Hiri & Ottappa

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2018-03-19 15:45:27

Hiri (shame to do wrong) and Ottappa (fear to do wrong) are reffered to in Buddhism as “guardians of the world”.

Hiri is the sense of shame which refrains us from doing evil because we do not want to harm ourselves. It is because we wish to preserve our self-respect that we develop sense of shame.

We should say to ourselves whenever we are tempted to do an evil action:

  • This is not worthy of a person of good birth. It is the type of action done by inferior people.
  • This is the way children act. It is not worthy of a mature person like me.
  • An evil action is only for those who are weak. A person who is strong and courageous like me should not do this.
  • An evil action like this is only done by blind fools, not by wise people like me. I have gained wisdom and I should not do this.


We refrain from doing evil out of consideration of

  • Our high birth 
  • The dignity of our teacher who taught us the principles and moral values 
  • The greatness of our inheritance (not to shame our parents and family)
  • Honour of our companions (not to shame our friends/colleagues)


Ottapa, fear of wrongdoing, is the voice of our conscience that warns us of the serious consequences of moral transgression: blame and punishment by others, the painful kammic results of evil deeds and hinder our liberation from suffering.

Fearing blame is more a question of avoiding doing evil deeds because of others. We wish to be respected by others, so we develop the fear of blame.

The fear of blame has four causes:

  • Self-reproach
  • Being accused by others
  • Fear of punishment by law & order
  • Fear of evil destiny/kammic results (bad rebirth)


In other words, we will be afraid of doing something that we know we will reproach ourselves later or something that others will criticize. We will avoid actions that we might be punished for in this life or actions that will lead to future lives of suffering.

An irresponsible person who is shameless and fearless will not hesitate to commit wrong and there is no crime that he will not do. The majority of people who are law-abiding and do not harm others are very likely so because of their deference to be on the right side because of hiri and ottappa. Therefor we are encouraged by Buddha to practise ad develop these qualities of hiri and ottappa. 

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