If I'm understanding correctly, kukkucca refers to the lack of guilt in the face of wrongdoing and ahirika translates to remorse or guilt. If that is the case, when someone does something bad he's trapped in defilement, either by feeling or by not feeling remorse. Am I missing something in translation?


3 Answers 3


From The Abhidhamma in Practice by N.K.G. Mendis:

Worry (kukkucca) is remorse, brooding, and repenting over evil acts done in the past or good acts left undone.

Shame of evil (hiri) and fear of evil (ottappa) are the opposites of the second and third unwholesome mental factors, already discussed.

Shamelessness of evil (ahirika) is lack of conscience, not as a mysterious inner voice, but as an abhorrence towards evil.

Kukkucca is remorse or regret over wrongdoings in the past. It's not wholesome. You're meant to learn from your past mistakes then move on. You're not meant to cling to them.

“Mendicants, without giving up six things you can’t realize perfection. What six? Dullness, drowsiness, restlessness, remorse (kukkucca), lack of faith, and negligence. Without giving up these six things you can’t realize perfection.
AN 6.66

Hiri is shame of future wrongdoing. Ottappa is fear of future wrongdoing. Both are wholesome.

..... so too, venerable sir, for one who has faith in wholesome states, a sense of shame of wrongdoing (hiri), fear of wrongdoing (ottappa), energy, and wisdom, whether day or night comes only growth is to be expected in regard to wholesome states, not decline.
SN 16.7

Ahirika is lack of shame of future wrongdoing which is not wholesome. Ahirika is translated as "lack of conscience" below by Ven. Sujato. However, it is essentially the opposite of the shame of future wrongdoing, based on the same word hiri.

“Mendicants, without giving up six things you can’t realize the fruit of non-return. What six? Lack of faith, lack of conscience (ahirika), and lack of prudence; laziness, unmindfulness, and witlessness. Without giving up these six things you can’t realize the fruit of non-return.
AN 6.65

So kukkucca is about the past and ahirika is about the future.

We shouldn't cling to remorse over past evil deeds but we should have shame over committing future evil deeds.

It's about keeping the mind positive and joyful. To have joy, one must be free from remorse. In order to be free from remorse, we must learn from past wrongdoings and move on, while avoiding future wrongdoings.

"Skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, Ananda, and freedom from remorse as their reward."

"And what is the purpose of freedom from remorse? What is its reward?"

"Freedom from remorse has joy as its purpose, joy as its reward."
AN 11.1

  • Why are you deleting my comment?
    – blue_ego
    Jan 15 at 18:00
  • @blue_ego I deleted it: because I thought the question is clear enough; and instead of asking Namespace to explain it, an explanation could be given in an answer. This site is preferably not for "answering a question with another question" -- buddhism.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1920/254
    – ChrisW
    Jan 15 at 19:10
  • @ChrisW Yes that is valid, but question is surely mangled
    – blue_ego
    Jan 15 at 19:33

Ahirika is shamelessness, it's when you don't feel guilty about doing something morally wrong because in your mind your action is either not harmful or justified.

Uddhacca-kukkucca is anxiety one gets from overthinking and trying to be 100% perfect. You are trying to be perfect but you are caught in between several factors and constraints, and no matter what you do, it seems like you will be at fault.

Ahirika is a "beginner's" defilement, characteristic of persons with little to no shila training (either the worldly training given by parents and school teachers, or religious ethics, or the Buddhist training). As person is trained by one of these, he or she develops a sense of Hiri-Otappa at some point, which is a kind of moral compass that guides one towards the good and away from the bad.

Uddhacca-kukkucca is an "advanced" fetter, characteristic of students taking their shila training very seriously and seeing faults even in the tiniest offenses. Developing u-k is generally good news, because it means the person will finally not turn the blind eye to many of the more subtle of their habitual issues, so there's finally a chance of making significant progress. However, the flip side of this perfectionistic approach to training is the uncomfortable state of worry and anxiety, a self-cultivated inner fear of doing something in a less than perfect way. That's uddhacca-kukkucca. In the Buddhist model of fetters it remains active all the way until the arahantship.

If you think about it, this fetter, along with the other advanced fetters like "immaterial rebirth desire" is what drives one onward through the progression of jhanas towards more and more refined states. So in a way it is helpful, it plays its role.


According to the Buddha, shame is one of the seven treasures. A shameless person is without a method of escape from their defilement. Having a healthy sense of shame provides an escape; therefore, shame is a treasure to guard (and develop).

See: Treasure - Dhana Sutta  (AN 7:6) and AN 7:7


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