Ideals and Values/Modesty (Decency) and Shame (Hri)

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia


What is Hri

The word Hri in Sanskrit means the following things:

  1. To behave modestly as in not wearing flashy or skimpy clothes; or attracting too much attention to oneself by talking or laughing loudly etc.
  2. Hesitation in doing wrong things.
  3. A sense of shame or guilt when we do a bad thing.

Some people lack conscience and have no sense of shame in doing evil things. There is no hope for these people because they will continue to do their evil acts brazenly and will never improve. Therefore our scriptures say:

Sage Vyāsa said, "He whose heart is always saturated with evil tendencies and who does not feel remorseful after committing an evil act, that person gets tainted by evil in all respects, so says the scriptures. There is no way that person can atone for his evil and no atonement can lessen the taint of his evil deeds.[1]

How do we Overcome our Guilt & Make Up for Our Mistakes?

No one is perfect, and we all commit mistakes. But  it is not sufficient to wallow in guilty after coming an error. Hindu scriptures give considerable guidance on how we should make up for our mistakes, and the following is a summary of their teachings:

  1. No Cover Up: First, do not try to cover up your mistake and try too much too hide it. In our attempt to hide our error, we may land up commiting more mistakes and evil actions. To cover one lie, we often have to speak a dozen more!
  2. Admission: Second, admit your guilt to the victim of your action and apologize to him.
  3. Prayer: Ask Bhagavān for forgiveness with a genuine humility and sense of remorse.
  4. Repentance, Remorse and Resolve: At the heart of making up for our mistakes is a strong feeling of remorse and a resolve that we will not repeat our mistake. This is a must in making up for one's mistake.
  5. Compensation: For the harm caused to the victim of our mistake, we should compensate them.
  6. Atonement: If compensation is not possible, the effect of the bad Karma sticks to the doer, and it must be atoned. Hindu scriptures contain lengthy prescriptions of how we can atone for our evil actions.
  7. Confession: Sometimes, it is not possible to admit guilt in front of the victim. In that case, we should confess in front of a trusted person. We should be careful that we do not confess to any convenient or to any unscrupulous person. Instead, the confession should be made to a person who is virtuous and is of a saintly disposition. Confessing does not mean that we should go about announcing our faults to everyone. If we do so, evil minded people will take advantage of us. Therefore, the Mahābhārata advises:

Bheeshma said, "Therefore, do not conceal your evil acts, because evil grows in magnitude when it is concealed. Instead, if you have done something wrong, confess it to saintly persons and they will pacify its harmful results.[2]

Historical Examples of Atonement

Hindu tradition records many instances of how our saints and great Kings atoned for their unacceptable actions. In the 1001 CE, the Hindu Shahi ruler Jayapal of eastern Afghanistan and NW Pakistan lost a battle to Sultan Subuktigin. He signed a humiliating treaty to save his life, but his subjects refused to accept him their king anymore saying that they had disgraced his kingdom by his cowardice. In repentance, King Jayapal committed suicide by immolating himself.

Kumarila Bhatta, a great Vedic scholar in the early 8th cent. CE was pained to see that Buddhism was rapidly spreading across India. In order to refute Buddhism and re-establish the Vedic religion, he disguised himself as a Buddhist and studied the religion of the Buddha under a Buddhist Guru. Having mastered Buddhism, he then revealed his true intentions, and started engaging Buddhist scholars in philosophical debates, defeating them one after the other. But a sense of guilt for having cheated his Guru always lingered in the mind of Kumarila, and in his later days he decided to atone for his sins by self-immolation.

The Solanki ruler Mulraj ascended his throne in the 10th cent. CE after killing several of his relatives in a war of succession once his father had died. He was filled with great remorse, and as an atonement, he constructed the famous Rudramahālaya complex of Śiva temples in Siddhapur in Gujarat. Hindus however do not take recourse to these extreme forms of atonements. Our scriptures prescribe easier ways like pilgrimages, giving charity, performing worship etc., in addition to some of the above steps as atonements for our evil Karma. Let us now read the inspiring story of Saint Bhadrachalam Ramadas and see how he atoned for his actions.

Story: Bhadrachalam Ramadas Repentance brings Darshana of Rama to a Muslim Ruler In the 16th cent. CE, Abdul Hasan Tanashah, the ruler of the Golconda kingdom (corresponding to modern state of Andhra Pradesh in India) imposed the Jaziya tax on Hindus to persuade them to convert to Islam. In the district of Bhadrachalam, his tax collector was ironically a Brahmana named Gopanna, who was a great devotee of Rāma. Gopanna dutifully served his master, taxing his fellow Hindus. He became rich, but he spent most of his income in feeding poor devotees of Rāma.

One night, Bhagavān Rāma asked him to construct a new temple for Him in Bhadrachalam so that His devotees could worship Him fearlessly. Construction of a grand Hindu temple in a Muslim kingdom was unthinkable, but nevertheless, Gopanna started going around to collect funds for the Mandir. Everyone refused to give him any money with various excuses, till an old man told him, "Aren't you ashamed to ask for money for a Rama Mandir? You are the one who has been serving as a lackey to Tanashah, who is fleecing us poor Hindus by forcing us to pay the Jaziyah tax. And it is you who has been collecting the tax for him. You have betrayed your own people for your own fame and now you dare to ask us for money for a Hindu Mandir?"

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The retort for the old man really stung his heart and Gopanna came up with an idea. He started stealing some money from his tax collections. In a few years, he had collected enough money with which he had a grand Rama Mandir constructed in Bhadrachalam. When the word reached Tanashah, he was furious. He ordered Bhadrachalam to be imprisoned in the dungeons of the Golconda fort jail until he paid the money that he had stolen from the royal tax collection. For 12 long years, Gopanna languished in the jail and the devotees of Rama named him 'Bhadrachalam Ramadasa," or the servant of Rama from Bhadrachalam.

Facing tortures in the jail, Gopanna did not lose his faith in Rama. With his finger-nails, he painfully scratched a picture of Bhagavān Rama for his worship and composed beautiful hymns to his Deity. One day, he suddenly heard Tanashah come into the prison and fall at his feet, saying, "Please forgive me Gopanna. I am releasing you immediately."

Gopanna was shocked and asked how the king's heart had changed after these 12 long years. What Tanashah told him was even more shocking, "Yesterday night, two regal looking princes visited me in my room. They were luminous and their majesty was overwhelming. Indeed, they were Rama and Lakṣmana, because they carried bows in their arms and looked Divine. They paid me the money that you had taken from my tax collection and asked me to release you. I was so over-powered by their beauty and power, that I have become their devotee. Now I truly believe that you did construct the Mandir for your God and that he has Himself come to ask me to release you."

When Gopanna heard these words, he immediately forgave Tanashah saying that he was blessed that Bhagavān Rama had himself appeared in front of him. In repentance, Tanashah now commanded that the kingdom of Golconda will offer pearls to the Mandir every year and the gold coins left by the Princes with the King will be treated as sacred objects.

And so, the tradition of gifting pearls and of worshiping the gold coins was started and it still continues to this day, carried out by the State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh. The nail drawing of Gopanna can still be seen inside the jail of Golconda and is worshiped by devotees even today. Clearly, Gopanna had realized that he had committed an evil action by colluding with Tanashah to fleece his fellow Hindus but Rama had accepted his atonement and repentance! An image of present Bhadrachalam Ram Temple is given below.

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Hri and Conscience: Viewpoint

A person who has modesty and shows shame is one who has a conscience or the little voice within our minds that stops us from doing a wrong act before we are about to do it. Some religions, such as Christianity believe that the conscience is the voice of God within our minds and is therefore the gold standard to decide the right from wrong. However, science disagrees with this belief and says that if it were really the voice of God then everyone's mind would hear the same voice before these different people are about to commit the same crime. The mind of a serial killer does not have the so called voice of God.

Hindu Dharma takes a middle road in this matter. It recognizes that the conscience exists, but adds that our conscience can actually be polluted if our mind is not pure. Therefore, it is not the conscience, but the Vedas and other scriptures, as well as the teachings of pure Saints that are a better guide in deciding what is correct and what is wrong.

Notes & References

  1. Mahābhārata12.33.35-36
  2. Mahābhārata 13.162.58