Shame: Hiri, Fear: Ottappa

Shame: Hiri, Fear: Ottappa

3. Hiri (Shame) And 4. Ottapa (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 a hunter.” Thus he feels ashamed to resort to indecent livelihood and maintain the honor 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 honor 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 ottappa by means of sympathetic considerations for others and by holding the honor and dignity of his close acquaintances. But if you have no sympathetic consideration for your family, teachers, etc., you lack both hiri and ottappa and you will do many evil deeds in your life. Hiri and ottappa protect you from immoralities putting restraints on son from misconduct with mother as well as on brother from committing sin with sister. They are regarded, therefore as two great guardians of the world (Lokapala Dhamma) protecting you from immoralities. So they are pure and wholesome ideals, known as Sukka Dhamma. These two Dhamma keep human beings in moral discipline and moral restraint that distinguish them from animals. Without hiri and ottappa, mankind will sink into evil depths and be reduced to the state of animals. Today many people are void of moral shame and 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 turn into animals.  

False Hiri and Ottappa

Although moral shame and moral fear are wholesome mental factors (kusala cetasika) there are also false ones. Shame or fear to do evil deeds, abstinence from evil actions (ducarita) are due to true hiri and true ottappa. Shame and dread to keep Sabbath, to visit pagodas and monasteries (to go to church), to listen to Dhamma talks, to speak in public, to do manual (not ashamed of being unemployed and starving) labor, or boy meeting girls, etc., are false hiri and ottappa. In fact they are pretensions and vain pride. According to Abhidhamma they all are collectively taken as a form of tanha.

Four Cases Where Shame Should be Disregard

In texts mention is made of four cases where one should discard shame: i. In trade and commerce
ii. In learning under a competent teacher
iii. In partaking of food
iv. In making love
These cases are mentioned to emphasize the point that one should be hold doing something of benefit. No commitments are made on whether they are moral or immoral. Other instances of hiri and ottappa are fear of courts and judges, reluctance to visits the lavatory while traveling, fear of dogs, fear of ghosts, fear on 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 akusala (unwholesome) states propelled by domanassa.

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 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 they should have fear; and one should not be feared and become fearless of what should be feared.”