Guilt and Shame

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Bundokji
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Guilt and Shame

Post by Bundokji » Tue Sep 26, 2017 9:35 pm

I remember listening to a dhamma talk by Ajahn Chah asking his disciples to develop an inner sense of shame, not from other people, but internally. On the other hand, other Ajahns advice to avoid the inner tyrant and not to be overly critical of oneself.

Buddhism teaches us to take responsibility of our action, but at the same time to let go. Feelings of guilt and shame is somehow linked to sila (right and wrong) so understanding the place of guilt and shame in Buddhism might help me understand the place of sila in the practice.

Again, the difficulty arises because sila can be seen as the foundation. However, if i understand correctly, it is not an end in itself as Buddhism implies to go beyond good and bad. Also feelings of guilt and shame are linked to self view, and self view is wrong view.

Does Buddhism encourages feelings of guilt and shame or discourage them? or does it encourage them only at the beginning of the practice?

I welcome sutta references which might help me to understand, but i kindly request discussants who provide sutta references to share their understanding of the context in which the sutta applies. In other words, can/should it be generalized? or is it relevant to a specific case? and why?
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

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ryanM
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by ryanM » Wed Sep 27, 2017 6:14 am

The Guardians of the World by Bhikkhu Bodhi. This is the most recent thing on my reading list, too :) Very apropos!
sabbe dhammā nālaṃ abhinivesāya

"nothing whatsoever should be clung to"

paul
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by paul » Wed Sep 27, 2017 8:15 am

Although little mentioned in contributions on DW, moral shame and moral dread (conscience & concern) are in fact necessary constituents of all wholesome consciousness, therefore they are to be encouraged and developed. They form the front line of defence against unwholesome action and are called “The Guardians of the World” (AN 2.9, 7.6).

Sila is the foundation of practice and literally gives rise to the sequence of qualities of concentration and insight, and is the only one which requires an act of will. (AN 11.2)

paul
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by paul » Wed Sep 27, 2017 10:27 am

This passage puts moral shame and dread into their path perspective as connected to right effort:

“Ardency (atappa) is the desire to avoid what is unbeneficial.
Ven. Maha Kassapa: “And how is one ardent? There is the case where a monk, (thinking,) ‘Unarisen evil, unskillful qualities arising in me would lead to what is unbeneficial,’ arouses ardency. (Thinking,) ‘Arisen evil, unskillful qualities not being abandoned in me...’ ... ‘Unarisen skillful qualities not arising in me ...’ ... ‘Arisen skillful qualities ceasing in me would lead to what is unbeneficial,’ he arouses ardency. This is how one is ardent.” — SN 16:2

The discourses often pair ardency with compunction (ottappa), fear of the consequences of doing evil, perhaps because the words are so similar in meaning and—in Pali—in sound. (Here I am using compunction in its American sense, as a twinge of scrupulous conscience prior to doing wrong.) Working together, these two qualities find expression in the determined abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities. Without them, the goal would be impossible to attain.

“A person without ardency, without compunction, is incapable of self- awakening, incapable of unbinding, incapable of attaining the unsurpassed safety from bondage. A person ardent & compunctious is capable of self-awakening, capable of unbinding, capable of attaining the unsurpassed safety from bondage.” — Iti 34

“If, while he is walking, there arises in a monk a thought of sensuality, a thought of ill will, or a thought of harmfulness, and he does not quickly abandon, dispel, demolish, or wipe that thought out of existence, then a monk walking with such a lack of ardency & compunction is called continually & continuously lethargic & low in his persistence. [Similarly if he is standing, sitting, or lying down.]
“But if, while he is walking, there arises in a monk a thought of sensuality, a thought of ill will, or a thought of harmfulness, and he quickly abandons, dispels, demolishes, & wipes that thought out of existence, then a monk walking with such ardency & compunction is called continually &
continuously resolute, one with persistence aroused. [Similarly if he is standing, sitting, or lying down.]” — Itivuttaka 110

Ardency is thus closely connected with right effort.”—-“Right Mindfulness”, Thanissaro Bikkhu.

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seeker242
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by seeker242 » Wed Sep 27, 2017 12:28 pm

Bundokji wrote:
Tue Sep 26, 2017 9:35 pm

However, if i understand correctly, it is not an end in itself as Buddhism implies to go beyond good and bad.
Not really with regards to morality of actions. "Beyond good and bad" generally refers to being enlightened and therefore incapable of making further good and bad kamma, AKA beyond good and bad.
Dhammapada 97. The man who is without blind faith, who knows the Uncreated, who has severed all links, destroyed all causes (for karma, good and evil), and thrown out all desires — he, truly, is the most excellent of men.
However, even though one has gone "beyond good and bad", an enlightened one still acts in a morally perfect manner.

2600htz
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by 2600htz » Wed Sep 27, 2017 5:11 pm

Hello:

"You should train yourself thus, Kassapa: 'A keen sense of shame and fear of wrong-doing (hiri-ottappa) shall be present in me towards seniors, novices, and those of middle status in the Order."

Yes, the Buddha encourage a sense of shame or guilt of wrong-doing, as long as you cultivate those states skillfully (wholesome states increasing, unwholesome states decreasing).

Its like when the Buddha adviced meditating on the foulness of the body to abandon lust and some monks took it the wrong way and ended up commiting suicide. Just because it can be a good practice, doesn´t mean every person will do it the right way.

Regards.

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Bundokji
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by Bundokji » Thu Sep 28, 2017 4:48 am

Thank you everyone for your replies. I think the following paragraph by Bhikkhu Bodhi describes how i misunderstood the importance of guilt and shame:
In the present-day world, with its secularization of all values, such notions as shame and fear of wrong are bound to appear antiquated, relics from a puritanical past when superstition and dogma manacled our rights to uninhibited self-expression. Yet the Buddha's stress on the importance of hiri and ottappa was based on a deep insight into the different potentialities of human nature. He saw that the path to deliverance is a struggle against the current, and that if we are to unfold the mind's capacities for wisdom, purity and peace, then we need to keep the powderkeg of the defilements under the watchful eyes of diligent sentinels.
I have always thought of guilt and shame as tools created by society to make people behave, and obviously they are not working evident by how the vast majority of humans act. I misinterpreted "the struggle against the current" by perceiving ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, as an unnecessary sham, another attempt by us to avoid our emptiness.

Maybe the necessity of guilt and shame is an evidence of our emptiness, after all, if there is a self that we can ultimately control, we can skip or let go of some aspects of the path (who wants to feel guilty or shameful anyway?!).

Whenever i think of myself as an exception, life proves me wrong.

Peace :anjali:
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

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Mr Man
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by Mr Man » Thu Sep 28, 2017 8:06 am

If we have a firm conviction that bad actions will bring bad results. Having a fear of doing wrong and a heightened sense of dis-ease at doing unskilful action would seem natural.

Amanaki
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by Amanaki » Tue Apr 10, 2018 9:08 am

If you feel shame or guilt for something that happen in the past, there is an attachments to it, and guilt can also come from knowing you did something unwholsome and regreat it. But in my understanding one should try to only do action, speach and thoughts that you can stand up for in future. meaning doing wholesome action. speach and thoughts.

Laurens
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by Laurens » Wed Jun 20, 2018 10:58 am

I don't think Buddhism encourages or discourages guilt or shame. As I understand it Buddhism teaches awareness if you feel guilt or shame don't shut it out or say "ah this is good I need to feel this more" just watch how it comes and goes, as with all feelings and thoughts they come and go. Watching the comings and goings of things mindfully will develop a wisdom that will free you from getting tied up in your thoughts and feelings and will give you a hands on experience of impermanence.

Personally for me guilt and shame caused me to abandon my practice for a few years. I try not to listen to it for spiritual guidance
"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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Bundokji
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by Bundokji » Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:00 pm

Laurens wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 10:58 am
I don't think Buddhism encourages or discourages guilt or shame. As I understand it Buddhism teaches awareness if you feel guilt or shame don't shut it out or say "ah this is good I need to feel this more" just watch how it comes and goes, as with all feelings and thoughts they come and go. Watching the comings and goings of things mindfully will develop a wisdom that will free you from getting tied up in your thoughts and feelings and will give you a hands on experience of impermanence.

Personally for me guilt and shame caused me to abandon my practice for a few years. I try not to listen to it for spiritual guidance
Guilt and shame are based on self view, but so is the watching of them coming and going.

Trying to get rid of guilt and shame is not conducive to the practice, but trying to get rid of what gives rise to guilt and shame is.

Everything else equal, those who experience guilt and shame for their wrong doings are better than those who brush it away to continue doing harm, all in my opinion.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

Laurens
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by Laurens » Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:51 pm

Bundokji wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:00 pm
Guilt and shame are based on self view, but so is the watching of them coming and going.

Trying to get rid of guilt and shame is not conducive to the practice, but trying to get rid of what gives rise to guilt and shame is.

Everything else equal, those who experience guilt and shame for twrong doings are better than those who brush it away to continue doing harm, all in my opinion.
Hello,

I agree, if guilt and shame prevent harm then that is better than not feeling them and continuing to do harm.

I think there are areas in practise where loving-kindess is better than shame and guilt. Eating too much cake for instance, assuming there isn't an underlying health condition such as diabetes and you aren't eating too much cake every single day, then you probably shouldn't be ashamed for doing it once. The same applies to things like masturbation, it's not massively harmful (again barring any addiction). The best response in these instances in my opinion is to think "it's okay to sometimes eat too much cake, tomorrow I'll try not to", rather than becoming neurotic about relatively harmless acts.

This is where guilt and shame become a hindrance in my view. Of course you should rightly feel guilty if you are malevolent to anyone, but there is an element of renunciation in Buddhism, that is easy to grasp wrongly. I think renouncing harm is the main one to keep. I view renunciation of the smaller pleasures as a by product rather than an aim of practise, which helps me to not become too neurotic about it.

Thoughts such as "I had too much cake today, I'm not a very good Buddhist, I wish I could resist my urges properly, I'm no good at this..." Are just more suffering as far as I'm concerned. It was exactly this that caused me to abandon practise for years. Buddhism became suffering for me, because I was constantly ashamed of a few small things that I was doing. So I figured it just didn't work and I gave it up. Really I just needed to be more forgiving of myself. Don't sweat the small stuff as they say, keep practicing and things will cool down. The main thing is that you're not doing things with a malicious intent...
"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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Bundokji
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by Bundokji » Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:51 pm

Laurens wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:51 pm
Hello,

I agree, if guilt and shame prevent harm then that is better than not feeling them and continuing to do harm.

I think there are areas in practise where loving-kindess is better than shame and guilt. Eating too much cake for instance, assuming there isn't an underlying health condition such as diabetes and you aren't eating too much cake every single day, then you probably shouldn't be ashamed for doing it once. The same applies to things like masturbation, it's not massively harmful (again barring any addiction). The best response in these instances in my opinion is to think "it's okay to sometimes eat too much cake, tomorrow I'll try not to", rather than becoming neurotic about relatively harmless acts.

This is where guilt and shame become a hindrance in my view. Of course you should rightly feel guilty if you are malevolent to anyone, but there is an element of renunciation in Buddhism, that is easy to grasp wrongly. I think renouncing harm is the main one to keep. I view renunciation of the smaller pleasures as a by product rather than an aim of practise, which helps me to not become too neurotic about it.

Thoughts such as "I had too much cake today, I'm not a very good Buddhist, I wish I could resist my urges properly, I'm no good at this..." Are just more suffering as far as I'm concerned. It was exactly this that caused me to abandon practise for years. Buddhism became suffering for me, because I was constantly ashamed of a few small things that I was doing. So I figured it just didn't work and I gave it up. Really I just needed to be more forgiving of myself. Don't sweat the small stuff as they say, keep practicing and things will cool down. The main thing is that you're not doing things with a malicious intent...
I agree
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

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egon
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by egon » Wed Jun 20, 2018 9:42 pm

Regret is constructive. Without regret we would have little motivation to not repeat wrong-action. However, when regret is accompanied by guilt and shame, we can easily move into a state of self-pity and lack of self-compassion (i know, self this and self that. I don't have the right terminology at hand). These are destructive.

We should regret doing harm, so that we can avoid doing harm again. Feeling shame leads to nihlism, IMO.

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Wizard in the Forest
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Re: Guilt and Shame

Post by Wizard in the Forest » Thu Jun 21, 2018 4:21 am

Hiri Ottappa is often misunderstood.

Hiri is self respect. It's the understanding that one hurts one's self by doing an immoral act. Understanding guilt as the desire to have a happy and moral mind, there is no limit to guilt we should want to have capacity for. In this case it is good.

Ottappa is respect of others. It's an understanding that doing an immoral act has consequences that relate to how we are treated by others. If we understand shame as a mindset where we want to not be in a state where we let our immorality to hurt others, we should never limit our capacity for shame.

The kind of shame and guilt you all seem to be addressing is not hiri or Ottappa. It is a mindset called kukucca. Kukucca is a state of mind where we hair split over actions already done and already addressed. A focus and self obsessed idea of dwelling in the past. This is the kind of mental agitation we should avoid. I hope this is helpful as an explanation
"One is not born a woman, but becomes one."- Simone de Beauvoir

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