The primary principle guiding all sangha relationships should be to help each other. When relating to others in the sangha we must be very attuned to how our actions will affect them. The first Great Vow states our intention to help save all sentient beings. This vow can help guide our sangha relations.
The sangha must be free of all sexual harassment. No means no; use it mindfully and hear it clearly. Touching should be mutually agreed upon. If someone asks not to be touched, respect their wishes. If someone rejects even your most gentle advances, be mindful and heed their wishes. Open and honest communication is the best way to avoid misunderstandings. Listen as if you are hearing the Buddha’s voice, speak with the Buddha’s tongue.
Those in the Sangha who hold positions in the hierarchy, senior students as well as teachers and monks have a special obligation to be very mindful of the potential misuse of power, money, alcohol, controlled substances and sex. Using your position to fulfill your desires is not correct relationship and is an abuse of power.
Teachers’ Special Responsibilities: Teachers in our school have a special responsibility to take into account the welfare of students. A teacher must always ask her/himself how any action will affect the student in the long run. The recent history of Buddhist organizations in America shows very clearly that sexual relationships between teachers and students can lead to great pain and disharmony within the sangha. On the other hand, many teachers have entered into loving, long-term relationships with someone who was their student. Therefore there is no easy rule to guide these relationships. The sangha does have the right to expect that our teachers will act within the highest standards of care and mindfulness. The Third Precept is “I vow to abstain from misconduct done in lust.” Lust can be defined as a self-centered action which is “for me” and doesn’t take into account the needs of another. If a teacher’s relationship with a student becomes sexualized, two steps are strongly recommended: 1. There should be a 3 to 6 month suspension of the teacher/student relationship, and 2. The teacher should choose another teacher in the sangha in order to discuss the relationship and receive guidance from her/him. In this way the relationship will be witnessed by another teacher who can hold the perspective of caring for the student, the teacher, and the entire sangha.
Grievance Procedure: If someone has a grievance involving another sangha member it is best for this grievance to be solved by the parties involved. If this does not prove possible, then the Guiding Teacher of the local Zen Center should mediate. If the Guiding Teacher is not in a position to impartially mediate then the grievance should go to the School Vice Zen Master. If the School Vice Zen Master can successfully solve the problem (all parties are satisfied) then the situation is complete. If not, the grievance will go to the School Grievance Committee. This committee will be chaired by a teacher chosen by the teachers’ group. It will include at least two other people, be of mixed gender, and include at least one non-teacher. If the ethics complaint involves a member of the teachers’ group who is a monk or nun, than the directors of the Kwan Um Soen Rim will name a monastic to be added to the ethics committee for the consideration of that matter. This group will hear from all sides and attempt to mediate the grievance. If no successful mediation is possible, then this committee is charged with recommending a course of action to the School Zen Master. This action can range from a suggested apology to the other parties, apologies to the sangha at large, a repentance ritual, censure, or in the most heinous cases, expulsion. It is hoped that the aggrieving party will see his or her mistake and apologize.
There is no way, in a sangha of human beings, that misunderstandings and misdeeds will not occur. We are all on the Buddha Way and look to the Dharma for direction. Even in the Buddha’s time it was necessary to deal with difficult situations as they arose. We must all be mindful of the impact of our actions. Greed, anger, and delusion can lead the sangha to ruin. Be careful; love those younger than you, respect those older than you. With wisdom and compassion the sangha can find its way.