Revisions to BZC’s Ethics Guidelines

Two substantive changes have been made by the Board to our Ethics Guidelines. The first change is a clarification about the expectations for maintaining boundaries between people at BZC. The second change is the addition of a section about avoiding abusive speech.
These changes are the result of many dis­cussions in the HEAR committee, which made recommendations to the Board. At the last Board meeting these changes were ratified.
Here is the full text of the two sections rewritten for clarity:


Teacher Relationships to Students

Over the years, as we look at ourselves and other practice communities, we have come to understand that spiritual and psychological harm can often result when teachers and students become sexually involved, violate trusts, or use power and/or position for per­sonal gain or manipulation. Such harm can damage the whole community.
At Berkeley Zen Center, all the priests and the lay practice leaders (i.e. lay leaders who offer practice discussion and/or give dharma talks) have made a commitment to conduct relationships in accord with the Bodhisattva precepts. Because of this commitment, the responsibility for maintaining appropriate and clear boundaries always rests with the priest/ practice leader. They will respect and protect the personal autonomy of all students, and refrain from sexual involvement with students.
If a priest or lay practice leader decides nevertheless to pursue a sexual relationship with another sangha member, a process will be initiated to determine what changes in her/his role in the community may be necessary. It is in the interest of all concerned that both parties first seek guidance and counsel from their teacher, the HEAR Committee, and/or the senior student group.

Relationships with Students
New to BZC Practice

We want to offer an environment where new practitioners can develop their own relationship with practice and with the sangha, free from discrimination or social pressure. We request all BZC members to be mindful of the benefit for a new student in not being distracted from the primary activity of establishing their own practice.
All members in leadership positions, and those who have responsibilities which could reasonably be perceived as leadership roles (for example, members and officers of the BZC Board of Directors; members of the HEAR Committee; BZC residents and priests; Saturday directors; sesshin directors; the coordinator; the office manager; the tenzo; the zendo manager; shusos; benjis; senior students; front seat persons) are expected to abstain from sexual relationships with new BZC students during the new students’ first year of practice.


Anyone having questions about how this guideline is implemented may speak with their teacher, or any member of the HEAR Commit­tee.

And here is the new section:

Avoiding Abusive Speech

BZC members should reasonably expect to practice in a supportive and harmonious environment. How we speak and act with one another is an expression of that harmony. Toward that end, we make every effort not to use words that create discord, and to reconcile and resolve our conflicts, small or large.
Verbal abuse and violence are not accept­able at BZC. Verbal abuse includes shouting, chewing out, blowing up, threats, humiliation, undermining, verbal manipulation, and ad hominem attacks. Abusive speech has wide effect, both for parties to the conflict who may be traumatized, and for witnesses. Members are not expected to work with other sangha members who demonstrate an ongoing pattern of harsh or hostile language.
This applies to everyone at BZC, irrespec­tive of position or seniority. Those holding a practice position are expected to understand that abusive speech and anger are not accept­able expressions of direction or leadership. Failure to uphold a standard of patience and kindness is a ground for suspension of sangha responsibilities.
Conflict, of course, is inevitable and can be creative. But violence of any kind divides and traumatizes. How we work together is as important as accomplishing the task at hand.

You can find the complete Ethics Guide­­­lines at our website: A copy is also located on the courtyard bulletin board. If you have questions, please feel free to talk to any member of the HEAR committee: Stan Dewey (chair),  Gerry Oliva, Thomas Painter, Penelope Thompson, Mary Duryee, Vice Abbot Hozan Senauke, ex officio.