If a warrior chooses to leave the battlefield, he will be humiliated by his country men therefore losing his respect. Buddhist monks have attained great peace even by letting go humiliation. Is this respect or social status an ego? Is it a part of human emotions just like happiness & sadness. Does social status or respect exists?

4 Answers 4


If you read Pali suttas, you will see how Buddha says times and again, that people's opinion about a person is in large degree a reflection of person's virtue.

Basically, human ethics and Buddha-Dharma both stem from the same Reality or Truth of how things work, so naturally there is a large overlap. Things that are considered shameful by society are, for the most part, considered unskilful in Buddhism and vice-versa.

In the example of respect, the quality that is respected in society - such as consistency in applying one's (ethical) principles despite all kinds of distractions and pressure to the contrary, map to the quality of perseverance which is one of the Six Paramitas in Mahayana.

At the same time, since the end-goal of Buddhism differs from the end-goal of lay life, there are instances when the two systems disagree. In one of the (SN or AN) suttas Buddha said, it's easy enough to act skilfully when one gets approved by society, but only a wise person can uphold it when met with misunderstanding and blame. So clearly, Buddha was aware of the occasional conflict and insisted that in such cases the ethics of Dhamma must prevail.

Then, in Mahayana this is further analyzed in terms of the Two Truths: relative vs. absolute. From the perspective of the Absolute Truth, we clearly understand that the values of the relative truth are inherently pointless and purely conventional. So, for example, such a despicable act as cursing in public - is understood to be inherently empty - neither impure, nor pure. The ethical value of sounds is assigned entirely based on social convention. The sounds themselves are just that, sounds - and what may be offensive in one country could be a greeting in another.

Then again, from the perspective of the Relative Truth, our actions have real, objective effects. If someone is actually offended at our cursing, it is kinda pointless to argue whether the sounds have inherent meaning or not. The truth of the matter is, if you know that your acts will have certain effects, should you heed that or not? The answer is yes, of course.

Finally, from the perspective of the Unity of Two Truths, which is said to be the perspective of the enlightened mind, the conventional valuations existing on the relative level are understood to have grown from, or to have roots in, the Absolute Ground of All, so in that sense they are like shadows or echos of the truth, they are like reflections of The Law in pieces of broken mirror, not entirely valid, but not completely false either.

So, for example, respect in general, however conditional and superficial it may be, and regardless of the individual judgements made in all fairness or not, is still a reflection of something real that has an intrinsic value - the consistency of virtue, which is a reflection of the fundamental steadfastness and orderliness of Dharma ("Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands".)

In Tibetan Buddhism, especially in its most ancient Nyingma tradition, there is this deep respect for the wandering yogis famous for their complete and openly demonstrated disrespect for the social norms. In East Tibetan folklore there are numerous anecdotes about such yogis e.g. pissing in public and performing many other regrettable acts. The traditional moral of the stories is, the enlightened mind does not worry about the social morals, what it cares about is helping others progress on the Path, which is considered the higher virtue overriding the social norms.

At the same time, the fully enlightened mind of the Buddha is expected to be so infinitely skilfull, that its every single act is supposed to look valid and admirable from every possible point of view! Think about it, how cool is that? There may be infinitely many perspective on things in the universe and somehow Buddha is supposed to look perfect from every one of them. It's up to you to decide for yourself, whether you take this literally or as a didactic figure of speech, but the moral of the story for me is, the wiser and the more skilful we get, the less disagreement we generate with our acts - which kinda makes sense.

As for the ego question, of course Pride (in the sense of Conceit) arising from respect, and Self-Beating arising from Loss of Respect, are not the most healthy qualities of mind, according to Buddhism. Technically, both come from an idea of Self being valued high or low in the others' eyes, therefore from the ego. Not surprisingly then, learning to let go of the deeply ingrained attachment to saving one's "face" and the panical fear of being disgraced has traditionally been a big part of Mahayana's teacher/student relationship. At the same time, on the lower levels of virtue, Pride and Self-Beating could be useful motivators stirring the sentient being towards a better path, so in this sense they can be useful to a certain degree. Check out "hiri and ottappa" for the traditional take on this.

So, to summarise this overly long answer, the social conventions such as Respect and Shame are inherently empty, partially valid and useful on the relative level, ultimately to be transcended for oneself on the path to liberation, can sometimes be overridden by the higher-level Dharmic concerns, but are nevertheless never neglected even by the fully enlightened Buddhas because of their effects on the unenlightened minds.

  • 1
    This is a truly wonderful answer. It gives the three views and brings them together and this no easy thing to do. Respect! I'd upvote it a few times if I could.
    – user14119
    Nov 5, 2018 at 13:45

Paying respect or veneration is an act of acknowledging greatness in a person. It has nothing to do with ego. But it can lead to ego if the recipient isn't mindful. On the other hand, if one's actions are directed by one's craving towards the joy that arises when one receives respect, it is very likely that ego is involved.

if a warrior fights a battle to gain praise from countrymen or avoid being put to shame, it is unwholesome. If a warrior leaves a battlefield because of his cowardice, it is unwholesome. But if a warrior leaves a battlefield knowing that the act of killing is evil and immoral, it is wholesome regardless of what the countrymen would think of him.

  • Thank you for replying, what I have understood is the expectations behind all actions is ego. They say, doing actions for good purpose is not ego. If the warrior did not fight knowing the violence involved, however the purpose of war is salvation of many, is it wholesome or unwholesome. Nov 5, 2018 at 10:08
  • Ego is not the expectation behind all actions. But ego can be involved when doing actions for good as well. Not necessarily though. When the intention come to the mind to save people, it is wholesome. When the intention comes to the mind to kill, it is unwholesome. You have to understand that wholesome or unwholesome is just a momentary mind state. Both wholesome and unwholesome mindstates can arise in rapid succession during war. Nov 5, 2018 at 10:23

I think that conformism, e.g. ...

  • Behaving like other people
  • Behaving as other people want you to
  • Also reacting to other people's expectations

... is a existent phenomenon.

This can be beneficial, e.g. ...

  • Teamwork, playing together (games)
  • Learning with and from each other (studying)
  • Cooperating (mundane work and commerce)
  • Harmlessness and compassion (within a loving family or society)

You might find it easier to keep any sort of discipline (not just on the "battlefield", but e.g. any kind of scheduled activity) when you're with other people who do and expect the same (see also e.g. SN 45.2).

That might, I'm not sure, be an example of where external social cohesion (i.e. cooperating with and "mirroring" other people) helps to overcome inner restlessness, and so experience "peace".

I suppose that, conversely, though, a social pressure to conform is not beneficial (e.g. if pressure is to do something that you don't want to do or shouldn't do). And in that case the "peace" (mentioned in the) OP might come from recognising and abandoning the 'craving' -- closing the gap between what people want you to do and what you actually do, not by doing what they want but by deciding to not accept their disapproval (see also SN 7.2) and possibly follow some other guide instead e.g. an independent sense of what's right.

You used the word "humiliation" rather than "disapproval". I think that "humiliation" might be a word which implies social comparison, for example, "I have become a low-status person by running away from battle" -- or perhaps a personal comparison, "I fell short of my image of myself as a warrior". I think that maybe all forms of comparison are defined in Buddhism as being a form of "conceit" or "pride" (see e.g. the answers to this topic) -- to answer the question, perhaps that is what people mean when they say "ego".

AN 4.159 says that conceit can be an instrument ...

'This body comes into being through conceit. And yet it is by relying on conceit that conceit is to be abandoned.' Thus was it said. And in reference to what was it said? There is the case, sister, where a monk hears, 'The monk named such-and-such, they say, through the ending of the fermentations, has entered & remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & realized them for himself in the here & now.' The thought occurs to him, 'The monk named such-and-such, they say, through the ending of the fermentations, has entered & remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & realized them for himself in the here & now. Then why not me?' Then he eventually abandons conceit, having relied on conceit. 'This body comes into being through conceit. And yet it is by relying on conceit that conceit is to be abandoned.' Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.


What a "fart" (just to call the story by it "low-light")... things do not "exist" but arise by causes and decay. When there are still cause, it arises, dependent on the quality of the cause it might be even looking as existing.

Giving and gaining, losing of honor, respect, is one of the eight loka-dhammas, "around which the world turns around" (gain/win, lose, happiness, pain, praise, blame, honor, dishonor). While all are used as means of the path, especially the giving and letting go of making it ones one, an Arahat is total beyond this wordly- Dhammas, is not touched, and the steady abounding is a training of a sekkha. As an attribut of all eight kinds of Noble ones stinginess (holding on) in regard of honor (vanna-macchariya) is no more a matter. To be able to even reach Jhana, not to speak about Path and Fruits, all 5 kinds of macchariya (dwelling, family, honor, gains, dhamma) need to be absence.

Possible a famours Zen story takes honor and respect as a "fart" if holding on it. Not that one should underestimate the merits by giving (up) not only (material) gain. The deed in making merits, Abhivadana, or Apacāyana works exactly agains this "adornment" of mind, jey seldom practiced by moder/western "yogies".

It's how ever worthy to bring up, that the Buddha, after awakening, saw that it is burdensome to live without any dedication toward anything and he appreciated the suggestion of Deva-king Sakka to dedicate like all Buddhas before, his rest of existance toward the Dhamma, sacca. So "one can not totally without it" but it's a matter is wisdom toward what one sacrifices the 5 holding-on-aggregates and for what the rest of fuel is used.

As Nyom Chris once cited a teaching of a Bhikkhuni of what is the matter with "identification/food", it's used to overcome it by the proper use according the path to liberation. It would be not smart to abound a constructive part of the raft before having grossed the river and especially to develope very gross factors, paths, like Giving, Virtue, this use is very needed, a good health self-estimate (better in regard of ones skilful deeds).

At least Venerables gift Selves & Not-self: The Buddhist Teaching on Anatta is a very helpful guid to understand the use og "egos and not-egos" toward beyond.

[This gift of Dhamma, not for commercial purpose, trade, stakes or exchange for gains of ordinary wordily gain, which should be deleted in the case the place and owner does not allow or give such dedication]

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