The role of shame (lajja) in Buddhism

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The role of shame (lajja) in Buddhism

Postby jamesve1 » Mon Mar 08, 2010 8:43 am

Hello everyone, I apologize for forum cross-posting. If any of you could take a few minutes to share your views/attempt to answer the questions below, it would be much appreciated. :)

I'm originally from the US but have lived in Thailand for quite a few years, and it seems that 'face' and 'shame' play a big role in Thai culture. I'm not sure if this is due to the Buddhist virtue of lajja (shame), or if it's due to some type of over-riding collectivist cultural value - or perhaps a combo of both (this could be seen as a 'chicken and the egg' thing; I'm currently studying for a degree in Anthropology so I apologize for all these "cultural" topics floating around in my head!).

Shame in the West is usually seen as a negative trait, although lajja/shame is a (positive) virtue in Buddhism.

From the Journal of Buddhist Ethics:
"Fear and shame are regarded as virtues in Buddhist ethical discourse when, for instance, one fears the karmic consequences of misdeeds or feels shame at having violated monastic vows." - http://www.buddhistethics.org/9/mrozik.html#n16

My question is, what role do you feel lajja/shame plays in Buddhism? Do you believe shame plays a larger role in Buddhism in Southeast Asian countries, versus Buddhism practiced in Western countries? And, do you believe shame plays a larger role in certain types of Buddhism? Do you feel this is an important trait included, or not included, in "Western Buddhism" (whatever "Western Buddhism" may be)?

Thanks very much for your time and look forward to seeing your views!
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Re: The role of shame (lajja) in Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:53 am

Greetings,

Welcome to Dhamma Wheel.

I'm not familiar with the term lajja, and seemingly neither is the Pali Text Society Dictionary.

The words I'm more familiar with are hiri (moral shame) and ottapa (moral fear), which are collectively said to be "guardians of the world" in the sense that they provide self-restraint and help forestall degeneration into shameful behaviours.

Do you mean either, or both of those?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The role of shame (lajja) in Buddhism

Postby jamesve1 » Mon Mar 08, 2010 2:01 pm

Hi Retro, thanks :namaste:

I mean both of those.

I found lajja listed in the online Pali-English Dict (http://www.viet.net/~anson/ebud/dict-pe/dictpe-23-l.htm):

lajjā : [f.] shame; bashfulness.

Several variations to the word are also provided:

lajjāpana : [nt.] putting to shame.

lajjāpita : [pp. of lajjāpeti] made ashamed.

lajjāpeti : [caus. of lajjati] makes ashamed.

lajjāpesi : [aor. of lajjāpeti] made ashamed.

Also found lajja in an online English-Pali Dict (http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/di ... ctep-s.htm):

shame : (f.) lajjā; hiri; apakitti. (m.) avamāna. (v.t.) lajjāpeti; avamāneti. (v.i.) lajjati. (pp.) lajjāpita; avamānita; lajjita.

shame faced : (adj.) lajjanasīla; vinītasabhāva.

shameful : (adj.) lajjitabba; nindanīya; akittikara.

shamefully : (adv.) lajjitabbākārena.

shameless : (adj.) nillajja; ahirika.

shamelessly : (adv.) nillajjākārena.

shamelessness : (f.) alajjitā; ahirikatā.

And Lajja (Sanskrit) is defined as "modesty" (http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Lajja/id/108374).

I guess "shame" can be defined in so many ways. Thanks so much for the definitions of hiri and otappa. Do you know of any suttas where hiri and/or otappa are mentioned?
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Re: The role of shame (lajja) in Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Mar 08, 2010 10:26 pm

Greetings James,

jamesve1 wrote:I guess "shame" can be defined in so many ways. Thanks so much for the definitions of hiri and otappa. Do you know of any suttas where hiri and/or otappa are mentioned?


Check out the...

The Pali Text Society's Pali-English dictionary
http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/

... and it will give (usually a non-exhaustive) list of instances of places in the Pali Canon where these terms are used.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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