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.




The intimacy of Zen practice is a source of great joy in the Ocean Gate Zen Center sangha. The Bodhisattva Precepts serve as our guide along the path of right speech, right conduct, and relationships. Practice is based on trust, safety, respect, and true communication. Thus, 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 the Dharma teachings are our primary guide.

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 coping with conflicts and ethical issues.

Relationships within the Sangha

Our practice at OGZC can be warmhearted and close, but it is important to remember that  confusion regarding power, confidentiality and sexuality may arise and can harm practitioners and the sangha if not dealt with skillfully. Unskillful responses of all kinds are part of life. Rather than allowing our delusion to control us, leading to suffering, it is our intention to be compassionately aware of these situations 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 comments regarding specific types of relationships within our sangha:

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 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, angry or abusive speech, and apportioning blame.

When a conflict arises 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. If the situation is warranted the Ethics and Reconciliation (EAR) Council (see end of document) may be appointed to help resolve the conflict.

Maintaining the well being 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 the teachers, or a Sangha Dharma/Elder. 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.

Teacher Relationships to Students

At Ocean Gate Zen Center, all the priests and the lay practice leaders (i.e. lay leaders who offer practice discussion and/or give dharma talks) 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/practice leader.

We recognize that spiritual and psychological harm can often result when teachers and students violate trusts, or use power and/or position for personal gain, manipulation or sexual advantage. Such harm can damage the whole community.


Dokusan, practice discussion, way-seeking mind talks, questions at 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, question/answer sessions 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.

Sexual Relationships

Teachers and practice leaders 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 either his/her teacher and/or Dharma elders.

Therapists and Helping Professionals

We request that OGZC members who work as psychotherapists, physicians or attorneys avoid entering into professional relationships with sangha members. Others in the helping professions are asked to be sensitive to the possible complexity of dual relationships when both parties practice at the same dharma center.

Ethics and Reconciliation (EAR) Committee

In the course of daily sangha interactions, disagreements, conflicts, misunderstandings and unethical behavior can occur. In some situations the ethics of a particular behavior may not be clear. If necessary, EAR Committee will be established, first and foremost, to assist sangha members when they are not sure about their own ethical course in unclear situations.

Among the situations where formation of the EAR Committee 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: 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.

The purpose of a formal complaint is to investigate and adjudicate a possible serious breach of these ethical guidelines.  In this case the EAR Committee will be appointed and has the authority to remove (or to designate other appropriate consequences) a person from a practice position, a leadership role, or residency at OGZC because of ethical misconduct. The authority for such actions is vested primarily in the EAR Committee by the Board of Directors, but it must secure the additional agreement of at least one of the following: the teachers and/or the OGZC Board president. 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 EAR Committee will consult with senior members of the OGZC community and/or others as it deems necessary to provide for the safety, welfare, and harmony of the sangha.

(Adopted from the Berkeley Zen Center Ethics Guidelines)

Napa Valley web design and development