Zen West~Empty Field Zendo Ethics Policy

Zen West~Empty Field Zendo are practice venues based on Buddhist ethical principles that value compassion, respect, integrity, trust, and kindness in all our relationships. The group’s leaders and membership are committed to providing a safe environment that is free from physical violence, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and disparaging or discriminatory treatment.

The Bodhisattva Precepts listed below serve as our ethical guidelines and are examples of how we can practice truth and compassion with one another in light of our fundamental interdependence. While it is impossible to keep precepts perfectly, it is our intention to uphold them and use their wisdom as our guide.

While the Precepts are the foundation of our vows, we recognize that ethics standards and guidelines are needed to provide commentary and processes for addressing difficult situations that may arise in the sangha regarding teacher/student relationships, ethical use of power and position, and clear grievance procedures which are described in this statement. It is our sincere intention to practice open, honest communication, constructive conflict resolution, and  awareness of diversity in order to foster growth and harmony in the community.

On the Sharing of Personal Information & Practice in Sangha

The sangha is a precious container that facilitates the awakening to our fundamental buddhanature, a kind of radical belonging. The sangha serves as a clear mirror on the path, a source of encouragement and challenge equal to the teacher in its power to guide. Every person who practices with us contributes to the care of this container by practicing Right Speech. The formal “Koho” students and teacher are held to the highest level of responsibility for the well being of the sangha.

Our Zen lineage practice style is quite intimate. Programming includes many opportunities to share one’s experience and get to know each another. We learn a lot about how practice meets our life struggles. Over time, we can experience an increased willingness to be seen, to be vulnerable and begin to trust. Each person is encouraged to travel the path at their own pace, to share only personal information that one feels ready to share. Strong sangha bonds are fostered when we are able to listen deeply and speak openly. It helps us overcome the illusion of separate self. What we think is most personal becomes universal.

When sensitive information is shared, the sangha and the teacher are both guided by the precepts. We hold what is learned about each other with respect, avoiding sharing information in a way that is harmful, divisive, or judgmental. Compassion and wisdom should guide our speech. This particularly requires each of us to be responsible for how we speak about someone who is absent. Failures will happen and we can be ready for compassionate redirection if this expectation is not upheld, particularly the teacher and the formal students who are held to a higher standard.

Confidentiality Light
There are some workshops and practice spaces like fall Ango where the leader may invoke an extra layer of boundary we call “confidentiality light” – that is, an agreement that sensitive material shared in those settings is not to be repeated with others without the permission of the speaker. We agree that if someone would like to follow up with another person about what they shared, that they ask that person first if they are open to talking about the material.

Sensitive information in sanzen with the teacher is always held respectfully and for a vast majority of instances remains in that protected space with the following exceptions: when the teacher needs to intervene based on reports of imminent harm to self or other, to consult with teachers or professionals on how to support someone’s struggle, when something known to the teacher supports understanding and compassion in the sangha (a common example would be to simply the general knowledge that someone is struggling), to give necessary feedback to leadership in the sangha about their behavior, and as a general teaching story about a dharma questions asked or an insights shared. Senior Koho students entering formal training particularly agree to a more fluid exchange of information among their peers and the teacher.

If there are any questions about the above, please feel free to speak to the teacher, a senior Koho student or board member to clarify or express concerns about speech that goes against the vow to support harmony in the sangha and be guided by the precepts. It is impossible to uphold the this expectation perfectly, but instead our commitment is to continue to learn from mistakes and nourish the sangha container in service of our collective awakening.

The teacher-student relationship is founded on a deep trust and respect that is the mutual responsibility of both parties to honor. However, the authority of the teacher carries with it an increased responsibility to avoid situations and actions that could result in harm to the student, the community or the teacher him or herself. We recognize that harm may result if a teacher and student become sexually or inappropriately emotionally involved, or if a teacher violates trust, or uses power or position for personal ends.

The responsibility for maintaining appropriate and clear boundaries always rests with the teacher.  Zen West/ Empty Field Zendo teacher(s) should respect and protect the personal autonomy of all students, and refrain from any sexual involvement with students. Should a teacher feel unable to uphold this standard, he/she will seek guidance and counsel from his/her teacher, a senior teacher in their lineage and/or a senior teacher from the broader community.  It is recommended that the student involved also seek guidance and support, and not maintain secrecy around his/her concerns because of a sense of obligation to the teacher, or because the exchanges that caused concern occurred in private settings where interactions are usually held confidentially.

We recognize that individuals in positions of confidence or trust must not misuse status or authority to achieve privileges or other consideration, or to inappropriately influence others. If we are entrusted with handling funds or assets on behalf of practitioners, we bear responsibility to provide accountable and transparent stewardship.

We recognize that when we hold any position of authority within the Sangha, our behavior both inside the sangha and in the rest of our lives must be respectable and legal. In particular we refrain from abusing drugs, alcohol and other intoxicants, and from illegal activity except as civil disobedience according to our conscience.

Informal Ethical Process

If anyone has a concern about questionable or unethical behavior at Zen West or the Empty Field Zendo, it may be addressed directly with the person(s) concerned. The Leader(s), a Guiding Council Member or other trusted individual may be asked to be present when this concern is brought forward. If the person bringing the concern does not feel safe doing this or does not feel he/she will be fairly heard, she/he may bring their concern to the Guiding Council, another trusted individual, or another Buddhist teacher (local or not). Many concerns can get fully examined and resolved without a formal hearing process and without undue damage to reputations, so anyone with a concern is encouraged to reach out and discuss it with someone.

If matters of importance are not able to be informally resolved, a Hearing Panel may be convened to implement a Formal Process. The Panel will consist of a person selected by the party about whom a concern is being raised, a person selected by the person bringing the concern, and a third person selected by the first two members of the panel, the Ethical Designee. The Ethical Designee should not be personally involved with Zen West/ Empty Zendo Sangha or with the persons involved in the potential ethical issue. Each member of the panel must be able to hear the concern openly and objectively regardless of his or her relationship to the people involved.

1. Bringing a Concern

A Formal Process is initiated by communicating in writing with the Ethical Designee. This “letter of request” must include:

  • A clear statement that a formal ethical hearing process is requested.
  • The name of the person(s) to whom the matter pertains.
  • A description of the alleged matter sufficient enough to allow the Ethical Designee to decide whether the matter is appropriate for a formal hearing process.
  • A description of prior attempts to resolve the matter.
  • A statement of the resolution sought.

2. Accepting a Concern

Once the Ethical Designee has received a letter of request, the Ethical Designee, will, within 30 days, convey to the requester the acceptance or non-acceptance of the matter for formal hearing.  In the event the matter is accepted for formal hearing, the Ethical Designee will also notify persons named in the Letter of Request, as appropriate.

3. Convening the Hearing Panel

Once the parties have been notified, the Ethical Designee will convene the meeting. One panelist chairs the hearing and insures that a record of the hearing is maintained.

4. Hearing the Concern

The chair schedules a private hearing for the persons involved to have a full and fair opportunity to present their understanding of the matter at the hearing.  The Panel may ask questions and request information.

5. Hearing Panel Decision

Once the Hearing Panel determines that it is sufficiently informed of the matter(s) heard, it will close the hearing and deliberate. As soon as reasonably practicable, the panel will issue a written decision and distribute it as appropriate.

6. Partial List of Possible Resolutions by a Hearing Panel

This is a partial list of possible resolutions intended to encourage open-minded and creative decisions. While it is not possible to anticipate every kind of situation which might require resolution, this format hopes to ensure a process that benefits all.  The findings could apply to either the teacher or the practitioner.

  • Finding of no ethical breach while acknowledging the existence of a problem which needs resolution elsewhere.
  • Reversal of an administrative decision or action.
  • Direct or mediated private apology.
  • Apology to the community.
  • Follow-up meetings with the teacher(s).
  • Recommended education or training or intervention program (e.g. therapy or relevant 12-step program).
  • Private reprimand.
  • Public censure.  The findings and action of the Hearing Panel as well as the reprimand are made public to the Sangha.
  • Period of probation, with probationary terms set by the Hearing Panel.
  • Suspension or dismissal from position of responsibility in the Sangha.
  • Suspension from teaching for a period of time. A suspension should stipulate the conditions by which a person may commence teaching.
  • Limiting the decision simply to whether or not an ethical transgression occurred.

Thank you to the Clouds and Waters Zen Center for permission to use their thoughtful translation.

Three Collective Pure Precepts

With purity of heart, I vow to do no harm.
With purity of heart, I vow to do good.
With purity of heart, I vow to free all beings.

Ten Momentous Prohibitory Precepts

1. Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is. I take up the way of Non-killing

2. Being satisfied with what I have. I take up the way of  Non-stealing.

3. Encountering all creations with respect and dignity. I take up the way of Not misusing sexuality.

4. Listening and speaking from the heart. I take up the way of Not speaking falsely.

5. Cultivating a mind that see clearly. I take up the way of Not being deluded and not giving or taking intoxicants.

6. Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer. I take up the way of Not talking about others errors or faults.

7.  Speaking what I perceive to be the truth without guilt or blame.  I take up the way of Not elevating oneself and blaming others.

8.  Using all the ingredients of my life.  I take up the way of Not being stingy and not attaching to anything, even the truth.

9.  Transforming suffering into wisdom.  I take up the way of Not indulging in anger.

10. Honoring my life as an instrument of peacemaking.  I take up the way of Not thinking ill of the three treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha).