The Austin Zen Center seeks to maintain a welcoming, respectful and supportive environment and community. Sexual harassment, coercion, or discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation impedes practice, harms individuals and the Zen center community, and violates precepts. Sexual harassment violates the basic trust upon which relationships are founded. It undermines religious communities in which students, staff, practitioners and teachers form relationships built on interdependence and trust.
Harassment includes verbal or physical behavior that is intimidating or insulting; it threatens personal safety by expression or implication, or it interferes with full participation in the activities of the Sangha. (TZC) When harassment is combined with improper sexuality, it becomes sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment most frequently occurs when one person has real or perceived power or authority over another. Sexual harassment may involve a staff member, teacher, resident, board member or member of the sangha. It encompasses several different types of behavior including sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Such unwanted sexual attention constitutes “sexual harassment” when submission to such conduct (1) involves a stated or implicit threat to the victim’s employment status, membership in the Center or involvement in Center functions (e.g., attendance at sesshin or dokusan), (2) substantially interferes with the victim’s spiritual practice, (3) creates an offensive environment, or (4) is intimidating or humiliating to the person. (RZC)
Depending on the nature and severity of alleged misconduct, concerns about or allegations of sexual harassment may be handled either (1) directly by those involved (e.g., with the informal conflict policy), (2) or by using the formal conflict resolution process.
Relationships within the Sangha and Student Teacher Relationships
Dual relationships at AZC due to roles assumed may result in friendships between teachers, practice leaders, students, and board members. AZC encourages awareness that these relationships may affect others in the Sangha. There are two types of dual relationships that are of deeper concern.
Some Sangha members may have professional certification as psychological or psychiatric counselors. AZC considers it conflict of interest for a teacher to be a therapeutic counselor concurrently. For the safety of Sangha members who would become student/client this dual relationship is prohibited.
Romantic relationships also require deeper awareness. Romantic relationships with new students or members (within six months of their first visit to AZC) is prohibited. This specifically applies to Teachers, Residents, and Sangha Leaders, and is grounds for a teacher dismissal, loss of residency, or release from leadership position. One reason that this restriction exists is for the safety of a new student who might be searching, in a vulnerable state, or in crisis. This vulnerability should not be exploited. Another reason is to allow a new person to settle into practice and determine if AZC is the place for them. Sexual relationship could be a distraction to this process.
Our presumption is that there should not be romantic relationships between students and teachers. Such relationships are almost never a good idea, and generally have wide-ranging, unpredictable effects on the harmony of the Sangha.
When a sangha teacher becomes aware of possible romantic intentions with a student they are asked to bring this circumstance to their teacher, seeking guidance and advice.
If, after this reflection, the sangha teacher intends to pursue or act on the relationship they must meet with both their teacher and at least one member of the elders council. After these meetings the teacher’s teacher and the member of the elders council form a discernment committee, and shall meet independent of the Sangha teacher to form an assessment of the situation for the board. This assessment shall include whether the discernment committee sees any possibility of supporting this relationship, and maintaining sangha harmony. If so, they shall advise on how this can be done. The board reserves the right of final decision on this matter.
If the teacher decides to pursue the relationship, without Board consent, the consequences may include: dismissal of the teacher, asking a member of the couple to leave the sangha, or a leave of absence for the sangha teacher.
Insofar as the challenge relates to power and trust: a teacher is member of the AZC leadership who has a practice discussion relationship with a student.