Code of Ethical Conduct for ZLMC Teachers and Instructors

The Zen Life and Meditation Center (ZLMC) includes both trained Zen Teachers and Instructors in carrying out its mission of empowering individuals to live Zen-inspired lives of openness, empathy, and clarity.  ZLMC Teachers are fully empowered Zen Teachers (Roshi or Sensei) and are authorized to teach ZLMC classes and accept students for one-one-one dharma teachings, private interviews, spiritual counseling, and priestly functions.  ZLMC Instructors includes, a) Zen-Life Instructors who have been trained by the ZLMC to present the ZLMC training curricula, and b) other Instructors who lead workshops or seminars from time-to-time.  Instructors are not empowered to work with students in a teacher-student training/mentoring basis nor to conduct private interviews or provide spiritual counseling to students or members. 

Code of Ethical Conduct

We who have been trained as Zen Teachers and Instructors respect the responsibilities of leadership that come with our respective roles within our Sangha. We recognize that we are the recipients of the Sangha’s trust and receive the role of Teacher or Instructor as a deepening of our own personal practice and as service to the Dharma and the ZLMC Sangha.  We are committed to supporting the practice and awakening of others through teaching and our own practice.  We are committed to honoring the trust of the Sangha, to honoring the essential nature of the Teacher/Student or Instructor/Student relationship, and to honoring the importance of that relationship in the teaching of the ZLMC curriculum.   

We agree to strive to adhere to this Code of Ethical Conduct; a code based on principles of trust, integrity, justice, respect and accountability, in order to nurture an atmosphere supportive of the practice living a Zen-inspired life.

We affirm that as Teachers and Instructors, both we and the individuals who constitute our Sangha have primary responsibility to assure that sound ethical principles inform all aspects of practice life.

  1. Confidentiality. The relationship between Teacher/Student and Instructor/Student may involve the sharing of sensitive personal information. Respect for the Student and for the relationship requires that Teachers and Instructors maintain such information in confidence. There may be occasions when, for the well-being of specific individuals and of the Sangha, Teachers or Instructors may need to consult with other Teachers or Instructors concerning such confidences. On such occasions, Teachers and Instructors should strive to assure that such consultations are maintained in confidence. All information will remain confidential except of any disclosure mandated by law, or in cases of specific threat to health or safety. 
  2. Skillful Speech. Mutual respect is foundational for an environment supportive of sound practice. Such respect is manifested when Sangha members treat others with dignity and engage others truthfully and compassionately with a positive intention. Sangha harmony is promoted when the Teachers and Instructors model, and all members observe, the clear mind precepts regarding skillful speech: refraining from lies, self-serving talk, slander, angry or abusive speech, and apportioning blame.
  3. Humility. Occupying the role of Teacher or Instructor can subtly undermine a healthy sense of humility. In turn, a lack of humility can impair one’s ability to recognize and live into the fullness of the responsibilities of being a Teacher or Instructor. For that reason, Teachers and Instructors have an obligation to engage in self-monitoring and self-care with the objective of being fully self-aware in all situations.  Teachers and Instructors are encouraged to balance their teaching role with grounding in regular practice and study of the Dharma, leisure, engagement in personal responsibilities, and the establishment of a relationship with another Teacher with whom they can discuss and reflect on their work as Teachers or Instructors.
  4. Boundaries. Teachers and Instructors should not violate trust or use power and/or position for personal gain or self-satisfaction. Teachers and Instructors should be especially aware of the potential for subtle abuse of power that may arise in relation to their positions as Teacher or Instructor and to take care to stay connected to the quality of humility and appropriate boundaries. The ultimate responsibility for maintaining appropriate and clear boundaries between Teacher/Student and Instructor/Student always rests with the Teacher or Instructor. When a Teacher or Instructor is asked to act in a capacity that calls for competencies beyond the Teacher’s or Instructor’s expertise, he/she should suggest that the Student explore professional support such as mental health professionals, medical professionals, and legal professionals.  
  5. Sangha Code of Ethical Conduct. Teachers and Instructors will make Students aware of this Code of Ethical Conduct and the related Grievance Policy.  
  6. Financial Responsibility. Teachers and Instructors remain mindful that all of the ZLMC funds belong to the Center and the whole Sangha, and acknowledge their responsibility to be scrupulously honest with the Center’s funds and resources.  
  7. Gifts. From time to time, Students may wish to offer gifts as an expression of gratitude for a Teacher’s or Instructor’s training and teaching.  In order to avoid any undue influence that a gift might have on the Teacher/Student or Instructor/Student relationship, all gifts over a token amount will be considered gifts to the Center itself rather than to any particular Teacher or Instructor. 
  8. Conflicts or Grievances with Teachers. Teachers and Instructors agree to support each Student’s effort to awaken by behaving in a way that nurtures and does not cause harm.  Students who have a complaint or grievance related to a Teacher/Instructor should follow the Center’s Grievance Policy. 
  9. Accountability and Governance. Maintaining the well-being of the Sangha is the mutual responsibility of all members and requires active participation in governance by members. Teachers and Instructors will support the Sangha’s chosen governance structure and will act to further the goals of accountability and transparency in all areas, including finances, decision-making, and consideration of grievances, including allegations of ethical misconduct.
  10. Transparency. Transparency is crucial to maintain balance and harmony within the Sangha. Teachers and Instructors will be alert to potential conflicts of interest with Students and other members of the Sangha and will act so as to avoid them, and any material conflicts of interest will be disclosed to Sangha leadership) immediately.

Additional Elements of the Code of Ethical Conduct for Teachers

  1. Dual Relationships. For the purposes of this policy, a dual relationship exists when a Teacher engages with his or her Student in one or more additional relationships.  These include, without limitation, relationships of employer/employee (outside the Center), counselor/counselee, and romantic/sexual relationships.  Although some dual relationships may be appropriate, dual relationships generally involve a disparity of power and authority, and can carry potentially serious risks for the student.  Such risks may include the violation of personal boundaries, increased emotional and psychological vulnerability, exploitation in various forms, loss of autonomy, and confusion of roles.  In addition, certain dual relationships can undermine the Teacher/Student relationship and the value of the Student’s training.  Accordingly, such dual relationships are, to the extent practicable, to be avoided or, at the least, undertaken with serious consideration as to the best interests of the Student, and in all cases should be disclosed to the Sangha leadership (i.e., Board of Directors).  While each of the parties may have some responsibility for the dual relationship, the Teacher, as the more powerful party, bears the primary responsibility for the protection of the Student through avoiding such relationships or keeping them within appropriate bounds. 

    a. Volunteerism:  The ZLMC relies on and benefits from the voluntary contribution of service of its members.  Volunteering may take the form of, but are not exhaustively described as, 1)  assisting with operations, such as greeting students for classes, cleaning the Center; or 2) providing professional skills that benefit the Center, such as painting, carpentry, electrical work, or professional assistance such as marketing and promotion assistance, etc.  Volunteering is not a requirement of membership, and any volunteering by a member should be undertaken only at the member’s own choice to contribute to the Center through volunteering.  Volunteering time and/or effort should carry with it no expectation on the part of the member or Teacher that a quid pro quo situation is created; that is, members should not expect special treatment or favors from Teachers because of their volunteer effort and Teachers have no obligation to provide something in exchange for the volunteer effort.  

    b. Counseling:  In the event that the Teacher also acts professionally as a psychotherapist or counselor, he or she shall not provide counseling services to any person so long as such person is his or her Student or from time to time receives formal instruction (dokusan) from him or her.  

    c. Spiritual Counseling:  From time to time, a Teacher may appropriately be called upon to provide spiritual counseling to a Student.  While spiritual counseling may often involve consideration of emotional and psychological issues, it differs from psychotherapy in a number of respects:  it is usually more short-term in nature, it does not purport to deal with emotional or psychological issues in as much depth as does psychotherapy, and no fee is charged for such services.  When longer-term counseling is needed or the Student appears to be at immediate physical or psychological risk because of the acuity of a crisis, the person providing spiritual counseling should quickly recommend that the Student seek professional psychotherapy or other appropriate help and, if possible, aid the student in obtaining a referral for such services.

    d. Romantic/Sexual relationships:  Because sexual relationship between a Student and a Teacher have serious potential for the subtle and overt abuse of power, for disruption of the Sangha, and for consequent harm to all individuals, they should be avoided unless the Teacher and Student are in a committed and publicly transparent relationship with each other.  If a Teacher and Student enter a romantic/sexual relationship, they should openly disclose their relationship to the Sangha.  The Teacher, Student, and Sangha should then strive for ongoing openness, particularly related to potential for this relationship to cause disruption to the Sangha.  The Teacher has the ultimate obligation to assure that these guidelines are observed.  

2. Collegial Respect. When a Student requests to study with a Teacher, the Teacher should inquire whether the Student has been studying with another Teacher and if this is the case, encourage closure wherever possible. Teachers will not actively recruit Students from other Teachers.  This collegial respect applies to Teacher/Student relationships within the ZLMC and also extends to situations involving other organizations.  

The Zen Life and Meditation Center of Chicago would like to gratefully acknowledge that this policy was adapted from the White Plum Asanga’s Code of Ethical Conduct.