Greater Boston Zen Center Ethics Policy
(revised by the GBZC Board on Oct. 13, 2021)
Greater Boston Zen Center (GBZC) strives to create a spiritual community that conducts itself with integrity and high ethical standards. GBZC values safety, diversity, respect for the individual, and a culture of open and honest communication. The following policies and procedures are in place to create an open, supportive environment where all practitioners feel welcome, and comfortable raising ethical concerns should they arise.
Practitioner – Any person who engages in any or all spiritual practices at GBZC, whether as a complete newcomer or as a Teacher at GBZC. This applies regardless of whether someone is a formal student (Shoken), received the precepts (Jukai), received partial or full transmission of the Dharma (Denbo, Denkai), gives teachings (Dharma talks) or private interviews (Dokusan), is a formal GBZC member or not, attends GBZC regularly or every once in a while, donates to and/or volunteers at GBZC, exclusively practices Zen Buddhism, or incorporates other practices, faiths, or religions.
Positions of leadership/leadership roles – These include Practice Leader, Board Member, Assistant Teacher (who gives talks), Senior Teacher (Senior Assistant Teacher, Dharma Holder, or Sensei, who gives dokusan), Priest, Working Group Leader, Task Force Leader, Ethics Ombudsperson, and Ethics Council Member. These are volunteer positions at GBZC.
Guest Teacher/Speaker – Anyone who, on one or more occasions, takes on a teacher or speaker role at a GBZC activity, whether electronically or in person, but who is not a part of the GBZC teaching community. For the purposes of interpreting this Policy, they are considered to be “practitioners” and “in a leadership role” during their visit. Guest Teachers who give dokusan are expected to comply with GBZC policies regarding Senior Teachers, except for the expectation of participation in the ongoing GBZC teaching community.
Shadow – The ‘shadow’ is the side of our personality that contains all the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to admit to having. Shadow behaviors are often unconsciously projected onto others and can cause unanticipated harm.
Inclusion, Equity, and Non-Discrimination
GBZC is committed to inclusion and equity for all, and toward affirming the dignity and belonging of every person who joins our community. We recognize and challenge the dynamics of power and privilege that create barriers to participation. We commit to celebrating diversity of identity, centering voices from the margins, and giving priority to the viewpoints of those targeted and excluded by our society’s systems and institutions.
As one reflection of these commitments, GBZC bars harassment on its premises and in its spiritual community. This includes but is not limited to harassment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, creed, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, documentation status, marital status, age, family status, public assistance status, national origin, or any other aspect of personal identity or lived experience.
Barred conduct includes not only unwelcome sexual advances, but also any other verbal or non-verbal conduct that would create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment or otherwise make GBZC less than inclusive and welcoming to all.
Any practitioner at GBZC who believes that they have been the victim of harassment by another practitioner at GBZC, regardless of membership status or position, are strongly encouraged to report this to the Ombudsperson, per GBZC’s Ethical Reporting and Remediation Processes (see below).
Any practitioner bringing a harassment complaint, or assisting in the investigation of such a complaint, will not have their membership status or position at GBZC adversely affected, nor will they be discriminated against because of the complaint.
Retaliatory action of any kind against an individual who has made a report of harassment is strictly prohibited and may be subject to review per GBZC’s Ethical Reporting and Remediation Processes (see below).
Accessibility and Reasonable Accommodations
GBZC believes in making the Dharma accessible to its community. If a practitioner requires a reasonable accommodation to practice at GBZC, they may contact a Practice Leader before their visit at [email protected]. Examples of reasonable accommodation could include alternative seating arrangements, use of technology (when available) for remote/virtual attendance and participation, and bringing a friend or volunteer for guidance and support.
GBZC is a smoke-free environment. In order to assure the comfort and health of all practitioners, and to prevent potential safety hazards, GBZC does not allow smoking anywhere on its premises considered indoor spaces. Practitioners who wish to smoke may do so outside of the building.
For the safety of participants, GBZC does not allow any type of illegal or intoxicating drug use, possession, or sale on its premises, or consumption of alcohol unless served at an officially sponsored event.
Violence and Safety
GBZC is committed to preventing violence in its community and maintaining a safe environment for spiritual practice.
Practitioners are expected to refrain from conduct that may be dangerous to others. Weapons and other dangerous devices or substances are prohibited from GBZC premises. GBZC strongly encourages practitioners to report any restraining or stay-away orders covering GBZC premises. Conduct that threatens, intimidates, harasses, or coerces another practitioner, while on the premises or while representing GBZC, physically or virtually, will not be tolerated.
All threats of (or actual) violence, both direct and indirect, should be reported as soon as possible to a Practice Leader and/or other practitioner in a leadership role at GBZC. GBZC will promptly and thoroughly investigate all reports of threats of (or actual) violence and of suspicious individuals or activities; this may involve following Ethical Reporting and Remediation Processes (see below). The identity of the individual making a report will be protected as much as is practical.
GBZC strives to be a community run by democratic principles and characterized by open communication and transparency.
Authority for various aspects of GBZC operation is variously divided among the board, communities of teachers, working groups, task forces, councils, and individuals. The methods by which these bodies are populated or roles are assigned (election/appointment) will be easily discoverable. Every effort will be made to identify leadership groups and leaders to the sangha (e.g., by listing on the website) and provide avenues of approach (email addresses). Leaders will make the decisions for which they are empowered. Leadership groups will make the decisions for which they are empowered using democratic majority-vote procedures. Practitioners will receive ample notice of nomination periods and elections.
GBZC Bylaws, key policies, and official minutes of board meetings will be disseminated to the community in a timely manner and publicly available.
Use of GBZC Resources
GBZC resources, including time, material, funds, equipment, and information, are provided for GBZC use. Nonetheless, occasional and limited personal use is permissible (such as eating lunch after a sit), as long as it does not cause a disruption, or hinder GBZC programming and care of its premises and virtual spaces. Regular or intensive use requires the permission of the Board.
People who volunteer for GBZC, including those who serve in leadership roles, are trusted to behave responsibly and use good judgment to conserve GBZC resources. Funds allocated to GBZC must be used in support and furtherance of GBZC’s vision, as required by non-profit law.
GBZC will not permit the use of its resources to create, access, store, print, solicit, or send any materials that are harassing, threatening, abusive, sexually explicit, or otherwise offensive or inappropriate.
Support of the Practice of the Community
GBZC is committed to providing effective Zen training. Practitioners are expected to refrain from conduct that would detract from such training, such as creating excessive noise or engaging in unnecessary and distracting activity while practicing in the zendo.
A student’s confidentiality belongs to the student, and therefore, students are free to share dokusan conversations with anyone they choose. The Senior Teachers request, however, that koan demonstrations not be shared with other students, as this may diminish the effectiveness of koan training.
Special Obligations of all Individuals in Positions of Trust
The GBZC community expresses its special trust in certain individuals by placing them in the positions of teachers, priests, board members, and other leadership roles. While serving at GBZC, these individuals are held to the same code of conduct as any other practitioner. Exploiting relationships, harming others, or abusing influence breaches trust and undermines the integrity of GBZC, especially when such misconduct occurs under the pretense of teaching methods, spiritual practice, or service to the GBZC community. Misconduct by those in positions of trust is considered a violation of GBZC’s code of conduct, and will be subject to review per GBZC’s Ethical Reporting and Remediation Processes (see below). Members of leadership groups are expected to discourage unethical behavior by their peers in their own group (e.g., Sensei are peers of Sensei, board members are peers of board members), and by practitioners they may supervise (that is, those in “power down” positions relative to them). They are expected to bring any misconduct that does occur to the attention of the Ethics Ombudsperson and/or appropriate local authorities. (We recognize that people in “power down” positions may be reluctant to speak out about those with greater power, though we encourage them to do so when possible.)
Special Responsibilities of Senior Teachers
Because Senior Teachers offer spiritual guidance in the context of dokusan, they have the same responsibilities, in law and in practice, as other spiritual care professionals (such as clergy, chaplains or pastoral counselors). These responsibilities apply even if the guidance they offer is not remunerated, and even if the role does not require a degree from an accredited institution. Senior Teachers are obliged, first and foremost, to act in ways that are in the best interest of the student. This is a sacred responsibility.
The following are some minimal policies which flow from that responsibility. A more detailed description of Senior Teachers’ practices and aspirations may be authored by the teaching community, as long as it is not in conflict with the GBZC Ethics Policy.
- Confidentiality, Disclosure and Mandatory Reporting
Senior Teachers jointly share responsibility for holding student confidentiality regarding private conversations in dokusan, and thus are allowed to share things said in dokusan with each other for the purposes of supervision and joint teaching, in the best interest of the student.
One exception to this joint confidentiality arises in situations that, according to Massachusetts law, “persons performing official duties on behalf of a…religious body” are legally bound to report. These situations include but are not limited to suspected abuse of a child. GBZC is not responsible for practitioners’ reporting requirements while they serve a different role unrelated to GBZC and beyond GBZC’s premises.
- Appropriate Boundaries between Senior Teachers and Students
In dokusan, the student trusts that the Senior Teacher’s only intention is to provide spiritual care. The Senior Teacher therefore carries the full responsibility for maintaining the appropriate boundaries that make this possible. Specifically:
- Senior Teachers are strictly prohibited from engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with their current dokusan students, or with recent past dokusan students. In general, a two-year waiting period is advised.
- Senior Teachers are expected to derive their personal emotional support from sources other than their dokusan students. Requesting or pressuring a student to take care of the teacher’s emotional needs constitutes a breach of trust.
- A “dual relationship” would exist if a Senior teacher also offered other services to practitioners (e.g., as a psychotherapist or attorney), or received such services from them. We recognize that not all dual relationships are inherently unethical. We are, however, mindful of the complexities and risks in these circumstances, and therefore it is the policy of the GBZC that Senior Teachers of the sangha shall neither provide to nor seek professional services from members of the sangha.
- Senior Teachers who consider engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with a practitioner who does not see them in dokusan should carefully consider the complications this may cause in the community, and shall disclose their intent to their dokusan teacher and the Board.
- Senior Teachers are not permitted to directly charge GBZC practitioners for any services related to spiritual training (e.g., dokusan, preparation for the priesthood). Compensation or reimbursement of expenses, if any, will be worked out as part of the GBZC budget.
- Senior Teachers will not accept gifts of more than token monetary value from individual students.
- Senior Teachers are ultimately responsible for maintaining appropriate sexual, emotional, and spiritual boundaries with all sangha members, including board members. This reflects findings in psychological research (and, by extension, the law) of the unique power and responsibilities of clergy in their role of spiritual guides.
Concerns about ambiguities in these policies should be brought to the attention of the Ethics Ombudsperson. The Board has the final authority on their interpretation. The Board may, for example, set different requirements on what constitutes the “recent past” (in the first bullet point) depending on the length and depth of the teacher-student relationship.
Violation of these policies should be reported following GBZC’s Ethical Reporting and Remediation Processes (see below).
- Supportive Community of Senior Teachers
Teachers working in isolation and without supervision may be especially prone to ethical misconduct. Recognizing this, GBZC teachers commit to maintaining a relationship with a supervising teacher with whom they meet in dokusan as students, no matter what their rank. They also meet regularly as a community to provide mutual support, and participate in continuing education as appropriate for spiritual care professionals. At a minimum, this will include understanding transference and countertransference, maintaining appropriate sexual boundaries, stress and the susceptibility to ethical misconduct, and the dynamics of teacher power, especially in the dokusan relationship.
- Exploration of the Ways Harm May Be Caused by Unconscious Behaviors
Teachers are strongly encouraged to pursue ongoing, active and deep inquiry into the practice of seeing the unseen shadow of greed, aversion, and ignorance that unconsciously increases the probability of unethical behavior. The board will make every effort to support this work.
- Limits of Authority
The community of Senior Teachers, in some cases by means of leaders elected from this group, has authority as vested in them by the GBZC bylaws. They have jurisdiction over issues of spiritual practice including practice forms and liturgy, teacher training, and Dharma transmission.
The GBZC Board, in contrast, is entrusted by state law with a “duty of care” for the community, that is, with the responsibility for keeping the organization running in line with its mission and values. This requires that the Board have sole authority over issues including (but not limited to) financial matters, attending to misconduct within the organization, and making and enforcing organizational policies (including this Ethics Policy).
In line with GBZC’s aspirations to be a safe, supportive, and democratic organization, the Senior teachers are expected to respect the legal responsibilities and jurisdiction of the member-elected Board, and the decisions of the Working Groups, Task Forces, and other bodies authorized by the Board to carry on the organizational business of GBZC, just as other practitioners are expected to respect the spiritual jurisdiction of the Senior Teachers.
Special Responsibilities of Priests
Priests who engage in pastoral care, which often includes elements of spiritual guidance, have the same responsibilities regarding confidentiality, appropriate boundaries, and respect for sangha leadership as described above for Senior Teachers, whether or not they hold a teaching title. They are expected to have a supervising teacher who they meet with regularly in dokusan, and are strongly encouraged to participate in a supportive community of fellow teachers, priests, chaplains, or whatever is appropriate in their case.
Ethics Council and Prevention
GBZC aspires to both remediate and prevent ethical harms. The Board will establish an Ethics Council charged with the design and implementation of education programs for all practitioners and leaders and with suggesting changes to GBZC culture or policies that may make ethical violations less likely to occur. Incorporating the advice of the Ethics Council, the Board may establish non-negotiable criteria for training, continuing education, and reporting for individuals in key leadership roles. For example, the Board may set training standards regarding ethics before a practitioner begins giving Dokusan, and may require continued education for all those who offer Dokusan.
The Ethics Ombudsperson (“the Ombuds”) is appointed by the Board for a one year term, with allowance for renewal for up to five consecutive years. The Ombuds, who is neither a Board member nor a Senior Teacher, serves on the Ethics Council. The Ombuds also offers informal assistance to practitioners who have questions or concerns related to an ethical matter at GBZC. The Ombuds will offer such assistance impartially (independent of the status or position of anyone involved) and to the extent possible, contact [email protected]—or via other contact information supplied on the Ethics webpage. The Board will make every effort to ensure that the Ombuds has access to training regarding the Ombuds role.
Ethical Reporting and Remediation Processes
- When a Hazard is Immediate:
When personal safety is immediately at stake, practitioners in leadership roles should act to ensure the safety of the sangha. This could include, for example, reporting violence to local authorities or intervening to stop verbal harassment.
- Informal Process
If anyone has a (less urgent) concern about a possible violation of the GBZC Ethics Policy, they are invited to consult with Ombuds. After informal discussion, the Ombuds may suggest or initiate next steps. These steps might include further informal investigation; encouraging the person to address the matter directly; or initiating intervention by a third party. The Ombuds might also consult or seek aid from Board members, Senior Teachers or others who have (1) relevant ethics expertise and (2) no conflict of interest or competing loyalties. The Ombuds notifies the Board of the complaint and the actions taken, although details may be limited when confidentiality is a concern. If the ethics issue concerns the individual serving as Ombuds, the concern should be brought directly to a member or members of the Board. If the Ombuds determines that they cannot be impartial, they (the Ombuds) will bring the issue to the Board and will be recused.
- Formal Process
If informal remediation does not resolve the ethical issue, the Ombuds will propose an ad hoc Response Team to the Board. The Response Team will be composed of GBZC sangha members, and will normally include at least one Senior Teacher and at least one member of the Board, to the extent that these individuals have (1) relevant ethics expertise and (2) no conflict of interest or competing loyalties. The Ombuds will not serve on the Response Team. The Board may make modifications to the Response Team proposed by the Ombuds, or create its own Response Team. The Board-authorized Response Team will then investigate the ethical issue and make a recommendation to the Board on how to proceed. If the ethical issue pertains to a member of Board, that individual will recuse themself from any discussions or votes pertaining to the matter.
The consequences for ethical infraction will be decided by the Board. The possibilities include, but are not limited to: private or public apology; suspension or permanent exclusion from GBZC activities; suspension or revocation of GBZC titles or positions (but not of transmission or ordination, which remain under the jurisdiction of Senior Teachers); or public censure.
The Ethics Ombudsperson be reached at [email protected]. The Ethics Council (