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 to the Buddha in which the Buddha replies 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) that gives delight and joy in the world of the Gods of the Tāvatiṃsā world.3 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, is uttered by another devatā to contradict and indicate the illusion of permanence of the one who 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 completely 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 jotiparāyaṇo.6

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 would be no respect towards one’s mother, one’s aunts, one’s teachers’ wives or any other peoples’ wives worthy of respect. …

May this little sutta inspire one to reflect and uphold one’s 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: Saturday, 2 December 2023, 3:05 PM