The Hawaiian word for love is aloha, and the inner meaning is "to be happy with someone or something and to share this happiness." In this respect, love is both an attitude and an action. Love, then, is not only a feeling or a behavior but also a means for change. For the Huna practitioner, love is a spiritual power that increases as judgment and criticism decrease. A truly loving intent is the most powerful spiritual force the world can know. The Huna practitioner expresses love as blessing, praise, appreciation, and gratitude. Separation diminishes power and love diminishes separation, thereby increasing power. The ancient man connected with the fish through love, just as the modern woman connected with the wind.

The Sixth Principle: All Power Comes from Within

The sixth principle teaches that all power actually comes from within. Neither the man nor the woman in the example called upon any force outside themselves to help them in their endeavors. Their power didn't come from their personality or from their individuality but from the common God-spark they know as the source of their own being. The power and energy of this source is infinite, already in touch with everything else, an integral part of Ultimate Source (or by whatever name one chooses to use for it). Since this source is within as much as without and there is never any separation from it, one has only to look inside for it.

The Seventh Principle: Effectiveness Is the Measure of Truth

Being eminently practical, Huna practitioners of old developed this eminently practical principle that effectiveness is the only valid measure of truth. Absolute truth carried to its logical extreme comes out translated as "everything is." Since this is hardly helpful at the human level, the Huna practitioner measures truth by the question, "Does it work?" The practitioner therefore feels free to change mindsets, shift belief systems, and create or modify techniques in order to achieve the best effects in a given situation. Was it true that the ancient man really spoke with the stone and that it answered back? Yes, because the fish came. Was it true that the woman really blended with the wind and smoothed it out with her mind? Yes, because the turbulence stopped. Cause and effect are not the same for the Huna practitioner as they are for the ordinary person in modern society.

Huna is an ancient, pragmatic philosophy that grew out of an exceptionally keen observation of life by Polynesian kahunas of esoteric knowledge. In the Kahili family, this esoteric philosophy was passed down from earlier generations and codified into the seven fundamental ideas I have just shared. I first learned these ideas from my adoptive Hawaiian uncle in the form of specific Hawaiian words and associated proverbs. When it came time for me to share this wisdom with the modern world, I condensed the concepts into seven English phrases that, to me, represented the most practical aspects of each principle for modern students to begin their studies with. From the basis of these principles, the Huna practitioner learns quickly and effectively to view ordinary reality in extraordinary ways, to recognize extraordinary events in ordinary circumstances, and to create new circumstances at will. And life becomes an exciting adventure.

Did the Hawaiians Really Use Huna?

There has been some controversy as to whether the ancient Hawaiian practitioners ever used the word huna to describe their studies in esoteric knowledge. One non-Hawaiian writer on Hawaiian spirituality has even claimed that Huna was not a Hawaiian tradition and that the word was coined by Max Freedom Long, who wrote several books on Hawaiian esoteric thought in the 1940s and 1950s. So let's examine some local and non-regional sources to see what they can tell us about the word's origin.

First of all, regarding the notion that Max Freedom Long coined the word huna, Long based his research on the 1865 edition of A Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language, by Lorrin Andrews. In that dictionary we find huna defined as "to conceal, as knowledge or wisdom." Obviously, then, Max Freedom Long did not coin the word. He did declare, however, that this was the word that he would use to describe the system of Hawaiian esoteric (or secret) knowledge as he understood it. So, regardless of whether or not one agrees with Long's final version of Hawaiian esoteric knowledge, he clearly did not invent the word or its meaning.

But the question remains, did the Hawaiians themselves use the word huna to refer to their esoteric knowledge? This is not easy to determine from an oral tradition, but a few knowledgeable Hawaiians recorded details about their own traditions after the introduction of written language. Perhaps we may find some clues there.

Many of the ancient heiau, or temples, of Hawaii held a tall, wooden framework called 'anu'u that was partially covered with kapa, or bark cloth, and which was used for offerings and as a place for priests to reveal the words of the gods. In announcing the revelation they would begin with the phrase "Let that which is unknown become known." In 'OÝ lelo No'eau (Wise sayings), a book of Hawaiian proverbs by respected Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui, we find the same phrase in Hawaiian: Ahuwale ka nane huna. Pukui's own translation is "That which was a secret is no longer hidden."

Another reference to huna can be found in a nineteenth-century source: Samuel Kamakau, a knowledgeable Hawaiian writer in the 1800s, said, "In the old days in Hawaii, prophetic utterances and hidden sayings ('oýlelo huna, i.e., speech with secret meaning) were relied on."

In her book Hawaiian Mythology, Martha Beckwith relates ideas that shed light on the meaning of huna. According to her Hawaiian sources, twelve sacred islands once existed close to Hawaii in ancient times, with frequent communication among them. These islands were inhabited by spirit beings, but humans used to travel back and forth to them (a very shamanic concept). They are said to have been able to move under the sea, on the horizon, or into the air like a cloud, according to the spirit chief's will. After the great political and religious changes around the middle of the thirteenth century, these spirit islands were rarely seen.

One of the most famous of these spirit islands is called Kanehunamoku, usually translated as "The hidden island of Kane." (Kane in this sense was a kind of creator spirit.) A better translation may be "Land of the invisible creative spirit." In the Hawaiian Dictionary, by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, the phrase po'o huna is translated as "mysterious, hidden, invisible, as the gods," so rendering "invisible Kane" as a valid translation. All of this is significant because there are many tales of Kanehunamoku in which humans travel there, learn esoteric knowledge (in other words, knowledge of arts and crafts unknown to humans before then), and return to share that knowledge with the rest of humanity.

In more modern times the beloved Edith Kanaka'ole, a famous kumu hula, or hula master, created this chant (my translation follows):

E Hoý Mai
E hoý mai ka 'ike mai luna mai e
'O naý mea huna no'eau o naý mele e E hoý mai, e hoý mai, e hoý mai e

Grant Us
Grant us knowledge from above The wise secret of the chants Grant us this, grant us this, grant us this

The Hawaiians of old typically did not give names to abstract concepts. For instance, while there are numerous words denoting specific forms of sexual behavior, there is no word for "sex" or for "sexuality" as a concept. The closest one could come to that in Hawaiian, without inventing a new word, would be ka mea ai, which translates as "the coition thing." Likewise, there is no one overall term in Hawaiian for metaphysics or esotericism. "Huna," my Hawaiian uncle told me, "is just a nickname for ka 'ike huna, the hidden knowledge, or ka 'ike poý, the knowledge of the inner world. We use it because it's easier in English to give that knowledge a nice, short name."

There can be no doubt that the Hawaiians had a system of esoteric knowledge and practice, as these few references indicate. It is also evident that they used the word huna to refer to this knowledge in many ways. That they called this body of knowledge Huna is undoubtedly not so. Max Freedom Long found it convenient and so did my Hawaiian family. I know of other Hawaiian families who also used the word "Huna," while others use different terms today for describing it. The names are arbitrary; the knowledge is real.

The Seven Principles in Proverbs

There is no doubt that ka 'ike huna, the esoteric knowledge of using the power of the mind to influence nature and events, was practiced by the Hawaiians. References to it abound in written records. But did they practice what we now call the Seven Principles of Huna?

A great deal of information about a culture's philosophy can be obtained from looking at its proverbs, and we find many examples of the principles in practice among Hawaiian proverbs collected by researchers. Here are seven proverbs related to the seven principles, in their respective order, from Mary Kawena Pukui's book 'OÝ lelo No'eau.

1. 'A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka haý lau ho'okahi ("All knowledge is not taught in one school"): A variation on the idea that there are many sources of knowledge and many ways to think about things. The word haý lau is actually a long, opensided shed that was once used for storing canoes or as a meeting place for different kinds of activities, especially teaching. In its extended use, it also referred to the group that met there. Today it is almost exclusively used to refer to hula troupes. Even with something as important to the culture as hula, there were many masters and many schools, each with their own traditions and practices. Corresponding Huna principle: The world is what you think it is.

2. 'A'ohe pu'u ki'eki'e ke ho'aý 'o 'ia e pi'i ("No hill is too high to be climbed"): A way of saying that nothing is impossible. Corresponding Huna principle: There are no limits.

3. He makau hala 'ole ("A fishhook that never fails to catch"): Said of one who always gets what one wants. The fishhook was a primary symbol of concentrated attention, and a good fishhook was said to be able to attract fish even without bait. This is because of the pervasive idea that a focused intention has what we might call today "a magnetic attraction." Corresponding Huna principle: Energy flows where attention goes.

4. Wela ka hao! ("Do it now!"): Literally, "Strike while the iron is hot!" This is a clear message that the power to act is in the present moment. It is interesting to note that this concept is based on how the Hawaiian language is constructed. Having no past or future tenses and no verb "to be," ancient Hawaiian thought related everything, including memories and expectations, to the present moment. So a phrase like "I went to Maui last week" would have been translated as "My having gone to Maui last week is over right now." And "I will go to Kauai next eek" would have been "My going to Kauai next week hasn't happened yet." Such a concept leaves no time for guilt or worry and is a perfect example of the Hawaiians' ability, even today, to live in the present moment. Corresponding Huna principle: Now is the moment of power.

5. He 'olina leo ka ke aloha ("Joy is in the voice of love"): The word aloha is commonly used as a greeting in Hawaii, but what it really means is "love." Unlike Western concepts of love, however, aloha has no negative connotations whatsoever. The test of love, Hawaiian-style, is how kind you are and how happy you are. Corresponding Huna principle: To love is to be happy with.

6. Aia no i ka mea e mele ana ("Let the singer select the song"): A poetic way of acknowledging that real power comes from within. At every level of ancient Hawaiian society, one's authority in any area was directly related to one's ability to demonstrate the required skill involved. Even a high chief like Kamehameha the Great had to prove himself when he landed on one of his domains by being able to dodge spears thrown by local warriors. The ancient Hawaiians did not acknowledge inherited power alone, nor did they engage in empty rituals of initiation. An individual must realize his or her own power. Corresponding Huna principle: All power must come from within.

7. 'Ike 'ia no ka loea i ka hokua o ka 'ale ("Show your knowledge of surfing on the back of a wave"): As Hawaiian expert Mary Kawena Pukui put it, "Talking about one's knowledge and skill is not enough. Let it be proven." Although related to the meaning of the previous proverb, this concept is what enabled the Hawaiians to quickly adopt and adapt anything useful that came their way. To mention just a few examples, they turned hymns into a rich musical tradition, a Portuguese guitar into the ukulele, and the cattle-herding skills learned from Spanish vaqueros into the world-renowned subculture of the Hawaiian cowboy, or paniolo. Corresponding Huna principle: Effectiveness is the measure of truth.

The Ethics of Huna

From time to time people ask me about the ethical side of Huna because at first glance the seven principles seem to be amoral. That is, some people are bothered by the principles' apparent lack of any clear guidelines for behavior — no shoulds or oughts.

However, as is appropriate for "hidden knowledge," the ethics are implicit in the principles. If you use them logically, you can't help but be ethical. Let's examine them one by one in that light.

1. The World Is What You Think It Is

If you accept that the world is what you think it is, consciously and unconsciously, then it only makes sense to work on changing your beliefs for the better in order to have a better life. After all, we are really talking about your subjective experience of the world, not some imagined objective world. Like it or not, subjective reality is all you're going to get. A fascinating implication of this is that your subjective experience itself will clearly tell you how well you are doing in the thinking department. Life will be good to the degree that your thinking is good. You can't hide from your beliefs.

2. There Are No Limits

If there are no limits, then the Universe is infinite. Some scientists like to speculate about multiple universes and even multiple infinities, but they are just playing with words. "Universe" means the whole thing, and "infinite" means, well, infinite. The idea of an infinite universe implies that all of it is everywhere and everywhen, which then implies that every part of it is infinite. And that implies that you are, too. Which, finally, implies that you are always encountering yourself, in some guise or another. So it makes sense to be kind to your neighbor because your neighbor is yourself.

3. Energy Flows Where Attention Goes

If energy flows where attention goes, then sustained attention — conscious or unconscious — gives power to the object of attention. Dwell on sickness, and sickness will increase in your life; dwell on happiness, and you will have more of it; focus on lack, and the lack will be more evident; focus on abundance, and abundance will abound. Of course, if your focus is mixed, you will get mixed results. It pays to pay attention to your attention.

4. Now Is the Moment of Power

If now really is the moment of power, then every moment is an opportunity to change your life for the better. In any moment unfettered by past or future considerations, change can happen instantaneously. The most interesting thing about this concept is that when the mind or the body has such an opportunity, it automatically moves toward peace and happiness — as if ethics were already built in. For example, when your mind is fully in the present moment and free of any thoughts of past or present, you enter into a state of calm confidence; when your body is in that same state, the lack of emotional tension allows your natural healing processes to speed up considerably; and when two people meet without any past issues or future fears, they immediately become friends.

5. To Love Is to Be Happy With

If you define love as the behavior of being happy with someone or something, then increasing your loving is a practical thing to do. The ancient wise ones who developed these ideas noted the curious fact that happiness increases as happiness increases, meaning that you have to spread it around to keep it going. This kind of happiness does not imply a giddy, carefree, positive, band-aid kind of happiness. The word aloha (or love), from which the principle is derived, also includes the concepts of mercy, compassion, grace, charity, and all of the other good things that come under the name of love (it does not include any of the negative things). As you practice love, you increase love and happiness for all concerned.

6. All Power Comes from Within

If all power comes from within, then everything has the same source of power — an idea that logically follows from the second principle, "There are no limits." The difference lies in the manner and skill with which it is applied. However, there is a frequently overlooked aspect of power that is important to keep in mind: True power comes from the ability to empower. Hydroelectric power comes from using the power of falling water to empower machines to generate electricity. Political power comes from using the power of a society to empower individuals to give orders or pass legislation. Power has no single beginning or ending or source; it keeps changing focus. As more people become aware of their power to empower, it becomes natural for them to give it more careful consideration and use it for the good of all concerned.

7. Effectiveness Is the Measure of Truth

If effectiveness is used as the measure of truth, then the feedback from our experience will easily guide us toward more effective behavior. We learn to walk by ignoring our mistakes and repeating our successes. In fact, we learn most of our skills and behaviors not by trial and error, as is generally assumed, but by trial and repetition of what works. This idea of effectiveness is based on the Hawaiian word pono, a concept of goodness, rightness, or appropriateness. In ancient culture it meant the greatest good for the greatest number, not as defined by some arbitrary rules but by the actual experience of success, prosperity, health, and happiness. In this sense, then, the truth of your actions will be demonstrated by the results as they are experienced by all involved.

In the history of ethics, according to Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, "There are three principal standards of conduct, each of which has been proposed as the highest good: happiness or pleasure; duty, virtue, or obligation; and perfection, the fullest harmonious development of human potential." The ethics of Huna include all three in the practice of the seven principles as outlined above. Copyright © 2008 by Serge Kahili King

Meet the Author

Serge Kahili King, Ph.D. is the author of many works on Huna and Hawaiian shamanism, including Urban Shaman and Instant Healing. He has a doctorate in psychology and was trained in shamanism by the Kahili family of Kauai as well as by African and Mongolian shamans. Dr. King is the Executive Director of Aloha International, a non-profit, worldwide network of individuals who have dedicated themselves to making the world a better place.

As an author, Dr. King has published the world's largest selection of books and digital media on Huna, the Polynesian philosophy and practice of effective living, and on the spirit of Aloha, the attitude of love and peace for which the Hawaiian Islands are so famous. He also writes extensively on Hawaiian culture.

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