Conflict Resolution and Grievance Policy
This policy was adopted by the Great Plains Zen Center Board of Directors on August 7 2022.
Table of Contents
Ground for Ethical Conduct
Procedures for Addressing Conflicts and Disagreements
Conflict Resolution Process
Formal Grievance Procedure
Great Plains Zen Center is a Buddhist Sangha of Zen practitioners who mutually support each other’s practice on the path to awakening. To support the practice of awakening, GPZC strives to create and maintain a supportive, harmonious and safe environment where everyone can practice freely and realize their Buddha nature. GPZC’s inclusivity statement reflects the commitment to this goal:
At Great Plains Zen Center we aspire to create an inclusive environment for everyone. We recognize systemic forces of domination, privilege, and exclusion have resulted in unequal access to the resources that support formal Buddhist practice. We are committed to restoring wholeness to the Sangha by empowering those whose embodiment of the dharma has historically been suppressed, marginalized, or devalued. We celebrate diverse spiritual expressions and acknowledge the inseparability of individual and collective liberation. We affirm and respect our differences and encourage open communication so that ethical concerns or conflicts that arise are fully heard and addressed appropriately.
Many Zen and other Buddhist communities have experienced upheavals over the years as a result of not having clear guidelines or expectations for members and Teachers. Such upheavals resulted in great harm and, sometimes, dissolution of the community. We recognize that practice can be difficult, differences can trigger strong reactions, the intimacy of shared spiritual exploration can elicit powerful emotions and attractions, and disagreement and conflict can arise. Power has the tendency to corrupt, and individuals and institutions often move to protect and defend themselves in times of crisis. Therefore, it is important to have guidelines for right speech and action and healthy, appropriate boundaries within the Sangha so everyone is aware of expectations and procedures before things go wrong.
When you undertake Zen training, you come home to yourself—not who you think you are, but who you really are. Life is unpredictable and messy. Because nothing is hidden and yet we don’t see clearly, coming home is also a mysterious and messy journey. The invitation of practice is to bring your whole self to maturity as a human being. Human beings and buddhas are not one, not two. The person that you think you are continually realigns to the fullest and most mature expression of who you really are, which is a buddha. When you confront the gap between yourself and buddha, your conditioning—the deeply ingrained patterns of behavior, insecurities, flaws, and secrets—are all exposed through the very activity of Zen practice. This means that the training invites you to turn toward what is most difficult to face in yourself. Why? Because everything is included in buddha, in who you really are. Whatever has been or is pushed away is the very dharma that spiritual practice asks you to include.
Your ideas of what practice is, of who you are and of what a buddha is, and your ideas of perfection, are strongly held. You have likely created personal narratives that reinforce your ideas. You may fall into spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is exactly this: you go around, avoid, or circumvent whatever you deem is “not you,” which is most often the qualities that you consider unacceptable in yourself. You may project these qualities onto others. You may feel ashamed of these qualities, which are often repressed and, therefore, live in the shadow of your being. Hence, these are called “shadow aspects.” And what we keep in shadow has a way of arising and coming to light.
What is critical is to understand that every one of us has these shadow aspects regardless of how long we have been practicing or the depth of spiritual or psychological insight we have attained. To deny this reality, and to fail to bring these aspects more fully into our direct awareness, is to bypass what we really need to do – to open to, acknowledge and practice with what we really are rather than settle for what we think we are, or how we want others to see us, or even what we would ideally like to become, which are all illusions. When we bypass this work, when we do not practice with our whole self but only a part, we foster the conditions capable of bringing about unforeseen suffering for ourselves and others, as has been repeatedly observed.
For example, incidents of power abuse and sexual abuse on the part of the White Plum Asanga’s original teacher, Maezumi Roshi, and some of the other teachers, and even misuse of funds, became known to the community at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Later, some of the early Dharma successors of Maezumi Roshi also perpetrated power abuse and sexual misconduct in their own Zen communities. Questions about the nature of enlightenment, the human nature of Zen teachers, and the psychological foundation for practice had yet to be addressed.
At that time in the evolution of our extended sangha, including many Buddhist centers in the US and our White Plum Sanghas, we lacked a structure for dealing with ethical misconduct and accountability. The confluence of Asian and American culture led to further misunderstandings about what was Zen and what was Asian culture. There was also the issue of the expectations around an enlightened teacher and what role conditioning and shadow issues played in the process of awakening. We had yet to learn that spiritual wisdom does not mean that our conditioning has been dealt with or even deeply understood. Or that deeply embedded cultural conditioning of the dynamics of power and sexism, racism and homophobia that we all bring to the Sangha do not stand the test of ethical living. Much of this led to dysfunctional Sangha cultures that people shrugged off as “practice” and left little room for insight, conversations about such behavior, and the reporting of such misconduct and accountability. For example, some Buddhist centers’ early practice culture was aggressive and harsh. The practice emphasis was on waking up, and so conditioning and cause-and-effect were poorly investigated.
At the time of ZCLA’s aforementioned crisis in 1983, the San Francisco Zen Center had already ousted their own Abbot and other Buddhist groups were also imploding. Some of this is documented in Rick Fields’ book How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America (updated edition by Ben Bogin, Shambhala, 1992). It was a time when the idealism of the early Buddhist practitioners in America met the reality of human nature. As we learned through harsh experience at Zen Centers, the effects of abuse in spiritual communities lead to devastating feelings of betrayal and a profound distrust of spiritual groups and teachers. Many sincere spiritual practitioners never return to practice at all. Sadly, even today, no religions—Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or other — are untouched by scandals involving abuses of power, sex, financial misconduct, and discrimination. The White Plum Asanga has made significant strides in learning how to address these issues, including the harm caused by abusive incidents over the course of many decades. These effects need to be addressed on an ongoing basis; bypassing is not an option.
The main issues relating to ethical conduct that a Sangha needs to identify and understand include the following:
- Power: What constitutes an abuse of power? What is the embedded inequity of power positions such as in the relationships of teacher to student and senior to junior practitioners; in matters of gender and race? What is power over versus power with? How does the structure of a Zen community contribute to power abuse? What is the right use of power?
- Sex: What constitutes sexual misconduct and abuse? How can it be prevented?
- Money: What constitutes financial misconduct? Are safeguards in place?
In addition, there are fundamental dynamics that everyone needs to understand in order to help prevent abuse and misconduct and contribute to sustaining healthy organizational cultures. These dynamics, some of which are also discussed in the ethics documents, include:
- Interpersonal dynamics, such as triangulation, projection, transference and countertransference.
- Spiritual bypassing.
- Being a bystander to misconduct or improper behavior in the Sangha.
- Unexamined expectations of Zen practice and teachers.
- Lack of understanding of psychological work and its place in relation to practice.
- Trauma. What do we need to know about trauma and how to heal from it?
- Deeper understanding of the precepts. How does one develop a more nuanced understanding of the precepts, such as how “Not talking about others’ faults and errors” can lead to silence when, in fact, one needs to speak up.
- The shadow aspects of spiritual practice. How are these identified and practiced?
- Knowing the difference between wise discernment and being self-absorbed.
- Learning new skills, such as how to have difficult conversations and how to resolve conflicts.
During the years of turmoil at Zen Center of Los Angeles and in its immediate aftermath, there were attempts to address misconduct within the White Plum Asanga, the affinity group of Zen teachers in the Maezumi lineage. Following the passing of Maezumi Roshi, the White Plum Asanga addressed the conduct of its teachers and began to mature as an organization. The process has been a steep learning curve which has been aided by a change in U.S. cultural mores, and the development of formal training by professional organizations regarding healthy boundaries for both individuals and organizations. Research in this area has resulted in a deeper understanding of the dynamics of power, in particular power over versus power with. The suffering caused by the abuse of power, sexual abuse, and addiction have resulted in the development of best practices and the skill sets that are needed to prevent such abuses. All White Plum Asanga teachers today agree to follow its Code of Ethical Conduct and a Grievance and Reconciliation Procedure .
When humans gather to investigate the truth of their lives, each person immediately encounters their own limitations and conditioning. The limitations can take the form of emotional reactivity, such as angry outbursts, defensiveness, and arguing, and a lack of patience with themselves and others. It can also take the form of mental rigidity, such as fixing one’s views of others, story-telling drama about what they assume is happening, and an inability to truly listen and reflect. It can take the form of power abuse and sexual abuse and not questioning a culture that enables misconduct to continue. It can take the form of being a bystander to such abuses, of missing important clues or dismissing the feeling that something is not in alignment, and not addressing harm. The ways human beings create suffering through ignorance and delusion are endless. We are committed to addressing it. Experience has shown us that the tears and holes in the fabric of community do not simply disappear with time. The long reach of cause and effect has taught us that making careful repairs matter.
Zen training in our community means that each person must commit to knowing themselves on a very deep level. It also means that each person commits to learning the basics of interpersonal and organizational dynamics and learning how to effectively address conflicts with others. Practicing and living an awakened life in community means that each person commits to a deep embodiment of the Sixteen Zen Bodhisattva Precepts and learns how to make atonement. Each person learns how to have difficult conversations by listening deeply to one’s inner voice and to the voices of others. We do this not necessarily to seek agreement, but rather to foster deep respect for a diversity of views that are woven into the wisdom of the wholeness of the community. We commit to expanding beyond our own biases and needs.
Furthermore, we learn the basics of organizational dynamics and the kind of culture our behaviors create. Our aim is that our organizational culture is ethically based and consciously created and not simply assumed or unquestioned. Prevention and intervention are key components in our training. It does not mean becoming rigid and uptight, but to acknowledge and face problematic behaviors either through our own insight or input from others. It does not mean policing others’ behaviors, but being aware when power is being abused. It does mean looking deeply into ourselves with kindness and insight and basic honesty. We endeavor to create a culture where speaking out is not hampered by cultural or conditioned repression and where our forms help us to behave ethically.
What is required of each of us? A capacity for self-reflection, honesty, humility, and a willingness to admit when we need to change our behavior. That we ask for help. That we are willing to have conversations. It does not mean that we succumb to groupthink. We realize that each of us are pillars of our own unique wisdom, shining as clarity and discernment, as well as our own unique compassion, shining as kindness and respectful caring. Our practice together requires an attitude of openness to and fundamental respect for oneself and for each other.
Each of us is called upon to do the deep inner work that Zen training calls for. You “doing your inner work” allows us to do the outer work together. Similarly, when we do the outer work together of shifting our organizational culture, your inner work is nurtured. Those who do not do this work become the complainers and blamers of the community. They simply remain as immature people. They seem unable to activate their innate capacity for self-reflection and for questioning in a way that helps create new narratives and possibilities. We must learn to ask questions. We must learn to hold complexity and nuance. Otherwise, we fall into black and white—this and that, them and us—patterns of thinking. How do we awake and shift the paradigms we have all inherited and been a part of for so long? Such are our challenges we fearlessly practice.
The basis of ethical conduct is found in the way that each of us is in relationship to ourselves and to each other — how are we tending to the inherent goodness in each of us and within ourselves? Are we tending to our own emotional maturity by learning to integrate our emotional and psychological selves? Are we recognizing the habitual ruts of our behavioral patterns and practicing shifting them? Are we tending to our everyday behavior? These inquiries are a necessary part of practice. We are all capable of transformation. Liberation is, after all, your birthright as a buddha.
The practice of Zen itself is a hugely shifting paradigm: everyone has the nature of awakening and everyone manifests completely differently. In our country where everyone is declared equal, we have gross inequalities of income, race, gender, class and so forth. Zen does not ask us to complacently accept, but to question and create change so that we can truly meet these realities. And yet, as each of us likely knows from our own experiences, it is so easy as human beings to rationalize and ignore—to look away and not attend to—behaviors that are causing harm. What kind of fabric are you weaving? What kind of fabric are we weaving together?
In order to create a truly supportive and awake Zen culture at Great Plains Zen Center, we require that each member study and practice the ethical conduct set forth here. We ask that each member sign a statement that states that at a minimum they have read these documents and will commit to practicing this conduct.
Ground for Ethical Conduct
The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts—The Three Treasures, the Three Pure Precepts and the Ten Grave Precepts—are the basis of ethical living as Zen practitioners. The precepts are not fixed rules of conduct, but require the practice of individual discernment given the current circumstances and humble acceptance of the basic imperfection of human life. We commit to the precepts by holding them in our hearts. We reflect on how all aspects of our lives are guided by them and how their meaning evolves with our practice over time. In this way we all take responsibility for creating a nurturing and respectful environment for practice of the Buddha Way.
Great Plains Zen Center is a member of the Zen Peacemakers International. The Three Treasures, The Three Tenets, The Ten Practices, The Four Commitments and The Bodhisattva Vow serve as the foundation for the Zen Peacemaker work and practice, and our practice at GPZC. One may pursue the study of these Treasures, Tenets, Practices, Commitments and Vow with a teacher and/preceptor.
The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts
The ethical ground for right conduct is based on the Sixteen Zen Bodhisattva Precepts and the Three Zen Peacemaker Tenets
The Three Treasures
- I take refuge in the Buddha. I vow to embody Oneness, the awakened nature of all beings.
- I take refuge in the Dharma. I vow to embody Diversity, the ocean of wisdom and compassion.
- I take refuge in the Sangha. I vow to embody Harmony, the interdependence of all creations.
The Three Pure Precepts
The Three Pure Precepts (practiced in some Mahayana schools of Buddhism) are said to be the basis of all Buddhist morality:
- First, Ceasing From Evil
- Second, Doing Good
- Third, Doing Good for Others
The Three Pure Precepts originated with this verse from the Dhammapada (verse 183):
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas. In Mahayana Buddhism, the last line was revised to reflect the bodhisattva’s vow to bring all beings to enlightenment.
Ceasing from Evil
This is the foundation of Buddhist teaching. We refrain from harming ourselves, other people, animals, air, water and the earth herself by embracing interdependence, oneness, and integration. When we see ourselves as separate, we cultivate the ground for the three poisons – greed, hatred and delusion – and an approach to life that is fearful, dominating, and selfish.
To practice good means to uncover and to act from the kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity of our awakened nature. In our effort to live ethically, we embrace and rely upon the time-honored practices of confession, repentance, atonement and reconciliation.
Doing Good for Others
Actualizing good for others is the life of the Bodhisattva. By taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and following the Buddha Way, we offer people the opportunity to discover their true nature. Dogen said that service for the welfare of all beings must be engaged in a spirit of oneness and without a desire for some return or recognition. Doing good for others springs effortlessly from a well of compassion.
The Ten Grave Precepts
Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is
. This is the practice of Non-killing. I will refrain from leading a harmful life and from encouraging others to do so. I will live in harmony with all life and the environment that sustains it.
Being satisfied with what I have
. This is the practice of Non-stealing. I will refrain from taking anything not given and from encouraging others to steal. I will practice contentment by freely giving , asking for, and accepting what is needed.
Meeting the diversity of life with respect and dignity
. This is the practice of Chaste Conduct. I will refrain from unchastity and from creating the conditions for others to be unchaste. I will give and accept love and friendship without clinging.
Listening and speaking from the heart with clarity and kindness
. This is the practice of Non-lying. I will refrain from lying and from creating the conditions for others to lie. I will see and act in accordance with what is. I will compassionately and constructively speak the truth as I perceive it, deceiving and harming no one.
Cultivating a mind that sees clearly
. This is the practice of Not Being Deluded. I will refrain from intoxication and other forms of deluding the mind and from encouraging others to be deluded. I will embrace all experience directly.
Bearing witness to the offering of each moment with equanimity
. This is the practice of Not Talking About Others’ Errors and Faults. I will refrain from talking about others’ errors and faults and from encouraging others to do so. I will acknowledge responsibility for everything in my life. I will hold all beings in equal regard and practice inclusiveness.
Speak what I perceive to be the truth with humility and without guilt or blame
. This is the practice of Not Elevating Myself and Blaming Others. I will refrain from elevating myself and blaming others and from encouraging others to do so. I will not compete with others or covet recognition but I will give my best effort and accept the results. I will freely acknowledge others’ accomplishments.
. This is the practice of Not Being Stingy. I will refrain from fostering a mind of poverty in myself and others and I will use all the ingredients in my life. .
Transforming suffering into wisdom
. This is the practice of Not Holding On to Anger. . I will refrain from creating the conditions for others to be angry. I will not harbor resentment, rage, or revenge. I will recognize and express my emotions as part of my practice.
Honoring my life as a source of wisdom and compassion
. This is the practice of Not Speaking Ill of The Three Treasures. I will refrain from speaking ill of The Three Treasures and from creating conditions for others to do so. I will recognize myself and others as manifestations of the Oneness of Buddha, the Diversity of Dharma, and the Harmony of Sangha.
The Three Zen Peacemaker Tenets
- I commit to Not-knowing by giving up fixed ideas about myself and the universe.
- I commit myself to Bearing Witness to the joy and suffering of the universe.
- I commit to Taking Action that arises from Not-knowing and Bearing Witness.
Respecting Personal Space
An aspect of meeting the diversity of life with respect and dignity includes the awareness that students come to the Zen Center with different comfort levels regarding personal space. They may even be carrying trauma from physical or sexual abuse in their past which causes them to react in different or unexpected ways to being touched during instruction.
Therefore, a dedicated practice of awareness must include recognition of and respect for the limits and boundaries of fellow sangha members, especially regarding matters of physical touch and bodily awareness. Instruction in zazen and zendo procedures has historically included limited physical contact between instructors and students–for example, to make adjustments to one’s sitting posture or provide guidance on the usage of oryoki utensils. Such guidance is provided with the goal of promoting and engaging action that supports others.
At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that students have different backgrounds and levels of comfort regarding physical contact, and power imbalances between students and teachers or instructors can affect willingness to assert one’s boundaries or express discomfort. Acknowledging the impact of these power imbalances must include the cultivation of an environment in which physical contact occurs only with consent and with students having been fully oriented to the forms of physical contact which may be included in training, with all parties in agreement that avoidance of harm is the greatest responsibility and necessarily falls on those in positions of power.
Awareness of power imbalances must also extend to matters of right speech. Responsibilities of the teacher include providing compassionate guidance to students according to individual need, and to refrain from forming privileged relationships or making decisions based upon favoritism. In accordance with these principles, the sangha affirms that certain actions of speech on the part of teachers and senior students may constitute an inappropriate and harmful use of power. In particular, role reversals, wherein those in positions of power seek personal guidance and assistance from students with less power, can erode necessary boundaries between students and teachers and pave the way for more severe violations against those with less authority.
Along the same lines, we must cultivate and apply an understanding of the differences between confidentiality and secret-keeping in the context of the student-teacher relationship. Teachers are expected to maintain confidentiality in all teacher-student meetings (e.g., dokusan) and not to disclose information given by the student without the student’s permission. This principle of confidentiality is universal and applied equally across all students, with no students entitled to more or less confidentiality than others.
By way of comparison, secret-keeping implies a privileged and special relationship between the teacher and student which other students may not possess or even be aware of. Such relationships violate the principle of refraining from forming privileged relationships and increase risk of abuses of power. Consequently, the sangha affirms that teachers and senior students should not ask students to keep secrets on their behalf, and in particular should not provide information about another student without the student’s prior knowledge and consent.
We recognize that the study and practice of the precepts is a life-long effort and is the responsibility of each person who endeavors to live the Buddha Way.
Procedures for Addressing Conflicts and Disagreements
Conflict is a normal part of human behavior. It is natural, inevitable, and unavoidable. Conflict presents an opportunity for personal growth and can function as an impetus for awakening and transformation. Interpersonal conflicts arise whenever there are sustained relationships, such as the ongoing relationships within the Sangha. Despite our emphasis on welcoming everyone with an open heart and treating each other with respect and love, we will encounter people who annoy us or trigger the stronger negative reactions of anger and fear. We may seek to minimize the possibility of such conflict by trying to avoid the other person(s) as much as possible and/or we may be strongly tempted to leave GPZC because of a perceived potential or actual conflict with another practitioner.
Indeed, such situations are fairly common and to be expected in a group. The Conflict Resolution Process and the Formal Grievance Procedure are meant to help an individual navigate this ground. For example, it may be the case that a sangha member is so uncomfortable or triggered by a certain exchange with another party, they tell a teacher (e.g., Roshi) or senior student about what occurred, but ask not to have it mentioned to the other party. While the disclosure itself and discussion arising from it can be helpful and important, this deprives the other party of the opportunity to share their perspective, to grow from the experience, and for both parties to thereby achieve true resolution. The Conflict Resolution Process—including the deep reflection and questioning required of all of us whenever conflict arises—is meant to guide such a sangha member through the process of directly, honestly, and respectfully confronting the other party. The Harmony Circle exists to help a sangha member through the initial process of direct conversation with the other party. When the situation is serious enough, e.g., frightening to the sangha member and/or meets other criteria outlined below, the Formal Grievance Procedure should be followed, and the Harmony Circle will assist the sangha member or members coming forward in navigating the process. Also, as noted above, situations arise in sanghas that have been of such a serious nature that the processes involved in the Formal Grievance Procedure—outlined below—must be followed. Examples of such abuse, power struggles, etc. are included in the text that follows, and may involve boundary violations including sexual harassment, bullying, romantic relationships, personal space and appropriate/inappropriate physical touch, financial disparities and power violations, and more. It is critical to understand the inferred and actual power dynamics related to various roles and functions of practicing members in order to appreciate how these power struggles can play out.
Various Roles and Functions of GPZC Members
In our tradition, there is a koan that goes like this: “There is a true person of no rank who is constantly coming and going from the portals of your face. Who is that true person of no rank?”
It’s a worthy and challenging koan that in part involves consideration of the many ranks we do have—and in a Zen center, there are several that bear importance in terms of healthy boundaries, power dynamics, and a safe culture in which to practice and thrive. It is critical to understand the particular roles, functions, and inferred and actual “power” of a transmitted teacher, instructor, ordained priest, senior student, practicing member, new member, visitor, etc..
At Great Plains Zen Center, we currently have one transmitted teacher: Susan Myoyu Andersen Roshi, who received dharma transmission from Taizan Maezumi Roshi. John Gendo Wolff, who received dharma transmission from Myoyu Roshi and is the head teacher at Great Wave Zen Center, also sometimes fulfills the role and function of transmitted teacher within Great Plains Zen Center. Transmitted teachers hold Dokusan, or personal interviews, with practitioners, for formal koan training and practice guidance. All questions related to experiences while practicing zazen and how to practice—beyond basic posture and sitting descriptions—should be addressed to a transmitted teacher.
Personal face to face meetings and questions appropriate for a Roshi are also appropriate to ask a Dharma Holder. Currently there are no Dharma Holders at GPZC. A Dharma Holder has completed all koan study but has received only partial dharma transmission.
An ordained priest, who can officiate liturgical services and who has received Tokudo (the formal “leaving home” priest ordination rite of passage) wears full robes and an Okesa. Their power will be inferred by and thereby made manifest from practicing members and from new practitioners, particularly. Priests must be aware of this power they hold with sangha members, and acknowledge the uneven ground therefore that their relationships, instruction, and friendship with other sangha members will involve. (Note that a person who has received the precepts and wears a rakusu will also hold some inferred power).
An instructor may lead a sitting circle, as in DeKalb IL or Northfield MN, and also has a higher “rank” or inferred power among practicing and Sangha members. Often this will be a student perceived as a “senior” student who has been practicing in our sangha for some time, and or who is training to become (but is not yet) a transmitted teacher or dharma holder. (Note that Palatine is not an affiliate of Great Plains Zen Center led by an instructor, it is just another setting in which Myoyu Roshi is the teacher and is coordinated by local members of the Instructor Circle.) An instructor leads Aspects of Zen classes and Introduction to Zen Workshops,and provides basic and brief instruction in Zazen before sitting.. An instructor or senior student or guest instructor might provide a dharma talk (versus the “teisho” provided by a Roshi), provide instruction to practitioners in Oryoki, give initial instruction on basic posture or correct procedures during service (e.g., when and how to strike a bell, bow, etc). An instructor might also be tasked with assigning roles for a service or checking vaccination status, etc…but instructors are not transmitted teachers. Instructors do not provide ongoing individual guidance about practice. This is the role of a teacher and if an instructor does receive such a question, they will refer the questioner to Myoyu Roshi or Gendo Roshi.
Conflict Resolution Process
Conflict resolution is part of a Zen practice. When a conflict arises because of disagreements or misunderstandings, or conduct is observed that is disturbing, Sangha participants are encouraged to engage in deep self-inquiry and to seek resolution by engaging in either the Conflict Resolution Process or the Formal Grievance Procedure before the situation spirals out of control. If a conflict involves or threatens violence or abuse, the Harmony Circle will immediately engage the Formal Grievance Procedure.
Before engaging another person in the Sangha about a negative reaction to something they have said or done, take some time to discern how serious the matter is for you. Ask yourself if this is an issue you can resolve within yourself, or whether you need to engage with the other person directly. In doing so, ask yourself whether you are a person who tends to avoid conflict and needs to learn how to speak up skillfully on your own behalf. At this point, you may informally consult Harmony Circle members about your experience to gain perspective and skills and to discuss options for resolution. If you disclose the matter to a senior student who is not a member of the Harmony Circle and request confidentiality, that individual is hereby advised to guide you toward the Circle to engage the Conflict Resolution Process or Formal Grievance Procedure.
When you feel it is important for you to deal with a conflict or potential conflict with another person in the Sangha, the first step is to take time to reflect on the precepts (above). Indeed, continually reflecting on the precepts, our own thoughts, speech and actions, and how we are interacting with others, comprise the very heart of Zen practice. Your Zen teacher welcomes and encourages all Sangha participants to bring these matters into dokusan as well. After such reflection and consultation with a teacher, it will usually be recommended that you attempt to go directly to that person and discuss the problem in an effort to resolve the situation. We encourage face-to-face interaction for these discussions, either in-person or electronically, and discourage the use of email or other indirect communication. Face-to-face interaction may be uncomfortable, yet it is important to do this. The idea here is to be as direct as possible and to experience direct communication. However, if you feel unsafe, you are encouraged to ask for support before initiating a discussion. For suggestions on speaking face-to-face, see Appendix “Guidelines for Speaking Directly with a Person with Whom One is in Conflict.”
Here are some more general guidelines that can be helpful in this process:
Before Engaging the Conflict Resolution Process
You are encouraged to bring this part of the process into dokusan, as these steps comprise a critical component of Zen practice.
- Take time to reflect on the Precepts (see above) and other relevant Buddhist teachings.
- Develop as clear a picture as you can about the issue(s) and the responsibility of all persons involved.
- Consider your own behavior and thinking and become willing to take responsibility for how they may have contributed to the problem.
- Think about what you would like from a meeting with the person or persons with whom you are in conflict.
- In any meetings that occur, it is important to seek balance in such conversations, and to be careful not to seek only affirmation of your perspective. Also take care not to engage additional harmful dynamics such as triangulation. (See Appendix).
- If the grievance is about your teacher, you are encouraged to talk to someone in the Harmony Circle.
- When requesting the meeting, ask for enough time to discuss the conflict adequately and as calmly as possible.
During an Actual Discussion or Meeting
- Come from a place of respect and kindness as much as possible.
- Adopt a stance of “Not-Knowing.” Be open, candid, and as specific as possible while striving to let go of fixed positions and beliefs. Allow for unexpected perspectives and solutions to the problem.
- Listen as non-judgmentally as possible and with compassion both for yourself and the other party.
- Try not to assign blame, establish guilt, or seek punishment.
- Begin by stating, as factually as possible, how you remember what happened, at this point avoiding interpretations or opinions about the issue.
- Allow the other party to recount their memory of what happened, and notice how it may differ from yours.
- State your feelings about the matter and allow the other person to do the same.
- Acknowledge and take responsibility for your own part in the conflict.
- State your goals for resolution of the conflict as clearly as possible.
If meeting with the person one-on-one does not bring a satisfactory resolution of the conflict, or if either party does not feel comfortable about meeting directly, then mediation may be the most appropriate and useful way to proceed. In such situations, the Harmony Circle will provide mediation with the parties involved in the conflict. Throughout this process, all parties to the conflict should make every effort to agree on the choice of facilitator and method of facilitation (e.g., council, conversation, mediation) before proceeding. If the parties cannot come to agreement on how to proceed, the Harmony Circle will appoint a facilitator and a method of facilitation. The parties involved in the conflict may request a member or members of the Harmony Circle or another person who is mutually acceptable to witness and/or mediate a discussion of the conflict. The Harmony Circle will assist the parties involved in preparing for mediation with information on how mediation works and the roles of the mediator and participants.
Situations may arise in which a quick solution is not forthcoming. The members of the Harmony Circle commit to practicing with these situations by continuing to hold a space for introspection, deep listening, speaking our truth, and working toward action(s) that will serve all parties. Effort should be made by all parties to move forward to a satisfactory resolution or dissolution of the problem. When a resolution of the conflict is not reached with the help of mediation or other informal process, then the Formal Grievance Procedure, outlined below, should be followed.
Formal Grievance Procedure
Any GPZC member or participant may contact any member of the Harmony Circle to discuss a concern or to file a verbal or written grievance about any person or persons involved with GPZC. If a grievance is filed, the Harmony Circle will initiate a fact-finding process. Within two weeks, the Harmony Circle will determine if the grievance warrants the initiation of the Formal Grievance Procedure described in this section or whether the Conflict Resolution Process described above is more appropriate. If the Harmony Circle determines that the Formal Grievance Procedure should be followed, the person or persons filing the grievance will be asked to put it in writing for further review if they have not already done so.
The Formal Grievance Procedure may be used when peer individuals have tried to come to a resolution themselves using the Conflict Resolution Process and there is no mutually satisfactory resolution. In addition, the Formal Grievance Procedure must be followed in certain situations, such as:
- When any part of the Conflict Resolution Process feels too threatening, for whatever reason, to any of the parties involved
- When the conflict involves illegal or egregiously unethical behavior, such as theft, embezzlement, sexual harassment, abuse, racial harassment, discrimination, physical violence, or threat of physical violence
- When the conflict is between individuals of unequal status, power and authority, such as between Teacher and Student
- When the Harmony Circle receives information from outside the Sangha concerning Sangha members, the Board of Directors, Teachers or Priests that may involve unethical or illegal behaviors
If the conflict is deemed to be dangerous or abusive, the Harmony Circle will initiate the Formal Grievance Procedure immediately. When a complaint of abuse or intimidation is made regarding a Teacher, the Teacher-Student relationship will be suspended immediately. The Harmony Circle will initiate preliminary fact-finding to determine the nature of the complaint. The Harmony Circle will gather enough information to decide whether it can conduct the investigation itself, or if there is need to enlist the assistance of outside professionals, such as the Faith Trust Institute, to conduct the investigation and provide recommendations for resolution. If the Harmony Circle’s initial fact-finding determines that a complaint of abuse has merit, the Harmony Circle may request that the GPZC Board of Directors inform the Sangha in order to encourage other aggrieved parties to come forward so the extent of the issue may be investigated.
Filing a Formal Grievance with the Harmony Circle
A formal grievance must be filed in writing to a member of the Harmony Circle. The Harmony Circle may assist the petitioner in the preparation of the written grievance. The written Formal Grievance will include:
- A statement that a Formal Grievance is being filed and the date submitted.
- The name and contact information of the person(s) filing the grievance and the name(s) of the person(s) the grievance concerns.
- A description of all available pertinent details of the situation and the specific behaviors of the person(s) the grievance concerns. This should be sufficiently detailed for the Harmony Circle to begin an initial investigation.
- A history of the previous attempts (if any) to resolve the issue and why they have not been successful.
- A statement regarding any hoped-for resolution or outcome.
At this stage, this material will remain confidential within the Harmony Circle, except for any disclosure of apparent criminal actions, other actions where reporting is mandated by law, or in cases of immediate threat to health and safety. Examples of criminal actions include child abuse, theft, physical violence, sexual violence such as rape, threats of violence, stalking, and embezzlement. Apparent criminal actions will in all cases be reported to the appropriate legal authorities. Under such circumstances, the Harmony Circle will also inform the GPZC Board of Directors.
It is the Harmony Circle’s intention that no one coming forward with a concern, conflict or grievance will be subject to reprisal in any form.
Accepting a Grievance
The Harmony Circle member who receives the grievance will promptly forward the written document to the other members. The Harmony Circle will inform the person submitting the grievance that it has been received and state when the Harmony Circle will meet, in person or online, to review the grievance. At this time the Harmony Circle may make a written or verbal request for additional information from the person filing a grievance. Within two weeks after a grievance is received, a majority of the Harmony Circle membership must meet to review the grievance.
After the initial review the Harmony Circle may make one of the following determinations:
- The nature of the grievance requires immediate intervention to assure the health and safety of the parties involved and that appropriate steps will be taken, including contact of appropriate authorities, if needed.
- The Conflict Resolution Process is more appropriate, even if it has already been attempted. The Harmony Circle will assist the parties involved with the Conflict Resolution Process.
- The grievance is accepted and will continue through the Formal Grievance Procedure overseen by the Harmony Circle.
- Because the nature of the grievance and the individuals involved constitute a severe conflict of interest within the Sangha, outside professionals with expertise in conflict in spiritual communities will be asked to investigate and make recommendations.
- The grievance is considered unfounded and will be dismissed.
Within three weeks after receiving a written grievance, the Harmony Circle will inform the person(s) filing the grievance and person(s) named in the grievance whether the grievance has been accepted as a Formal Grievance by the Harmony Circle. The notification will state the Harmony Circle’s understanding of the issues involved and the plan going forward.
Investigation of a Grievance
When the grievance is accepted as a Formal Grievance, a fact-finding plan and schedule will be developed. All efforts will be made to proceed without delay. The process may include individual interviews with the parties involved, interviews with others with knowledge of the situation, and/or consultation with legal representatives and other professionals with recognized expertise in particular areas. If any of the parties identified in the grievance choose not to participate in the Formal Grievance Procedure the Harmony Circle will proceed and recommendations may be made without their involvement.
After initial information gathering, additional meetings may be scheduled that may include other relevant information and persons. Individuals involved in the grievance may have a support person of their choice present during meetings who may also make statements. The Harmony Circle is committed to a process that ensures that everyone involved in the grievance will have full and fair opportunity to respond. The Harmony Circle will maintain a written record of the fact-finding process and meetings.
Grievance Findings and Recommendations
Once fact-finding and meetings are complete the Harmony Circle will convene to discuss the findings. Through this discussion the Harmony Circle may find that additional input would be helpful in reaching a decision. The GPZC Board of Directors, other Zen Centers, and/or conflict resolution professionals may be consulted as part of this process.
The Harmony Circle will use a consensus model of decision-making (see Appendix). All members will contribute to writing the final decision and recommendations for resolution, using the Elements of Justice-Making as outlined by Faith Trust Institute (see Appendix). Ideally, the Harmony Circle will reach a decision and complete the report within a month following the end of the fact-finding process. Findings and recommendations may be presented in one of two ways: a separate face-to-face meeting with each individual involved in the conflict or convening a meeting of all the parties involved. The Harmony Circle will distribute the written report at this time. The findings report will be read aloud during the meeting. Questions can be posed and answered, but the findings report will not be changed during this meeting. At this time, when appropriate, the GPZC Board of Directors will be informed of the conflict and the Harmony Circle findings and recommendations concerning the situation.
The Zen Center’s intention is to address each grievance openly and honestly, without bias, and not to focus on protecting itself as an organization. However, there may be circumstances in which an individual does not believe this intention has been met. If any of the parties involved in the conflict feel the decision is biased, there are procedural irregularities, or if new information comes to light, they may appeal the decision to the GPZC Board of Directors. The written appeal must be delivered to the Board within thirty (30) days after the Harmony Circle report is received. The reason for the appeal must be explained, and evidence provided. The Board will notify the Harmony Circle that an appeal has been filed. The Board will review the findings, recommendations and appeal arguments. The Board will then decide to uphold or reconsider the Harmony Circle findings and recommendations. The decision will be made by the majority of voting Board members. Voting by the Board under such circumstances will not include any individuals involved in the grievance or any members of the Harmony Circle.
It is the responsibility of the GPZC Board of Directors to see that the decisions of the Harmony Circle be carried out. Based on the findings and recommendations, the Harmony Circle, the Board, and/or outside professionals may recommend all or part of the final report be shared with relevant individuals, the entire Sangha, and/or the public at large. Otherwise, the documentation, testimony, findings and recommendations report(s) shall remain confidential.
The following are examples of actions the Harmony Circle might recommend to bring transformation, healing, atonement and reconciliation following the completion of a Formal Grievance Procedure (this will be based on The Elements of Justice-Making and what the victim needs to heal and resolve the situation) :
- A finding that the grievance was unfounded
- Mediated dialogue between or among involved parties
- A period of separation between or among the parties (e.g., changing times they attend GPZC activities)
- Private or mediated apology
- Apology and reparation to the person who filed the grievance
- Apology and reparation to the GPZC Sangha
- Period of probation (e.g., from retreats, from Myoshinji), recommendation to participate in relevant training in boundaries, racism, etc.
- Recommendation for psychological therapy, medical care or participation in a recovery program
- Suspension from positions of responsibility within the Sangha
- Immediate suspension of the Teacher-Student relationship
- Suspension from all activities of the Great Plains Zen Center for a stipulated period of time with conditions for how and when return is possible
- Expulsion from the Sangha
- That the findings and recommendations of the Harmony Circle be made public
The Harmony Circle may also make recommendations for Sangha-wide education and systems revisions. Examples include:
- Education and/or training in communication skills, non-violent communication, boundaries and consent, racism and discrimination, etc.
- Asking teachers to address certain issues in Dharma talks
- Making changes to administrative processes
It is of primary importance that vulnerable persons be protected from harm. Relying upon the Elements of Justice-Making , the Harmony Circle will offer appropriate support for anyone determined to have been so harmed by the actions of a sangha member with an emphasis on promoting healing for the harmed person and on preventing further harm to them.
The GPZC Conflict Resolution Process and Formal Grievance Procedure are meant to offer a process for investigation and resolution of conflicts that occur within the sangha that are not easily resolved privately in dokusan and/or in typical interpersonal fashion without involvement and/or support from others. There may be times when the procedures are insufficient, or when they must be set aside, either temporarily or permanently, because of overriding legal or other unforeseen considerations. In addition, while some members of the Harmony Circle have backgrounds in psychological helping professions and mediation, there may be situations when Circle members feel they are incapable of properly investigating or otherwise bringing a grievance complaint to appropriate resolution. Some of those situations are noted in the procedures themselves, but there may be other situations when outside support or referral may be needed. Regardless of its role in any specific circumstance, it is the Harmony Circle’s responsibility to act in good faith as advisors to the Great Plains Zen Center sangha and its Board of Directors and to do whatever is necessary to properly investigate and bring resolution to conflicts within the sangha.