The Bodhisattva Precepts serve as our guide along the path of right speech, right conduct, and engaged relationship. Practice is based on trust, safety, respect, and authentic communication.
In the course of daily community interactions and relationships, conflicts, disagreements, misunderstandings, and unethical behavior can occur. For these reasons, NYZC’s Board of Trustees has created a process for sangha members to bring forth conflicts, grievances, and abuse of any kind in a manner that is respectful and considerate of all parties involved and ultimately to restore harmony in accord with our values and practices.
Just as abiding by the Precepts is an active process, so is the evolution of the work of the Harmony, Ethics, And Reconciliation (HEAR) Committee. We fully anticipate that this newly initiated process will continue to evolve and we welcome your thoughts and comments.
Harmony, Ethics And Reconciliation (HEAR) Committee
The HEAR Committee exists to support all relationships within the sangha and to assist sangha members when they are not sure about the right course of action. You are encouraged to bring your concerns about any ethical dilemma to the HEAR Committee for discussion, support, and advise.
We acknowledge that difficulties may arise that are related to power differentials, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and physical ability, all which require awareness and sensitivity.
Examples of when an individual may wish to seek support from HEAR might include: situations involving abuse of power, inappropriate sexual behavior, abusive conduct, harassment, the use of a position for personal gain or exploitation, and any behavior that threatens the wellbeing of the sangha.
It must also be considered that it can be unethical to do nothing. The following conduct MUST be brought to the attention of the HEAR Committee: situations involving suspected abuse of any individual to include an elder, child, or partner, misappropriation of sangha funds, gross and harmful incompetence in performance of a NYZC position.
It is also important to note that mindful speech is central to the wellbeing of our sangha. Mutual respect and trust are built when all sangha members speak truthfully and compassionately with the intent to be helpful and observe the Precepts regarding right speech: refraining from lies, gossip (self-serving talk), slander, and appropriating blame.
NYZC members should reasonably expect to practice in a supportive and harmonious environment. How we speak and act with one another is an expression of that harmony. Verbal abuse and violence of any kind are not acceptable and includes any behavior that is threatening, humiliating, shaming, undermining, or manipulative.
Recourse – Bringing Grievances and Requests to the HEAR Committee
Maintaining the wellbeing of the sangha is the mutual responsibility of all members. If you feel any guidelines discussed here are not being observed, or if you simply wish to share your discomfort, this document provides the process and the principles for how our sangha integrates the Precepts in coping with conflicts and ethical issues.
Members of the community are strongly encouraged to try, to the fullest extent possible, to resolve conflicts, disputes and complaints directly with the help and participation of the Guiding Teachers, Formal Students, of staff. However, there are times when informal attempts at reconciliation have been exhausted or are inappropriate and a more formal conflict resolution process may be needed.
If you wish to contact the committee, you may prefer to put your concerns in writing as a way of clarifying the situation for yourself and for the committee.
If this is the approach you wish to take, please send your written concerns to the committee members via email and request a meeting.
Stating the nature of your concern, you can also request a meeting where you verbally express your conflict.
Please know that your questions and concerns will be taken seriously and discussed in a principled and confidential manner.
Please know the committee will work with you to find a resolution that is in keeping with your process and values.
CURRENT HEAR COMMITTEE MEMBERS ARE:
Barbara Gallay, NYZC Board Trustee
Sezelle Gereau-Haddon, NYZC Board Trustee
Rachel Klauber-Speiden, NYZC Formal Zen Student and NYZC Board Trustee
Deborah Jyoshin Stewart, NYZC Formal Zen Student
Please contact the committee at HEAR@zencare.org
Please be assured that all communication and discussion will be held in strictest confidence.
In the possible event that a concern is related to one of the Ethics Committee Co-Chairs or Committee members, the concern can be addressed directly to the NYZC Board of Trustees Chair. In the event that the Chair receives the concern, the response process is the same as with any other matter, however, Committee members would be recused from any investigative efforts or follow-up steps taken in addressing the concern.
Guidelines for Ethical Behavior
As we consider our behavior and the behavior of others it is important that we take the Precepts to heart as they inform our practice, and in doing so they inform our lives.
The Three Refuges
The Three Refuges represent the foundation and orientation of our bodhisattva life.
We take refuge in the Buddha, the awakened nature of all beings. This is oneness.
In taking refuge in Buddha, we acknowledge the Awakened Nature of all beings. While there are different levels of spiritual and administrative authority at NYZC, the sangha recognizes that fundamentally everyone is equal in the expression of Awakened Nature.
We take refuge in Dharma, Everything has Something to Teach
In taking refuge in Dharma, we acknowledge that the wisdom and compassion of the bodhisattva way of life only flourishes when we are receptive and practice giving and receiving as one. It is through this Dharma that we embody, express, and make accessible the teachings of the Way as conveyed to us through the lineage of the Soto Zen School by the White Plum Asanga founder Taizan Maezumi Roshi. Realizing that our understanding and practice of Zen is one of many paths, we also acknowledge and respect all other expressions of the Dharma and the multitude of the world traditions and paths. The practice is to learn to be receptive and engaged.
We take refuge in the Sangha, the interdependence of all creations. This is harmony.
In taking refuge in Sangha, we acknowledge the central role that NYZC community life has in our practice. Because part of taking refuge is the offering of refuge, we aspire to create an inclusive environment for everyone’s engagement in the Bodhisattva Way. When our diversity appears to separate us, our practice is to engage in a careful process of recognizing, understanding, and appreciating our differences. In so doing, we affirm and respect our differences and similarities in gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, political belief, and physical abilities and appearances.
In creating an inclusive Sangha, it is essential that we encourage courageous open, ongoing direct communication among all Sangha members, and that any ethical concerns or conflicts which arise are fully heard and addressed by the NYZC community in an appropriate forum.
The Three Pure Precepts
The Three Pure Precepts are inseparable from the bodhisattva practice taught at NYZC. They represent the aspiration of every bodhisattva.
- To Do No Evil/Not Knowing
To do no evil means to refrain from causing harm to oneself, to others, to animals, to plants, to the Earth, to the waters, and to the air. Not knowing means to take refuge in the mind that is spacious.
- To Do Good/Bearing Witness
To do good means to uncover and to act from the loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity of our awakened nature. In our effort to live ethically, we embrace and rely upon the time-honored Zen practices of confession, repentance, atonement, and reconciliation. Bearing witness means to explore all that is arising without clinging to fixed views, preferences or opinions.
- Doing Good for Others/Compassionate and Loving Action
Doing good for others means to offer people the opportunity to discover and express their awakened nature. In creating this opportunity we recognize the importance of maintaining a balance between an individual’s negotiation of the Way and NYZC’s collective spiritual and institutional needs. When there is a perceived conflict between these, the process of open communication and clarification is an on-going practice of “Doing good for others.” Compassionate action is right action that arises from not knowing and bearing witness.
The Ten Essential Precepts
The Ten Essential Precepts are inseparable from both Awakened Nature and our relations with each other. They are the strands of Indra’s Net.
- Recognizing that we are not separate from all that is. This is the precept of Non-Killing.
This precept expresses the bodhisattva’s intent to live compassionately and harmlessly. When understood in its broadest context, not killing can also be understood as not harming, especially not harming the body or psyche of another. Thus, physical violence and abusive behavior (which includes physical threats, extreme displays of hatred and maliciousness) are a kind of “killing.” In cultivating life we encourage open inquiry into and discussion of the Dharma and into the sources of spiritual and institutional authority at NYZC.
In keeping with the aspiration of harmlessness, all firearms and other weapons designed principally for taking life have no place in NYZC practice places.
We also acknowledge our role, either directly or in complicity with others, in the killing of other forms of life. As a Sangha, when institutional questions of killing animals, plants, and insects arise, we must carefully consider our real needs and our bodhisattva-inspired responsibilities to work for the benefit of all beings.
- Being satisfied with what we have. This is the precept of Non-Stealing.
This Precept expresses the bodhisattva’s commitment to live from a generous heart rather than from an avaricious mind. At a personal level, avaricious behavior harms the person who steals; on a community level, stealing can harm or even destroy the opportunity and the environment for Zen practice. Those who handle Sangha funds or other assets also have a special responsibility to take care of them and avoid their deliberate misuse or misappropriation, both of which are institutional forms of stealing.
In addition, we recognize that the misuse of authority and status is a form of taking what is not given. Within the complex life of the Sangha various hierarchical levels of authority and seniority play a role in some situations and not in others. It is particularly important that individuals in positions of trust do not misuse their status or authority as a way to achieve special privileges and consideration or otherwise control or inappropriately influence others.
- Encountering all creations with respect and dignity. This is the precept of Chaste Conduct.
NYZC’s Sangha recognizes that sexuality is as much a part of the field of practice as any other aspect of our daily lives. Acknowledging and honoring our sexuality is part of creating an environment where conscious, mindful, and compassionate relationships can be cultivated.
Special care must be taken when people of unequal status or authority enter into a sexual relationship. In particular, there are two forms of relationship that can lead to great harm and confusion. Therefore both are considered a misuse of sexuality within our community.
It is considered a misuse of sexuality for an adult at NYZC to engage in sexual behavior with anyone who is a minor. Full responsibility for avoiding such relationships lies with the adult.
It is considered a misuse of authority, responsibility and sexuality for a Zen Center teacher to engage in sexual behavior with their student. If a teacher and/or student feel at risk of violating this guideline, they should suspend their teacher-student relationship at least until they have sought counsel with another Zen teacher. Furthermore, it is considered a misuse of sexuality for a teacher at to form a sexual relationship with a former student within six months of the termination of the student-teacher relationship.
Before forming a sexual relationship, persons at NYZC in a formal role (formal students, staff, Guiding Teachers) that entail clear advantages of influence in relationship to others, should discuss the appropriateness of the potential relationship with a teacher.
Particular care must be shown toward new students. We have learned that it takes about six months for a new student to establish the foundation of their practice, and to understand the complex nature of inter-relationships within the sangha. In order to protect a new student’s opportunity to practice, we expect anyone who has been at NYZC longer than six months to consult with a Guiding Teacher about a potential relationship with a new student during the first six months of the new student’s participation at NYZC.
Everyone coming to NYZC in any capacity has the right to be free from sexual harassment. Continued expression of sexual interest after being informed that such interest is unwelcome is a misuse of sexuality.
- Listening and speaking from the heart. This is the precept of Non-Lying.
The precept ‘not to lie’ is particularly important for the community life of a practicing Sangha. While ethical transgressions can involve any of the precepts, many of these difficulties would not arise were there not an element of deceit involved. Lying to oneself, to another or to one’s community, obscures the nature of reality and hinders the intention of bodhisattva practice. Within our community life, lying can also entail the deliberate withholding of information.
Open and direct communication is essential in our work and practice together. We are each entitled to straightforward, complete information when we request feedback regarding our behavior, standing, or performance within the community. We can expect, upon request, for this to be given by appropriate persons in the spirit of honesty and compassion.
Students NYZC should feel they can carefully explore the Dharma and study the self in an atmosphere of trust. Teachers and students shall not disclose information they receive in dokusan when confidentiality is requested and agreed to, unless serious harm may result to individuals or to the sangha if the information is not disclosed. Even when there is no specific request for confidentiality, such information is not to be shared casually under any circumstances by either of the people involved in the conversation. In the collaborative teaching process at NYZC, however, consultation among teachers regarding matters that are not strictly confidential may be appropriate. All those who engage in such consultations should make every effort to ensure it is done in a sensitive, fair and respectful manner.
- Cultivating a mind that sees clearly. This is the precept of Not Being Ignorant.
Bodhisattva practice occurs within the context of clear presence and mindfulness and a state of mind that is not conditioned by intoxicants of any sort. When enough clarity is lost it is all too easy to break the other precepts. Furthermore, it is our intention for NYZC to be an environment that supports those who are attempting to live without intoxicants.
Therefore, alcohol or drug intoxication at NYZC is inappropriate and is cause for concern and possible intervention. When any member of our community is involved in abusive or addictive use of intoxicants, it is important to remember that release from all clinging lies at the heart of Zen practice and they are expected to seek help with the counsel of a Guiding Teacher. Because denial is frequently a symptom of addiction, the Sangha is encouraged to help addicted persons recognize the need for help.
- Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer. This is the precept of Not Talking About Others’ Errors and Faults.
This precept arises from a bodhisattva’s efforts to build social concord and understanding. False and malicious statements in and of themselves are acts of alienation from oneself and others. The consequence of slander is often pain for others and divisiveness within the community. Where the intention to slander does arise, the effort to understand its roots is an expression of this precept.
- Speaking what I perceive to be the truth without guilt or blame. This is the precept of Not Elevating Oneself And Blaming Others.
While rejoicing in one’s wholesome qualities and deeds is an aspect of Zen practice, praising oneself or seeking personal gain at the expense of others arises out of a misunderstanding of the interdependent nature of self. Within the institution and community of NYZC, it is sometimes necessary to criticize the action of certain individuals or groups; when doing so one should pay particular attention to one’s motive and to the specific content of what is said and to whom it is said.
We also consider triangulation as a transgression. Triangulation is a manipulation tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another person, instead using a third person(s) to relay communication to the second, thus forming a triangle. It also refers to a form of splitting in which one person manipulates a relationship between two parties by controlling communication between them.
Triangulation may manifest itself as a manipulative device to engineer rivalry between two people or playing one person against another is not to practice harmony in sangha—including relationships between teachers and students, and students with other students. Together we practice speaking the truth directly and courageously.
- Using all of the ingredients of my life. This is the precept of Not Being Stingy.
All positions at NYZC, including that of the Guiding Teachers, are for the support of everyone’s practice and awakening. Neither the resources nor any position within NYZC are the possession of any one person. It is not appropriate for anyone, especially a teacher, to use their relationship to NYZC at the expense of the Sangha or the practice-intention of its members.
- Transforming suffering into wisdom. This is the precept of Not Harboring Anger.
The harboring of ill will is a poison for individuals and for the community. Even more corrosive is the harboring of ideas of revenge. A Sangha member having conflicts or tensions with others or with decision-making bodies should attempt to resolve them with anyone directly involved in a spirit of honesty, humility and loving kindness. However, if informal resolution is not possible, mediation should be sought as a way to clarify the difficulty.
- Honoring my life as an instrument of peacemaking. This is the precept of Not Thinking Ill of the Three Treasures.
As the Three Treasures are inseparable from one another, awakening informs our practice and our community life, practice informs our community life and our awakening, and our community life informs our awakening and our practice. To abuse any one of the treasures harms the other two. To acknowledge our transgressions, to seek reconciliation, and to renew our commitment to the Precepts is the working of Buddha Nature and re-establishes our place in the Sangha. When the Sangha is complete the Triple Refuge is manifest.
Thank you to our dharma friends at the Zen Peacemakers, White Plum Asanga, Berkeley Zen Center and at the San Francisco Zen Center for their help with the ethics policy.