Dharma Rain - Board of Directors
Zen Practice In Community
Precepts and Ethics in Sangha Relationships
Section One: Sangha Relationships, Connection and Authority
Becoming a Buddhist begins with taking refuge in the Three Treasures: Buddha,
Dharma, and Sangha. Relationships within a practice community, or sangha, are
a reflection of these refuges. At the heart of it, taking refuge is an act
of respect and veneration. Ultimately this refuge is in one’s own deepest
nature, the truth itself, and all beings. In practice, taking refuge includes
cultivating an attitude of respect and veneration for the historical Buddha,
respect and veneration for the Dharma in the form of the Sutras and other teachings,
and respect and veneration for the Sangha in the form of the lineage down to
the present time. In a community like Dharma Rain Zen Center, this finds expression
in an attitude of respect and veneration for the temple itself. This attitude,
when cultivated deeply, extends to the various teachers, to the practice traditions,
and to the other members of the temple. This respect and veneration is deeply
precious, even sacred. As a result, holding authority within the temple becomes
a sacred trust to the degree that authority is held.
Respect and Kindness: At Dharma Rain Zen Center, we recognize a reciprocal
relationship between respect and kindness. A graduated level of expectation
and ethical accountability is directly related to the degree of formal commitment
to practice and to this Center, and to the amount of authority held. This graduated
expectation begins with the basic respect for others, for the temple, and for
the tradition expected of all who come through the doors. As authority within
the temple increases, the importance of kindness and compassion also increases,
because differences in power increase the potential for doing harm. Various
levels of involvement are described below. As the level of commitment and authority
increases, members are held to the levels of expectation for previous levels
as well as for the one they occupy at any given point in time.
Levels of Involvement in the Sangha
1. Casual participation. Since the temple is open to all for most events,
expectations are very simple. We expect those attending to be respectful of
others, to be courteous, to respect the property of others, and to participate
in a way that respects the temple and the practice itself while they are attending.
No other expectation or standards apply.
2. Membership. Becoming a member of the temple often, but not always, includes
developing on-going relationships with other members as friends or simply as
fellow sangha members. It can include taking on temple jobs and developing
relationships with teachers. As involvement becomes on-going, the expectation
of basic respect for the temple and other members continues when one is not
actually at the temple or temple functions. As involvement deepens, members
are expected to begin using the precepts as a point of reference in their lives.
The precepts are also useful in suggesting methods of, and vocabulary for,
conflict resolution between members, or between members and teachers of various
degrees of formality.
3. Full Members. When members take the precepts formally (Jukai), support
the temple, and participate regularly, they are called “Full Members” and
become part of the fabric of the temple. “Taking” the precepts
means to hold them, to reflect on them and measure all aspects of one’s
life and actions by them, to let this have an effect, and to let their meaning
unfold. At some point an aspiration to embody the precepts can start to develop.
Because they are more established in the sangha, full members need to be considerate
of newer members. A Full Member, for example, should be careful not to make
overtures toward a romantic relationship with a new member until that person
has established herself or himself within the sangha. Full Members are encouraged
to treat newer members with both respect and kindness and to try to meet them
in helpful ways.
4. Residents. Members in residential practice are subject to all other expectations
that apply to them (such as those for Lay Disciples, etc.), but they are also
subject to their resident agreement. In addition, we expect residents to be
respectful of all who come into the temple, and to give them the space to feel
comfortable. This means, for example, that flirting with someone who has come
in for a workshop is inappropriate.
5. Board and Council Members. To be eligible for election to the Board of
Directors a person must be a Full Member (see above definition). Board members
have a responsibility to act in the best long-term interests of the sangha,
and to act as responsible stewards of the sangha’s resources. In their
relationships to other members, they should endeavor to be responsive to members’ questions
In addition to the Board, there are four major councils that oversee various
aspects of Zen Center life and function. Their obligations with regard to
other sangha members are the same as that of Board members. The four councils
their duties, described very briefly, are the Dharma Council which oversees
teaching functions, the Mandala Council which oversees staffing and jobs,
the Elders Council which holds long-term institutional memory and has specific
duties with regard to the other councils, and the Ethics Council, which is
described in detail in Section Three of this document.
[Click here to see more
about the Mandala model of temple organization.]
6. Lay Disciples. Because they are formally connected to the center and the
lineage, we expect Lay Disciples to conduct their private lives in a way that
would reflect well on the temple. We expect them to be honest and ethical in
their personal and business dealings, to be faithful in personal relationships,
and to be generally law-abiding good citizens of the community. These matters,
when they do not involve temple duties, are not a matter for the Ethics Council
except under extraordinary circumstances. They are generally considered training
issues between the disciple and his or her teacher. The ethical guidelines
for informal teaching relationships, however, (see item three in the next section)
apply to Lay Disciples when they act as Practice Advisors, when they are leading
retreats, classes, or workshops, or whenever someone comes to them for advice
or guidance because of their position as a Lay Disciple. Also, because of their
increased visibility within the Sangha, they should be mindful of the perception
of authority new members will have regarding them, and be careful of inadvertently
taking undue advantage. Kindness and consideration for newer members becomes
more important because of the perceived authority held by Lay Disciples.
7. Lay Teachers. The level of expectation and standards (accountability) are
basically the same as for Lay Disciples. The perception of authority is even
greater, and the Lay Teacher should be mindful of this. Accountability will
go up whenever a formal teaching relationship with another member develops,
and Lay Teachers then become subject to the guidelines in item ten.
8. Monk Disciples. The level of expectation and standards (accountability)
are the same as for Lay Disciples, except that any aspect of their public conduct
may become a matter for the Ethics Council. Usually, however, it should remain
within the purview of the master/disciple relationship. Taking on a formal
teaching relationship with a student is not permitted for monk disciples.
9. Junior and Transmitted Priests as staff members. The level of expectation
and standards (accountability) are basically the same as for Monk Disciples.
As Junior Priests (who have completed five years of training) take on more
teaching authority their accountability is like that of Lay Teachers. Transmitted
priests are even more independent, and may, with their teacher’s permission
and the agreement of the Dharma Council, take personal students formally. Issues
between such teachers and their students should first go to the teacher’s
own teacher. If necessary, it could be escalated to become a matter for either
the Dharma Council or the Ethics Council as deemed appropriate.
10. All Formal Teaching Relationships. Any undue advantage taken of formal
students is a serious matter. Unconscious, heedless or careless actions that
are detrimental to the welfare of formal students are a matter of reproof,
and indicate a need for further training or education. Formal students should
remember, however, that they always have autonomy over their personal decisions
(with regard to their health or finances, for example), within the guidelines
of their commitment. For Lay Disciples, this means they always have the choice
to back out of a training position if the requirements are more than they feel
ready to meet. For Monk Disciples, training positions may be quite uncomfortable
at times, and adjustments to them are a matter of discernment between the disciple
and the teacher.
11. Abbots. To the degree that it reflects on the center, anything abbots
do in public, as well as anything they do in private that affects their ability
to perform their duties, may be subject to a formal review process by the Ethics
Council, or some sort of intervention. Because abbots have some degree of authority
over all aspects of temple life, their conduct with respect to all those who
come to the center should be undertaken with due care. Despite this high level
of visibility and accountability, abbots do have the right to privacy when
alone. Serious allegations concerning abbots, if found substantive, require
bringing in outside mediation and assistance. The Ethics Council holds the
procedures for doing that when deemed necessary in a joint decision with the
Board of Directors.
12. Teachers Without Teachers. Whenever a Lay Teacher or Transmitted priest’s
own teacher is not present (deceased, no longer active, absent for an extended
time, etc.), their public conduct and their relationships with their own students,
formal or informal, is subject to oversight by their elders and peers. Because
they carry authority within the lineage, they need to be mindful of this with
respect to how their actions affect others, and they are subject to the ethical
guidelines when they are working within the Dharma Rain Zen Center organization.
Should a question about this arise, see item 14 below.
13. Visiting Teachers. Visiting teachers, when they
stay for a night or two for any reason, are treated as guests. When they have
with the DRZC Sangha for anything more than a few days, they should be made
aware of the guidelines set forth in this document. When a visiting teacher
is in residence, or will be in regular contact with the DRZC Sangha even though
residence interview should be done, and an agreement signed that makes the
expectations and boundaries clear. They are also made aware of this ethics
document and the expectations it describes. Should a teacher from another lineage
develop a long-term role at Dharma Rain, they would be treated in much the
same way as “Teachers Without Teachers” above.
14. When Problems or Questions Arise. If an issue
concerning authority arises regarding the conduct of any teacher at Dharma
Rain, members are encouraged to
consult with one of the other teachers or a member of the Ethics Council. If
unsure as to whom to contact, the Shuso or any temple officer can direct the
member to an appropriate person. Members may be advised to work things out
informally or with a mediator. If necessary, these concerns could become a
matter for either the Dharma or Ethics Council as deemed appropriate. The Dharma
Council, for example, would handle matters regarding methods and skillful means,
while the Ethics Council would handle matters of misconduct. Conflicts and
issues between members may be handled in much the same way. This process is
described in detail in Section Three of this document.
Authority and Degrees of Formal Teaching Relationship
1. Peer relationships: relationships between sangha members in general. Quite
often, this is the nature of an interaction, even when a difference of rank
or status exists. Most of the time, interactions between sangha members at
Dharma Rain Zen Center are fairly informal. To a teacher, Lay Disciple, or
a long term full member, these informal interactions may have the character
of peer interactions, but not always. When they involve a newer member, however,
that new member will often be very aware of the authority held by a teacher,
Lay Disciple, or full member. Because of this, members who hold authority within
the community should remember to emphasize kindness and be very careful in
their interactions with newer members or any member with less authority.
2. Mentor: a Lay Disciple acting as a Practice Advisor to a new member is
an example of a mentor relationship. Also, to a lesser degree, any Full Member
helping out a new member has aspects of this. There is some on-going authority,
even though the relationship may be fairly informal.
3. Teacher/student informally: the relationship of a priest or lay teacher
to members who come regularly, developed more or less depending on the wishes
and intent of the member, is one of informal teacher/student. Coming to sanzen/interview
or attending a retreat or sesshin led by a teacher are examples of informal
teacher/student relationship. The teaching authority does not extend beyond
the events in which the teaching relationship occurs. For example, the leader
of a retreat holds a degree of formal spiritual authority during the retreat.
Extending that authority after the retreat is a misuse of it. The teacher is
responsible for making this clear.
4. Teacher/student formally: teacher to Lay Disciple. Lay Disciples maintain
complete autonomy over their personal lives. The authority of the teacher is
in guiding their Zen practice and meditation, and pointing out to what degree
their actions and practice conform to the traditions of Soto Zen and the expectations
of Lay Disciples within this Sangha. As with the master/disciple relationship,
the responsibility of the teacher is to bring the student into a mature and
autonomous relationship with the practice and the Dharma.
5. Master/disciple: transmitted priest to monk ordained. Rules such as the
Taitaikoho and the Eihei-shingi guide the monk’s deference to the teacher.
They maintain autonomy in all personal decisions such as their health care
choices and their personal finances, however. Monk disciples serve the temple
in their daily lives, and they are subject to rules of discipline. Because
of this, the highest level of ethical restraint is expected of the teacher.
This does not mean, however, that the teacher has to treat the student with
kid gloves. Just the opposite, because the teacher can push the student quite
hard, the teacher must never take undue advantage of that power. The responsibility
of the master in this relationship is to bring the disciple into a mature and
autonomous understanding of the practice and the Dharma.
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