ZLMC Grievance and Reconciliation Procedure

What follows are guidelines and procedures for resolving conflicts and disagreements within the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago.  It is our hope that such resolutions take the form of reconciliation – with oneself and with others. Whenever possible, disputes and disagreements should be resolved informally and directly between the people involved. There are many ways, including normal Sangha channels, that ZLMC members may attempt informal resolution and reconciliation. In this document we offer some suggestions and basic guidelines.

We recognize that for certain grievances, complaints and conflicts, informal resolution may not be possible. For such situations, we offer a formal grievance procedure. These formal procedures can be used to address perceived misconduct of Sangha members.

Step 1: Informal Procedures for Resolving Conflicts and Disagreements

Although no fixed procedures for informal conflict resolution exist, the suggestions and procedures that follow are intended to give all persons involved in a dispute a chance to be fully heard in an environment of respect and kindness that flows from knowing that there is no fundamental difference between us.

  1. Stating the Actual – A crucial aspect of conflict resolution, just as in Buddhist practice itself, is discriminating between our interpretations and opinions of an event and how the event was or is personally experienced. In part, this means not making general statements but rather sticking to the particulars of actual situations and the emotions experienced. It is extremely difficult to have mutual understanding when discussion remains at the level of interpretation and generalization.
  2. Being Heard – It is important that each individual in the disagreement has an opportunity to be fully heard. This means that everyone has a chance to recount how they remember the history of a conflict, to state their feelings regarding the conflict, and to explain the goals they have for its resolution. Such statements should be neither defensive nor critical since both approaches tend to preclude deeper mutual understanding. Much conflict arises and is perpetuated through a lack of mutual understanding; taking calm, deliberate, and adequate time to listen to each other is often all that is needed for reconciliation to begin.
  3. Restating What Was Heard – To ensure that each individual understands one another, it is useful for each party to briefly restate what the other has said, highlighting the main points. The other party then says whether the restatement is complete and accurate, and makes corrections.
  4. Confession – Resolution and reconciliation are greatly facilitated if the individuals involved reflect on how they may have contributed to a conflict and then explains this to the other party. Even when one person is primarily responsible, self-reflection, confession, and apology on everyone's part can provide a safer, more trusting, and understanding environment for everyone to be truthful.
  5. Facilitation – It is often useful to invite one or more neutral witnesses or mediators to take part in a session of conflict resolution. Such a person may simply be a silent witness providing a sense of calm and presence or may be an active mediator who helps ensure that each person is given uninterrupted opportunities to speak. This person might also point out the difference between statements of opinion and interpretation and direct statements of how an event or feeling was or is actually experienced. Invited facilitators can be anyone whom both parties respect; e.g., teachers, instructors, ZLMC members, and people outside of ZLMC who are trained in mediation.
  6. Seeking Advice – In addition to or instead of inviting a facilitator to participate, it can be useful to seek advice for working informally with a conflict. Such advice can be received from trusted Sangha members. This should not become a matter of seeking allies in the conflict, but one of finding guides out of or beyond the conflict.

Step 2: Formal Procedures for Resolving Conflicts and Disagreements

If the informal processes described above do not result in resolution of a conflict, the parties involved may then pursue a more formal process. The structure and sequence of this grievance process are described below.

The Ethics Circle

Purpose and Composition of the Ethics Circle:

  1. Purpose – The purpose of the Ethics Circle shall be to investigate and resolve complaints involving members.  The Circle may, at its discretion, seek guidance and recommendations from the ZLMC Board regarding specific complaints.  
  2. Composition – A minimum of three and maximum of seven ZLMC members will be comprise the Ethics Circle.  The Steward will be appointed by the Board of Directors.  Members will be asked to commit to a two-year term.    
  3. Eligibility – Members of ZLMC are eligible to volunteer to the Ethics Circle if they have:
    1. Not been previously found responsible for misconduct;
    2. Has no significant relationship* with any other member of the Ethics Circle; and
  4. Removal – If it is determined that a member of the Ethics Circle is ineligible for service as described above, the member step down from service and an alternate member will be identified to join the Circle.
  5. Conflict of Interest – When a complaint comes to the Ethics Circle, it is each member’s responsibility to determine whether or not he/she has a conflict of interest or could be perceived as having a conflict of interest in the matter and, if so, to recuse him/herself from the investigation.   
  6. Communication to the Board – The Ethics Circle will report on their activities quarterly to the Board.

*A “significant relationship” as mentioned above includes marriage, domestic partnerships, family relationships, student-teacher relationships, business relationships, or any other relationship that represents, or appears to represent, a conflict of interest that could compromise the objectivity of the Ethics Circle.

The Grievance Procedure

A formal grievance procedure is available when informal attempts at reconciliation have been exhausted. These procedures are especially designed to resolve situations in which someone believes that a ZLMC teacher, instructor, or member has engaged in significant misconduct or unethical behavior that has not been, or cannot be, adequately addressed through informal procedures. These grievance procedures are available to both ZLMC members and non-members.

While reconciliation is an important goal within the ZLMC Sangha, the prime purpose of the formal grievance procedure is to come to a decision regarding the specific issue or complaint submitted. Most situations requiring a formal grievance procedure contain elements of interpersonal conflict as well. A formal grievance procedure may not be effective for resolving these painful interpersonal issues. If such a resolution is desired, informal and mediated procedures are recommended.

1. Filing a Complaint – To file a complaint, an individual must communicate, in writing, to the Steward of the Ethics Circle. This should be addressed to “Ethics Circle Steward” and either mailed to the Center mailing address, or dropped off at the Center. The Steward will contact the individual about the complaint and if, after talking to the Steward, a complaint is going to move forward, the Ethics Circle Steward will provide a complaint form requesting information including, but not limited to, the following:

a. A clear statement that a formal complaint or grievance is being filed

b. The name of the person(s) whose behavior the complaint concerns

c. A description of the alleged behavior, sufficient enough to allow a decision by the Circle as to whether the complaint is appropriate for initiating a formal grievance procedure

d. A history of the attempts, if any, to resolve the complaint through informal or normal ZLMC channels

e.A general statement about the resolution desired

All information received by the Ethics Circle in investigating a complaint will remain confidential within the Circle except, 1) for any disclosure mandated by law, or in cases of specific threat to health or safety, or 2) when the Ethics Circle determines it is necessary to request guidance from the Board of Directors.  

2. Accepting a Complaint – Having received a complaint, a quorum of Ethics Circle members will respond within two weeks, acknowledging its receipt. They will do their best to review the complaint within this time frame and decide whether a formal grievance procedure is warranted or whether other informal or administrative channels should be attempted first. When informal or normal administrative channels are deemed exhausted or inappropriate, a formal complaint is accepted. If needed, the Circle may request further information from the person making the complaint.

Once the Circle has accepted a complaint, the Steward must convey its acceptance, within one week, to both the person filing the complaint and the person(s) named in the complaint. As part of this notification, the Circle will state its understanding of the issue under inquiry. The person named in the complaint will also receive a copy of the complaint and a copy of this document.

3. Investigation of a Complaint – The Ethics Circle Steward will schedule and oversee one or more closed hearings in which all parties are given a chance to present their understanding of the issue under investigation. The hearings shall be conducted in the spirit of the informal processes for resolving disagreements described earlier. Each member of the Ethics Circle is responsible for disclosing any potential conflicts of interest in hearing the grievance. Examples of conflicts of interest include people in intimate relationships with either party, anyone who has a bias about the case, or anyone who would potentially benefit or lose from a decision. Conflicts of interests should be disclosed a reasonable time before the hearing so that an alternate Ethics Circle member can be contacted to serve.

During the hearing, the Ethics Circle may question all parties and request additional information. If appropriate, further hearings may be scheduled. All parties of a complaint may have a support person of their choice present at the hearing. If desired, the support person may make statements during the investigation.

The Ethics Circle may ask other people to provide information pertinent to the complaint. The process and information gathered will be documented. All parties will have a full and fair opportunity to respond to all information - oral, written or otherwise - gathered by the Circle.

The Steward or another member of the Ethics Circle will act as recording secretary, taking minutes of the hearing(s). This documentation will be confidential for the duration of the proceedings as outlined below.

  1. Circle Findings – When Ethics Circle members are satisfied that they have adequate information; they will review and discuss the case in executive session. However, at its discretion, the Circle may seek non-binding advice from any pertinent persons. The Circle’s decision should be reached by a form of consensus that allows for one person to stand aside, i.e., not agree with the decision but be willing to acquiesce. The Steward will explain and facilitate the consensus decision-making process for this Circle.

Once a decision has been reached, at least two of the three members of the Ethics Circle shall reconvene within two weeks with the parties involved. At this time the Circle shall hand out copies of its written findings and read them aloud.

The Circle is authorized to resolve a grievance in any manner that it regards appropriate, as long as it does not exceed the lawful authority of the Zen Life and Meditation Center as an institution. If the Ethics Circle is unable to reach a decision, it may appeal to the Board for guidance and recommendations on achieving resolution.

The Appendix of this document is available to the Ethics Circle as a partial list of the kinds of decisions it may make.

It is the responsibility of the Steward of the Ethics Circle to ensure that all actions mandated by the Ethics Circle are carried out. 

In deciding a case, the Ethics Circle must decide what persons, if any, besides the parties involved shall be informed about the case or aspects of the case. In general, testimony and all detailed records will be kept confidential, as will findings regarding conflicts between members. 

  1. Appeals – Either party has the right to appeal an Ethics Circle action within thirty days of receipt of the notification of the Ethics Circle’s decision.

Appeals are made to the President of the Board of Directors. The Board shall review the findings and the appeal arguments to decide whether or not the decision of the Ethics Circle should be upheld. Normally appeals will only be granted if there is evidence of bias and/or procedural irregularities, or if new information not previously available comes to light. The decision of the Board is considered final.

  1. Reconciliation – If appropriate, once the Ethics Circle has reached a decision, the Steward will separately make non-binding recommendations to both parties on steps they may take toward reconciliation among themselves and if necessary with the ZLMC Sangha. While the Zen Center places high value on reconciliation, we realize that in extreme situations it may take considerable time before such a process can begin.

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 and the Zen Center of Los Angeles’ Statement of Right Conduct.  


A Partial List of Possible Decisions by the Ethics Circle

This partial list of possible resolutions is intended to encourage open-minded and creative decisions by the Ethics Circle.

  1. A finding of no ethical breach while acknowledging the existence of a problem which needs resolution elsewhere.
  2. Private or mediated apology.
  3. Reparation, to the extent possible, to the person who made the complaint and or to the community.
  4. Follow-up meetings with the person’s teacher.
  5. A finding that the grievance was unfounded.
  6. Private reprimand.
  7. Apology to the Zen Center community or membership.
  8. Period of probation, with probationary terms set by the Ethics Circle.
  9. Suspension from certain positions of responsibilities within the Zen Center community.
  10. Suspension from Zen Center for a stipulated period of time. Such a suspension should stipulate both the conditions by which a person may re-enter the community and the person(s) within Zen Center who will be responsible for deciding whether those conditions have been fulfilled.
  11. Limiting the decision simply to whether or not an ethical transgression occurred and then forwarding this decision to the appropriate administrative or practice leadership for further action.

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.