Just as James Michener said, first came the volcanoes, disgorging the islands out of the sea. The trees and birds and island people followed with their special belief in sharing and kindness.

Many now say it was only the missionaries and lawyers, with their contracts and passion for written rules, who muddied these simple beauties. But the ancient Polynesian ghosts may yet get their revenge. Consider Hawaii state House Bill 2569-86.

The two-page measure, which has passed the House, 40 to 10, directs the state legislative, executive and judicial branches "to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable."

The barons who wrote the Magna Carta, the delegates to the Virginia House of Burgesses, the framers of the U.S. Constitution and the other great lawmakers of western history might have scratched their heads at that one. But this is Hawaii. This is the "Aloha Spirit" bill.

If its message spreads to the world, as the woman who inspired it prophesied just before her death, modern jurisprudence may never be the same.

The bill establishes "aloha" as "the working philosophy of Hawaii." Disdainful of hair-splitting modern jurists, the framers of this legislative ode to ancient Hawaiian tradition and modern multi-ethnic practice provide as many adjectives as they can to define aloha, casting a lexicological net to capture a spiritual butterfly.

Aloha, HB 2569-86 asserts, can mean kindness, tenderness, unity, harmony, agreeableness, pleasantness, humility, modesty, patience, perseverance: " 'Aloha' is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. 'Aloha' means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. 'Aloha' is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence."

The bill's enthusiastic supporters have provided more concrete examples of what they mean:

The Hawaiian practice of setting political campaign posters not on sticks, but in the hands of human campaigners who establish eye contact with commuters passing by on the way home.

The tradition of ignoring racial differences in a state so diverse that no ethnic group can call itself a majority.

The delight in celebrations, such as opening day in the legislature, with entertainment and flowers and parties everywhere.

Many Hawaiians fear that in the press of modern business, some of this spirit is slipping away, and hope that the bill might rekindle it.

But like other legislatures, the Hawaiian capitol, with its lovely balconies on Beretania Street, is full of lawyers and other devotees of rulemaking, many of whom shudder at what the Aloha Spirit could do to due process and the adversary system.

Rep. Donna Ikeda, 46, an insurance executive, voted against the bill after arguing that the state Land Board could justify granting a permit to a developer because of his perseverance. Rep. Andrew Levin, 39, a New York-born graduate of the Harvard Law School (and an eventual supporter of the bill), noted that it might allow a judge to free a dangerous criminal rather than impose a jail sentence.

All that was mainlander prattle to Pilahi Paki, the Maui-born sage who planted the seed of the Aloha Spirit bill with an impromptu speech to the Hawaii 2000 conference, which met in 1970 to consider the islands' future. The deliberations, two chroniclers of the session reported later, had fallen into a mood of "anxiety, tension and widely shared expectations of the possible eruption of angry confrontations" over Vietnam and other issues.

At that point, Paki, wearing a long, red-and-white flowered muumuu, rose from the back of the conference theater and gave an emotional explanation of the Aloha Spirit (much of it repeated verbatim in the bill) that left the room hushed. Then, chroniclers George Chaplin and Glenn D. Paige wrote, there came a thunderous standing ovation and "tears welled up in the eyes of many."

Paki's definition of aloha became a popular poster item, but as she neared death at age 76 last year, she clearly wanted more. She told her closest friends, including attorney Alvin Shim, that she had been talking to the spirit world and learned that mankind would reach a significant crossroads, a choice of life or death, in 15 years. "Hawaiians have the power to save world culture," she told them.

Shim and others proceeded to draft the bill, although the 62-year-old attorney prefers that his role not be mentioned. Taking credit, Shim said, "is not part of the Aloha Spirit . . . . If you do something that's good, it's best to keep it quiet."

Just how Paki's vision will survive the legislative process, much less the year 2000, remains to be seen. The bill awaits consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must act by today.

Some of the bill's opponents -- even those such as Rep. Kina'u Kamali'i, 55, who has Polynesian ancestors -- say they revere the Aloha Spirit but feel that it "does not belong in the law." Its supporters, such as Rep. Mazie Hirono, argue that it provides a nice reaffirmation of what makes Hawaii special and will have no legal impact on criminal or administrative statutes because it will be in a section of the code covering state symbols and mottos.

Hirono, 38, arrived here from Japan when she was 8. She has lived in Hawaii since, except for three years at the Georgetown University Law School that gave her an insight into life among people not imbued with the Aloha Spirit.

"Here in Hawaii, we let people cut in front of us on the highway," she said. "Back in Washington, that was considered stupid behavior."