Just outside the ordinary-looking two-story house on Pensacola Street, four lanes of traffic rush by, but inside, the ground-floor room is unusually quiet and still. Daylight casts a glow through ivory-colored blinds, and onto similarly colored walls and carpet. Except for a chair in the corner and a small end-table, the room has no furniture. At the moment, the room is empty, but is often filled with people, sitting on the carpet and meditating in unison.
Mounted across one wall of this room are three enlarged photographs: the first, of a beaming elderly Japanese woman; the second, of an East-Indian monk sitting cross-legged; and the third, the same elderly woman sitting beside a younger Japanese woman.
The three photographs depict three very different people who led extremely different lifestyles, yet who took the same spiritual path to find God in their daily lives and to share their journey with many others. To those whose lives have been transformed, these three are regarded as saviors.
Audrey Kitagawa is the younger woman in the third photo. The only member of the trio presently alive, she occupies the room's only chair. Far from being a formally trained ascetic monk, she projects the image of a highly educated and professional career woman.
She has no formal title, but simply calls herself Audrey. Now age 47, the former family-law attorney who once earned a six-figure annual income gave up her 20-year law practice to provide spiritual guidance free of charge. She does not run a formal organization, but leads a growing "family" of "spiritual children" to the older woman in the photos, who they refer to as the Divine Mother.
When you enter this house, you are greeted by visitors who bow their head and put their hands together as though in prayer. They sit at Audrey's feet to hear spiritual messages of the Divine Mother and the man in the center photo, Sri Ramakrishna. The latter was a 19th century spiritual leader from India who taught others to be tolerant of all religions because of the belief that all paths lead to one God. Sri Ramakrishna believed that what blocks this path is the ego, which is afraid of relinquishing control of the self, and which has a tendency to be defensive, judgmental, and seek happiness outside of the self. Sri Ramakrishna had many devotees and was regarded as a divine incarnation. His first disciple, Swami Vivekananda, is credited with spreading Sri Ramakrishna's philosophy in the West.
"Through the discipline of meditation, one reflects upon the self and gains insight and awareness about oneself," Audrey explained. "Meditation provides us with the opportunity to return to ourselves, to the spirit within us that is the source of our renewal and guidance. The goal is enlightenment, or God-realization."
The spiritual family provides a safe haven to be truthful, unpretentious, and talk about one's emotional pain as well as joy. "The sharing of one's deepest inner self and receiving compassion, acceptance, and unconditional love from each other leads to greater intimacy in our relationships," Audrey said.
Far from being counter-culture, most spiritual family members lead conventional lives, as doctors, lawyers, educators and "householders." As members are self-supporting, they do not solicit monetary contributions.
Audrey's current role could not have been predicted from her childhood in Kakaako. Though her parents Yonoichi and Yochiko Kitagawa were Buddhists and Shintoists, they had sent Audrey to Christian Sunday school. The youngest of five children, Audrey attended public schools in Honolulu through the twelfth grade. Her late father worked for the Honolulu City and County Department of Parks and Recreation as a boxing specialist and served as State boxing commissioner. Her mother operated a restaurant business.
From the time she was a girl, Audrey wanted to be a lawyer. In preparation for her intended career, she joined the debate team at McKinley High School and was District II champion in extemporaneous speaking and debate. Besides being elected sophomore class president, she also served in her senior year as president of the Honolulu High School Association, which consists of other student body presidents, before graduating in 1969. She held many other leadership roles, such as student representative on the Mayor's Advisory Council for Children and Youth, and as an ex officio member of the Honolulu School Advisory Council.
After high school, Audrey's goal was to attend mainland colleges "from coast to coast" to broaden her education. On a five-year scholarship that paid part of her tuition, she studied political science, philosophy and religion at the University of Southern California, graduating cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in 1973. The scholarship also covered her first year of law school at Boston College, where she earned her juris doctorate in 1976.
Each summer throughout her seven years in college and law school, Audrey returned home to work. When her father, known as "Yono," ran for a seat in the State House of Representatives in 1970, Audrey campaigned for him. The same year, she also campaigned for Ralph Kiyosaki, who was running for Lieutenant Governor on the Republican ticket with Sam King for Governor. While neither candidate she campaigned for was elected, Audrey impressed attorney Tom Rice, who had seen her speak at coffee hours and offered her a job in his law office. Thereafter, Audrey worked for Rice during her summer breaks in law school by answering phones, doing clerical work, and learning the practice of family law.
During the summer of 1973, after graduating from USC, Audrey was introduced by a friend to Flora Nomi, who would change Audrey's life. Born in 1914, Flora Nomi had grown up in Waipahu, and attended school through the eighth grade. She married and reared five children in a house across the street from McKinley High School, Audrey's alma mater.
"Though she rarely left her kitchen, she was a God-realized being," Audrey said. "People flocked to her home to hear her spiritual messages and receive her powerful transmissions." Her spiritual children, who extended to Maui, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Jersey and Australia, referred to her as the Divine Mother.
Audrey describes Divine Mother as "the embodiment of unconditional love" which she transmitted to others "spirit to spirit, heart to heart." According to Audrey, the Divine Mother was taught how to give this new message by a divine messenger who was sent to her by the spirit of Sri Ramakrishna. "He disclosed that he was the string running through all the 'pearls' of religion in the world, to bring about universal acceptance of, and tolerance and respect for, all religions."
Though the Divine Mother did not mention Sri Ramakrishna at Audrey's first meeting with her, Audrey learned about him on her own during her first semester at law school. Consulting the Boston telephone directory's yellow pages, her finger intuitively stopped at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society. She arranged a meeting with Swami Sarvagatananda, who told her about Sri Ramakrishna. Audrey read books and attended classes at the Society. She immediately accepted Sri Ramakrishna as her personal God or "chosen ideal." One night she awoke to a vision of Sri Ramakrishna confirming her choice.
Immediately after completing law school, Audrey returned to Honolulu. Her mentor Tom Rice hired her as an attorney with his firm. Audrey became proficient in family law and earned a reputation as one of Honolulu's best divorce attorneys. In 1980, Audrey opened her own business and continued her successful practice. "I really enjoyed my career," Audrey said. She typically woke up at 3:30 am, meditated, exercised at a health club at 4:30 am and was in the office working by 7 am.
Audrey's spiritual life balanced her high-powered career. "We're not here to accumulate wealth or fame, but to realize God," she said. A clientele in family law provided Audrey the foundation for understanding householders' concerns and issues. A turning point in Audrey's career came in 1992 when Divine Mother succumbed to stomach cancer "just shy of her seventy-eighth birthday." On her death bed, Divine Mother gave her power of attorney to Audrey and told Audrey, "You carry Sri Ramakrishna's light to the world for me." Since her death, Divine Mother's home on Pensacola Street has continued to be a gathering place for the spiritual family.
For four years after Divine Mother's death, Audrey worked with the spiritual family, while maintaining her busy law practice. Besides accepting many calls from spiritual family members at her home and law office during the week, she met with members of the spiritual family on weekends. "She (Divine Mother) told me I could not serve two masters," Audrey said. "When I made my decision to close my practice, I knew it was time to move on." Audrey closed her law office in November 1996. A vision she had more than 20 years earlier foretold that she would eventually give up her law career.