Remorse or regret (kukucca) is supposed to be unwholesome, while shame of evil (hiri) is wholesome.

What is the difference between the two? Why is one wholesome, while the other isn't?

3 Answers 3


The answer below is according to the Abhidhamma.

Hiri and ottapa are both universal wholesome mental factors or universal beautiful factors.

There are in total 25 of those universal beautiful factors. Universal means that they all come together in one bunch. So, if there is hiri in the mind, then there is also ottapa in the mind together with all the other 23 universals. Other universal beauties are for instance: sati, faith, non-greed, non-hatred, tranquility and so on.

According to the Abhidhamma each factor can be defined by 4 things: it's characteristic, it's function, it's manifestation and it's proximate cause. The function of hiri and ottapa is not doing evil. They manifest as shrinking away from evil. The Buddha called them the guardians of the world. Because they protect the world from immorality.

In short: hiri and ottapa prevent you from doing evil deeds in body, speech and mind.

Now to the unwholesome factors of which kukkucca is one.

There are 14 unwholesome factors. To name a few:

  • ahirika = shamelessness
  • anottappa = fearlessness of wrongdoing
  • kukkucca = worry in the sense of remorse
  • uddhacca = restlessness

As with the beautiful factors the unwholesome ones know some universals. In this case there are 4 universal unwholesome factors, meaning they appear as a group. These 4 are: delusion (moha), shamelessness (ahiri), fearlessness of wrongdoing (anottappa) and restlessness (uddhacca).

So, in any and every mind state with moha, there is also ahiri, anottappa and uddhacca present.

Worry/remorse (kukkucca) on the other hand is not universal, it's part of the aversion group. Meaning that worry appears only in mind states that are rooted in aversion.

So, whenever you experience kukkucca there is also moha there and ahiri, anottappa and uddhacca (since they are all universals). But if there is moha there, together with ahiri, anottappa and uddhacca, worry doesn't have to be present. Think for instance of a mind state rooted in greed. That does know restlessness, but not worry/remorse.

Kukkucca comes up after you have done something wrong.

So, not only will moha, ahiri, anottappa and uddhacca not protect you from doing wrong. On top of that you will be rewarded with kukkucca arising. And then you are in double trouble.....

Hope this helps to clarify things.


If describe shortly kukucca is the nature of mind someone thinks or flashback about past things,or past acts had done..Hiri or shame of evil tempts someone to avoid from doing a bad thing/sin There are 2 kinds of kukucca as

  • Yathawa kukucca (repentance about sins had done in past and repentance about good acts didn't get a chance to do)


  • Ayathawa kukucca (repentance makes through thinking wrongly about a good act had done in past..as an example someone thinks'' why did i meditate yesterday, that's a waste of time''...and repent on that..like that.. )

So kukucca is a bad nature of mind, and hiri is a good one,which avoids someone from doing a bad act..You've to reduce kukucca from your mind, and improve hiri in your mind which keeps you in the path of understanding truth


Prakrit (ancient vernacular behind Pali and Sanskrit) had a notable pattern of using stable two-word compounds to express some common ideas. It's called Dvandva, "a linguistic compound in which multiple individual nouns are concatenated to form an agglomerated compound word in which the conjunction 'and' has been elided to form a new word with a distinct semantic field". A typical example of Sanskrit dvandva is "mātāpitarau" - a word that means "parents", made from the two words for father and mother.

The Buddha of Pali Canon uses a number of expressions like this, for example "bhaya-bherava" (danger-panic), "udhacca-kukkucca" (worry-wrongdoing), and "hiri-otapa" (shame-disgrace). These compounds almost usually consist of two nouns, first being the carrier of the main idea, and the second being a qualifier helping to make the meaning of main word more precise. Both words can be used separately, but together they convey a specific image, that is more concrete than either of the two words.

Now, armed with this theory, let's try and explain each compound:

"Hiri-Otapa" (lit. shame-disgrace) stands for a particular kind of shame one feels when having disgraced oneself in the eyes of public opinion. "Oh my God, now everyone thinks I'm stupid/crazy/immoral etc."

"Bhaya-Bherava" (lit. danger-panic) means not any generic fear, but specifically the feeling of helplessness, anticipated inability to handle the potential danger. "Oh my God, this will be the end for me!"

While "Udhacca-Kukkucca" (lit. worry-wrongdoing) means not a generic worry or remorse, but specifically an obsessive anxiety and uncertainty about right vs. wrong action in particular circumstances. "What should I do now? What's right? What's wrong? What is the best thing to be doing now? Am I doing something stupid or not? Is this right or not? Is it okay to let it be, or should I be doing somethin?". In English this is called a scruples.

The main difference between Hiri-Otapa and Udhacca-Kukkucca, I think, is in the different situations they describe. In my opinion, Hiri-Otapa refers to the shame one feels after having specifically disgraced oneself, while Udhacca-Kukkucca refers to an anxious hesitation about one's choice of activity (or passivity), even if everything is alright.

(Without using these Pali words) my teacher has made important points about being sensitive to the opinions of others, seeking praise, avoiding blame, protecting ego, taking responsibility, becoming one's own center, and finally being perfectly shapeless. He said,

in the beginning while we are junior students it helps to always evaluate our potential choices from the perspective of others: "what would people say?". It helps to be a true learner, questioning oneself, open to feedback - and not just open, actively catching hints from other people's reactions, adjusting one's actions accordingly. In the beginning, this attitude is very useful and makes one non-arrogant and non-blind, growing fast. It is actually better to be like this, than to be self-assured - when you are a junior student.

in the middle this sort of attitude may lead to trouble though, because the habit of relying on others for evaluation of one's behavior makes one inconsistent, trying to satisfy multiple conflicting viewpoints. It also makes one's will power weak, since one tends to break down when presented a strong argument that goes contrary to the first viewpoint. Being susceptible to praise and blame makes one a kind of clown, always mindful of audience, without a core. Also, not taking responsibility or not taking a stance makes one seemingly nice and kind, but actually very unreliable for others. To other people a person like this looks passive-aggressive, trying to satisfy all the constraints and to make everyone happy, while having some inner resistance due to a conflict of different rules - which eventually leads to failed commitments. Another problem with relying on the judgement of others is that your mood and your level of energy is not in your own control. Someone like this will experience constant mood shifts, coming from evaluation of conflicting external value systems.

so, in the end an advanced student is supposed to transcend this habit of evaluating oneself in the eyes of others and learn to be one's own center. This means having one's own consistent value system, even if that would mean not satisfying someone else's opinion. Being one's own center makes one strong, calm, and happy - because both one's decisions and one's evaluation of the results now come from oneself. On this phase one has no doubts and no wavering about right and wrong action (or inaction) because one has learned to fully trust oneself and to take full responsibility for one's choices.

At the very end, with the increased understanding of emptiness and the growth of co-emergent wisdom (=non-reification), one's viewpoint and one's value system gets so nuanced and so robust that it effectively looks like one no longer has any single model of behavior. This is because one now is not stuck to one overgeneralized value system, but judges one's actions accordingly to the needs of the situation. When this happens one effectively loses any single form and becomes "shapeless", which is a culmination of this 4-step progression.

I suppose when Buddha speaks about Hiri-Otapa being the greatest guardian of the world, he refers to the first phase. When he says that Udhacca-Kukkucca is a fetter to be eliminated after stream-entry, he refers to the transition from the second phase to the third. And when he says that conceit is a fetter that lingers all the way until arhantship, he refers to it's emergence on the third phase, to be left behind on the fourth with attainment of wisdom and shapelessness.

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