Ethics Policies

The Ethics Committee can be reached at

Puget Sound Zen Center Code of Ethics and Grievance and Reconciliation Policy for Members and Participants

The Puget Sound Zen Center (PSZC) strives to create a safe, welcoming and nourishing place for the study and practice of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The precepts provide a good outline for ethical conduct in daily life. In our commitment to maintaining a community atmosphere of trust and openness, participants are asked to interact with each other in a manner that reflects respect and flows from the precepts.
The Five Precepts involve:

  • Respecting the dignity of other living beings and refraining from harm to others
  • Being generous and trustworthy
  • Honoring romantic commitments and cultivating lasting, loving relationships
  • Being truthful and considerate in speech
  • Keeping a clear mind to study the roots of cravings

When difficulties arise, PSZC is committed to finding wise ways to work with conflict. The health of our sangha is measured by our ability to accept that tensions do arise and enhanced by our ability to embrace a compassionate means of addressing and resolving these conflicts. When a direct, responsible conversation between two parties is not possible, the Ethics Committee is committed to trying to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion either through an informal or formal conflict resolution process. To this end the guidelines that follow are proposed pathways toward reconciliation.

In a sangha on a small island, confidentiality can be a problem. PSZC teachers have pledged to honor and respect all confidences and exchanges shared in the teacher student relationship unless health or safety is at risk. Similarly sangha members are also asked to refrain from harmful or frivolous speech that involves other participants at the Zen Center. Although this is not a code of secrecy, all members should be able to engage in the community with the knowledge that their privacy will be respected.

Dual Relationships/Professional Conflicts
Dual relationships are another challenge in a small community where members wear several hats and may have professional relationships with each other outside of the sangha. Many of our members are psychotherapists, teachers, coaches, healthcare providers, or other professionals. It is important that we remain mindful in our exchanges with each other and of the potential abuses that might arise when roles are confused and interpersonal relationships grow in complexity. Licensed professionals are expected to abide by the ethical codes of their professions. Participants in the sangha are asked to remain aware of situations where a conflict of interest might arise. It is appropriate to bring any questions or concerns about these issues to each other or to the Ethics Committee.


The Ethics Committee
The Ethics Committee is comprised of at least three people elected by the sangha to hear and resolve issues within the community regarding ethical behavior in a formal or informal manner as appropriate. The Ethics Committee does not include any members of the current Board. They are tasked with responding quickly and effectively to concerns raised within the sangha and stewarding the conflict resolution process. They meet quarterly or more often as needed. They also provide a yearly report to the board on the ethical well-being of the sangha. They are required to document all formal concerns and actions taken towards resolution. They will maintain confidentiality within these documents as appropriate and keep them in a locked drawer at the PSZC office. They may engage an outside facilitator trained in certain aspects of conflict resolution if it is needed. For more information, refer to the Teacher Ethics Policy.

A teacher is defined as: the Abbot or a teacher at a multi-day retreat. Because of the high level of responsibility teachers assume in the teacher-student relationship, a separate code of ethics for teachers was created in 2013 and added to the bylaws. A copy of this document is attached for review. All teachers whether appointed, visiting, or training are asked to review and abide by the ethical code outlined in the policy.

Informal Procedure for Resolving Conflict
When a conflict or concern arises within the sangha, ideally it can be resolved through direct conversation between the individuals involved. If this is not possible, the concern should be brought to a member of the Ethics Committee. The Committee will work with the individuals involved to resolve the dispute informally and will make a confidential written record of the interaction.

Recommendations for Resolving Conflicts and Disagreements
Although no fixed procedures for informal conflict resolution exists, the suggestions that follow are intended to give all persons involved a chance to be fully heard in an environment of respect and kindness.

1. Stating the Actual

A crucial aspect of conflict resolution, just as in Buddhist practice itself, is discriminating between our interpretations and opinions of an event and how the event was or is personally experienced. In part, this means not making general statements but rather sticking to the particulars of actual situations and the emotions experienced. It is extremely difficult to have mutual understanding when discussion remains at the level of interpretation and generalization.

2. Being Heard
It is important that everyone have an opportunity to be fully heard. This means that each person has a chance to recount how they remember the history of a conflict, to state their feelings regarding the conflict, and to explain the goals they have for its resolution. Much conflict arises and is perpetuated through a lack of mutual understanding; taking calm, deliberate, and adequate time to listen to each other is the first step toward reconciliation.

3. Restating What Was Heard
To ensure that individuals understand one another, it is useful for each party to briefly restate what the other has said, highlighting the main points. The other party then says whether the restatement is complete and accurate, and makes corrections.

4. Self-Reflection and Apology
Resolution and reconciliation are greatly facilitated if everyone involved reflects on how they may have contributed to a conflict. Even when one person is primarily responsible, self-reflection and apology on everyone’s part can create an environment of compassion and loving kindness.

5. Facilitation
It is often useful to invite a neutral witness or mediator to take part in a session of conflict resolution. Such a person may simply be a silent witness providing a calm presence or may be an active mediator who helps ensure that each person is given uninterrupted opportunities to speak. This person might also point out the difference between statements of opinion and interpretation and direct statements of how an event or feeling was or is actually experienced. Facilitators can be anyone whom both parties respect; e.g., preceptors, the abbot or people outside of PSZC who are trained in mediation.

Formal Process for Addressing Grievances at PSZC

1, Submission in Writing

If a conflict has not been successfully resolved, one or both parties should bring the dispute to a member of the Ethics Committee. The parties will be asked to submit an explanation of the conflict, in writing, giving pertinent contact information, description of the conflict or grievance, attempts to resolve the conflict informally, and the desired outcome.

2. Notification

The committee member receiving the dispute will notify the other members of the Ethics Committee within seven days. Any committee member having a conflict of interest will step down; another sangha member will be appointed by the Board to take that person’s place.

3. Meeting and Review

A meeting or meetings will be held, with the Ethics Committee and the conflicting parties, where both parties will present their understanding of the concern. A member of the Ethics Committee will take minutes of the meeting. In deciding a case, the Ethics Committee must decide what persons, if any, besides the parties involved shall be informed about the case or aspects of the case. (See confidentiality process as described below.)

4. Response

The Ethics Committee is committed to giving the involved parties regular notice about the committee’s progress. The expectation is that within one month of receiving the dispute, the Ethics Committee will meet with the involved parties and will read and present, in writing, a statement of their decision and reasons for the decision. The decision will be made by a majority vote of the Committee.
A designated member of the Ethics Committee will be responsible for coordinating communication with the parties. The Ethics Committee will communicate to the parties what responses should occur to move toward reconciliation.

Possible Responses:
–no further action needed
–mediated resolution
–private and/or mediated apology
–private reprimand
–follow-up meeting with Abbot
–reparation when possible
–policy change to the bylaws
–apology to the sangha
–findings and action made public to the community in the case of illegal behavior
–period of probation or suspension from certain positions of responsibilities
–suspension or exclusion from the sangha
Misconduct for which there is statutory mandatory reporting in Washington will be reported to the appropriate authorities.

5. Implementation

Implementation of the recommendations must be decided on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the Abbot and the Board. The Ethics Committee will monitor the parties’ progress toward complying with the ethics decision and will work with the Board and involved parties towards implementation.
In the case of noncompliance, the Abbot will be involved to determine next steps and the member’s motivation to be part of the sangha.


6. Appeal

Although all are expected to work from an assumption that the Ethics Committee has acted in good faith and with due diligence, either party has the right to appeal a Committee decision within thirty days of being notified. The appeal must be in writing, explaining why the Ethics Committee’s decision is incorrect and setting forth the basis of the appeal. Appeals will be granted if there is evidence of bias, procedural irregularities or if new information not previously available comes to light. Appeals are made to the Chair of the Board of Directors. The Board will review the findings and the appeal argument/s to decide whether or not the decision of the Ethics Committee shall be upheld. If the Board decides to overturn the current Ethics Committee decision, due to any of the reasons stated above, the Board will then determine the best response by majority vote and inform all parties involved. The decision of the Board is considered final.

Confidentiality during the Formal Process

In investigating a case, the Ethics Committee will decide which persons besides the parties involved will be informed about the case. Information will be shared on a need to know basis. Information relating to a person’s safety will be shared with the appropriate authority if necessary.

The Ethics Committee is committed to respecting the confidentiality of the parties and will advise the parties of any need to consult other individuals to gather information. The information provided will be kept confidential for the duration of the case.

The Ethics Committee will keep records regarding the case for a period of one year or longer, upon consensus of the Committee.

(This document was created with a great deal of help and inspiration from our dharma friends at Chobo-ji, Upaya, Dharma Rain and San Francisco Zen Center. We are grateful for their wisdom and generosity in sharing their policies with us or posting them on their websites.)

Puget Sound Zen Center Proposed Teacher Ethics Policy (part of bylaws)

Article 4: Puget Sound Zen Center Teacher Ethics Policy
Section 1: The Puget Sound Zen Center strives to create a welcoming place and a nourishing community for the study and practice of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. We believe our teachers’ conduct should reflect this intention, as well as basic Buddhist precepts of compassion, honoring a life of virtue, and working for the liberation of all beings.
Section 2: Code of Ethics for all teachers. “Teacher” is defined as the Abbot or a teacher at a multi-day retreat. All teachers, whether appointed, visiting, residential, training, or otherwise, will agree to and abide by the following ethical code of behavior:

  1. Teachers will balance responsibility to the Sangha with family needs, officiating and attending to sangha duties as necessary while also tending to the needs of their families as circumstances warrant.
  2. Teachers will demonstrate respect for all life and will strive to embody compassion in all their relationships and actions.
  3. Teachers will respect the property of others; will not misappropriate or misuse Zen Center monies or funds, will pay just debts and taxes and will not enter into financial relationships or accept gifts that result in a conflict of interest or give the appearance of a conflict of interest with sangha members.
  4. Teachers will be inclusive and respect all students with equal openness regardless of race, class, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation.
  5. Teachers will refrain from plagiarism and maintain the integrity of their work.
  6. Teachers will respect the wishes of the officers and directors in matters involving successor teachers.
  7. Teachers will cultivate clear, conscious communication. Teachers will honor and respect all confidences and exchanges between teacher and student unless there is a health or safety issue involved and will report abuse as required by the jurisdiction in which they teach. Teachers will not engage in harmful speech.
  8. Feelings of friendship and fellowship are to be expected in a close-knit sangha. However, due to the hurt and confusion that can result from a sexual relationship between teacher and student, sexual relationships between teachers and students are strictly prohibited.
  9. Mindful of the harmful effects of addiction; teachers will refrain from abusing alcohol or drugs. Any addiction problem should be immediately addressed by the community.
  10.  Teachers will fulfill their duties as specified in any teacher contract approved by the board.


Section 3. Role of Ethics Committee in Dealing with Teacher Misconduct

a. PSZC will maintain and support an on-going Ethics Committee which will exist to: respond quickly and effectively to concerns relating to ethical conduct, review the ethical status of the sangha’s activities on an ongoing basis; and report and make recommendations on the ethical status of the sangha to the board at least once per year. Refer to PSZC Grievance and Reconciliation Policy for Members for details. The Ethics Committee shall consist of at least three but not more than five sangha friends or members with a demonstrated interest in  and/or professional experience with ethical matters. The Ethics Committee shall be elected by the sangha annually at the sangha meeting, and shall not include any members of the current board of directors.  Ethics committee members shall serve for a duration of not more than three consecutive years. The Ethics Committee may also recruit other individuals or organizations specializing in conflict resolution and/or ministerial or clerical ethics to assist them in their work. Any individuals or organizations recruited for this purpose must be a neutral party posing no conflict of interest with the board, the Abbot, Zen Center staff, the Ethics Committee members, or any other parties relevant to the concern at hand. The board shall reserve at least $5000 in the Zen Center’s savings fund at all times to be used at the Ethics Committee’s discretion to pay such individuals and organizations for their services. The Ethics Committee may ask the board for further funds if necessary.

b. An affected party may bring their concern to any Ethics Committee member. Any Ethics Committee member informed of an ethical concern must inform the full Ethics Committee of any ethical concerns brought to him or her. Because it involves a teacher, the Ethics Committee must inform the board that an ethical review is occurring, and must inform the board of an anticipated timeline for resolution.

c. Because the conflict involves a teacher, the formal process will differ from the process for members and participants. The Ethics Committee will decide, based on a 2/3 majority vote, what steps should be taken to bring about a resolution, and will bring their recommendation to the board for a vote.  A resolution may call for training, reprimand, apology, counseling, suspension, expulsion, or other recommended appropriate action.  The Ethics Committee will monitor the implementation and outcome of the recommendation. If both the board and the Ethics Committee vote for suspension or expulsion of a teacher, the board will bring this recommendation to the sangha for a vote.

d. Facts of each inquiry or complaint brought before the Ethics Committee shall be summarized in writing and shall include: dates, issues, people involved, committee recommendation and outcomes. The Ethics Committee will keep copies of all related documents in the Zen Center’s office, and will keep names confiential.
Section 4. Ethics Committee Review. The Ethics Committee will review this document at least once per year and will report back to the Board on its review.