Title- Hiri (Moral Shame) & Ottappa (Moral Fear)



To feel ashamed to do evil is hiri; dread or fear to do evil is ottappa. Hiri is evident in those who value their honour and dignity. Ottappa is evident in those who respect their parents, teachers, friends and relatives.


Further clarification is as follows:


When one reasons; “I belong to a good family. So, I should not indulge in unwholesome deeds, nor earn my living as a fisherman or as hunter.” Thus he feels ashamed to resort to indecent livelihood and maintains the honour of his family or clan.

The educated will reason thus: “We are learned persons; we should feel ashamed of unwholesome acts of doing bad deeds. We must refrain from killing, stealing, etc,.”

The aged will reason thus; “We are old, and ought to be mature and wise. If we commit evil we will come into shameful situations.”

These three instances show the dominance of hiri, a wholesome mental factor, in those who value their honour and dignity.

Those who are considerate of others will reason: “If I do evil, my parents, friends, relatives, and teachers will be blamed because of me. Therefore I will not do any evil. I will avoid misdeeds.” This is a fine example of ottappa. So a person acquires hiri and ottapa by means of sympathetic considerations for others and by upholding the honour and dignity of his close acquaintances. But if you have no sympathetic consideration for your family, teachers, etc., you lack both hiri and ottapa and you will do many evil deeds in your life.

Hiri and ottapa protect you from immorality putting restraints on sons from misconduct with mothers as well as on brothers from committing sin with sisters. They are regarded, therefore, as two great guardians of the worldLokapala Dhamma in Pali, protecting you from immorality. So, they are pure and wholesome ideals, known also as “Sukka Dhamma”. These two Dhammas keep human beings in moral discipline and moral restrait that distinguish them from animals.

Without hiri and ottapa, mankind will sink into evil depths, and be reduced to the state of animals. Today, we all can find out many people are void of moral shame and moral dread so that they dress, eat and behave indecently. If this moral decay continues to proliferate, the world will soon end in complete ruin. For mankind will then turn into animals.



False Hiri and Ottapa


Although moral shame and moral fear are wholesome mental factors, there also are false ones. Shame or fear to do evil deeds, abstinence from evil actions are due to true hiri and true ottapa. Shame and dread to keep five precepts well, to visit pagodas and monasteries, to listen to Dhamma talks, to ask confusions about Dhamma to who well-known about Dhamma, to speak in public, to do manual labour (not being ashamed of being unemployed and starving to death), or boy meeting girl, etc., are false hiri and ottapa. In fact they are pretensions and vain pride. They all are collectively taken as a form of craving or attachment, tanha in Pali.



Four Cases Where Shame Should Be Discarded


In the books mention is made of four cases where one should discard shame:



(1) in trade and commerce;
(2) in learning under a competent teacher;
(3) in partaking of food, and
(4) in making love.


These cases are mentioned to emphasis the point that one should be bold doing something of benefit. No commitment is made on whether they are moral or immoral.

Other instances of hiri and ottappa are fear of courts and judges, reluctance to visit the lavatory while travelling, fear of dogs, fear of ghosts, fear of unknown places, fear of opposite sex, fear of elders and parents, fear of speaking in the presence of elders, etc. These are not genuine fear or shame. Indeed they are mere lack of nerve or confidence, a collection of unwholesome states propelled by anger (according to Buddhism, fear is a kind of anger).



The Middle Way


The above explanation will clarify the fact that only genuine shame and fear are to be cultivated. There should neither be shame nor fear doing deeds that are not unwholesome. But this does not mean one must be reckless and bold in every case. Recklessness leads to disrespect for elders, anger, hatred and conceit. While moral courage and fearlessness are to be praised, recklessness and disrespect are to be blamed.

Fruitless boldness, disrespect and vain courage are undesirable; one should be bold and fearless only in doing good deeds. Excess of shame and fear are equally undesirable. There is a middle path for all to follow. One is not to be fearless in circumstances that one should have fear; and one should fear evil deeds.

The Buddha said “Abhayitabbe bhayanti, bhayitabbe na bhayare” that means “Most people fear what should not be feared and become fearless of what should be feared”.






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