After a breach of this type occurs, some in the sangha will demand sweeping reforms, while others will demand a return to the familiar. This is a tricky period for leadership to navigate and requires a commitment to a marathon, not a sprint. At the end of the day, serving in leadership during a crisis is a truly advanced practice.
In addition to responding directly to the misconduct, GBZC engaged in additional activities to further strengthen and stabilize our community—these are ongoing and open to iteration. We list our activities here as examples of what might be needed, and we welcome further suggestions. These activities were initiated by both the non-teaching and teaching leadership (i.e., the remaining teachers), working in partnership:
- Holding a “Circle of Care” for the primary victim of the sexual misconduct in a ceremony which included truth-telling, personal testimony, and ritual;
- Hosting an 8-month drop-in series called “Student Stories of Zen,” hosted by two non-senior teachers, where sangha members reflected on their experience of being a student in this practice;
- Hosting a live 3-hour Healthy Boundaries course, led by FaithTrust Institute’s Jan Chozen Bays, for the entire GBZC sangha; and
- Having our leadership meet with another whistleblower from another sangha to compare and contrast experiences and offer mutual support.
New policies, trainings, and resources specific to ethics:
- Developing a new Ethics Policy and clarifying the role of the Ethics Ombudsperson;
- Creating a governance task force, which recommended updates to our bylaws and articles of incorporation;
- Updating our bylaws with a vote from the membership to further clarify roles and responsibilities;
- Establishing in our bylaws that members of the senior teaching community do not also serve on the board of directors;
- Posting a “What is Dokusan?” document on the website and in the zendo that clarifies what should and should not be expected within the individual interview context, including some warning signs of abuse;
- Creating and staffing a new Ethics Council to treat the engagement with ethics as a spiritual practice;
- Sponsoring senior teachers to attend FaithTrust Institute’s Healthy Boundaries training;
- Training the board in duties surrounding misconduct;
- Sharing information as widely and transparently as will serve the purpose of preventing future abuse, including a statement on our website and introducing this project;
- Developing processes around instituting new teachers, including teacher written agreements and a program of onboarding and vetting new teachers; and
- Ensuring students’ experiences around this misconduct don’t become implicitly or explicitly silenced, through invitations including this message, sent to the membership through the newsletter.
Aspects of our practice that we continued or reinforced:
- “Dharma discussion.” In our lineage, a dharma talk is not stand-alone or followed by Q&A. Rather, it’s positioned as the opening of a conversation, and sangha members can come forward with further teachings, comments, questions, objections, and so on.
- Multiple teachers. We continue to enact the model of no single teacher being the sole spiritual leader in the community.
- Integration of the American vernacular of justice-making within our practice. Beginning in 2016, GBZC began a program of social engagement and justice initiatives, which resulted in dharma talks, book clubs, guest programs, affinity groups, social actions, etc., aimed at illuminating how the practice of the dharma is the practice of justice. The transgressing teacher was a key partner in many of these efforts—his legacy is complex.
- Continuing to distribute leadership. Activities that sustain GBZC are spread across working groups, led by sangha volunteers.
- Koan salons. We have recently begun offering opportunities to practice with koans in groups (in addition to the opportunities to address them 1:1 with a teacher). Koan salons are a practice with precedents in our lineage, cultivating more horizontal engagement among members.
- Including materials around power and developing inclusive community in our regular precepts classes.
- Carrying on the core programming of our sangha—monthly zazenkai, residential retreat 1–2 times a year, and our diverse offerings of regular and special programming.
We do not claim to be operating perfectly. We are still learning and making myriad mistakes and are open to learning how to do better.
Published June 12, 2022