Protecting Inner and Outer Peace


  • Hiri &Ottappa are called Bright Guardians~
  • They’re internal states~ 
  • Hiri guards integrity~
  • Ottappa concerns outer consequences~
Guardians of the World image
Gate at Sanchi

Protecting inner & outer peace:

~Hiri and Ottappa in daily life ~

Hiri[1] and ottappa[2],  the bright guardians of the world, evoke a range of translations and interpretations.

For me, hiri’s common association with shame, even moral shame, isn’t so useful. My personal interpretive translation of hiri is instinctive reticence for wrongdoing. Hiri reminds me how much I value my integrity, the integration of practice and goodness into my psyche and life. That wholeness is torn if I harm myself, others, or the community.

For example, once I received a legitimate doctor’s note to temporarily excuse me from what would have been (for me) a physically painful five-day civic task. The note was digital. Rather than passing along the temporary excuse my doctor wrote, I could have easily changed the date to excuse myself for years to come. Both bright guardians, thankfully, were present.

Hiri emerged as the protector of my integrity, wholeness, internal lightness. I shrank back from wrongdoing, out of care (anukampa) for that integrated wholeness. The contraction of the thought of wrongdoing disappated. After I acted honestly, contraction was replaced by a beautiful inner lightness of being. Hiri protects us from the inner divisiveness wrongdoing creates.

Hiri, Bhikkhu Bodhi notes, is rooted in self-respect. It is an internal, forward-looking reflection, just like the Buddha advised his son Rāhula to make before actions of body, speech, or mind.

Ottappa reminded me that unwholesome actions can affect others, personal reputation, and our shared broader web of relationships. If my actions contribute towards broken social contracts, or general suspicion, that is a bitter effect.

Ottappa is often associated with fear of blame, punishment, or the effects of wrongdoing from an external perspective. I relate to it as a “regard for consequences,” a phrase that also applies to hiri-ottappa and Buddhist Ethics [3]. These internal and external perspectives and consequences condition each other. Hiri-ottappa can be a teaching of conditionality.

Remembering this strengthens sīla, virtue. It also supports meticulous vata, comportment. From this foundation, strong formal practice, especially strong samadhi, naturally arises. The Pāli texts teach this, but I’m not writing about it because I saw it in the texts. I am blogging it because it works in my life.


[1] Hiri is translated as “moral shame,” (Bhikkhu Bodhi), and “a sense of shame, bashfulness, or shyness,” with resonances of “conscientiousness” and “scruple” listed in the definition of the related word “Hiriyati.” (Rhys-Davids). Thanissaro Bhikkhu renders it as “a sense of compunction at the thought of doing evil, public or private” (“Compunction.” 2020).

[2] Ottappa is variously rendered as: “moral dread” (Bhikkhu Bodhi); “fear of doing wrong… Scrupulousness in avoiding wrongdoing or blame; shame” (Margaret Cone); “fear of exile; shrinking back from doing wrong… fear of sin” (Rhys-Davids); “a sense of compunction at the thought of the results of doing evil” (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, ibid).

[3] Wikipedia; this phrase used in a way to describe Buddhist ethics by both Thanissaro Bhikkhu and Bhikkhu Bodhi.

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