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Hi David,

I agree about hiri, although I looked it up and it seems like hiri is based on an internal sense of shame over one's actions, while ottappa is based on external orientation or fear of what others will think about one's behavior. The first article I attached explains these notions in detail- it's quite interesting. 

Coming from the lens of psychotherapy, I have a bit of trouble with the notion of shame being helpful. I found the second article below and like the sort of fanciful depiction of hiri and ottappa. I agree that one's behavior ought to be dictated by a moral compass, but shame as guidance strikes me as potentially harmful. That may come from my Catholic upbringing too🙃 I like to think that we are born with an internal compass that guides us toward moral behavior; granted, we get knocked off course, but I believe that if we are mindful about how our behavior affects our own feelings and that of others we learn from our mistakes and act differently in the future. Sometimes that takes a lifetime of bad choices. Or, it might not happen, but I think that's a potential everyone has within. Perhaps that's just a softer way of describing hiri. In terms of society infuencing our behavior, one could argue that today's society conditions and shapes behavior in ways that are not necessarily moral. What do you think?



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Hi, Jo. I hugely admire Bhikkhu Bodhi and enjoy his translations and commentaries, so I offer my take with great trepidation and humility. Instead of my viewing hiri as being an internal sense versus ottappa being basically a fear of opprobrium from others, I see hiri is being how our current attitude has been shaped by the reactions of others to our actions in the past and ottappa as being our attitude toward the anticipated consequences from others of an action we consider taking in the future. I tend to view almost everything as being conditioned and relational. What makes us so complexly interesting is that we not only can form ideas of external objects and “others” but we can relate to our own conceiving and to our inner experiences as somehow being objects separate from our subjective awareness. I suspect the latter is necessary for the former; for example, I find it unlikely one would recognize and seek to alleviate the pain, sorrow or despair of another to much extent if one had not first felt and identified pain, sorrow or despair as being a part of her or his own experience, plus had experienced how one’s actions can cause another to feel discomfort. Very quickly we learn that how we attune to others greatly affects whether we will receive comforting or discomforting responses. Consequently, to me it seems likely any sense of obligation toward others largely stems from the interactions with caregivers and significant others, possibly starting in the womb where there was no distinct other. I should acknowledge I know little to nothing about child development.

To me it is unlikely that a defining characteristic of consciousness is our having a conscience and some rich innate morality. Yeah, sorry but I am not a believer in basic goodness nor such inspirational notions as everyone having Buddha nature, nor do I believe one can find any real support for those notions in the ancient teachings attributed to the Buddha. To me such notions are likely just more conceiving and trying to forge some lasting meanings and connections to repair the toll separateness inflicts on us...which notions sometimes can be useful imaginings. It is so ironic how the source of mankind’s ingenuity, the ability to conceptualize, is also the source of a seemingly inconsolable vulnerability and unease.

The challenge as I see it is how to embrace it all—the separateness with all its ups and downs, in’s and out’s, and its world alternately broken into pieces or affording parts for wonderful assembling and acquiring; the oneness, unity, or wholeness; and the inevitable death and dissolution of the organism—without rejecting any of it and without obsessively pursuing distractions. This basically was the theme of last weekend’s retreat, so It might be strongly influencing my perspective. I do think most of us have the hardware for doing this task to some great degree. But, obviously, this is hard to do and conventional thinking cannot accomplish it. The obstacles are great. Moreover, some people are dealt much worse circumstances than others.

As for society shaping behavior in ways that are not moral, I think this points to two basic, often unconscious, strategies for dealing with vulnerability and unease—coming at them trying to deny and control them with seeming firmness and strength (to “dominate them,” using the President’s terms) or coming at them trying to accept and adjust to them with softness and malleability. I think culture shapes the form these strategies take. Looking back and being male, I believe I had been conditioned to adopt the firm and strong approach in culturally-defined ways that resulted in much too much conflict and grief for me. I came to see these ways necessarily entailed too much insensitivity toward others that itself was uncomfortable for me and only wrought more discomfort for me and others. So from this perspective, YES, I believe society can shape behavior in ways that are not moral. That is my answer however unsatisfying it might be.


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On 5/23/2020 at 7:46 PM, Joseph said:

I have acquired the book, and read the first 4 chapters.


Thank you for accepting me into this club.

As a psychologist, I am attempting to integrate the framework of ACT Acceptance and commitment therapy) into my work, and I am finding Dr. Brach's book interesting--familiar in many way, yet she deepens the concept by incorporating her own life story into the idea of acceptance. For myself, I have had to work at understanding the acceptance as something more than a great idea, and I appreciate the added dimension that Dr. Brach adds.

She has spurred me into engaging acceptance as t relates to my patients lives as well as my own.This has not been an easy thing, but I am finding that when I do this, the therapy and my groups become more powerful, and the men put more energy in to the work.

The life and world of the inmate is so radically different from mine, and although I have worked in prison's for many years, I still have to admit that I don't even know the half of it --what an inmate's experience is.

I have to struggle to let go of my assumptions, my own frame of reference, society's views about the incarcerated, my own burn out--all of these are a part of my point of view.

I think that this is a place where acceptance and mindfulness can inform my work.

What great insight you have on incorporating your own experience in understanding theirs, prisoners.  I also have trouble with this and am working to deepen the mindfulness experience in order to live it truly attaching emotions within the mindfulness.  I have yet to put that part into it.  I understand being present to experience things but have not understood the connections to determine when emotions need to be also understood and experienced.  I wish you the best in your learning and teachings. 

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