An ethics code is, of necessity, a living document and subject to scrutiny and revision. The document below is a draft and will be reviewed by the Empty Moon leadership before being formally adopted.
Empty Moon Zen Sangha
Draft Ethics Code
The Three Pure Precepts
Do No Evil
Awaken with All Beings
As a Zen Buddhist community we are committed to ethical relationships and practice.
Our vow is the awakening of the world. Critical to this vow is our effort to provide a safe haven in which all those who are exploring the Zen path may explore their true nature. Blue Cliff welcomes people of all races, cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, classes, religions, abilities and ages. Our members are committed to confronting and transcending any conditions, personal or cultural that may create obstacles for others.
The relationship between a culture and its members is complicated and if we do not engage it consciously it can have near-invisible effects standing in the way of realizing the interconnectedness of all beings. We acknowledge the twisted karma inherent in our conditioning like for anyone within any culture, and the specificities within our culture, and strive as a part of our practice to examine our part in any injustice. To this end we encourage all our members, but especially our leaders and teachers to educate ourselves on the subjects of privilege and intersectionality.
All our members and active participants are assumed to be willing to abide by these codes in general, and may avail themselves of the formal complaint procedure, as may non-members who are actively involved. There is also a limited provision outlined below for people not in the community to use the process.
Everyone who is invited to leadership as members of the Leadership Council, practice leaders, priests, Dharma teachers, Dharma teachers and transmitted teachers within the Boundless Way agrees to conduct himself or herself in accordance with this Ethics Code.
Ethic Standards, Teacher Relationships, and Grievance Procedures
The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts are the foundation of our vows. And we recognize that ethics standards and guidelines are needed to provide commentary and processes for addressing difficult situations that may arise in our sangha or in inter-sangha relations.
Use of Power and Position
Confidentiality. We understand confidentiality to be a reasonable assumption of privacy. It is not a strict code of secrecy. A central part of our practice is spiritual direction. There is a right to a reasonable sense of confidentiality regarding what is said in dokusan or similar interviews.
However, it is the practice of this community that Dharma teachers and transmitted teachers consult with each other and hold confidentialities among themselves rather than alone.
Personal details disclosed during interviews not relevant to practice in the judgment of the teachers are not shared. When complaints are made or concerns are expressed, again, one person should not be expected to hold these things in secret.
Anyone authorized within the Blue Cliff to do private spiritual interviews (dokusan) are mandated reporters. More on this below.
Power. Our teachers and leaders have an obligation to educate ourselves about the subtle power issues inherent in the teacher-student relationship, as well as the potential effects of that power and its exercise on both teachers and others. The teacher should seek counsel from other teachers and professionals, as appropriate, about the use of power and the harmful effects caused by its abuse. The teacher should be especially aware of the potential for subtle abuse of power that may arise in relation to their personal interests.
Right Speech. Mutual respect is foundational for an environment supportive of sound practice. Such respect is manifested when sangha members treat others with dignity and engage others truthfully and compassionately with a positive intention. Sangha harmony is promoted when the teacher models, and all members observe, the clear mind precepts regarding right speech: refraining from lies, self-serving talk, slander, angry or abusive speech, and apportioning blame.
Boundaries. The teacher should not violate trust or use power and/or position for personal gain or self-satisfaction. The ultimate responsibility for maintaining appropriate and clear boundaries between teacher and student always rests with the teacher. When a teacher is asked to act in a capacity that calls for competencies beyond the teacher’s expertise, he/she will refer students to those with requisite expertise (e.g., mental health professionals, medical professionals, legal professionals).
Dual Relationships. Although not all dual relationships within the sangha are harmful, and some are unavoidable, they have a significant potential to complicate student-teacher relationships and to undermine sangha harmony. The teacher should be alert to maintain appropriate boundaries and carefully consider the implications and dangers of dual relationships. Examples of dual relationships include romantic relationships, financial relationships, intimate friendships, therapeutic relationships, and professional relationships.
Intimacy. Our practice is one of intimacy. It can be warmhearted and close. And relationships between teachers and students, as with therapeutic relationships, usually involve powerful psychic conditions including projection, transference and counter-transference, among others. In addition there are the complexities found within the power differential that exists between a teacher and a student. Also, we are explicitly a sex-positive community. So, it can be difficult outlining what we consider appropriate and what we do not.
However, for those within positions of spiritual leadership there do need to be some bright lines. And with these various circumstances it is tempting to cross a line from spiritual intimacy to sexual intimacy. Whatever the many merits of sexual intimacy, this specific type of relationship tends to confuse the other aspects of intimate relationship necessary for a successful teacher and student relationship.
Again, and we consider this important to underscore, sexuality is a natural part of life. And as a non-celibate sangha, sexual intimacy is going to be a cherished part of our shared lives. However, those who teach have additional responsibilities and our covenant includes several commitments regarding sexual behavior.
No priest, Dharma teacher or transmitted teacher who is married or in a committed relationship should engage in sexual activities with any person outside of their stated commitment.
Any priest, Dharma teacher or transmitted teacher who finds a romantic relationship beginning with a member of the sangha should inform the EAR Committee of this relationship and seek guidance as to the most healthful way to proceed.
If the people involved are in a teacher-student relationship, a choice must be made between either pursuing that personal relationship or continuing the teacher-student relationship, but not both. The EAR Committee should help in this decision-making process. A resolution should be achieved with as little delay and as much openness and transparency as humanly possible.
Drugs and Alcohol. In consideration of authority both real and perceived, behavior by the teacher and any ordained community members regarding drugs, alcohol, and other intoxicants must be in alignment with the precepts. Abuse of intoxicants of any kind is an ethical violation to be addressed openly and honestly before the sangha.
Procedures for addressing ethical concerns:
Maintaining the wellbeing of the sangha is the mutual responsibility of all its members. If you feel the guidelines are not being observed, or simply wish to share your discomfort, please bring those concerns to a member of the 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 our sangha and support this important practice into the future.
Again, whenever possible, a direct conversation between the parties is best. When it is not possible, then one should bring concerns to a member of the EAR Committee. If the matter can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion through an informal process, this would be the end of the matter. If the matter cannot be resolved informally, or with more serious concerns, a process has been developed outlined below as the “Formal Procedure.”
There are many possible consequences to a complaint. Healing and reconciliation is the goal. But all parties cannot always be satisfied. Serious violations, particularly of personal intimacy between leaders or teachers and other members of the sangha, may necessitate interventions possibly including a recommendation to the Teacher’s Council, or in the case of transmitted teachers to the Board, which may include various sanctions including dismissal from leadership or teaching within the Blue Cliff Zen Sangha.
The Ethics and Reconciliation Committee
In the course of daily sangha interactions, disagreements, conflicts, misunderstandings and unethical behavior can occur. Often the ethical lines will not be obvious. The Ethics and Reconcilliation Committee (EAR Committee) is formed as a standing committee to assist in that process of clarification as well as to pursue more serious allegations.
Any member of the sangha is encouraged to bring concerns to any member of the EAR Committee for consultation, support and advice if direct discussion with the person involved has been unsuccessful at reaching resolution.
The number and membership of the EAR Committee is determined by the Board and Guiding Teachers and members are appointed by consensus. Tenure is for one year and may be renewed for up to three years. After an absence from the EAR Committee for a year, a person may be reappointed. Members of this committee may be appointed from the membership or from the larger community, with a general preference for the members to be recruited from outside the community. The names of the EAR Committee members are posted on the Blue Cliff Zen website.
Should an ethical concern arise, the sooner one can consult with a member of the EAR Committee the better if direct discussion with the person involved has been unsuccessful at reaching resolution.
Often a meeting with a single member of the EAR Committee will prove sufficient. This can be an opportunity to air a concern and in that conversation often matters are made clear. Possibly there is a need for additional consultation. This can be mapped out with the EAR Committee member.
However, matters involving significant inappropriate behavior, inappropriate sexual conduct, abusive behavior, harassment, incompetence or the use of position for personal gain or exploitation should quickly be brought to the whole EAR Committee. Anyone aware of the following matters should bring them to the EAR Committee immediately: misappropriation of funds, gross and harmful incompetence in leadership or teaching or anything that a therapist or minister would be mandated by law to report, such as suspected abuse or neglect of a child, an elder, or a disabled person.
EAR Committee members will inform other EAR Committee members of matters of concern which have been brought to them. Details of such matters will be handled with discretion. The EAR Committee members will first offer a listening ear and counsel. Secondarily, the EAR Committee will facilitate a dialogue between parties.
If a dialogue between the parties does not lead to reconciliation, then the EAR Committee will make recommendations after consultation with the Teachers Council. In the case of an issue with transmitted teachers, the EAR Committee recommendations will follow consultation with the Leadership Council. The EAR Committee is responsible for the recommendations, which are to be decided upon by majority vote within the Committee.
If an appeal of the recommendation is desired, it may be made by formal procedure, described below, at which time the EAR Committee members should be present for clarity of understanding but have no vote on the matter.
Our formal grievance procedure is available when informal attempts at reconciliation have not worked or are inappropriate.
Some areas that are appropriate for this formal procedure include situations in which a member wishes to appeal an administrative decision regarding her or himself personally or situations where a member feels another member, leader or any teacher has engaged in significant misconduct or unethical behavior.
A non-member who is an active participant in Blue Cliff activities may also use this process. In general this process is for the community. The EAR Committee can determine whether a complaint by a non-member who is not involved directly in the life of the sangha, should be addressed.
The EAR Committee has responsibility for determining whether alleged misconduct has occurred, and any recommended consequences, excluding expulsion from the sangha or sanctions against teachers. In those cases their recommendation is forwarded in the case of transmitted teachers to the Board, and in other cases to the Teachers Council.
Any complaint to the EAR Committee under this formal grievance procedure must be made in writing. It may be given to any member of the EAR Committee. Anyone who registers a complaint with the EAR Committee should be given a copy of the Ethics Code along with a written acknowledgment of receipt of the complaint.
The complaint should describe the alleged behavior, a history of any attempts to resolve the complaint informally, and a general statement about the desired resolution. The complaint and related documents will be retained by the EAR Committee for such period as it considers appropriate.
The EAR Committee should respond to the person who has registered the complaint in writing within a month after receipt of the complaint with a statement of its decision and the reason(s) for the decision.
Among the possible responses are a finding of no breach, suggesting a mediated resolution, a limited finding acknowledging some breach and forwarding this to an appropriate second party, a reversal of an administrative decision or action, a private and mediated apology, a private reprimand, follow-up meetings with affected parties, a public apology, public censure, reparation when possible, a recommendation for psychological counseling or similar program, a period of probation, suspension or dismissal with the exceptions noted above.
Anyone may appeal the EAR Committee’s decision to the Board. However, the Board is expected to work from an assumption that the EAR Committee has acted in good faith and with due diligence, and should not lightly overturn the findings of the EAR Committee.