hiri (hirī)

= conscience (moral scruple), sense of shame, bashfulness.

To be undestood as a particular sense of shame that arises through association with ariyas or extensively well-behaved people, and the desire to be worthy of that association by matching their high standard of good conduct. Often contrasted to and combined with ottappa, both of which it is said at AN 2.9 that they protect the world (lokaṃ pālenti).

Their role as well as their difference can be easily understood thanks to the apt simile of the fortress given at AN 7.67: hiri is compared to the moat, that ought to be deep and wide, and which prevents the army of Māra from drawing near the fortress of the mind, whereas ottappa is compared to the rampart, that ought to be high and wide. Thus, just as the first obstacle that the army attacking the fortress meets with is the moat, hiri is the first mechanism of defense that counteracts the arising akusala dhammas.

The formula defining what means being hirimā (endowed with hiri) is found at MN 53, as well as in several suttas of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, and is as follows:

Hirimā hoti,

He is endowed with hiri,
hirīyati kāya-duccaritena

he feels hiri towards kāya-duccarita,
vacī-duccaritena mano-duccaritena, hirīyati

vacī-duccarita, and mana-duccarita, he feels hiri towards
pāpakānaṃ akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ samāpattiyā.

getting into pāpaka akusala dhammas.

It is easily understood that hiri, together with ottappa, play he key role in the protection of sīla. Its also has a deep connexion with sammā-diṭṭhi, since it consists in having a sharp sense of what is kusala or akusala and in being repelled by the perspective of being overcome by akusala dhammas.

Hiri, due to its connexion with sīla, plays also an important role in the Vinaya, and the rules seem to be designed to foster its establishment in the bhikkhus who have proven to have it weak by committing an offense. The most gentle of these measures, in the case of light offenses, is the confession, and the strongest, in the case of a saṅghādisesa offense, is a whole set of humiliating penances, the perspective of which strengthens the sense of hiri in to the potential offender.

These penances include the fact that during at least six days, every day the offender must inform all the bhikkhus in the monastery of the fact that he is observing penance and the precise offense for which the penance was imposed. If visiting bhikkhus come to the monastery, he must inform them as well; if he goes to another monastery, he must inform all the bhikkhus there, too. If, on any day of his penance, the bhikkhu neglects to observe this rule, that day does not count toward the total of six.

Bodhi leaf

Includes sentences copied from "Buddhist Monastic Code I: Chapter 5",
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 18 September 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/bmc1/bmc1.ch05.html