The Twin Paradoxes of Ho’oponopono

By Adam J. Pearson

As a teaching, a method that is taught, ho’oponopono is paradoxical on two levels. The first paradox of ho’oponopono is that its methods cannot be communicated except by using the very unconscious data that it is designed to clean. All verbal teachings draw on data; they use language, which is stored in memory. However, the explanations are much like the metaphorical ‘yana’ or raft of Buddhism; you use it to get to the other shore, but once you get there, you can leave it behind. In the case of ho’oponopono, we never permanently arrive at the other shore, that is, we never permanently abide at the state of zero, where all conditioning, opposites and conceptualizations are cut off; we practice cleaning our way into it from moment to moment. Every bit of cleaning reveals more to be cleaned just as, in Buddhism, every meditation reveals more to be meditated upon.

In ho’oponopono, once we ‘get’ the method, once it really hits home, we can throw away the explanations of what it is or how it works. In fact, we can do the four phrases cleaning on them and hope that they, too, get erased along with the rest of the data that clogs up within us and conditions our words and actions without us even realizing it. This is what is meant by ‘abandoning the raft we used to get there’ in the ho’oponopono context. We use the words and concepts until we grasp the four phrases and how to use them; once we get that, we can drop the concepts and just live the practice. Ho’oponopono, like Zen, is not attached to words and letters; it is a teaching outside of language that only uses language as a skillful means of conveying its practice. In ho’oponopono, as in Zen, it is the practice that is paramount; the teachings are secondary. It is the moon of zero that we are after, not the finger of explanations that point us to it.

The second paradox of ho’oponopono is that even as we work on our data and the data of all other beings, which are all in some sense ‘within us,’ we do so only from the state of zero. Zero is like the sky and the data is like the clouds that drift across the sky. Just as we tend to miss the sky because the clouds are so interesting and hypnotizing, so do we tend to lose track of zero because we are swept up by opinions, thoughts, memories, and lingering tendencies and dispositions.  As clouds dissipate, the sky becomes more visible. Similarly, as we clean the data in our unconscious, we get a clearer view of our true nature and our true home: the state of zero.  Cleaning is learning about who we really are and it is also coming home. Just as a pipe, when cleared of the gunk that clogs it, allows water to flow more smoothly, so does the cleaning practice allow life to flow more smoothly.

In Buddhism, the state of beings prior to doing the Buddhist practice is called ‘dukkha.’ Some people translate it as ‘suffering,’ ‘malaise,’ or ‘unsatisfactoriness,’ but as Huston Smith points out in his book, The World Religions, dukkha originally referred to the disjointed state of a bone that had popped out of its socket or a cart whose wheel had slipped off its axel. Just as a person with a dislocated bone must hobble along and a cart with a wheel that is off-kilter must bumble down the street in a very slow and clunky way, so is our life rendered difficult and infused with suffering once we get caught up in data.

Unconscious data is the main cause of our dukkha according to ho’oponopono. All of the Three Poisons that the Buddha pinpointed as causes of suffering are all forms of data, namely, clinging, aversion, and self-delusion.  When we let data run us, we suffer. Buddhist practice is about seeing the true nature of life and the causes of our suffering so that we can move towards that state where suffering ceases: nirvana, which literally means ‘cessation.’ In a similar way, ho’oponopono is about clearing the data from within us so that we can come home to our true nature, in which data comes to its ‘cessation.’ But just as the sky remains the sky when the clouds move within us, so does our nature remain at zero even while we are swept up by data.  We are what we seek; our goal is already there in the place we are working from.  This is the second paradox of ho’oponopono.

These two paradoxes, while strange and perplexing to the conscious mind, are not terribly important.  What matters is the practice, what Dr. Hew Len calls ‘the cleaning.’ Using the four phrases on whatever comes up in our experience, whether within our body-minds or within the world which we move through and which moves  through us, is the primary form of the cleaning.  The cleaning makes the unconscious conscious and dissolves the blockages within us, which keep us ‘disjointed’ and land us in the state of ‘dukkha.’ It clears up the cloggages within the ever-present clarity in which the data appears.  In short, even though the paradoxes of ho’oponopono perplex the mind, this perplexity is not in any way a problem, a pressing concern, a flaw in the method.  All we need to know is how to do it, for it is the practice that matters the most.  Clean, clean, clean: understand what it is and then do it, constantly; this is the way of ho’oponopono, the path home, to zero.


For more on what ho’oponopono is and how to use the four phrases, see The Way of Bold Healing: The Four Phrases of Ho’oponopono in Practice.

For more about ho’oponopono, see The Rose Cloud of Unknowing: On (Not) Knowing Why the Four Phrases of Ho’oponopono Work. 


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