Mandala Principle & Boundaries: Boundaries feel threatening to me, what aren’t I getting?

A student writes:

I’ve been thinking a lot about mandala principle. It seems to be all about boundaries. While I instinctively shy away from the idea of boundaries (in real life, walls and borders don’t seem particularly helpful,) my growing experience in meditation poses questions. Boundaries feel threatening to me, not protective. In meditation I am aware of the dissolution of boundaries. When I am meditating in compassion, all boundaries melt away. What aren’t I getting?

Lama Shenpen responds:

Mandalas are a way of describing the world of our experience in which everything is appearing and yet is ungraspable.  The only reason we experience anything is because we can distinguish it from anything else. If it were all uniform with no differentiation it would not be experience would it?  It wouldn’t be anything. 

So what makes anything or any experience any particular experience or thing – perception, feeling, my world, my life, my circle of friends, acquaintances etc, etc?  Where does my experience meet that of the world or any other being? Where do we meet? 

If we say we meet in the heart – it doesn’t mean that we are no longer distinguishable – it is because they are them and we are us that we can meet and recognise we are inseparable.  Walls are hard impenetrable boundaries – skin keeps what needs to kept in in and what needs to be kept out out, an interface or boundary can be porous and sensitive allowing communication and energy exchange, sensitivity.

If we are clear where our personal boundaries are we can be really present with other people – just being there for them where we meet – which is not anywhere in a sense and yet is definitely a meeting. If we close off and harden and don’t dare go out to meet others then they cannot feel us or where we are and get confused. Our ‘not being properly in our own skin’ confuses other people and that might make them push the boundary to find us – or threaten us. There are so many ways that boundaries around mandalas protect and maintain the mandalas both sides of the interface between one mandala and another. 

I think what the word boundary suggests to you is a certain kind of boundary that blocks communication and inclusiveness.  If your impulse is to break down boundaries between people, this is probably a wish to include everyone within the mandala of love and compassion – it is not about invading everyone making them all subject to your rules, ideas and control is it? 

Where egocentric impulses mix with your impulse to include everyone in your world then there is an edge to that isn’t there?  It’s not really the love and compassion mandala – it’s the ego mandala and love and compassion mandala overlapping and one trying to take over from the other and there is an emotional edge around that – the love and compassion mandala senses something phony and feels uncomfortable – suspicious. The ‘what is going on here?’ is the boundary guardians sending out warning signals. The ego mandala senses a threat to its existence, power and control – it feels uncomfortable as if it is losing ground – ‘oh dear maybe I am not as good as I thought I was!’  That is a trigger of awareness on the boundary between the love and compassion mandala and the ego mandala. It is great that there is emotionality there sending us the message to wake up!

I hope this clarifies the question of mandala boundaries for you a bit.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

For an overview of Mandala Principle click here. It is one of the topics included in Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training – the structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at