Ethics & Conflict Resolution

Introduction

The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts, integral to sangha harmony and safety, serve as a guide for our ethical conduct. This is as true during the process of conflict resolution as at any other time.

The Three Refuges

  • We take refuge in Buddha.

    We acknowledge the Buddha Nature of all beings. Even though there are different levels of religious and administrative authority at AZC, the sangha recognizes that fundamentally everyone is equally the expression of Buddha Nature.

  • We take refuge in Dharma

    We acknowledge the wisdom and compassion of the bodhisattva way of life. Through Dharma we embody, express and make accessible the teachings of the Buddha as conveyed to us from our lineage holders at San Francisco Zen Center. We realize that our approach to Buddhism is one of many approaches and we acknowledge and respect all other expressions of the Dharma.

  • We take refuge in Sangha

    Sangha life is central to our practice. As we take refuge we also offer refuge. We aspire to create an inclusive environment for everyone's engagement in the Bodhisattva Way. We affirm and respect our differences and similarities in gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political belief, and physical abilities and appearances.

    An inclusive sangha is one that encourages open, ongoing communication among all residential and non-residential sangha members. Therefore any ethical concerns or conflicts which arise are to be fully heard and addressed by the Zen Center community in an appropriate forum. To facilitate this, AZC members are encouraged to question leaders and study religious and communal contexts in order to understand the reasons for, and limits to, authority and decision making at AZC.

The Three Pure Precepts

  • To do no evil

    This means to refrain from causing harm to oneself, to others, to animals, to plants, to the earth, to the waters and to the air.

  • To do good

    This means to uncover and to act from the loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity of our awakened nature. We embrace and rely upon confession, repentance, atonement, and reconciliation, which are time-honored Mahayana practices.

  • To save all beings

    We endeavor to offer the opportunity to all beings to discover and express their awakened nature. To do this in a collective organization of people means to maintain a balance between individual, religious, and institutional needs. When a conflict between these arises, open communication and clarification is a practice of ìsaving all beings.

The Ten Essential Precepts

  • I vow not to kill or harm that which is living.

    To live compassionately and harmlessly, especially toward the body and psyche of another. Thus, physical violence and abusive behavior, including threats and extreme and repeated displays of rage, are a kind of “killing.” Firearms and weapons designed and owned principally for taking life have no place within our practice places.We also acknowledge our role, direct or indirect, in the killing of other forms of life. When questions of killing animals, plants and insects arise, we must carefully consider our real needs and our bodhisattva-inspired responsibilities to work to benefit all beings.

  • I vow not to steal or take what is not freely given.

    This vow offers us the opportunity to live generously. Avaricious behavior harms the person who steals and can harm the environment for Zen practice. Those who handle sangha funds or other assets have a special responsibility to take care of them and avoid deliberate misuse or misappropriation, which is an institutional form of stealing.

    We also recognize that misuse of authority and status is a form of taking what is not given. Given a complex system of hierarchical levels of authority it is important to realize that these play a role in some situations and not in others. It is important that persons in positions of trust do not misuse their status to achieve inappropriate privileges or to otherwise misuse their influence or control others.

  • I vow not to misuse sexuality or manipulate others seductively.

    We recognize that sexuality is as much the field of practice as other aspects of our daily lives. We honor this part of our lives and create an environment where conscious, mindful and compassionate relationships can be cultivated. Care must be taken when people of unequal status or authority enter into sexual relationships. There are two forms of this that can lead to great harm and confusion. Both are considered misuse of sexuality within our community: First: adults with minors. Full responsibility for avoiding such encounters lies with the adult. Second: Teachers and students. If a teacher or student feel at risk of violating this guideline, they should suspend the teacher-student relationship at least until they have sought counsel with another senior teacher or practitioner. The wisest course is for the teacher and student to wait a number of months after terminating the teacher-student relationship before beginning sexual intimacy with one another.

    Because this area is so delicate we ask that priests, people in formal roles that entail clear advantages of influence in relationship to others, should discuss the appropriateness of the potential relationship with a teacher or practice leader. Particular care must be shown new students. As the foundation of a practice is formed in the first months, it can be seriously undermined and confused through the lens of a romantic relationship. Please speak with a practice leader before beginning a sexual relationship and consider six months of continuous practice as a guideline before beginning relationships with newer students. This is especially important in the case of priests and people in positions of authority (religious or secular). Sexual harassment has no place in bodhisattva practice. Continued expression of sexual interest after being informed that it is unwelcome is a misuse of sexuality.

  • I vow not to lie and to refrain from deception.

    Many of our transgressions arise as a result of deception. Lying to ourselves, another, or the community obscures the nature of the bodhisattva intention. This includes the deliberate withholding of information. Again we make every effort to have direct and open communication and straightforward feedback given in a spirit of honesty and compassion. Students should feel that they can carefully explore and study the self in an atmosphere of trust. While consultation between teachers will take place, a student can request that a disclosure be confidential. Any sharing will be done with care and respect.

  • I vow not to intoxicate mind or body of self or others.

    Clarity of mind is an essential aspect of our practice; intoxicants make this impossible. Intoxication is inappropriate within AZC and repeated misuse may call for intervention. Release from all attachments is the work of the Zen student and respect will be given those who engage in rehabilitation programs. No alcohol or recreational drugs are to be used at AZC.

  • I vow not to slander or allow silence to harm others.

    False and malicious statements are an act of alienation from oneself and others. The consequence of slander is pain for others and divisiveness in the community. An effort to understand the roots of the desire to slander is an expression of this precept.

  • I vow not to praise self at the expense of others.

    Learning to rejoice in one's wholesome qualities and to rejoice in the talents and abilities of others is a deep practice; one of the heavenly abodes. Critique is appropriate in the proper context and it is up to the practitioner to take care of his or her motives.

  • I vow not to be avaricious, nor to grasp what I have or be envious of what I don't.

    All roles and things are transient. In the spirit of non-possessiveness decision making bodies of AZC should make decisions together in a cooperative manner, considering all points of view. Making decisions and minutes available to the sangha is particularly important.

  • I vow not to harbor ill will or seek vengeance or retribution.

    Such harboring is harmful to the community, the individuals holding the anger and fear, and those being abused. Every effort needs to be made to find resolutions when a person feels wrongly treated. Harboring anger will continue the cycle that kills creativity, compassion, love and friendship.

  • I vow not to abuse the three treasures.

    The 3 treasures are inseparable. When all three are realized our lives are whole and awakened.

Guidelines for resolving conflicts and disagreements within the sangha:

There are no fixed procedures for informal conflict resolution but the following suggestions and procedures can assist people involved in a dispute. We endeavor to hear all people in a respectful environment. This is often achieved by remembering that fundamentally there is no difference between us.

  1. A member who feels unfairly treated by another is encouraged to discuss the situation with the other person involved; all are asked to speak and listen with mindfulness of the precepts.

    Stating the Actual: A crucial aspect of conflict resolution, as in Buddhist practice, is discriminating between our interpretations and opinions of an event and how it was or is personally experienced. In part, this means not generalizing but rather stating the particulars of actual situations and the emotions experienced. Mutual understanding is difficult when discussion remains at the level of interpretation and generalization.

    Being Heard: It is important that everyone have an opportunity to be fully heard. This includes a history of the conflict, statement of feelings, and goals for resolution. The statements need to be as free from defensiveness or criticism as possible. Clear and deliberate presentation with adequate time to listen to each other is often all that is needed for reconciliation to begin.

    Restating what was heard: We can ensure that everyone understands each other by rephrasing what we have heard the other person saying, with the person being restated clarifying any mistakes.

    Confession: We facilitate resolution and reconciliation is facilitated when all reflect on how they may have contributed to a conflict and then explain this to the other party. Even when one party is primarily responsible, each party creates a safer environment by owning their part and apologizing.

    Facilitation: It is often helpful to have one or more trusted people (such as another sangha member, a spouse, or a friend) acting as mediators or facilitators to ensure that each person is heard and to help the people avoid blaming and accusing.

    Seeking advice: Sometimes instead of a facilitator, simply getting advice on how to proceed in a given situation will be enough.

  2. If this does not resolve the dispute to the satisfaction of all involved, it may then be brought to one or more practice leaders, using the above guidelines.

  3. If the dispute remains unresolved, a written complaint may be brought to the President of the AZC Board of Directors, who will bring it before the Board and request all involved persons to be present at the board meeting, during which the Board's function will be to determine whether a Grievance Committee is to be formed, and if so, who will be on it, as detailed below.

Procedures for filing a formal grievance at AZC

A Grievance Committee is made up of three Board members: One chosen by the member filing the grievance, one by the other person involved, and one by the first two chosen. The board may allow a person to choose a committee member who is not a Board member, if circumstances indicate that this would be appropriate.

The committee member chosen by each party is not meant to represent that person, but rather to hear fairly and impartially.

The person bringing the grievance will submit a complete written explanation of the situation; describing as much as possible the situation details and any efforts made toward reconciliation prior to bringing the formal grievance.

The committee meets with the parties involved; taking as long as necessary to thoroughly hear the situation. Following investigation the committee will make recommendations to the Board, which will inform the parties of the decisions. The parties may appeal to the whole Board; the Board's decisions will then be binding.

An effort at reconciliation between the parties and with the sangha will be recommended. In some situations we understand it may take a long time before true reconciliation is possible.


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