. Practicing with Difficulty in the Sangha
The Ethical Guidelines
of the Red Cedar Zen Community
Being aware of our actions in body, speech, and mind.
All visitors, members, and participants in Red Cedar Zen Community events agree to abide by the following Ethical Guidelines of our community. These guidelines encourage us to become more aware, to learn about our minds, and to open our hearts to kindness and generosity. If you experience difficulty in following any of these guidelines, or if you feel that others are not following them, please seek guidance and support from a teacher, board member, or Sangha Steward
Clear Communication Process, the second document in this series on ethics, is a guide to working with interpersonal challenges. It gives specific suggestions for self-inquiry and skillful means in exploring a conflict and approaching the person with whom you disagree, and, finally, ways to reconcile and plan for future interactions.
These ethical guidelines are based on the Bodhisattva Precepts of Zen Buddhism. More information on the Precepts is available in the third document in this series, Resources for Communication and Ethical Conduct. This document also includes Norman Fischer’s suggestions for “Listening Deeply” and a further explanation of mindful communication techniques. Finally, it contains a resource list of books relating to communication, conflict, and the Zen precepts.
Clear Mind Precept 1. I vow to protect life, not to kill.
Sangha guidelines. Do not bring weapons to the Dharma Hall; do not threaten others; do not kill the spirit of our sangha’s goal to offer a safe place for spiritual practice with derogatory speech in person, in email, or with body language.
Teacher guidelines. Be aware of the power of position and do not misuse status or authority to achieve special consideration or to diminish or manipulate others.
Note: Sangha teachers are expected to follow both Sangha and Teacher guidelines listed.
Clear Mind Precept 2. I vow to receive gifts, not to steal.
Sangha guidelines. Do not take or borrow sangha resources or materials for personal use without checking with a Board member or the Spiritual Director; do not manipulate or influence others for your own gain; practice generosity with time, money, and personal energy as much as you can, but do not pressure others to give.
Teacher guidelines. Do not assume any special status regarding access to sangha resources; practice seeing and appreciating the depth and richness of our opportunity to practice together.
Clear Mind Precept 3. I vow to respects others, not to misuse sexuality.
Sangha guidelines. Practice awareness of how words and gestures can have a sexual connotation for others; practice clear communication if you feel inappropriately addressed in a sexual way, seeking support as needed; do not engage in sexual activity of any kind at sangha retreats and events or at Red Cedar Dharma Hall at any time.
Teacher guidelines. Do not initiate sexual contact with any sangha member you are in a teacher-student relationship with; do not use the authority of position to influence the sexual feelings of any sangha member toward you or toward others.
Clear Mind Precept 4. I vow to be truthful, not to lie.
Sangha guidelines. Do not mislead others in the sangha by what is said or what is withheld; when communicating with others, consider the adage “Is it true? Is it the right time? Is it helpful?” If you are unsure of the truthfulness of your own view or another’s, ask questions.
Teacher guidelines. Remember the weight of your words, actions, and body language, and practice gentleness and truthfulness; hold confidences from practice discussion/dokusan very carefully, making absolutely sure that you ask the student for permission if there is a need to consult with other teachers in a way that involves sharing a confidence.
Clear Mind Precept 5. I vow to maintain clarity, not to intoxicate self or others.
Sangha guidelines. Study the many ways the mind can be intoxicated by substances, views, power, and passionate ideas. Be aware that harm comes easily when there is intoxication of any kind. In particular, never attend any sangha event or enter the Dharma Hall having used any intoxicant, even a moderate amount, unless you have arranged a meeting with a teacher to seek help. Understand that addictive impulses and behaviors are a powerful and important opportunity for study and practice.
Teacher guidelines. Remember the responsibility to model honest and skillful approaches to addictive impulses; be honest with students requesting support outside of regular practice times – if you have used intoxicants, call them back later.
Clear Mind Precept 6. I vow to speak kindly, not to speak ill of others.
Sangha guidelines. Study your communication and recognize how easily it is to denigrate others, especially with joking or careless talk; consider saying less about others and seeking a positive quality to focus on. It is not our job as sangha members to point out the faults of others; seek help from teachers and friends when judgmental thoughts dominate the mind, and see this as an opportunity for practice.
Teacher guidelines. A teacher’s job is to support others in understanding their karmic tendencies, not to straighten them out. Be very careful of the use of criticism; see also dokusan/practice discussion guidelines around confidentiality (4th precept).
Clear Mind Precept 7. I vow to maintain modesty, not to praise self at the expense of others.
Sangha guidelines. Seek opportunities to offer support to others and study your own needs. We all need love and support, but how easily it turns to praise seeking or self-aggrandizement; study the needy mind and be aware of what you are trying to “get” from sangha life. And don’t hesitate to ask for support.
Teacher guidelines. Remember that being a Zen teacher does not make you special in any way; use the power of position to remind the sangha our shared awakened nature and never indulge in the idea that you know something others don’t.
Clear Mind Precept 8. I vow to be generous, not to be possessive of anything.
Sangha guidelines. Study desire and greed in the mind as a natural part of our practice; educate yourself about sangha decision-making bodies and participate in sangha volunteer life as your circumstances allow; practice gratitude and recognize that the work of many beings that makes our practice center possible.
Teacher guidelines. Don’t be possessive or obscure about the use of power in the sangha: practice accountability and transparency when in a decision-making leadership role; also take the time to explain to others the parameters of the role you are holding (which “hat” you are wearing).
Clear Mind Precept 9. I vow to be loving, not to harbor ill will.
Sangha guidelines. Study anger and ill-will in the mind as a natural part of practice; learn about and consider using the Clear Communication guidelines when heat arises for you in sangha life.
Teacher guidelines. Recognize the incredible power of anger, studying it in yourself and seeking support when it clouds your vision in sangha life.
Clear Mind Precept 10. I vow to cherish and polish the Three Treasures.
Sangha guidelines. When feeling discouraged by Zen or Buddhist teachings, or our sangha’s way of expressing those teachings, find constructive ways to express concerns and be careful of the toxicity of complaint. Investigate discouragement and doubt as a further opportunity for study.
Teacher guidelines. As teachers this precept is central to every action in our lives inside and outside of the Dharma Hall. All we do should be an expression of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Continue to study the Buddha nature of yourself and all things, continue to study the Dharma teachings, continue to study the rich unfolding of sangha life and your place in it.
Practicing with Difficulty in the Sangha
Clear Communication Process
Being together, and seeing together, the truths of our differences.
In the context of practice, differences can be opportunities to explore our minds and hearts and to develop ways to communicate clearly. Working together in our practice and volunteer roles, we usually find that our interactions are positive and beneficial, but sometimes we discover that we have opposing needs or goals. When this happens, the frustration we can feel may lead to misunderstanding, even to feeling affronted or threatened. We may react defensively or angrily without understanding why we are upset. A conflict ensues.
Conflict is felt internally, but we can believe it is caused entirely by something or someone external to us. However, although an event or action has triggered a negative reaction in us, it has not actually caused our reaction. Because we so closely associate our feeling with what triggered it, we can mistakenly believe that the other person is solely responsible. Depending on our own personal history and experiences, our egos can be aroused and lead us to believe we are not safe, not welcome, not important, not loved. When these fears occur, it is important for us to look deeply at ourselves, to understand what causes and conditions we bring to the situation. Buddhist teachings are very helpful here.
In the context of sangha, we can use miscommunication or conflict as an opportunity to examine our needs and how better to fulfill them. Talking honestly and listening deeply to each other allows us to grow in wisdom and compassion. We can come to understand why we have reacted as we have. We can learn about the needs and reactions of others. With the new awareness we find together, we can better support each other, strengthening our individual practice as well as deepening our trust in sangha.
The tools and models offered here for resolving differences are skillful means to help us take disagreements seriously, but also with some lightness. Following is an outline of suggested steps to take when conflict arises and we feel the need to explore a situation.
2. Self-Inquiry. To determine what you want to do about the conflict, ask yourself:
3. Help for Further Self-Exploration. If you would like help in understanding your reactions and feelings, you can speak with:
4. Choosing to Reconcile with Another. To ensure a positive experience and outcome from a conflict resolution meeting, it is important to approach the other person as a dharma friend. In order to foster a willingness to learn together:
Part B. Exploring the Conflict: Meeting Together
1. Stating the Actual. The first task is to express and understand the facts of the situation so that everyone starts from the same place.
Because we don’t really know the causes and conditions of another person’s behavior, in order to resolve a disagreement, we must first state and review all the facts. Only then can we begin to develop a solution together. Follow these steps to begin the communication process:
The Sangha Steward can coach the parties individually before the meeting to help them prepare I-statements. Or he/she can also coach them during the meeting if needed. The Steward can also coach them in “Dipping” and “Looping” techniques (see Resources for Communication and Ethical Conduct for a description of this process).
2. Listening Deeply. While each person is stating what they believe is the actual and their feelings about it, the other person is “Listening Deeply,” which allows a situation to unfold in affection and mutual respect. To listen deeply:
3. Restating What You Heard. To avoid making assumptions, interpretations, and judgments about what was said, it is important to check that each person has correctly heard what the other has said:
Take the time needed for this step, as it becomes the first instance of agreement between the two people, laying the foundation for change. Also, be prepared for the possibility that you won’t agree right away and that you may need to meet more than once.
4. Reconciliation and Action Planning. Having discovered and acknowledged how each person has contributed to the disagreement, each person can share any further reflections, as appropriate and desired:
Practicing with Difficulty in the Sangha
Resources for Communication and Ethical Conduct
The path of mercy for all existence and things
Our Ethical Guidelines are based on the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts of Soto Zen. This section gives some background information on the Precepts. Precept study is a recommend part of Soto Zen training. Studying the precepts is not, however, a requirement of membership in RCZC or a condition for attending our center or events. All who follow our Ethical Guidelines are welcome to practice with us, regardless of their relationship to the precepts or other Zen Buddhist teachings.
Note that the Bodhisattva precepts were expressed very simply in the negative case in the original Chinese and Japanese. For example the first precept is simply the characters for “no” and for “killing.” Do not kill. As we have studied the precepts in English in our cultural context, translations have been made which include the affirming, positive, side of each precept. “I vow to protect life, not to kill,” for example.
What follows are both the most recent suggestion from our Guiding Teacher, Zoketsu Norman Fischer (the first line of each pair, marked “EDZ”) and the current translation in use at San Francisco Zen Center (the second line of each pair, marked “SFZC”). See the precepts sources in the references and look online for additional translations.
We take refuge in Buddha.
In taking refuge in Buddha, we acknowledge the Buddha Nature of all beings. We recognize that everyone is equally the expression of Buddha Nature: the possibility to awaken. Our Ethical Guidelines and our suggested Clear Communication process calls on us to see all parties involved as Buddha as best we can.
We take refuge in Dharma.
In taking refuge in Dharma, we acknowledge the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva’s life. It is through this Dharma that we embody, express and make accessible the teachings the Buddha as conveyed to us through the lineage of the Soto Zen School by lineage founder Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, guiding teacher Zoketsu Norman Fischer and other teachers. Realizing that our understanding and practice of Buddhism is of many sources, we acknowledge and respect all expressions of the Dharma.
We take refuge in Sangha.
In taking refuge in Sangha, we acknowledge the central role of sangha life to our practice. We aspire to create an inclusive environment for everyone's engagement in the Bodhisattva Way. When our diversity appears to separate us, our practice is to recognize, understand, and appreciate our differences. In so doing, we affirm and respect our differences and similarities in gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political belief, and physical abilities and appearances.
In creating an inclusive sangha, it is essential that we encourage open, ongoing communication among all sangha members, and that ethical concerns, communications challenges, and conflicts that arise are fully heard and addressed by the Red Cedar Zen Community in an appropriate forum. To facilitate this, RCZC members are encouraged to study fundamental teachings of Buddhism and Zen, to understand the organizational structure or our sangha, and to take responsibility for their own actions of body, speech, and mind by studying the precepts.
The Three Pure Precepts are the aspiration of every bodhisattva. Reminding ourselves of these three fundamental tenants whenever we consider a course of action is crucial.
I vow to avoid harmful conduct.
To avoid harmful conduct means to refrain from causing harm to oneself, to others, to animals, to plants, to the Earth, to the waters and to the air. To practice this precept commits us to a life of learning more about the interconnections between all things. Much harmful conduct is inadvertent. When mistakes are made we commit to responding whether by feeling our regret, apology, confession, or atonement.
I vow to do beneficial conduct.
To do beneficial conduct means to act from the loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity of our awakened nature. This precept commits us to understanding the incredible power of our actions of thought, word, and deed for the good.
I vow to live for and with all beings.
To live for and with all beings expresses opportunity to discover and express the awakened nature of all being. In creating this opportunity we recognize the importance of maintaining a balance between an individual's negotiation of the Way and the sangha’s collective needs. When there is a perceived conflict between these, the process of open communication and clarification is a practice of "saving all beings."
The Ten Clear Mind Precepts show a way to express Buddha Nature in our relations with each other. They provide the basis for our specific guidelines for wise and skillful behavior. Here are a few comments on each precept that highlight their practice in sangha life.
1. I vow to protect life, not to kill (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not kill but rather cultivates and encourages life (SFZC).
This precept expresses our intent to live compassionately and harmlessly. When understood in its broadest context, not killing means not harming, especially not harming the body or psyche of another. Physical violence and abusive behavior (including physical threats, extreme displays of anger, and maliciousness) are "killing." In cultivating life, we seek opportunities each moment to encourage light and growth. We also acknowledge our role, directly or in complicity with others, in the killing of other forms of life. Realistically and humbly, we acknowledge that there is no living without killing and that difficult choices must be made. This precept encourages us to choose wisely, nurture life, and reduce harm. In Sangha life this precept includes a careful look at power relations and institutional structures.
2. I vow to receive gifts, not to steal (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not take what is not given but rather cultivates and encourages generosity (SFZC).
This precept expresses our commitment to cultivate a generous heart. At a personal level, greedy behavior harms the person who steals; on a community level, stealing harms the opportunity and the environment for Zen practice. Those who handle sangha funds or other assets have a special responsibility to take care of them and avoid their misuse or misappropriation. We recognize that the misuse of authority and status is a form of taking what is not given. Within the complex life of the sangha, hierarchical levels of authority and seniority play a helpful role in some situations and not in others.
3. I vow to respect others, not to misuse sexuality (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not misuse sexuality but rather cultivates and encourages open and honest relationships. (SFZC)
Sexuality is as much a part of the field of practice as any other aspect of our daily lives. Acknowledging and honoring our sexuality is part of creating an environment where conscious, mindful and compassionate relationships can be cultivated. Special care must be taken when people of unequal status or authority enter into a sexual relationship. Everyone coming to practice at Red Cedar Zen Community in any capacity has the right to be free from sexual harassment. Expression of sexual interest after being informed that such interest is unwelcome is misuse of sexuality. Remember that signals of sexuality are easily misinterpreted. Communication is all the more important here. “What did you mean by that?” may be an essential tool.
4. I vow to be truthful, not to lie (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not lie but rather cultivates and encourages truthful communication (SFZC).
The precept “not to lie” is particularly important for community life. While ethical transgressions can involve any of the precepts, deceit is often involved. Lying to oneself, to another, or to one's community obscures the nature of reality and hinders the intention of bodhisattva practice. Within our community life, lying can also entail the deliberate withholding of information. Open and direct communication is essential in our work and practice together. We are each entitled to straightforward, complete information when we request feedback regarding our behavior, standing, or performance within the community.
5. I vow to maintain clarity, not to intoxicate self or other (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not intoxicate self or others but rather cultivates and encourages clarity (SFZC).
Bodhisattva practice occurs within the context of a clear mind that is not conditioned by intoxicants of any sort. When clarity is lost it is all too easy to break the other precepts. It is our intention that the center to be an environment that supports those who are attempting to live without intoxicants. The sangha is encouraged to educate themselves about skillful ways of helping themselves and others in the face of addiction.
6. I vow to speak kindly, not to speak ill of others (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not slander others but rather cultivates and encourages respectful speech (SFZC).
This precept arises from a bodhisattva's efforts to build social harmony and understanding. False, malicious, or thoughtless statements about others are acts of separation and division. Where intention to slander does arise, the effort to understand its roots is a wise expression of this precept.
7. I vow to maintain modesty, not to praise self at the expense of others (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not praise self at the expense of others but rather cultivates and encourages self and others to abide in their awakened nature (SFZC).
While rejoicing in one's wholesome qualities and deeds is a time-honored Buddhist practice, praising oneself or seeking personal gain at the expense of others arises out of a misunderstanding of the interdependent nature of self. Within sangha life it is sometimes necessary to offer feedback to individuals or groups, but this should be done with great care and a supportive spirit. In considering the human need for support, be aware of praise-seeking and remember the Lojong mind-training slogan “Don’t expect applause.”
8. I vow to be generous, not to be possessive of anything (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha is not possessive of anything but rather encourages mutual support (SFZC).
Red Cedar Zen Community has both physical and human assets, which support everyone’s practice of awakening. Neither the resources of the sangha nor any position within it are the possession of any one person. In the spirit of non-possessiveness, decision-making bodies at Red Cedar Zen should make decisions cooperatively and in an accountable manner, and with a wholehearted effort to consider various points of view. Our finances, decision-making structure, and minutes of major decision-making bodies should be made available in an accessible and understandable form.
9. I vow to be loving, not to harbor ill will (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not harbor ill-will but rather cultivates loving kindness and understanding (SFZC).
Anger and strong emotion are natural, but the harboring of ill-will is a poison in individuals and for the community. Even more corrosive is the harboring of ideas of revenge. Sangha members having conflicts or tensions with others or with decision-making bodies should attempt to explore and, if possible, resolve them in the spirit of honesty, humility, and loving kindness.
10. I vow to cherish and polish the Three Treasures (EDZ).
A disciple of Buddha does not abuse the Three Treasures but rather cultivates and encourages awakening, the path and teaching of awakening the community that takes refuge in awakening (SFZC).
The Three Treasures are inseparable from one another: awakening informs our practice and our community life, practice informs community life and our awakening, and our community life informs our awakening and our practice. To abuse any one of the treasures harms the other two. We acknowledge our transgressions, seek reconciliation, and renew our commitment to the precepts as the working of buddha nature.
Listen with full presence and with as few preconceptions or desires as possible.
Listening takes radical openness to another and radical openness requires surrender.
Listening is magic: it turns a person from an object outside, opaque or dimly threatening, into an intimate experience, and therefore into a friend. In this way, listening softens and transforms the listener.
Listening requires fearless self confidence that is not egotism. It is . . . faith in yourself . . . to learn something completely new.
To listen is to shed, as much as possible, all of our protective mechanisms.
Simply be present with what you hear without trying to figure it out or control it.
To listen is to be radically receptive to others.
You are aware of all your preconceptions, desires, and delusions, all that prevent you from listening.
Listening is dangerous. It might cause you to hear something you don’t like, to consider its validity, and therefore to think something you never thought before, or to feel something you never felt before, and perhaps never wanted to feel. Such change in ourselves . . . is the risk of listening, and this is why it is automatic for us not to want to listen.
To really listen is to accord respect. Without respect no human relationships can function normally.
So much of what we actually feel and think is unacceptable to us. We have been conditioned over a lifetime to simply not hear all of our own self-pity, anger, desire, jealousy . . . our “adult response” is no more than our unconscious decision not to listen to what goes on inside us.
From Taking our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up (HarperOne, 2004)
Dipping and Looping: A Mindful Communication Technique
Mindful listening is giving your full moment-to-moment attention to another person with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time your attention wanders away, gently bringing it back.
Looping is checking back with the person to see if they have listened and understood the other person correctly. Looping is a collaborative project in which both people work together to help the listener fully understand the speaker.
Dipping is checking in with ourselves. We do not listen to others because we get distracted by our own feelings and internal chatter, often in reaction to what the other person said. Just notice and acknowledge them. Know that they are there, try not to judge them, and let them go if they are willing to go. If feelings or other internal distracters decide to stay around, let them be and just be aware of how they may affect your listening. You can think of dipping as self-directed mindfulness during listening. Dipping is also useful when we speak. We can see what feelings arise as we speak. We may talk about them, or if we prefer, simply acknowledge them, try not to judge them, and let them go if they are willing to go.
So we listen and dip, and then loop. Listen, dip and loop. To listen and dip at the same time, we need to develop a skill which is similar to central and peripheral vision. Focus on the listening (central vision) and be aware of your feelings and internal chatter (peripheral vision).
From webpage, The Tao of Wealth – www.thetaoofwealth.wordpress.com
Books on Sangha, Communication, and Conflict Resolution
Books on the Zen Precepts
Handouts / Local Documents
Please direct comments on these documents to the Board of Directors,
a Sangha Steward, or the Spiritual Director.