The Three Treasures
I vow to be one with the Buddha
I vow to be one with the Dharma
I vow to be one with the sangha
The Three Pure Precepts
I vow to cease from evil
I vow to do good
I vow to do good for others
The Ten Grave Precepts
I vow to take up the way of not killing
I vow to take up the way of not stealing
I vow to take up the way of not misusing sex
I vow to take up the way of not telling lies
I vow to take up the way of not clouding the mind
I vow to take up the way of not talking about others’ errors or faults
I vow to take up the way of not elevating myself and blaming others
I vow to take up the way of not being stingy
I vow to take up the way of not being angry
I vow to take up the way of not speaking ill of the three treasures
And an Eleventh
I vow to take up the way of loving-kindness and non-violence.
These precepts form the heart of our life as a sangha. Together, we commit to aligning our lives with these precepts and to using them as a compass for wise, compassionate action. At the same time, we acknowledge that we are human and so contain within our hearts all the possibilities of being human. Because humans are fallible, some things that happen within our sangha may be a cause for concern. In the course of daily sangha interactions, disagreements, conflicts, misunderstandings, and even potentially unethical behavior will occur.
All students at Treetop have a right to be treated with dignity and respect and to be free from physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse — whether from teachers or from fellow sangha members. In many cases, however, sharp ethical lines may not be apparent. As a community whose goal is to practice wisdom and compassion, we commit ourselves to examining such issues with courage, integrity, and humility.
In keeping with the precept that exhorts us not to praise oneself and blame others, our practice requires us to try to see the good in everyone, no matter how problematic their actions may be. All parties involved in any conflict are advised to keep this perspective in the forefront of their minds.
When someone has a concern about the action of a person associated with Treetop — whether that person is a teacher, a senior student, or another sangha member — the simplest solution is often to approach the person involved to discuss the matter in an honest, direct, and mutually respectful manner. While we strongly encourage this as a first step, we also recognize that doing so may not always feel comfortable or safe. In such cases, the grievance procedure can smooth the way toward reconciliation.
As the head of training at Treetop, the shuso is the person designated to hear grievances from Treetop students. If there is no acting shuso, or if the student’s grievance is with the shuso, the student may take his or her concern to another senior student (as designated by a brown rakusu). Depending on the nature and severity of the complaint, the shuso will decide whether to handle the situation directly, set up a mediated discussion between the parties involved, or pass the concern on to the board of directors. However, any allegations of physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse against a teacher or senior student must go directly to the board of directors.
At this time, due to the size of the sangha, the board of directors will arbitrate any conduct or interpersonal issues that cannot be mediated by the shuso or another senior student. As the sangha grows, the board of directors may choose to appoint a separate committee for this purpose.
Once a concern has been forwarded to the board of directors or its proxy committee, any number of outcomes is possible. While healing and reconciliation is the goal, we acknowledge that all parties in a dispute cannot always be satisfied. Among the many possible responses to a grievance, the board may declare that the concern is unfounded, engage in continued attempts at a mediated resolution, or recommend a course of disciplinary action against the offending party. The board should approach all conflicts from a place of not knowing, seek to bear witness, act from wisdom and compassion, and carefully weigh the impact of any decision on each of the three treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and sangha.
If the concern involves a teacher, and if there is more than one teacher in the organization, the board should attempt to include another teacher or teachers in its decision-making process.
Though our practice is to see the perfection in everyone and not to dismiss any individual outright, we also recognize that certain behavioral patterns, if not addressed, can serve to sow disharmony within the sangha, violate the bond of trust between sangha members, and/or create an unsafe environment for practice. In such cases, any individual who is unwilling or unable to take responsibility for and correct harmful or divisive actions may be asked to leave Treetop property immediately. Treetop’s teachers reserve the right to exclude an individual from the sangha and to prohibit him or her from participating in some or all Treetop-related activities for any specified period of time in the event that the teacher believes the student in question is severely compromising the safety of the sangha or the functioning of a retreat. Students who have been expelled from the sangha (whether by the teacher or the board of directors) retain the right to initiate the grievance procedure outlined above.
Conflict During Sesshin
By design, sesshins often bring up uncomfortable emotions while giving practitioners a context in which to sit with and deal with them when they arise. Within that framework, curative mechanisms can serve to become a distraction or a way to avoid doing personal work, whether within the context of Zen or in therapy. A sesshin at which there is no tension, friction, or discomfort is not truly a sesshin. Zen practice that doesn’t push our buttons is not truly Zen.
To prevent creating unnecessary distractions during sesshins, all interpersonal matters that cannot be quickly and readily resolved by the shuso or another senior student will be handled by the board of directors or its proxy committee after the retreat has ended. The complainant has the option of completing the retreat or leaving, with the assurance that the matter will receive prompt attention once the retreat is over.
Zen is a life-affirming practice intended to support and sustain our lives outside the zendo. Sexuality is a natural part of life, and as a non-celibate sangha, we view sexual intimacy as something to be cherished and enjoyed. At the same time, we recognize that the misuse of sexuality has the potential to cause immense harm — not just to individuals but also to institutions and to the three treasures.
Because sexual misconduct has become a source of harm and discord within the American Zen community at large, many Zen sanghas have opted to forbid all romantic and sexual relationships between teachers and students. However, we also recognize that there have been many healthy, mutually supportive romantic relationships between teachers and students, including within our own lineage. As such, we do not view it as beneficial to force teachers and students to choose between practicing together and sharing a loving relationship, if such a relationship is desired by both parties.
We believe that openness and transparency are important tools in navigating the vast gray areas that exist in the landscape of human sexuality, offering a middle way between legislating personal relationships on one hand and turning a blind eye to the potential for harmful actions resulting from the real or perceived power differential between teacher and student on the other.
Any teacher who wishes to pursue a mutually desired romantic relationship with a member of the sangha should inform the board of directors of this intention as soon as possible and seek guidance as to the most skillful way to proceed. The board and the teacher may then discuss creating safeguards to protect the teacher, the student, and the rest of the sangha. For instance, the board may recommend that the student work primarily with another teacher in the organization, if one is available. Though the teacher and his or her romantic partner have a reasonable right to privacy, the teacher should also recognize the importance of openness and honesty with the sangha as a means of preventing dissension.
While it is not possible to outline every behavior that might constitute a misuse of sexuality, the following behaviors are never appropriate within the context of practice:
- Sexual relations or sexualized language or displays during daisan or in the zendo
- Sexual advances — unwelcome or otherwise — by a teacher toward a student in the zendo or another practice space
- Unwelcome sexual advances by a teacher toward a student in any setting
- Continued romantic propositioning by a teacher toward a student (even if not expressly sexual in nature) after the student has declined such propositions in the past
- Using sexual favors or romantic involvements as selection criteria for rites of passage within the sangha, including but not limited to shuso, denkai, or dharma transmission
Any teacher found to have engaged in any of these behaviors will be disciplined by the board in a manner befitting the severity and scope of the offense. Potential courses of action may include mandated counseling and/or a temporary suspension from teaching duties.
Extreme or repeated behavior of a sexually predatory nature will result in dismissal from all leadership roles within the organization and — depending on the perceived level of threat to Treetop and its students — revocation of any contracts guaranteeing access to housing at the Zen center or any of its properties.
Because a deep insight into one’s true nature provides no escape from the realities of sickness, old age, and death, we recognize that even Zen teachers are subject to frailties of body and mind. Given this, we know that it is entirely possible that any beloved and respected teacher in our organization may someday become unfit to teach. While we strive to always honor our teachers and to show gratitude for their compassion in showing us the way, we must also be vigilant in protecting the treasure of the Dharma.
Any Treetop student who believes that a teacher is suffering from diminished mental capacity to the point that it is affecting his or her teaching should bring that concern to the board of directors. The board must then examine the evidence presented as well as any of their own observations and vote, by simple majority, on whether to require the teacher to undergo a cognitive assessment by a licensed neuropsychiatrist, psychiatrist, neuropsychologist, or psychologist.
In making its determination, the board should consider any signs that the teacher might be suffering from cognitive impairment as demonstrated by a marked change in his or her ability to perform duties and to express the Dharma. It is important to note that some degree of forgetfulness is normal. Rather than scrutinizing individual incidents, the board should look for an overall pattern that suggests an ongoing problem.
The most important concern is the teacher’s presentation of the Dharma. For this reason, if at all possible, the board should try to include at least one other teacher from the organization in its decision-making process. If there are no other teachers available within the organization, the board may wish to appeal to either the White Plum Asanga or to other Zen teachers in New England for guidance.
If the board determines that the teacher must undergo an assessment, the teacher must also consent to having a board member present to explain the sangha’s concerns to the evaluator.
If a teacher is found to have significant cognitive impairment, the board must then require the teacher to step down from his or her position of leadership within the sangha.
A teacher who is removed due to mental incapacity will still be entitled to continued access to housing at Treetop Zen Center or another of its properties for as long as he or she can safely live independently. The teacher may also retain his or her seat of honor in the zendo. However, the teacher may no longer work with students in daisan and may give dharma talks only if approved by another teacher within the organization. The teacher may no longer make decisions about practice within the organization that would normally be a teacher’s privilege to make.
If no other teacher is available within the organization to take over teaching responsibilities, the board must begin the process of finding another teacher to guide the sangha.