To avoid all harm, to cultivate good, and to purify the mind. This is the teaching
of the Buddhas.
The intimacy of Zen practice, teachers and students, dharma friend and
dharma friend, is a source of great joy in the Berkeley Zen Center sangha. The
Bodhisattva Precepts serve as our guide along the path of right speech, right
conduct, and relationships. Practice is based on trust, safety, respect, and true
communication. The sangha jewel is formed of such relationships. We offer the
following to nurture an atmosphere where people can practice without fear or
distraction, where dharma comes first.
We acknowledge that difficulties may arise among members related to power
differentials. Differences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and
physical disability require particular awareness and sensitivity. This document
provides the broad principles for how this sangha integrates the precepts in
coping with conflicts and ethical issues. A companion document, the Ethics
Procedures, provides more detailed and specific guidance.
Ethics and Reconciliation (EAR) Committee
In the course of daily sangha interactions, disagreements, conflicts,
misunderstandings and unethical behavior can occur. In some situations the
ethics of a particular behavior may not be clear. The EAR Committee exists,
first and foremost, to assist sangha members when they are not sure about
their own ethical course in unclear situations. Sangha members are
encouraged to bring concerns to any member of the EAR Committee for
consultation, support, and advice. When ethical dilemmas present themselves,usually the earlier one seeks consultation the better, but sangha members may
seek such consultation at any time. In some cases a meeting with a single
member of the EAR Committee may be sufficient to clarify the issues involved;
in other situations either the sangha member or the EAR Committee member
may wish to consult with the entire Committee.
Among the situations where consultation with a member of the EAR Committee
is warranted are: those involving inappropriate sexual behavior; abusive
conduct or harassment; incompetence that threatens the sangha; and use of
position for personal gain or exploitation.
In certain situations it is unethical to do nothing. The following conduct must be
brought to the attention of the EAR Committee: situations involving suspected
abuse against an elder, child or partner where reporting would be required of a
therapist; misappropriation of sangha funds; or gross and harmful
incompetence in performance of a BZC position.
Relationships within the Sangha
Our practice at BZC can be warmhearted and close, but it is important to
remember that with the intimacy of practice, confusion regarding sexuality,
power and confidentiality may arise in ways that can harm practitioners and the
sangha if not dealt with skillfully. Desires of all kinds are part of life. Rather than
allowing desires to control us, leading to suffering, it is our intention to be
compassionately aware of these feelings while returning to our original vow to
awaken with all beings, and to practice spiritual friendship at BZC and in the
Following are comments regarding specific types of relationships within our
Teacher Relationships to Students
Over the years, as we look at ourselves and other practice communities, wehave come to understand that spiritual and psychological harm can often result
when teachers and students become sexually involved, violate trusts, or use
power and/or position for personal gain or manipulation. Such harm can
damage the whole community.
At Berkeley Zen Center, all the priests and the lay practice leaders (i.e. lay
leaders who offer practice discussion and/or give dharma talks) have made a
commitment to conduct relationships in accord with the Bodhisattva precepts.
Because of this commitment, the responsibility for maintaining appropriate and
clear boundaries always rests with the priest/practice leader. They will respect
and protect the personal autonomy of all students, and refrain from sexual
involvement with students.
If a priest/lay practice leader decides nevertheless to pursue a sexual
relationship with another sangha member, a process will be initiated to
determine what changes in her/his role in the community may be necessary. It
is in the interest of all concerned that both parties first seek guidance and
counsel from either his/her teacher, the EAR Committee and/or the senior
Relationships with students new to BZC
We want to offer an environment where new practitioners can develop their
own relationship with practice and with the sangha, free from discrimination or
social pressure. All members in leadership positions — members and officers of
the BZC Board of Directors; members of the EAR Committee; BZC residents;
Saturday directors; sesshin directors; the coordinator, the tenzo, and the zendo
manager — have made a commitment to refrain from sexual relationships with
new BZC students during their first year of practice. We request all BZC
members to be mindful of the benefit for a new student in not being distracted
from the primary activity of establishing her or his own practice.Other aspects of Sangha life are addressed as follows:
Dokusan, practice discussion, way-seeking mind talks, questions at shosan
ceremonies and discussions within dharma groups are venues for sharing
highly sensitive personal information. Honoring the dialogue between teachers
and students is a foundation of personal and sangha relations. Teachers are
expected to maintain confidentiality about matters raised in dokusan or practice
discussion. Students are expected to refrain from idle talk about matters
brought up in dokusan and practice discussion, and to respect confidences
shared in way seeking mind talks, shosan or dharma groups.
Confidentiality is the basis of mutual trust between student and teacher.
However, for the well-being of individuals and of the sangha, there are times
when teachers and/or practice leaders need to consult about confidential
matters raised in practice discussion. Such consultations are never done
lightly, and only as much information is shared as is needed to clarify and bring
harmony to the situation at hand. The consultations themselves are kept
confidential. Such consultations are required where a serious ethical breach
has occurred or where specific reporting laws apply (see EAR Committee
Therapists and Helping Professionals
Sangha members are discouraged from using the community as a source of
business or professional clients. We request that BZC teachers and sangha
members who work as psychotherapists, physicians or attorneys avoid entering
into professional relationships with sangha members. Others in the helping
professions are asked to be sensitive to the delicate balance between worker
and client, and the possible complexity of dual relationships when both parties
practice at the same dharma center.
In a small community great harm can come from speech that is inconsistent
with the precepts. Mutual respect and trust are built when all sangha members
speak truthfully and compassionately with the intent to be helpful, and observe
the clear mind precepts regarding right speech: refraining from lies, gossip
(self-serving talk), slander, angry or abusive speech, and apportioning blame.
When a conflict arises it is best to address it directly with the other person.
Sometimes, however, it may be wise to discuss this with a teacher or practice
leader to assist in developing a more skillful approach. It may also be useful to
have a neutral third person involved in an attempt to resolve a conflict, if a oneto-one attempt has failed.
In these situations, mindful discussion with a dharma friend who is not a
teacher can also be useful. However, we discourage sharing a concern widely
in order to gain support for one’s position, since this can foster conflict rather
Recourse – Bringing Informal or Formal Complaints (see Ethics
Procedures for details)
Maintaining the well being of the sangha is the mutual responsibility of all
members. If you feel that the guidelines discussed here are not being
observed, or simply wish to share your discomfort, we request that you bring
your concerns to the attention of the Abbot, the Tanto, or a member of BZC’s
EAR Committee. Your questions will be taken seriously and examined
according to a principled and confidential process. We hope that diligent
inquiry, honesty, compassion, and openness will strengthen the sangha and
support our wonderful Zen practice for many years to come.
A member is advised to bring an informal complaint when there is a conflict or
confusing situation for which they would like to seek a reconciliation process.The purpose of a formal complaint is to investigate and adjudicate a possible
serious breach of these ethical guidelines. The EAR Committee has authority
to remove a person from a practice position, a leadership role, or residency at
BZC for ethical misconduct, or to designate other appropriate consequences.
The authority for such actions is vested primarily in the EAR Committee by the
Board of Directors, but it must secure the additional agreement of at least one
of the following: the Abbot, the Tanto, or the BZC Board president. In cases
where serious consequences are indicated, efforts will be made to maintain the
confidentiality of the involved parties; however, it cannot be guaranteed. The
EAR Committee will consult with senior members of the BZC community and/or
others as it deems necessary to provide for the safety, welfare, and harmony of