Further to this question Do Buddhists adhere to the Western concept of “Boundaries” to protect oneself? Or is the creation of boundaries an obstacle to enlightenment because of its avoidance of future suffering? Are we called to give of ourselves without bounds, even to those without gratitude for our service? How does this apply to emotional, financial, and service to others with our time?

6 Answers 6


There have been several short answers, here's a longer one.

Do Buddhists adhere to the Western concept of “Boundaries” to protect oneself?

Buddhists might have a non-Western concept of "oneself".

For example I think it's seen as perpetuating suffering to hold onto grudges ...

  1. He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.
  2. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.
  3. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.
  4. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.

More generally, it's taught that concepts of "me" and "my" (presumably including "my feelings" but also "my rights" and "my self-image") aren't always satisfactory and you might do better without. And it identifies a source of dissatisfaction, i.e. wanting ("craving for") things to be other than they are -- to have an idealised image of how things should be, and disliking them for not being like that (i.e. the reality not matching the ideal).

"Self-image" is a bit tricky -- for example pride (or conceit) is imperfect, but is said to be sometimes useful on the path (e.g. "if I practice like he does, then I too can attain etc.") -- and other mental factors (which may sometimes seem related), like "confidence", are good.

I think there are boundaries in a conventional/social sense. For example one of the five precepts is "no stealing" (or perhaps more formally, "no taking what's not given"), which is a kind of inter-personal boundary. There's also a concept of "Right Speech" -- which could include avoiding "harsh" speech -- that too may help inter-personal relationships.

Buddhism seems quite presciptive about emotional attitudes -- so "ill-will" for example is a hindrance -- or there are several mental factors which are listed as unwholesome, conversely several which are wholesome or associated with a skilful mind. I think that helps to define internal boundaries (intra-, not inter-personal)-- e.g. if I begin to feel angry I take that as a warning that I may cross, or have already crossed, a "boundary".

Buddhism seems keen on ethical behaviour -- behaving ethically, doing the right thing. I suppose that may be in common with other religions, but perhaps unlike some "Western" secular concepts. There are some secular attitudes like, "if it's legal it's alright", or even, "if I can get away with it then it's alright", or, "I have a perfect right to get angry with you and to speak harshly if I feel like it", which maybe aren't very moral. Whereas Buddhist ethics might be motivated by e.g. "harmlessness" and "compassion".

Buddhism teaches "dependent arising" which I take as applying to inter-personal communication too -- e.g. content and direction of our conversation doesn't depend only on "me", or only on "you", but on both, and also on circumstances -- and circumstances may be transient, so the type of conversation you can have with a person isn't entirely a characteristic of the other person, but depends on the circumstance they are in and also on how skilfully you converse.

Generosity (giving) is another virtue. You're not necessarily expected to give more than you can afford, mind you. Even keeping savings for the future -- for taxes, as an insurance against theft, to reinvest in a business -- is prudent behaviour for a "house-holder" ... but, conversely, giving nothing maybe isn't right.

More topics related to giving:

  • It's good for the giver
  • The "highest gift" is the gift of Dhamma
  • When relating with monks, at least, for example, it's hoped that you'll give them the "requisites" -- principally e.g. food daily and occasionally robes or medicine -- conversely monks have I think a duty to be "easy to support" e.g. not too choosy about what food they accept

The "merit" associated with giving is perhaps not associated with how grateful the recipient is. Instead the merit depends on how "worthy" the recipient is. If you give food to a monk on their alms round, for example, I think you can't expect them to look you in the eye and smile and nod and say "thank you" -- which may look a little unusual when you first see it though Western eyes, but there it is.

There's actually a Zen story, which may (or may not) be related to that -- The Giver Should Be Thankful. Actually, many of the famous "Zen stories" may be related to the topic of "giving" in some way, for example these, which I'll list here without further comment:

Back to the subject of ethics, I think it's ideal to do things -- not things which are necessarily pleasant or easy -- but things from doing which you experience a "lack of remorse". I think that means, in Western terms, having no "guilty conscience", not regretting the effort. Also if you try to do something that's (morally) good, then it's good if you succeed -- but even if the outcome isn't what you might have hoped, perhaps the effort or "intention" counts for a lot.

This answer is a bit one-sided though, perhaps it isn't written from the perspective of "ending kamma".

Also I mentioned The Insult (SN 7.2) in an earlier post. The Western concept of boundaries might be tit for tat, i.e. if someone transgresses the normal boundaries then we will too in return -- e.g. if you get angry then I'll get angry with you, and so on. Whereas an ideal might be to be less conditionally (more unconditionally) well-behaved -- perhaps like an ideal or well-disciplined parent, where even if a child misbehaves then the parent's behaviour remains appropriate -- including e.g. harmless, compassionate, etc.

  • 1
    Careful and compassionate answer, Nyom Chris, with much sacrifices of time and effort. Sadhu. Not to much into detail, just one thing "When relating with monks, at least, for example, it's hoped that you'll give them the "requisites"", it's neither hoped by good monks, nor obligation, but just a possibility to make even great merits. Of course, if monks are not supplied with such, they would "die" away, at least from ones sphere, inwardly and outwardly.
    – user11235
    Jun 17, 2019 at 14:46

The Pali Canon position (e.g. Sedaka Sutta) is that :

[Correctly] Looking after oneself, one [implicitly] looks after others.
[Correctly] Looking after others, one [implicitly] looks after oneself.

The Mahayana position is unquestionably that of service without boundaries.

That said, both the Buddha of Pali Canon and the contemporary Mahayana teachers insist that taking care of oneself is a prerequisite to being able to take care of others. To use a modern analogy, first put the oxygen mask on oneself, and then help the children.


In Buddhism, no action is to be performed that harms oneself. Refer to MN 61:

The Dhammapada says:

  1. 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.

In the essay "Metta Means Goodwill", Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote, that while we should have loving kindness and compassion, it is important that beings are able to look after themselves, and that is in their best interest too.

The first set of phrases comes in a passage where the Buddha recommends thoughts to counter ill will. These phrases are chanted daily in Theravada communities the world over:

May these beings — free from animosity, free from oppression, and free from trouble — look after themselves with ease.

AN 10.176

Notice that last statement: "May they look after themselves with ease." You're not saying that you're going to be there for all beings all the time. And most beings would be happier knowing that they could depend on themselves rather than having to depend on you. I once heard a Dharma teacher say that he wouldn't want to live in a world where there was no suffering because then he wouldn't be able to express his compassion — which when you think about it, is an extremely selfish wish. He needs other people to suffer so he can feel good about expressing his compassion? A better attitude would be, "May all beings be happy. May they be able to look after themselves with ease." That way they can have the happiness of independence and self-reliance.


Householder Sarah, interested,

Do Buddhists adhere to the Western concept of “Boundaries” to protect oneself?"

No, not a little do faithful followers adhere to modern and western concepts of protection. The only but firm uphold boarder and protection is Sila and what ever can be given in this frame, would be given. Meaning not harming others with ones gift and not harming oneself by violating the precepts. That's the border, the protection of the wise to be open to let go and give without limits.

Sarah's first question met the parami (Perfection: qualities that lead to awakening) metta & kanti, this here is about the pāramī generosity, which comes after reaching integrity and before, as an outward practice, the path.

The path of the Noble Ones is gone to get out of all boundaries and the more one is able to give and share, abounds all kinds of maccharia, the more one would be able to gain access, path and fruits. For one incapable to let go of stinginess not even Jhana can be accepted.

To avoid disadvantages, like no proper use of ones gifts, the wise encourage to give in the five proper seasons, leaded by virtuous people who stick to precepts (good Brahmans, monks, the Sangha). Giving to ordinary people, for the most, is a matter of duty and gratitude (Sila) in ones relation that one wishes to maintain.

When it is said "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.", it puts exactly there, since there is no benefit and good for oneself aside doing merits, letting go. Generosity is ones help, Sila the boundary that protects one for harm oneself.

When a house is on fire
the vessel salvaged
is the one that will be of use,
    not the one left there to burn.

So when the world is on fire
with aging and death,
one should salvage [one's wealth] by giving:
    what's given is well salvaged.

What's given bears fruit as pleasure.
What isn't given does not:
    thieves take it away, or kings;
    it gets burnt by fire or lost.

Then in the end
one leaves the body
together with one's possessions.
Knowing this, the intelligent man
enjoys possessions & gives.

Having enjoyed & given
in line with his means,
    uncensured he goes
    to the heavenly state.  

(The House) On Fire

When ever thought appear "oh, when I give this, that could be for my disadvantage", then act against the defilement, when ever possible.

Stingy people are really poor people, sitting and rowf, rowf!

Here are Suttas on Generosity and western and modern people, although they call them Buddhist, yet not even able to practice Dana, are stingy and without basic faith, so association with those can be of lot harm. When their sometimes talk fine, then it's just talk, never having practiced.

A real Buddhist, one who has reached stream, is free of maccharia.

"Furthermore, the disciple of the noble ones lives at home with an awareness cleansed of the stain of stinginess, freely generous, openhanded, delighting in being magnanimous, responsive to requests, delighting in the distribution of alms.

SN 55.32

It's up to oneself whether using the Tripple Gems to feed on them or to give into it by letting go, up to oneself making oneself a stingy misser, or a mighty Deva or Beyound.

Your choices are yours, merits and those which are demerits. No one can force you either to wise actions nor to foolish. But it's good to associate with generous and virtuous one, as one learns fast in this way, is not guided upwardly.

Less are those working, acting for their welfare and stick to merits, so be quick or you have lost another time, losing what you hold on later on anyway, left with stinginess alone gaining a poor an misery existence, one after another. Wise are headed upwardly here and now and later on.

May all spend a blessed and meritfull Fullmoon-Uposatha tomorrow and a devoged fwthrsday today.

A nice story at least, but not last: Your Temple, your palace and your borders

An maybe expended answer and space for discussion can be found here: [Q&A] Boundaries (of giving) and Buddhism

(Note that this is not given for trade, exchange, stacks and entertainment but as a means toward escape from this wheel here)

  • Sadhu for edits, Nyom @Memor-X
    – user11235
    Jun 17, 2019 at 6:59

This seems like a very tricky and important question, and superficially, Buddhism and Western psychology are at odds here. As a therapist, I desire to help people as much as possible but some people, such as those with borderline personalities, have loose boundaries. They will take all they can get, endlessly, and it reminds me of the question of "when to help hungry people by giving them fish versus when to teach them to fish." Sometimes the answer is clear; in an airplane, you must give yourself oxygen before helping others. Buddhism meanwhile says that the bodhisattva is one who voluntarily renounce s the right to enter nirvana until suffering is alleviated for "the last blade of grass." So there is a selflessness, which points towards no boundaries and infinite generosity.But we're talking about a terrain of paradox: the most generous thing at times for some folks might be for us to say "no." It's situation specific it seems to me. If you come up with anything enlightening about this, please let me know: [email protected]

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