Yes, even in a Zen community there may be disagreements, conflicts, unethical behavior, and grievances. That’s why BZC has the Harmony, Ethics, and Reconciliation (HEAR) Committee to help deal with these ruptures in the relationships among sangha members.
The Bodhisattva Precepts serve as our guide toward right conduct, right speech, and relationships. The BZC Ethics Guidelines are based in the Precepts. You can read the Guidelines at BZC’s website: berkeleyzencenter.org. The HEAR Committee is empowered by the BZC Board of Directors, and its members are appointed by the Board.
A major focus of the committee is conflict resolution by offering sangha members a means of dealing with the inevitable conflicts that occasionally arise when people work closely with one another. The other purpose of HEAR is to receive and hear complaints about possible violations of the ethics guidelines.
To initiate a process, one may contact any HEAR Committee member. The initial conversation can be quite informal, even as informal as a consultation about whether HEAR is the correct medium for addressing the problem, including whether there might be other steps to take first, whether or how one wishes to engage with the other person, and whether an informal or formal process is most appropriate.
An informal process is one in which there is a need for reconciliation of some sort, but no determination by a third party of “right” or “wrong” conduct. HEAR uses a variety of means to address these issues, determined on a case-by-case basis with the permission of the participants: for example, (1) a “shuttle diplomacy” model prior to a joint meeting with the other person; (2) facilitated discussion(s) between the concerned parties with the aim of settling the issue sufficient to allow them to continue practicing together, or a complete resolution; (3) referral to an appropriate forum (such as the Practice Committee when practice policy is part of the issue); or (4) mediation between the parties.
A formal process in one where a formally convened panel of noninvolved individuals reviews the details of the situation, meets with the parties, and makes a determination about whether the complaint is valid and constitutes a violation of the ethics guidelines. These cases fall into three general categories: (1) observation of serious misconduct or unethical behavior on the part of a sangha member that has not been addressed by teachers or practice leaders; (2) serious misconduct by the abbot, vice abbot, priests, or lay leaders; or (3) an appeal of an administrative decision regarding oneself. The process begins with the submission of a written formal complaint. A sangha member may consult with HEAR prior to preparing a written complaint in order to review the process.
The initial conversations with a HEAR Committee member are confidential, as are the informal and formal grievance processes.
Commensurate with our goal of promoting harmony, the HEAR Committee at times proactively initiates interventions when we see that conflict or discord loom. We have also sometimes initiated councils or discussions in which sangha members gather to listen deeply to each other about controversial issues within the community. When necessary, HEAR also helps the Board in amending the Ethics Guidelines or our procedures for resolving issues.
The HEAR Committee is not a substitute for your relationship with a teacher. We encourage sangha members to consult their teacher, as well as to attempt to communicate with the person with whom they are in conflict before bringing the issue to the committee. However, the committee is a resource for the sangha when other attempts at conflict resolution or reconciliation do not work.
The 2018 members of the HEAR Committee are: Stan Dewey (chair), Mary Duryee, Gerry Oliva, Tom Painter, Hozan Alan Senauke, and Penelope Thompson. Feel free to talk to any of us if you want further information.