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Talking about boundaries

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

After a lovely metta meditation this morning, it occurred to me that Buddhism often talks about compassion and giving, but it does not often talk about boundaries, and where one should draw lines to stop oneself from being harmed. In fact, the examples we have are in two minds about it. Let me illustrate...

First, there is the story of the Buddha in one of his early incarnations as a prince who was so compassionate and so giving that he gave his body and his life to a starving tigress to feed her cubs. The king, his mother and his brothers of course greatly mourned him, and there is a statue of a tiger plus cubs in Nepal to comemorate the story.

Second, more often we come across instances where we have to be a little more skilful in what we do. A friend of mine who suffers from depression and occasional anxiety asked me yesterday for a few pills of lorazepam from my prescription (I use them for sleep), to use because he was going through a bad patch with anxiety. I don’t want to turn into his drug supplier, and he has a bit of a history with abusing substances, but I agreed to spot him two on condition he went to see his doctor. I did offer to let him stay the night as he wasn’t feeling comfortable in himself.

Third, yesterday I saw on tv a program about Buddhist chaplains in prisons here, teaching mindfulness to inmates. These it is a lot more difficult, you want to be compassionate and show these men how to feel empathy and loving kindness, but at the same time these are very dangerous people, who have all done serious things. It is easy to get manipulated in such an environment.

How do you feel about that in your life? How do you skilfully apply your compassion?

Snakeskin

Comments

  • CarameltailCarameltail UK Explorer
    edited January 30

    Doing the good for others can be good if it doesn't come at a cost to yourself I would say. Doing good in a way that still at least some extent benefits yourself is important, we don't do stuff for the pure cause of benefiting ourselves but at the end of the day everything you do should bring back good to yourself and your world, if what you does brings harm to you then perhaps it is something to reconsider. I think dealing with those sorts of people prison can be ok though if you know what you are dealing with, being able to avoid such manipulation as much as possible and if it is personally right for you. It's not something for everyone and it would come at a cost of having to rebalance yourself but if you know what you are in for then it seems fine and if you find it rewarding. It's cause and effect I suppose.

  • JaySonJaySon Florida Veteran

    There may be different levels of understanding. At the lowest level, you might not want to do any harm because karma will swing around and kick you. At the highest level, you don't want to do harm because all delusions have been melted and there's no basis for anger and violence, even if you are getting murdered. A Buddha would probably shrug while getting murdered.

    Traveller
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    As long as you don't imagine you are doing "good," that's probably pretty good.

    SnakeskinShoshinlobsterTraveller
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited January 30

    @Kerome said:
    After a lovely metta meditation this morning, it occurred to me that Buddhism often talks about compassion and giving, but it does not often talk about boundaries, and where one should draw lines to stop oneself from being harmed. In fact, the examples we have are in two minds about it. Let me illustrate...

    First, there is the story of the Buddha in one of his early incarnations as a prince who was so compassionate and so giving that he gave his body and his life to a starving tigress to feed her cubs. The king, his mother and his brothers of course greatly mourned him, and there is a statue of a tiger plus cubs in Nepal to comemorate the story.

    Second, more often we come across instances where we have to be a little more skilful in what we do. A friend of mine who suffers from depression and occasional anxiety asked me yesterday for a few pills of lorazepam from my prescription (I use them for sleep), to use because he was going through a bad patch with anxiety. I don’t want to turn into his drug supplier, and he has a bit of a history with abusing substances, but I agreed to spot him two on condition he went to see his doctor. I did offer to let him stay the night as he wasn’t feeling comfortable in himself.

    Third, yesterday I saw on tv a program about Buddhist chaplains in prisons here, teaching mindfulness to inmates. These it is a lot more difficult, you want to be compassionate and show these men how to feel empathy and loving kindness, but at the same time these are very dangerous people, who have all done serious things. It is easy to get manipulated in such an environment.

    How do you feel about that in your life? How do you skilfully apply your compassion?

    Spontaneously :) It's not something I can plan on doing in advance...However...skillful or unskillful ...that I'm unsure of...because the universe (which this "I" is part of) is flux...Phenomena comes and goes...Good, bad, wholesome, unwholesome, flux, constant change... what seemed like a good thing at the time, no longer is ...such is life....

    And what I mean by 'spontaneously' is the impulse is there to help when I see a need and... that I am also in the position to offer help/assistance...

    I find that if I overthinks things regarding compassion (for example in the Buddhist sense...ie, the three kinds) , I could miss out of the opportunity to provide the genuine help that a sentient being really needs during this cyclic existence...Samsara...

    But in saying this, I guess one also has to take into account karmic patterns unfolding...and the interconnectedness surrounding one's experiences...

    Having the "Right" View" where compassion is involved, means having the 'complete' view...

    So I guess the motivation behind my actions are with the 'intention' to help in some way, and not harm...But karma may have other plans...

    I think you did the right thing as far as your friend is concerned...

    KeromeBunksCromeYellow
  • The common thread in these examples shows that alleviating the suffering of others may require some sacrifice, some selflessness. Compassionate sacrifices would be easy with no concern for yourself, but then it couldn’t be called universal compassion. As a prince, the bodhisatta would’ve had access to slaughtered meat. Starving animals aren’t picky. He wouldn’t have had to kill another being or himself to feed the tigers. I think as a Buddha he might’ve better understood the all-encompassing concept of universal as including the tigers, his family and himself. I think the boundaries are somewhere between being a cold-hearted cynic and a good-hearted fool.

    CromeYellow
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Carameltail said:
    Doing the good for others can be good if it doesn't come at a cost to yourself I would say. Doing good in a way that still at least some extent benefits yourself is important, we don't do stuff for the pure cause of benefiting ourselves but at the end of the day everything you do should bring back good to yourself and your world, if what you do brings harm to you then perhaps it is something to reconsider.

    I disagree... I think part of being a buddhist means giving a little, if only of your time and energy, in order to improve the world. That’s part of what compassion is. Obviously some boundaries are needed, you can’t just give blindly to your own detriment. But for example, if I didn’t offer to help my friend with some of my own medicine and the offer of a bed, then he wouldn’t have been very well. So it’s ok if being compassionate costs something.

    Sometimes you can help people by giving up comparatively little and doing so is an easy choice to make, and sometimes it is much more demanding and the situation asks more of us financially or emotionally. The question is where do you draw the line?

    Nirvana
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited January 31

    @genkaku said:
    As long as you don't imagine you are doing "good," that's probably pretty good.

    There is the trap of “doing good”, but I think compassion covers more cases than that. If I see a homeless guy, I sometimes toss them some change regardless of whether they buy alcohol with it. They call on your compassion, and sometimes you have to trust they will just buy a sandwich or a coffee.

    And sometimes there are more personal calls on our compassion. I have another friend with some issues, and sometimes she calls me in the evening, crying and suicidal with a long story, and I talk to her in soothing tones until she feels better. It often takes an hour.

    Then there is the professional “doing good”. I’m involved in some volunteering activities for helping confused people in the neighbourhood, that’s a way of offering compassion through making available some of your time, without running me into the ground or causing problems.

  • @genkaku said:
    As long as you don't imagine you are doing "good," that's probably pretty good.

    Tee Hee.
    I try to be good. I am just sometimes bad at it. In my imagination certain things are good. Love or compassion how best we understand it. Moving towards wisdom as best we can manifest it. Being kind as good as we are able ...

    Wait. I am pretty skilful at practicing wholesome living (see dharma for details) ... but not as much as I imagine ...
    https://m.wikihow.com/Be-a-Good-Buddhist-Girl

  • CarameltailCarameltail UK Explorer

    @Kerome
    But did you not gain something from helping your friend and helping the world?
    I mean those who spend all their time helping others to the detriment of themselves, there is a balance there. Volunteering and all can be nice.
    As well as that some people use helping others as an excuse not to help themselves when they really need the help.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    'Being good' isn't always demonstrated to others as being good. Sometimes, giving someone a metaphorical kick in the behind, may not seem 'being good' to others, but what you're doing is basically distinguishing between Idiot and Wise Compassion. The kindest thing to do sometimes, is to deliver the kick.
    Remember the adage: "No good deed goes unpunished".

    And as I have oft opined before, when you do 'good', something or someone, somewhere at some time, will feel the opposite effect.

    Carameltaillobster
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited January 31

    @federica said:
    'Being good' isn't always demonstrated to others as being good. Sometimes, giving someone a metaphorical kick in the behind, may not seem 'being good' to others, but what you're doing is basically distinguishing between Idiot and Wise Compassion. The kindest thing to do sometimes, is to deliver the kick.

    I’ve found that administering a kick is rarely the compassionate thing to do. It’s the exception where that is useful.

    More often, deep listening and being there for people in need helps them more, and while you can see this as a transaction, time for gratitude, investment for greater happiness in the circle of people I know, it isn’t truly one. I do it with no expectation of returns.

    Personally I really dislike thinking in economic terms, or trade terms. Sometimes it’s a good tool but it tends to creep in taking over, becoming the new normal.

    Remember the adage: "No good deed goes unpunished".

    That’s why we have boundaries and skilful means no? Often people try to take advantage of compassion. Another old adage goes: “give a man a fish and he will have a meal. Teach him to to fish and he will have a living.”

    HozanTraveller
  • @Kerome said:

    I’ve found that administering a kick is rarely the compassionate thing to do. It’s the exception where that is useful.

    Indeed. It is a question of skilful means. Illustrated in this story ...

    “There is an old story of a boilermaker who was hired to fix a huge steamship boiler system that was not working well.
    After listening to the engineer’s description of the problems and asking a few questions, he went to the boiler room. He looked at the maze of twisting pipes, listened to the thump of the boiler and the hiss of the escaping steam for a few minutes, and felt some pipes with his hands. Then he hummed softly to himself, reached into his overalls and took out a small hammer, and tapped a bright red valve one time. Immediately, the entire system began working perfectly, and the boilermaker went home.
    When the steamship owner received a bill for one thousand dollars, he became outraged and complained that the boilermaker had only been in the engine room for fifteen minutes and requested an itemized bill. So the boilermaker sent him a bill that reads as follows:
    For tapping the valve: $.50
    For knowing where to tap: $999.50
    TOTAL: $1,000.00”

    ... And now back to the boiler room ... 👤

    HozanCromeYellow
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Carameltail said:
    But did you not gain something from helping your friend and helping the world?

    Yes, I did gain something, I gained good feeling, but if I were to try to measure that or put a number on it I would get nowhere. Also that good feeling is not really why I do things, I’m not a do-gooder-good-feeling junkie, I do it because I like helping others and the world.

    Buddhism shows you how we are all interrelated and how even small acts of giving of time and money can have major consequences. So why not do the little things?

  • CarameltailCarameltail UK Explorer
    edited January 31

    @Kerome
    That wasn't too far from what I was also trying to get at, I wouldn't want to consider measuring something of that sort as its not that type of thing that makes sense to be quanitified. I can see what you mean how though that you don't keep count of good deeds and such. Or perhaps sit and wait for rewards.
    I don't however usually personally think of those terms in giving or recieving but just think of doing what 'feels' right (but also practically and clear thinking too not 'blindly') both for me and who or whatever else is involved. Its nice to give when you can and its genuinely beneficial (but not to fufil certain emotional issues ofc). It is hard to know when sometimes where things aren't clear cut, but I suppose it is a matter of learning for yourself what works and what risks you want to take. Its your own judgement really though other things are more clear I suppose.

  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @Kerome said:

    @federica said:
    'Being good' isn't always demonstrated to others as being good. Sometimes, giving someone a metaphorical kick in the behind, may not seem 'being good' to others, but what you're doing is basically distinguishing between Idiot and Wise Compassion. The kindest thing to do sometimes, is to deliver the kick.

    I’ve found that administering a kick is rarely the compassionate thing to do. It’s the exception where that is useful.

    I've found parenting will lead you to find exceptions where you never thought they were.... And it's not enjoyable or lazy parenting, but sometimes you have to be the adult/bad person no matter what BS "the experts" feed you about raising children #justsaying

    Just for the record, you realise Fede wasn't talking about physical kicking right? (and neither am I)

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited February 1

    Whether a kick is physical or verbal, it’s still a kick, otherwise it is incorrectly named.

    But outside of raising children where is that the right response when people make an appeal on ones compassion? I find my compassion is more often engaged when talking to friends or strangers.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Kerome, Let me be clear: I make every human attempt to practise Compassion all the time.

    I'm distinguishing Wise/Idiot Compassion specifically, for the particular and/or unique circumstances in which there is someone in personal, urgent, desperate need of support and assistance.
    Each situation is different, and some require gentleness, tenderness, and comfort. Others benefit more from the 'bucket of cold water/kick-in-the-behind' approach.
    I know this to be true, having been a grateful and deserving recipient of both.

    Kundo
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited February 2

    The five keys to "Right Speech"....
    "It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will."

    I guess we all have to work on one.some. or all of the above to perfect our Right Speech...

    But all things being relative, one person's "affectionately" may sound to another quite harsh..This no doubt is due to upbringing...Which I guess is all down to "conditioning"
    Some have a soft gentle nature whilst others are more in your face abrupt...

    So when practising "Right Speech" we could all "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" :)

    Or ..Perhaps finding the middle way may be the right way to go :)

    SnakeskinJeffreyNirvana
  • The Karaniya Metta sutta says, "let them be ... straightforward and gentle in speech."
    *Snakeskin scratches his head.*
    :p

  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    Whether a kick is physical or verbal, it’s still a kick, otherwise it is incorrectly named.

    Yes. And I still stand by my statement. So you see being strict in word with people (in particularly as a parent) when required unskilful or "bad"? Interesting....

    But outside of raising children where is that the right response when people make an appeal on ones compassion? I find my compassion is more often engaged when talking to friends or strangers.

    If someone asks me for money saying they need groceries/assistance getting somewhere/etc and they are going to use it on drugs and/or alcohol, you bet they'll get a very terse response. Case in point - an ex friend of mine is a drug addict. Last time she tried that on me, I told her very plainly no - she was a mother and needed to act like one and "get her shit together". I then offered to go with her to buy groceries. She declined. She has refused any treatment and help to get clean. Handling people with kid gloves all the time is enabling behaviour and in cases like I just mentioned, giving in and giving the $$ is Idiot Compassion and a shitty thing to in general.

    If, according to you, I'm "bad" for giving my ex friend a verbal kick up the arse for wanting to get validation for her lifestyle then so be it. At least I know I didn't enable her habit, which fuelled her abusing her son.

    If I've misunderstood your point, then please correct me.

    lobster
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    No im not saying it isnt appropriate behaviour in some cases... it’s practical Wisdom and a good case of showing your boundaries in speech.

    But loving speech and reconciliation in Thich Nhat Hanh’s view, or what is said alongside the Noble Eightfold Path about speech, gives a different impression of how a Buddhist can communicate with difficult people. As I said, it’s an interesting case for showing up different approaches to boundaries.

  • NirvanaNirvana aka BUBBA   `     `     ` `     ` Outa Range Fridays thru Sundays South Carolina, USA Veteran

    Being a Good-Doer beats being a Do-Gooder, hands down.

    IMO, it all boils down to what you've got in your heart. The Ego has to subside and you've just got to melt into other beings. But be careful where you step, 'cuz there's a lot of poop lying around. <3

    federicaKundo
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