New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care Ethical Principles and Procedures for Grievance & Reconciliation
Will you maintain the precepts?
Will you maintain them well?
Will you really maintain them well?
—Taizan Maezumi Roshi
The community life at NYZCCC is an integral part of our practice and is based on the sixteen bodhisattva precepts. In order to help create a supportive, harmonious and safe environment within our sangha, we have outlined the ways in which these precepts guide and inform our community life.
The sixteen Soto Zen precepts are such an intimate a part of Zen practice that they have traditionally been called the “blood vein” of the ancestral lineage. The precepts can be understood and interpreted on many levels. They can be understood supporting the practice of awakening, as the arena of that practice, and as the expression of awakening itself. While Zen precepts are sometimes understood from literal, sometimes relative and sometimes from oneness points of view, no Zen practice can exist without basing one’s actions on the sixteen bodhisattva precepts.
There are four caveats that we aspire will help in understanding the intention of this statement.
1. First, these principles have been developed in response to specific historical problems and concerns, which have arisen in our society at large. As our community changes and evolves, it may be necessary to modify or add to these principles.
2. Second, this statement does not attempt to cover questions of personal conduct that do not have a direct bearing on the community.
3. Third, these principles are not intended to limit our understanding or to be a definitive reading of the precepts.
4. Fourth, these principles do not supersede specific practice center guidelines; rather they are intended to complement and support them.
The Three Refuges
The Three Refuges represent the foundation and orientation of our bodhisattva life.
We take refuge in Buddha, the Awakened Mind
In taking refuge in Buddha, we acknowledge the Awakened Nature of all beings. While there are different levels of spiritual and administrative authority at NYZCCC, 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 Sangha
In taking refuge in Sangha, we acknowledge the central role that NYZCCC 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 open, ongoing communication among all Sangha members, and that any ethical concerns or conflicts which arise are fully heard and addressed by the NYZCCC community in an appropriate forum.
The Three Pure Precepts
The Three Pure Precepts are inseparable from the bodhisattva practice taught at NYZCCC. 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.
To Save All Beings/Compassionate and Loving Action
To save all beings 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 NYZCCC’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 “saving all beings.” 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.
One. A Person of the Way does not kill, but rather cultivates and encourages life.
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 anger 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 NYZCCC.
In keeping with the aspiration of harmlessness, all firearms and other weapons designed principally for taking life have no place in NYZCCC 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.
Two. A Person of the Way does not take what is not given, but rather cultivates and encourages generosity.
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.
Three. A Person of the Way does not misuse sexuality, but rather cultivates and encourages open and honest relationships.
NYZCCC’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 NYZCCC 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 NYZCCC 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 NYZCCC 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 NYZCCC.
Everyone coming to NYZCCC 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.
Four. A Person of the Way does not lie, but rather cultivates and encourages truthful communication.
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 NYZCCC should feel they can carefully explore the Dharma and study the self in an atmosphere of trust. Teachers 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 NYZCCC, 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.
Five. A Person of the Way does not intoxicate self or others, but rather cultivates and encourages clarity.
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 NYZCCC to be an environment that supports those who are attempting to live without intoxicants.
Therefore, alcohol or drug intoxication at NYZCCC 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.
Six. A Person of the Way does not slander others, but rather cultivates and encourages respectful speech.
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.
Seven. A Person of the Way does not praise self at the expense of others, but rather cultivates and encourages self and others to abide in their awakened nature.
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 of NYZCCC, 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.
Eight. A Person of the Way is not possessive of anything, but rather cultivates and encourages mutual support.
All positions at NYZCCC, including that of the Guiding Teachers, are for the support of everyone’s practice and awakening. Neither the resources nor any position within NYZCCC are the possession of any one person. It is not appropriate for anyone, especially a teacher, to use their relationship to NYZCCC for personal gain or fame at the expense of the Sangha or the practice-intention of its members.
Nine. A Person of the Way does not harbor ill will, but rather cultivates and encourages loving kindness and understanding.
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.
Ten. A Person of the Way does not abuse the Three Treasures, but rather cultivates and encourages awakening, the path and teaching of awakening and the community that takes refuge in awakening.
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.
Procedures for Grievance and Reconciliation
We wish our life within NYZCCC’s Sangha to express our Zen practice and bodhisattva intention. As the bodhisattva path is our heartfelt response to suffering, turning away or skimming over suffering through silence, rationalization, assigning blame, minimizing, feeling self-deprecating guilt, or not listening deeply to its causes and conditions, are all steps directed away from the bodhisattva path itself. Furthermore, avoidance is a condition for additional suffering.
Thus, when a conflict, grievance, dissonance, or violation of the precepts arises in our interpersonal relationships, it is essential to attend to it fully. Personally, this involves waking up to our own contribution to the suffering in these situations through understanding our reactions, emotions and attachments. Interpersonally, this involves taking the time to discuss the conflict directly, when possible, with the other parties involved in an attempt to clarify the actual causes, conditions, feelings and responses that come together in the situation.
What follows are guidelines and procedures for resolving conflicts and transgressions within the NYZCCC Sangha. It is our hope that such resolutions take the form of reconciliation – with oneself and with others. Whenever possible, disputes and disagreements should be resolved informally and directly between the people involved. There are many ways, including normal administrative and teaching channels, that NYZCCC members may attempt informal resolution and reconciliation. In this document we offer some suggestions and basic guidelines.
Basic Guidelines for Resolving Conflicts and Disagreements
The procedures that follow are intended to give all persons involved in a dispute a chance to be fully heard in an environment of respect and kindness that flows from knowing that there is no fundamental difference between us.
1. Stating the Actual
A crucial aspect of conflict resolution, just as in Zen practice itself, is discriminating between our interpretations and opinions of an event and how the event was or is personally experienced. In part, this means not making general statements, but rather staying with the particulars of actual situations and the emotions experienced. It is extremely difficult to have mutual understanding when discussion remains at the level of interpretation and generalization.
2. Being Heard
It is important that everyone be given an opportunity to be fully heard. This means that everyone be given a chance to recount how they remember the history of a conflict, to state their feelings regarding the conflict, and to explain the goals they have for its resolution. Such statements should be neither defensive nor critical since both approaches tend to preclude deeper mutual understanding. Much conflict arises and is perpetuated through a lack of mutual understanding; taking calm, deliberate, and adequate time to listen to each other is often all that is needed for reconciliation to begin.
3. Restating What Was Heard
To insure that everyone understands one another, it is useful for each party to briefly restate what the other has said, highlighting the main points. The other party then says whether the restatement is complete and accurate, and makes corrections.
Resolution and reconciliation is greatly facilitated if everyone involved reflects on how they may have contributed to a conflict and then explains this to the other party. Even when one person is primarily responsible, self-reflection, confession, and apology on everyone’s part can provide a safer, more trusting, and understanding environment for everyone to be truthful.
It is often useful to invite one or more neutral witnesses or mediators to take part in a session of conflict resolution. Such a person may simply be a silent witness providing a sense of calm and presence or may be an active mediator who helps ensure that each person is given opportunities to be heard. This person might also point out the difference between statements of opinion and interpretation and direct statements of how an event or feeling was or is actually experienced. Invited facilitators can be anyone whom both parties respect; e.g., friends, neutral acquaintances, NYZCCC leaders, directors, or people within or outside NYZCCC who are trained in mediation.
6. Seeking Advice
In addition to or instead of inviting a facilitator to participate, it can be useful to seek advice for working informally with a conflict. Such advice can be received from a variety of sources.
7. Resolution of Conflicts
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 Guiding Teachers, formal Zen students and 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.
Thank you to our dharma friends at San Francisco Zen Center for their help with the ethics policy.