One might be tempted to think that when someone goes into a monastery that he withdraws from “life” and other people… but one would be mistaken to think so. By not going out from the monastery one is forced to focus on the community of others with whom one so closely lives within the monastery, forcing one to come into awareness of how one deals with others through actions and what those actions indicate about the contents of one’s heart. In effect, the other members of the monastery become one’s Ohana.
For Hawaiians, the Ohana (the family) is the model for Hawaiian life; the Hawaiian understanding of “family, however, differs from the western understanding. For Hawaiians the relatedness implied by the word “family” extends beyond parents, siblings, Aunties, Uncles, cousins, and even to the land itself. For Hawaiians the land (the trees, the rocks, even animals) are all relatives and therefore must be treated with respect.
Hawaiian life emphasizes a life of connectedness, responsibilities (kuleana), and concern for the Ohana, with the concomitant understanding that the expressing of respect is an essential characteristic of the divine essence of our spirit. So when western businessmen forced the king to permit the purchase of land, this brought into Hawaiian life an unimaginable concept – that of being able to sell the land and buy it solely for one’s own use. For Hawaiians this was akin to selling one’s Tutu (Auntie) to the highest bidder, an unimaginable affront to the ties of Ohana.
Having lived coenobitic monasticism for so long, with its emphasis on living within community and one’s responsibility to live rightly within that context, I automatically understand at least the Ohana aspect of the Hawaiian experience. Since we do not give birth to ourselves, life is a gift, and since being alive is something with which one has been gifted, the proper reception of a gift should generate gratefulness and thankfulness; this understanding is at the heart of Ohana. How different from the western concept of the “self-made man”.
The monastery in which I lived for 23 years is situated within 475 acres of land, containing two mountaintops; in fact, in some of Grandma Moses paintings the monks’ “Two Tops” can be seen in the distance. My cell in the monastery had so many plants in it that the Abbot referred to it as “the Tropics” in the monastery; how ironic that my love of plants is one of the elements drawing me to Hawaii. Perhaps, in some way that I never before divined, God has been calling me to Hawaii for all of my 64 years?