Understanding the ancient Hawaiian practice of Forgiveness

By Jonathan Davis on Friday December 11th, 2015

Ho'oponopono can help restore harmony within, and with others

When I first encountered the practice known as Ho’oponopono, it was in an interview with Haleaka Hew Len PhD, a Hawaiian psychologist and shamanic practitioner. I took on the simple yet profound forgiveness practice and found immediate benefits in my personal life.

Ho’oponopono: I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.

What is ho’oponopono?

On the surface level, many people have understood ho’oponopono to be a mantra where one repeats the words ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you’ as a form of mental and spiritual cleaning that could be compared to buddhist techniques for clearing karma. It has been defined as a forgiveness and reconciliation practice, cleansing of ‘errors of thought’ – the origin of problems and sickness in the physical world, according the the Hawaiian worldview. The literal translation is ‘to put to right; to put in order or shape, correct, revise, adjust, amend, regulate, arrange, rectify, tidy up, make orderly or neat.”

The mantra at the heart of Ho'oponoponoThe mantra at the heart of Ho’oponopono

At first glance I found it hard to remember the order of the words or even discern if there was a specific order for them at all, so I tried them in every possible combination as well as repeating them on their own. I chanted them over and over in the hope of discovering whether they were useful in some way and if so, what was it about these words that made them helpful.

As I did so, I found that many questions arose, with different questions coming up depending on the order I said them. “Why should I be sorry? What do I have to be sorry for? What do I need forgiveness for, in this moment and in my life? What do I have to be grateful for? When I say ‘I love you’ am I really feeling it? If not, what is in the way?”. I worked with these words both to directly address something I was finding challenging, as well as just chanting them with no purpose in mind at all.

I found that by simply chanting these words that my inner discordance, my stuff, would come up. Not only would it come up, but it was as if my inner disharmony was being tuned to the frequency of these words and the intention they carry. Over time I found these four simple concepts acted like tuning forks, each carrying a different tone of purity that I could use to tune the disharmonious parts of myself. Best of all, I found that applying this chant to the chaos of my mind brought about stillness and calm.

The only problem with human beings is that they are arrogant, because that’s what thinking is. This is in essence ‘I know’. Wisdom is being in the void. To be thoughtless. Only by being in the void can the Light come through. As long as I have something going on in my mind the Light can’t come through. The Light can only come in when the mind is cleared – in a state of silence. – Dr Hew Len, Shamanic Wisdomkeepers

Forgiveness in bodyForgiveness has the power to bring harmony within and with others

Why is Ho’oponopono powerful?

Throughout human history we have been divided by distance, language, cultural and religious beliefs, class and economic hierarchy. Whenever someone comes up with a perspective there seems to always be someone else there with an opposing opinion. To me the power of Ho’oponopono comes, in large part, from the fact that it’s a really rare thing for the vast majority of humanity to be in agreement about anything.

Across all cultures practically all of us agree that the concepts of thank you, I’m sorry, please forgive me and I love you are all valuable and important. If there is such thing as a collective consciousness, as Jung and many eastern traditions have suggested, then the basis of the power of Ho’oponopono may come from the sheer volume of people throughout human history who have agreed that these concepts are valuable, important and useful to humanity. In this way, Ho’oponopono may be tapping into a level of awareness that extends far beyond its Hawaiian roots into perhaps every culture that has ever existed on Earth.

In common with other shamanic traditions, the Hawaiian tradition teaches that all life is connected.  Ho’oponopono is, therefore, not only a way of healing ourselves, but others and our world as well.
– Timothy Freke, Shamanic Wisdomkeepers

Can Ho’oponopono affect more than our internal world?

At the core of Dr Hew Len’s perspective is the idea of taking responsibility for more than your personal self because ‘you are in me and I am in you’. His way of expressing Ho’oponopono contains an awareness that the discordance we find in others and in the world outside ourselves is due to ‘errors’ in thought stored in our personal and collective memories. The belief in these errors existing in some form of collective memory accessible to all allows for a person practicing Ho’oponopono to clean these errors, whether the error originated in their personal thoughts or not.

I don’t see myself as a kahuna, I see myself as a garbage collector.  I’m only here to be responsible and it’s often very hard to do that. – Dr Hew Len, Shamanic Wisdomkeepers

Forgiveness in thoughtsThe power to change the world around us

The paradox here is that he is advocating development of personal power to change the situation around us through increasing personal responsibility, which involves a willingness to take on responsibility for cleaning discordance that was not created by oneself, i.e doing other people’s inner work for them (which doesn’t seem like the other taking personal responsibility for them self). As usual, the paradox is resolved with the awareness that separation consciousness is not the only reality and an underlying unity also co-exists, after all: ‘you are in me and I am in you’. This is where ho’oponopono truly steps into being a shamanic practice, where the reality not only within but around the practitioner can apparently be adjusted.

No one wanted the job I did with the criminally insane. They were averaging about one psychologist a month. But I got asked. We had about 25-30 people. Half of them would be in shackles at the ankles or the wrists because they were dangerous. They could either kick you or slam you. Everyone would walk with their back toward the wall so that they wouldn’t get struck. They had no family visits. No one could leave the building. A year and a half later there was none of that. There were people going out on bus rides. Nobody in shackles. The level of medication dropped. What did I do?  I worked on myself. I took 100% responsibility. – Dr Hew Len, Shamanic Wisdomkeepers

While the rational part of me would still like verification that this story really happened, it evoked enough curiosity in me to get me to try the technique and find out for myself if might be helpful to my life.

Ho’oponopono as a family therapy practice.

For people living in Hawaii today Ho’oponopono is less about it being a personal shamanic practice through chanting a mantra internally or externally, and more about a traditional system of dispute resolution. It’s a practice that still holds the values of making things right and correcting errors, however in this incarnation it is focused on making things right with our relations; coming back into right relationship by correcting errors with living relatives, ancestors and deities.

Ho'oponopono as a family therapy practiceHo’oponopono as a family therapy practice

Today Ho’oponopono is just like family therapy. This has been really influenced by the Christians. But I’m talking about the real Ho’oponopono from before they came. [Back] then the Hawaiians didn’t need to talk anymore. They could go straight to the Light. This is very ancient. It goes back to the start, because that’s where Hawaiians came from. – Dr Hew Len, Shamanic Wisdomkeepers

The ritual for group reconciliation itself involves an elder in the family convening the process, or if this isn’t possible an elder from the wider community. The ideal situation is for the ritual to be conducted by praying priest (kahuna pule) or healing priest (kahuna lapaʻau) particularly if illness was involved.

The process begins with prayer. A statement of the problem is made, and the transgression discussed. Family members are expected to work problems through and cooperate, not “hold fast to the fault”. One or more periods of silence may be taken for reflection on the entanglement of emotions and injuries. Everyone’s feelings are acknowledged. Then confession, repentance and forgiveness take place. Everyone releases (kala) each other, letting go. They cut off the past (ʻoki), and together they close the event with a ceremonial feast, called pani, which often included eating limu kala or kala seaweed, symbolic of the release. – Nana I Ke Kumu (Look To The Source) by Mary K. Pukui, E.W Haertig, Catharine Lee.

reconciliation in the familCreating space for confession, repentance and forgiveness to take place

Testing The True Power Of Ho’oponopono

Like many spiritual practices, such as meditation, it’s not the practice you do while you’re in the crisis, it’s the practice you do on a regular basis between the crisis that makes it effective when the storm hits. A couple of years ago I was at a spiritual retreat where the practice I was engaged in triggered what I would now describe as a state of spiritual emergency. I use this term in the context that Stan Grof and other transpersonal psychologists might use it, as an alternative way of describing what others might call psychosis.

I was in a mindset where I felt emotionally and spiritually assaulted, and was by far feeling more threatened than I had ever experienced in my life. Upon the realisation that no-one was coming to help me, I knew that it was up to me to deal with the situation. I sat down on the spot and went into meditation. Out of the many chants and tools I have learned over the years, it was Ho’oponopono that came to me as the solution to my situation.

Within moments of implementing the practice the feeling of all out assault on my consciousness cleared as easily as the smell of burnt toast when one opens the windows on a day with a fresh breeze. When I was found I was meditating quietly in a state of peace and gentleness and the challenge of a potentially full blown psychotic episode had dissolved and has not since returned. I share this not to state what will definitely happen to others who choose to use this practice, but to simply illustrate what may be possible.

Jonathan Davis

Amplifying personal healing and growth for collective evolution.



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43 Responses to Understanding the ancient Hawaiian practice of Forgiveness

  1. I’m a therapist and I have built Ho’oponopono into my work. Although simple it is an incredibly powerful tool. Sometimes people are incredibly resistant to saying it the first time (I get them to repeat it after me 3 times). But once they have said it you can immediately see the changes. It really is miraculous.

  2. I’m glad to join this conversation. It’s a way to connect people and share experiences based on the method that is presented here. All of us have issues with our loved ones and all those we encounter everyday. We always finding ways and means of improving our lives and our relationships. I’m also glad that this method is based on divine principles and belief in a Supreme Being and Creator.

  3. Tenzin Palmo (a high ranking female Tibetan Buddhist lama and scholar) has made the observation that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to achieving “balance” ignores fundamental differences in how females and males are socialized in different cultures. This article says, “humans are arrogant” but, really there’s a lot of research to indicate that in American society males in particular are arrogant because of their socialization. Females, on the other hand, tend to take on more blame, while males tend to blame others when things go wrong. So, I am cautioning you not to advise females to chant “I’m sorry, forgive me, thank you, I love you” because that’s what females are already socialized to think/feel and is what contributes to their remaining in abusive relationships, for example. As Tenzin Palmo points out, balance is in the MIDDLE, but men are socialized to be on one end of the spectrum and women on the other end, so the message for each needs to be different. A good mantra for women might be “I matter, see me, appreciate me, love me,” in order to help women develop being assertive, setting boundaries and knowing their worth. Please note that these differences are not biological, but are due to our gendered socialization and have been well documented.

      • great divine sister it is not male or female it is the energy correction irrespective of the gender. Females are always great powers on this earth whatever the roll of life they are assigned.

    • The words “I am sorry and please forgive me” (the others also) are first of all directed to me, for everything I’ve done to me although I disapproved it in the bottom of my heart, and from here, are also directed to the other people known and unknown, that I mistreat them with my thoughts and facts.

    • The modern day teacher who taught Dr. Len was Mornah Simeona a woman, who would simply reply to your viewpoint male or female with;
      I love you
      Thank you
      Forgive me
      I’m sorry
      When it comes to the main healing aspect of Ho’oponopono, what we are healing is our thoughts which are neither male nor female.
      That is unless you have identified the thought as female or male because of the gender of the person from whom the thought came from. That having been said the whole point of Ho’oponopono would have been missed. Whether male or female Ho’oponopono works thru it’s simplicity. It’s not about who is thinking it’s about taking full responsibility for each thought, being accountable for that thought being my own and ownership of that thought as mine, male or female, and no longer pointing my finger at something outside of myself as cause. The point is to reach “no point” zero thought and by doing so touching inspiration. GodUs. Simply saying

    • Although you are absolutely right IMHO about gender socialization, I agree with the other repliers that this is not the point. The phrases of Ho’oponopono can be directed to your inner child, for example, in order to heal from the abuses of a narcissist – which you allowed and became addicted to because you did not love and respect yourself enough. And that is what you have to accept responsibility and ask forgiveness for. And you need to express appreciation for the wonderful being that your inner child is/was (and who you are) and be the loving adult that your inner child did not have.

      The words can also be directed to your parents, whom you may have punished for their mistakes and limitations despite all the good things they gave you, nevertheless.

  4. Aloha, It is good to see forgiveness and self-responsibility being embraced from a healing perspective on such a wide scale. Stan as well as his mentor for many many years, the late Morrnah Simeona, were some of the first teachers after the lifting of many kapu during the “Hawaiian Renaissance” (1976). It is also important to know that there are many “authentic Hawaiian” schools of thought on this topic. There were many teachers and wisdom keepers, most of whom have passed, and these elders all had their own ways of practicing and sharing ho’oponopono. Some of the wording in this article is misleading. But ultimately, with the right intention, all lead to re-connecting with your divine essence. It certainly takes mindful practice and dedication. The actual word for forgiveness is ‘kala’. The idea of ‘repentance’ reveals the influence of the European colonization and missionaries (1700s-1800s). The Hawaiian spirituality before that is known to have been deeper. For example, the ancient Hawaiians knew they were born “a perfect bowl of light” and not born in sin. They knew that they needed to correct their wrongs and the value of the ‘ohana (extended family) staying in harmony, but they viewed ho’opono as more of a ‘making things pono’ because that is the way of the Aloha Spirit – aligned, interconnected, truthful, balanced, honest etc. “Pono ke ala” is the way to walk with our highest guides, ancestors and angels, or the pono ‘path’. This is not a ‘shamanistic tradition’ here in Hawaii; it is a simple and genuine way of life for many in a place where all things, places and people are known to be sacred in essence. This knowledge is embedded in Hawaiian culture and radiates from the ‘aina (land). Malama pono and Mahalo, Nancy Kahalewai, Author and Lomi Practitioner.

    • thanks so much for your comments Nancy. I did my best to write the article honestly from the perspective of someone who is not from that originating culture, and has only learned about this practice from the outside. It wasn’t my intention to mislead and i did my best to remain respectful and reference Indigenous Hawaiians and speak from my own personal experience.

      I’m very glad to hear that there is a strong cultural depth far beyond my surface level intro, still alive in Hawaii. I hope you can feel that my intention was to approach this subject in a way that was above the usual white person cultural appropriation.

      If there is anything you can recommend I correct I would be very open to considering changes.

      thanks again, Jonathan.

  5. Would you please go into a little more detail about how to do this when the person with whom you experience discord is unavailable? Thank you!

    • Aloha Kimbaila,

      How does the Ho’oponopono cleaning work:

      The cleaning is initiated by the intellect. It is the mental part in you and the one that has free choice. God gave you the gift of the intellect (apple tree) to choose, it was not to fill it up with knowledge and to get University degrees. To choose what? Follow God or your memories and programs. Do it God’s way or your way. And please know you are choosing 24/7 all the time. Well, your programs are the ones choosing for you all the time, unless your intellect chooses differently (the cleaning).

      What does it mean to choose the cleaning? Well, your intellect becomes a little bit more humble and says:

      I am sorry, please forgive me for whatever is in me that is creating this. The intellect knows it is not GUILTY, just RESPONSIBLE. Responsible for what? Responsible for the programs playing in you and you don’t even need to know, or understand. There is a part of you that knows better and is waiting for you to give permission!

      In order to clean, do I need to repeat all that? To clean, do I need to say the 4 words that I learned from Joe Vitale? When I clean, do I need to think and concentrate on what I am cleaning with? NO, NO and NO.

      Just repeating thank you or I love you in your mind does it (the I am sorry, please forgive me for whatever is in me that is creating this is built in!) Thank you and I love you are the pass codes! Plus, you never know what you are cleaning on, nor you are the one deciding what it gets cleaned. You are just giving permission!!!

      So, how does the cleaning work? When the intellect chooses to take 100% responsibility and to let go, it is like an order that goes to the subconscious mind (the inner child in you). The inner child in you is the one that holds all the memories and is the one that makes the connection to your superconscious mind (the part in you that is perfect) and it is the superconscious the one that makes the petition to the Creator.

      Immediately after, Mana or divine energy comes down and cleanses you spiritualy, mentally, emotionally and finally physically. The response is automatic.

      Important to know: All your problems are a memory playing in the subconscious mind. They are not at the physical level. The problem is the memory or the thought that created your problem at the physical!

      Every time you say “thank you” or “I love you” you are letting go, giving permission to this part of you that knows better. This part knows even why that problem showed up, and what is the perfect solution for it too!

      And, it is the law of the Universe. Every time you knock, the door opens.

      The cleaning is like the game of the Universe and the rules are: 1 ) You trust that every time you say thank you, something happens even if you cannot feel it or see it. 2) No expectations. You do not know where it is going to come from. You do not know what is right and perfect for you. Sorry! Just trust and be patient. Become an observer of your life. You are not your problems. You are above your problems.

      Here you have a useful video of Mabel Katz.


      Thank you. I love you.

  6. My painting “30 Days of Ho’oponopono” is currently on exhibit at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art in Peekskill, NY. Ho’oponopono is AMAZING and life changing. 🙂

  7. This was a good article, but the one thing I disagree with, is that practicing Ho’oponopono is NEVER about the other person, nor is it about cleaning the collective unconscious. We take 100% responsibility for anything that shows up in OUR experience, because if we’re 100% clean and clear, we experience Bliss and Enlightenment, and the side effect of that, is those around us become clear as well—as in Dr. Len’s experience with the mental hospital. We clear experiences with our higher self, and she knows when/where/with whom errors in thought occur, and our conscious mind doesn’t need to know. It’s taken care of. https://blissthroughaloha.com

    • Ho’oponopono is an effective inner work because what gets erased from us. gets erased from others and especially from our family, relatives and ancestors. Whatever gets erased from me, it gets erased from everybody else. Thank you. I love you. ❤

  8. I have been applying Ho’oponopono to my life for many years. One of the things I learned early on is that forgiveness is not just forgiving whomever I felt slighted me, but to forgive myself for allowing myself to be slighted. To apologize to myself for giving away my spirit and to love unconditionally anyway, being thankful that my healing begins and ends with my initiative for I may only know GodUs by cleaning and clearing all the thoughts that I believed in that no longer serve me and simply replacing those thoughts 24/7 with;
    I love you I call this replacement therapy
    Thank you
    Forgive me
    I’m sorry
    Truly becoming a
    “Spiritual garbageman”
    We heal the world by healing ourselves first for
    “Peace on Earth” begins with making peace with ourselves first.

  9. Hi dear,
    I need your assistance at one point. ( I’m sure there would be a lot of questions in the mean time but I’m listening videos and find reasonable answers )

    So can you please help me in cleaning objects, places, appliances,cars ?? How can I do, I mean is it something staring or thinking or being/ feeling in that room and simply saying Thank you..thank you.. Do you understand what I mean ? How can I clean my car or computer..etc.

    I’ll be thankful if you can enlighten?

    Thank you, thank you

  10. Thank you so much for sharing, it feels as a releaf to me as I start repeating it in my mind even without knowing how to practice meditation (yet)!

  11. How beautiful it is to make space for forgiveness…to love and to say sorry. I’m grateful to Kumu Kimo Keaulana who shared this valuable article with his Facebook ohana today.

  12. This must be hard for a lot of people to believe but a few years ago when I was living by myself, all of a sudden I felt a not-so-friendly presence at home. It wouldn’t let me sleep peacefully at night with loud and strange noises and I used to dread coming home after work. This continued for around 3 months. Then one day, I just thought whatever this presence was, it can definitely read my thoughts, so I sent a ho’opponoppono prayer to this being just a few times. Immediately, it left my house, that very day all those strange noises stopped completely.

  13. This is NO Ho’oponopono! Mantra does not exist in the Hawaiian tradition. These 4 sentences are not at all in the ancient spiritual tradition. And above all these sentences are not Ho’oponopono. These 4 sentences are an invention of Ihaleakala Hew Len around 1996. Morrnah Simeona had never transmitted anything like this. Ho’oponopono is based on a lie: Hew Len had not healed any mentally ill in that famous psychiatric hospital. The psychiatrists in the structure testify this in 1987. When a story is based on a lie, everything becomes a lie, as these 4 sentences demonstrate. If you repeat “coca cola” with conviction, it will do you good anyway.

    Dr. Gharda-Ward was further inspired to write a book review about Zero Limits.
    THIS BOOK IS TOTALLY FALSE, March 25, 2014 By G. Gharda Ward MD:
    I am a Board-Certified Psychiatrist. In 1987 I worked at Hawaii State Hospital. ON THEIR FORENSIC UNIT, where Joe Vitale says these “miracles” took place. I can assure you this is completely phony and false. IT NEVER HAPPENED. There were no psychotic murderers and rapists that were “cured” by this Ho’oponopono. It is false and misleading. Many of the things in the book are completely untrue. There were no car washes (can you imagine letting murderers and rapists off the unit to go outside and wash cars?), patients did not walk around in shackles nor were they held for long periods in seclusion. This is a STATE HOSPITAL!! Can you imagine what would happen if the Honolulu Advertiser (the local paper) had gotten wind of these patients being allowed outside? What if one of them escaped?? The Doctor, the hospital administrator, heck, the Governor of the state would be in big trouble. Think about it!! The events described in the book simply did not happen.

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