Ethics Guidlines

Ethics Guidelines

Sweeping Heart Zen

To avoid all harm, to cultivate good, and to purify the mind. This is the teaching of the Buddhas. ~The Dhammapada


The intimacy of Zen practice, teachers and students, dharma friend and dharma friend, is a source of great joy in the Sweeping Heart Zen sangha. The Bodhisattva Precepts serve as our guide along the path of right speech, right conduct, and relationships. Practice is based on trust, safety, respect, and true communication. The sangha jewel is formed of such relationships. We offer the following Ethics Guidelines to nurture an atmosphere where people can practice without fear or distraction, where dharma comes first.

We acknowledge that difficulties may arise among members because of differences in experience and position within the sangha. Differences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and physical disability require particular awareness and sensitivity. This document provides the broad principles for how this sangha integrates the precepts in coping with conflicts and ethical issues.

Mindful Speech

Great benefit or great harm can come from speech. Mutual respect and trust are built when all participants and sangha members speak truthfully and compassionately with the intent to be helpful, and observe the precepts regarding right speech: refraining from lies, gossip (self-serving talk), slander, angry or abusive speech, blaming, diagnosing,  or condemning speech, seeking personal information about others such as personal or work or email addresses even though such information has not been offered.

When a conflict arises it is best to address it directly with the other person. Sometimes, however, it may be wise to discuss this with our teacher to assist in developing a more skillful approach. It may also be useful to have a neutral third person involved in an attempt to resolve a conflict, if a one-to-one attempt has failed.

In these situations, mindful discussion with a dharma friend who is not the teacher can also be useful. However, we discourage sharing a concern widely in order to gain support for one’s position, since this can foster conflict rather than reconciliation.


Harmony, Ethics and Reconciliation

In the course of daily sangha interactions, disagreements, conflicts, misunderstandings and unethical behavior can occur. In some situations the ethics of a particular behavior may not be clear.

At this point in the life of Sweeping Heart Zen we look to our Founder and Spiritual Leader, Mark Nelson to assist sangha members when they are not sure about their own ethical course in unclear situations. Sangha members are encouraged to bring concerns to Mark for consultation, support, and advice. When ethical dilemmas present themselves, usually the earlier one seeks consultation the better, but sangha members may seek such consultation at any time. Among the situations where consultation is warranted are: those involving inappropriate sexual behavior; abusive conduct or harassment; incompetence that threatens the sangha; and use of position for personal gain or exploitation.

In certain situations it is unethical to do nothing. The following conduct must be brought to Mark’s attention: situations involving suspected abuse against an elder, child or partner where reporting would be required of a therapist; misappropriation of sangha funds; or gross and harmful incompetence in performance of a Sweeping Heart Zen position.

Relationships within the Sangha

Our practice at SHZ can be warmhearted and close, but it is important to remember that with the intimacy of practice, confusion regarding sexuality, power, and confidentiality may arise in ways that can harm practitioners and the sangha if not dealt with skillfully.

Desires of all kinds are part of life. Rather than allowing desires to control us, leading to suffering, it is our intention to be compassionately aware of these feelings while returning to our original vow to awaken with all beings, and to practice spiritual friendship at SHZ and in the wider world.

Following are comments regarding specific types of relationships within our sangha:
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 Sweeping Heart Zen, Mark Nelson, our Founder and Spiritual Leader has 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 him. Mark will respect and protect the personal autonomy of all students, and refrain from sexual involvement with students.

Relationships with students new to SHZ

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. All members in leadership positions — members and officers of the SHZ Board of Directors have made a commitment to refrain from sexual relationships with new SHZ students during their first year of practice.

We request all SHZ members to be mindful of the benefit for a new student in not being distracted from the primary activity of establishing her or his own practice.

Other aspects of Sangha life are addressed as follows:

Personal time with our teacher, practice discussion, questions and discussions within dharma groups are times and places for sharing personal information. Honoring the dialogue between teachers and students is a foundation of personal and sangha relations. The teacher is expected to maintain confidentiality about matters raised in discussions. Students are expected to refrain from idle talk about matters brought up with the teacher, and to respect confidences shared dharma discussion groups.

Therapists and Helping Professionals

Sangha members are discouraged from using the community as a source of business or professional clients. We request that SHZ sangha members who work as psychotherapists, physicians or attorneys avoid entering into professional relationships with sangha members. Others in the helping professions are asked to be sensitive to the delicate balance between worker and client, and the possible complexity of dual relationships when both parties practice at SHZ.

Procedures for Addressing Ethical Concerns

Sweeping Heart Zen will follow the Informal Ethical Process as described in Daishin Mark Nelson’s SZBA Ethics Statement.

If a case arises where matters of importance are not able to be informally resolved, Sweeping Heart Zen will follow the Formal Ethical Hearing Process as described in Daishin Mark Nelson’s SZBA Ethics Statement.