Ethics Guidelines for Ocean Gate Zen Center

Ethics Guidelines for Ocean Gate Zen Center

With delight I rejoice in the ocean of virtue
That arises from generating the mind of enlightenment,
Which brings happiness to all living beings,
And [I rejoice] in the deeds that benefit those beings.


Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Sangha Elders Committee
  3. Sangha Relationships
  4. Teacher Relations to Students
  5. Relationships with Students New to OGZC Practice
  6. Confidentiality
  7. Professional or Business Relationships Among Members
  8. Mindful Speech
  9. Avoiding Abusive Speech
  10. Recourse: Bringing Formal Complaints or Informal Requests
  11. Introduction

The intimacy of Zen practice, teachers and students, dharma friend and dharma friend, is a source of great joy in the Ocean Gate Zen Center sangha. The Bodhisattva Precepts (see Appendix I) 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 addressing practicing with conflicts and ethical issues.

  1. Harmony, Ethics and Reconciliation

In the course of daily sangha interactions, disagreements, conflicts, misunderstandings and questionable behavior can occur. In some situations, the ethics of a particular behavior may not be clear. The Sangha Elders Committee[1] (SEC) 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 Sangha Elders Committee for consultation, support, and advice.

A Sangha Elder is required to exhibit many qualities, but two that particularly apply to this ethics statement are that they are: “A person who follows the precepts: This is a person who models their life on the Buddhist precepts and exhibits upright principles and behavior.” And “A person who is watchful: This person keeps an eye on Sangha affairs and speaks up if they feel that something is not right. They are not swayed by authority or adulation.” This specifically includes a request that the Sangha Elder speak up if they feel or see misconduct by the Guiding Teachers.

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 SEC may be sufficient to clarify the issues involved; in other situations, either the sangha member or the SEC member may wish to consult with the entire Committee.

Among the situations where consultation with a member of the SEC 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 Sangha Elders 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 OGZC position.

  1. Sangha Relationships

Our practice at OGZC 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 and commitment to be compassionately aware of these feelings while returning to our original vow to awaken with all beings, and to practice spiritual friendship at OGZC and in the wider world.

Following are guidelines regarding specific types of relationships within our sangha:

  1. Teacher Relationships to Students

Over the years, as we look at ourselves and other practice communities, we have 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 Ocean Gate Zen Center, all the priests, senior students, and sangha elders 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, sangha elder, or senior student. 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 both Guiding Teachers at OGZC.

  1. Relationships with Students New to OGZC Practice.

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. We request all OGZC 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.

All members in leadership positions, and those who have responsibilities which could reasonably be perceived as leadership roles — (for example, Guiding Teachers, members and officers of the OGZC Board of Directors; sangha elders; OGZC priests; or anyone who is performing a practice role such as Ino during retreat or other sittings or ceremony)—are expected to abstain from sexual relationships with new OGZC students during the new students’ first year of practice.

Anyone having questions about how this guideline is implemented may speak with both teachers and/or any sangha elder.

  1. Confidentiality

Dokusan, practice discussion, way-seeking mind talks, questions at shōsan 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, shōsan 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.

  1. Professional or Business Relationships Among Members

Sangha members are discouraged from using the community as a source of business, contract work, or professional clients. OGZC teachers and sangha members who work as physicians, psychotherapists, or attorneys should avoid entering into professional relationships with other sangha members.

Problems can arise when one sangha member enters a business relationship with another member. All Sangha members should be mindful of the delicate balance between worker and client and the complexity of these connections when both parties practice at the same dharma center.

  1. Mindful Speech

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 and teachers 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, and apportioning blame. When a conflict arises between sangha members, 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 one-to-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 than reconciliation.

  1. Avoiding Abusive Speech

OGZC 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. Towards that end, we make every effort not to use words that create discord, and to reconcile and resolve our conflicts, small or large.

Verbal abuse and violence are not acceptable at OGZC. Verbal abuse includes shouting, chewing out, blowing up, threats, humiliation, undermining, verbal manipulation, and ad hominem attacks. Abusive speech has wide effect, both for parties to the conflict who may be traumatized, and for witnesses. Members are not expected to work with a person with an ongoing pattern of harsh or hostile language.

This applies to everyone at OGZC, irrespective of position or seniority. Those holding a practice position are expected to understand that abusive speech and anger are not acceptable expressions of direction or leadership. Failure to uphold a standard of patience and kindness is a ground for suspension of sangha responsibilities.

Conflict, of course, is inevitable and can be creative. But violence of any kind divides and traumatizes. How we work together is as important as accomplishing the task at hand.

  1. Recourse – Bringing Informal Complaints or Formal Requests

Maintaining the wellbeing 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 OGZC’s Guiding Teachers, and/or a member of OGZC’s Sangha Elder 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 Sangha Elders Committee has authority (in consultation with OG’s Guiding Teachers) to remove a person from a practice position or a leadership role at OGZC for ethical misconduct, or to designate other appropriate consequences. The authority for such actions is vested primarily in the Sangha Elders Committee by the Board of Directors, but it must secure the additional agreement from OGZC’s Guiding Teachers. 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 Sangha Elders Committee will consult with senior members of the OGZC community, including OGZC’s Guiding Teachers and/or others as it deems necessary to provide for the safety, welfare, and harmony of the sangha.



Appendix I: Bodhisattva Precepts


Three Refuges

I take refuge in Buddha,

I take refuge in Dharma

I take refuge in Sangha


Three Pure Precepts

I vow to refrain from all evil.
I vow to make every effort to live in enlightenment.
I vow to live and be lived for the benefit of all beings.

Ten Grave Precepts

I vow not to kill.
I vow not to take what is not given.
I vow not to misuse sexuality.
I vow to refrain from false speech.
I vow to refrain from intoxicants.
I vow not to slander.
I vow not to praise self at the expense of others.
I vow not to be avaricious.
I vow not to harbor ill will.
I vow not to disparage the Three Treasures.


[1] Randy Chelsey and Sue Walter are our Sangha Elders. This Committee is comprised of Sangha Elders, 2 the Guiding Teachers and 1 other appointed by the Sangha Elders as the need arises. [This committee will not include any member whose conduct is under consideration.]



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