Is there a connection between Sila and fear? I find fear to be the main reason I practice sila. I would like to practice Sila out of loving kindness and a compassionate heart but I'm more worried about the consequences of my actions then being compassionate.And i don't know if this is selfish reason to practice sila but I'm really not keeping the precepts because I care very deeply about others or want to be Mother Theresa but because for some reason I never seem to get away with anything.And I always seem to get the results of my actions right away that I feel like I don't have a choice but lead some kind of moral life.Basically i feel like someone on parole.My question is:

  • Is it selfish to practice sila because you want to save your own skin? Or should it only be practiced out of compassion for others?

  • Is there a connection between fear and sila?


  • May i ask if you are doing vipassana meditation? A lot of our problems tend to be caused by attachment to a "self". Attachment to self creates division like in "me" and "others". By working on realizing the 3 signs of existence one can approach these problems by going to the root. Regarding your question about practicing sila. When helping others one must do it without expecting anything for oneself. In that way the act of helping is "pure". If one does it out of selfish desires then the act can become tainted/polluted.
    – user2424
    Mar 26, 2015 at 1:29
  • 1
    @Lanka Yes I have an attachment to the self I'm not enlightened yet.
    – Orion
    Mar 26, 2015 at 1:30
  • @Lanka Also Lanka I don't practice vippassana I'm working on my sila and I do samatha everyday but I'm mostly just getting my Sila in order.might take a lifetime by the looks of it...hopefully once I get my Sila in order I can progress in meditation and not get attached to the self.
    – Orion
    Mar 26, 2015 at 1:42
  • I think that sounds great. You should also remember to give yourself some credit and not be too hard on yourself. You know i once read a tibetan saying that goes something like this: "what one does not reach in this life, one will reach in the next life or the one after that" - in order words No stress. For how long have you been practicing samatha meditation? And why no vipassana if i may ask?
    – user2424
    Mar 26, 2015 at 1:54
  • @Lanka Thank you Lanka.I have been practicing only samatha for a few years.The reason I don't practice vipassanna though I've attempted it a few times is because I don't feel ready.I need to work on my sila.Im not like a bad person or anything.But i need to work on sila if it takes me my whole life.Also I started doing samadhi because its feels so goood!
    – Orion
    Mar 26, 2015 at 3:33

5 Answers 5


Fear is considered an unwholesome state, containing as it does aversion (patigha):

paṭighacittuppādavasena hi bhāyanaṃ

Indeed, fear [arises] due to the arising of a mind accompanied by aversion.

-- Vism-T 21.3 (751)

So no, there should be no connection between morality and fear. ottapa, often translated as "fear of wrongdoing", is a mind state that recoils from doing evil; it is a quality of mind that involves the disinclination to perform evil, not necessarily related to aversion or fear. It is wholesome.

As to practicing morality for selfish reasons, every part of the Buddha's teaching should be practiced to benefit oneself. Helping others can only come through one's own self-improvement. Of course, disregard for the suffering of others can be a sign of cruelty, which is unwholesome, but the two states are mutually independent; you can be focussed on helping yourself without disregarding the suffering of others, or you can be focussed on helping yourself and meanwhile disregarding the suffering of others.

One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others. Thus the wise man will not be reproached.


Let one not neglect one's own welfare for the sake of another, however great. Clearly understanding one's own welfare, let one be intent upon the good.

-- Dhp. 158 & 166 (Buddharakkhita, trans)

  • Something wholesome and beneficial to oneself and others can also be considered as moral actions. I also think fear or aversion is not a wholesome state but sutta suggests otherwise. Is aversion toward something unwholesome actually wholesome? Or aversion is still aversion no matter whether they are wholesome or unwholesome actions? ..."Having done a mental action, you should reflect on it: 'This mental action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful mental action, with painful consequences, painful results?'
    – B1100
    Sep 27, 2015 at 10:26
  • If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful mental action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should feel distressed, ashamed, & disgusted with it. accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.061.than.html
    – B1100
    Sep 27, 2015 at 10:28

I think there is a very valid way to see that we practice sila to help get rid of fear! It's as if sila is the instruction, "don't stick your hand in fire," we don't have to follow it because we are fearful of getting burned, but because we are wise in understanding how to properly handle fire without getting burned. What is there to be afraid of? We know how to avoid trouble?

If we practice right speech, action, and livelihood, we never have to worry about our karma, about the internal experience of the sour grapes that arise as a result of treating others unkindly. This is an action of kindness to ourselves, to save ourselves the trouble, both internal and external, of the result of a negative intention.

The Dalai Lama has said that there are two kinds of selfishness, wise and foolish. Foolish selfishness just hustles and steals, greedily extorts and manipulates until there is nothing left. This is like biting the hand that feeds you. Wise selfishness understands interconnectedness and interdependency, the ecology of being. It understands that if I follow these standards, I will receive more, for a longer period of time. It understands that you treat others how you want to be treated. So, we practice sila because it is wise, and the kindness of our actions will reflect back on us, will be training in becoming a "better" person.

So what if there is still self clinging? You only need to keep in mind that the degree to which you feed into self clinging, that is the degree to which you are feeding into your own suffering and turmoil.

Sila is doing yourself a favor if you do it to save your own skin, or if you are truly acting out of total selfless compassion. Ultimately we do it so as not to be distracted on the path, it helps to clear the mind so that we can directly experience the ultimate truth of phenomena. So long as we have to worry and wade through our negative (clinging and grasping) actions and their consequences, we will be hindering our ability to see correctly.

I wouldn't beat yourself up, it's called practice for a reason ;)


You practice sila because it helps your mental state and it just happens to help others also😊


In AN 2.9, shame(hiri) and fear of wrongdoing(ottappa) are 2 very important qualities which the Buddha described as "the guardians of the world":

Bhikkhus, these two bright principles protect the world. What are the two? Shame and fear of wrongdoing. If, bhikkhus, these two bright principles did not protect the world, there would not be discerned respect for mother or maternal aunt or maternal uncle's wife or a teacher's wife or the wives of other honored persons, and the world would have fallen into promiscuity, as with goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs, and jackals. But as these two bright principles protect the world, there is discerned respect for mother... and the wives of other honored persons."

Regarding the question of "saving one's own skin" versus compassion for others, the 2 are actually quite closely related. SN 47.19 gave great advice on the proper way of practice:

Monks, the establishing of mindfulness is to be practiced with the thought, 'I'll watch after myself.' The establishing of mindfulness is to be practiced with the thought, 'I'll watch after others.' When watching after yourself, you watch after others. When watching after others, you watch after yourself."


Initially morality can be based on:

  • Fear (social or Karmic consequences), shame (going against social norms) and adhering to rules (precepts as a rite or ritual) or value system (does not fit my status), etc.

At an intermediate stage this can be through compassion:

  • Do no harm to others and
  • Do no harm to oneself

But as you progress your morality should become more based on wisdom:

  • Wisdom you see by looking at the formations due to volitions. When you see something you get a sensation around the eyes followed by a sensation around your head when your perception kicks in followed by other thoughts which create more sensations around your head. If your volition is bad the sensations are not pleasant if it is good then they are pleasant. This should be your moral compass at later stages.

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