Hiri and Ottappa

This past Sunday, Mike shared parts of a dharma talk by Sean Feit on the original Buddhist ideas of hiri and ottappa – sometimes translated as Conscience and Concern.

Called “The Guardians of the World”, often these terms are translated as Shame and Moral Dread, which perhaps accounts for how little they are discussed in the West: we have plenty of shame and dread to go around. However, they can also point to a subtle way of reviewing the past and planning the future without being hooked by craving and grasping.

Hiri implies the sense we get when reviewing past actions that were unskillful (hence Conscience). Once seen, we will naturally have Ottappa: we want to avoid the results of those actions (Concern). This leads us to be more able to avoid repeating those actions in the future.

The challenging part of this review and avoidance is not to judge ourselves for unskillful actions and not be terrified of repeating them again. That judgement and terror are themselves unskillful.

Sean Feit’s talk is here: