Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 1.3.7
Hirīsuttaṃ - By Sense of Shame

‘‘Na tvaṃ bāle pajānāsi, yathā arahataṃ vaco;

Aniccā sabbasaṅkhārā, uppādavayadhammino;

Uppajjitvā nirujjhanti, tesaṃ vūpasamo sukho’’ti1

“You foolish one, don’t you know, the saying of the Arahants?

‘Impermanent truly are all saṅkhāras,

by their nature constantly arising and vanishing.

When they arise and are eradicated, their cessation brings true happiness’.”


The Hirīsutta belongs to verses collected in the first part of the Saṃyuttanikāyo, called Sagāthāvaggo —‘chapter with verses’ in the ‘Nandanavaggo’. These verses open in general with praise, a question or even a riddle expressed by a devatā2 in a couplet, visiting the Buddha that find reply by the Buddha in the same manner and meter. Devas are beings dwelling in the six celestial fields above the human world but are in need of guidance and instruction in the same way as human beings. Nandana, derived from ‘nandati’ —‘to rejoice, be glad, find delight in’— refers to the pleasure garden —‘nandanavana’— in the world of the Gods of the Tāvatiṃsā-world3 which gives delight and joy. Some gods praise the ‘nandanavana’ by proclaiming that someone who has not seen nandana, the splendid abode of the devas, does not know what bliss is:

Na te sukhaṃ pajānanti, ye na passanti nandanaṃ;

āvāsaṃ naradevānaṃ, tidasānaṃ yasassinan”ti.4

Those do not know what bliss is, who have not seen, Nandana,

The abode of the male gods,

Which are glorious and belonging to the Thirty.

The verse that opens this introduction, well known to meditators then is uttered by another devatā, to contradict and indicate to the illusion of permanence of the one which uttered this verse in praise of Nandana.


The hirīsutta or ‘gāthā chosen from the same collection, introduces one more group of those ‘who are few’ —‘appakā te manussesu’— but from a wholly different perspective. ‘Hirī5 means ‘shame, modesty, bashfulness’, and along with ‘ottappa’—‘shrinking back from doing any wrong’— it refers to two rare qualities that are highly praised by the Buddha and should be developed by those who aspire for ‘jotiparāyaṇo6:

‘‘Dveme, bhikkhave, dhammā sukkā7 lokaṃ pālenti. Katame dve? Hirī ca ottappañca. Ime kho, bhikkhave, dve sukkā dhammā lokaṃ na pāleyyuṃ, nayidha paññāyetha8 mātāti vā mātucchāti vā mātulānīti vā ācariyabhariyāti vā garūnaṃ dārāti vā. …”9

“There are two virtuous qualities, Bhikkhus, that protect the world. And what are the two? They are moral shame and moral dread. If those two virtuous qualities, Bhikkhus, would not protect the world then there was no respect towards ones mother, ones aunts, ones teachers’ wives or any other peoples’ wives worthy of respect. …”


May this little sutta inspire to reflect and uphold ones ethical standards!

1. Nandanasuttaṃ, Nandanavaggo, Devatāsaṃyuttaṃ, Sagāthāvaggo, Saṃyuttanikāyo

2. devatā is a general expression for gods, female or male. They dwell above the human realm starting from the four great kings —‘cātumahārājikā devā’—, the sphere of the thirty-two —‘tāvatiṃsā devā’—, the field of the ‘yāmā devā’, the ‘tusitā devā’, those ‘free from pride’, —‘nimmānaratī devā’—, and those dwelling in the sphere of those with the ability to create others  —‘paranimmitavasavattī devā’.

3. Tāvatiṃsā is considered to stand on top of the mystical mountain mount Sineru or called Meru

4. Nandanasuttaṃ, Nandanavaggo, Devatāsaṃyuttaṃ, Sagāthāvaggo, Saṃyuttanikāyo

5. also hiri

6. see previous lesson: 1.3.6 Tamotamasuttaṃ - From Darkness or Brightness to Brightness or Darkness

7. sukka: pure, bright, good

8. paññāyati: to be known, exist, perceived

9. Cariyasuttaṃ, Paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, Dukanipātapāḷi, Kammakaraṇavaggo, Aṅguttaranikāyo

Last modified: Tuesday, 6 December 2022, 1:33 PM