Cetasikas

by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 122,172 words

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Chapter 27 - Moral Shame And Fear Of Blame

Hiri And Ottappa

When we apply ourselves to kusala there is confidence, there is mindfulness which is non-forgetful of kusala, and there are many other sobhana cetasikas which each have their own specific function while they accompany the kusala citta. Moral shame, hiri, and fear of blame, ottappa, are two other sobhana cetasikas which accompany each sobhana citta. Moral shame or conscientiousness has shame of akusala and fear of blame has fear of the consequences of akusala.

Each akusala citta is accompanied by the opposites of moral shame and fear of blame, namely by shamelessness, ahirika, and by recklessness, anottappa. Whenever there is kusala citta there have to be moral shame and fear of blame.

There are many degrees of kusala and thus there are many degrees of moral shame and fear of blame. The more we see the impurity of akusala and realize its danger, the more moral shame and fear of blame will be developed; they will abhor even akusala which is more subtle.

The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 142) gives the following definition of hiri, moral shame (here translated as conscience), and ottappa, fear of blame (here translated as shame):

It has conscientious scruples (hiriyati) about bodily misconduct, etc., thus it is conscience (hiri).

This is a term for modesty. It is ashamed (ottappati) of those same things, thus it is shame (ottappa).

This is a term for anxiety about evil. Herein, conscience has the characteristic of disgust at evil, while shame (ottappa) has the characteristic of dread of it.

Conscience has the function of not doing evil and that in the mode of modesty, while shame has the function of not doing it and that in the mode of dread.

They are manifested as shrinking from evil in the way already stated. Their proximate causes are self-respect and respect of others (respectively)...

The words shame, scruples, fear or anxiety do not, in this case, have the same meaning as in conventional language. When we think with aversion or worry about our akusala there are akusala cittas. Moral shame, hiri, and fear of blame, ottappa, do not arise with a citta accompanied by aversion and worry; they accompany kusala citta.

Moral shame and fear of blame always arise together but they are two different cetasikas with different characteristics. The Atthasalini (I, Part IV, Chapter 1, 125.127) gives a similar definition as the Visuddhimagga of moral shame and fear of blame and illustrates their difference. The Atthasalini explains that moral shame (hiri) has a subjective original, that its proximate cause is respect for oneself. Feat of blame (ottappa) has an external cause, it is influenced by the "world"; its proximate cause is respect for someone else.[1]

Moral shame, as the Atthasalini explains, can arise because of consideration of one's birth, one's age, heroism (courage and strength) and wide experience. Moral shame arises from consideration of one's birth when someone of a respectable family does not want to act as someone who has not had a proper education. Moral shame arises from consideration of one's age when someone who is an adult does not want to behave like a child. Moral shame arises from consideration of heroism when someone does not want to act like a weakling but feels that he should have courage and strength. Moral shame arises from consideration of wide experience when one does not want to act like a fool who has not learnt anything.

It may happen that, although we have listened to the Dhamma and see the value of having less attachment to self, we are still selfish, disinclined to help others, or still easily inclined to anger. However, there may also be moments that we remember that the Dhamma we studied should be applied and that it is foolish to give in to selfishness and anger. At such moments moral shame arises because of consideration of what we have learnt, because of the understanding we have acquired from the study of the Dhamma.

As we have seen, fear of blame, ottappa, fears the consequences of evil. These consequences are manifold. There are many degrees of akusala kamma and these produce different degrees of result, vipaka. Some akusala kammas produce their results in the course of our life by way of unpleasant experiences through the senses; when we are blamed by others or receive punishment it is the result of kamma. There is also akusala kamma which produces result by way of an unhappy rebirth. When we consider the consequences of akusala we should not only think of the vipaka it produces, but we should also see the danger of accumulating more and more tendencies to akusala. Because of defilements we are unhappy, we have no peace of mind.

Even if one has not studied the Dhamma one can still have moral shame and fear of blame. One may not know very precisely what akusala is and what its consequences are, but one can still appreciate the value of kusala and see some of the disadvantages of akusala. There may be stinginess or laziness as to kusala, but at the moment the value is seen of kusala, moral shame and fear of blame which abhor akusala arise with the kusala citta.

Moral shame and fear of blame are the proximate cause of sila, morality. We read in the Visuddhimagga (I, 22) :

... For when conscience (hiri) and shame (ottappa) are in existence. virtue arises and persists; and when they are not, it neither arises nor persists...

There are many degrees of sila and thus it is evident that there are many degrees of shame and fear of blame as well. When there are no shame and fear of blame even as to gross defilements, one lives like an animal. We read in the Gradual Sayings (I, Book of the Twos, Chapter I, 9) that if moral shame and fear of blame would not protect the world there would be promiscuity between people, even between relatives, as exists "among goats and sheep, fowls and swine, dogs and jackals". That is why moral shame and fear of blame are called the "guardians of the world".

There may be moral shame and fear of blame with regard to gross defilements but not with regard to defilements which are more subtle, One may not kill or steal, but one may have no shame and fear as regards gossiping or unkind thoughts. We may often mislead ourselves as to kusala and akusala. There are countless moments of clinging but we do not notice them. When the citta is akusala citta there is ignorance which does not know what is right and what is wrong, and there is also shamelessness, ahirika, which has no shame of akusala, and recklessness, anottappa, which does not fear its consequences. Through the Dhamma we will know more precisely when the citta is kusala citta and when akusala citta, and thus moral shame and fear of blame will develop.

Through the development of right understanding we come to see the danger of all kinds of akusala, be it gross or more subtle. One may know in theory that wrong view is dangerous, but there may still be the tendency to take realities for self. When there is still a notion of self who sees or hears, there is no shame and fear of akusala. When we consider the difference between the sotapanna who has eradicated wrong view and the non-ariyan, it will help us to see the danger of wrong view.

The sotapanna has no more conditions to commit gross akusala kamma which can produce an unhappy rebirth whereas the non-ariyan still has conditions for the committing of gross akusala kamma. Because of clinging to "self" one becomes mare and more enslaved to gain and loss, praise and blame and the other vicissitudes of life. So long as defilements have not been eradicated we have to continue to be in the cycle of birth and death. Even if one cannot see the danger of rebirth one may understand that it h sorrowful that defilements are bound to arise again and again.

We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Fives, Chapter IX, 4) about the factors which, if a monk possesses them, hinder the attainment of the goal of monkhood, and about the factors which lead to the goal:

Monks, possessed of five qualities, an elder becomes not what he ought to become...
He is without faith (saddha), modesty (hiri), fear of blame (ottappa), he is lazy and lacks insight...
Monks, possessed of five qualities an elder becomes what he ought to become...
He has faith, modesty, fear of blame, he is diligent and develops insight...

This sutta can remind both monks and laypeople that if there is no development of understanding of the reality appearing at this moment, people will not become what they ought to become: a person who has eradicated defilements. If we remember the shortness of life there will be more often moral shame and fear of blame which abhor laziness as regards kusala. The Buddha reminded people not to be heedless, but to be earnest, mindful at this very moment.

To the extent that understanding develops, moral shame and fear of blame develop as well and they can become powers (balas). As we have seen, the five sobhana cetasikas which are classified as faculties, indriya, are also classified as powers, namely: confidence, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. However, in addition to these five powers also moral shame and fear of blame can be classified as powers.

We read in the Dhammasangani (30) about the power of moral shame, hiri, here translated as conscientiousness:

The feeling of conscientious scruple which there is on that occasion when scruples ought to be felt, conscientious scruple at attaining to bad and evil state---

this is the power of conscientiousness that there then is.

We read (in 31) about the power of fear of blame:

The sense of guilt which there is on that occasion, where a sense of guilt ought to be felt, a sense of guilt at attaining to bad and evil states---

that is the fear of blame that there then is.

A power is unshakeable by its opposite. The powers of moral shame and fear of blame cannot be shaken by their opposites shamelessness (ahirika) and recklessness (anottappa), which arise with each akusala citta.

The sotapanna has moral shame and fear of blame which are unshakeable by their opposites with regard to akusala kamma which can produce an unhappy rebirth. However, although he is on the way to eventually reach the state of perfection, he has not eradicated all defilements. He still clings to pleasant objects, he still has aversion. At the subsequent stages of enlightenment moral shame and fear of blame become more refined and at the moment of the attainment of arahatship they have reached perfection.

We will not understand the functions of moral shame and fear of blame merely by reading general definitions of them, but we have to consider the difference between kusala citta and akusala citta when they arise in our daily life. Then we will notice that, for example, the citta with avarice is completely different from the citta with generosity. When there is true generosity moral shame and fear of blame perform their functions. However, in between the moments of generosity there are bound to be moments of clinging and we may not notice these. We may be attached to the object we give or we may expect the receiver to be kind to us.

Also such moments can be known. We should be grateful to the Buddha who taught us to develop right understanding so that the present moment can be known as it really is. Through right understanding we will have more confidence in kusala and we will see the dangers and disadvantages of akusala. Thus moral shame and fear of blame will develop.

Questions

  1. Why will moral shame and fear of blame develop to the extent that wisdom develops?
  2. Why can moral shame and fear if blame be classified as powers?
  3. What is the difference between moral shame and fear of blame of the sotapanna and those of the non-ariyan?
June 29, 2001

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

See Also Chapter 14, where I deal with their opposites, shamelessness and recklessness

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