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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
22 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 2 In the Zen tradition, sesshins (concentrated periods of seated meditation) are structured to be intense. They are designed to help us drop the artificial barriers that normally separate “self” from “other.” The theory is that after our normal defenses are exhausted through the rigors of a sesshin, we will be raw enough to experience our true nature. This is all well and good, but when we are exhausted we feel more sens itive, vulner- able, and uninhibited. This can lead to saying or doing things we regret. If the structure of a sesshin is strong, it can help us contain and channel the primal nature that is exposed. Most Zen groups have sufficient structure for this, but experience has taught me that additional safeguards such as clear policies help manage the unleashed energy. The most essential ingredient of any ethics and reconciliation policy is that the process be alive. The policy needs to be regularly reviewed, updated, and made known. If not, when it is called upon to work, it will have little support or effectiveness. In addition, there must be a standing ethics committee that rotates members regularly, in staggered fashion. Everyone on the committee should have training in communica- tion skills and professional ethical guidelines. Ideally the committee should have autonomy from the board of directors, with the majority of the committee not on the board, and perhaps include invited members of neighboring sanghas. At Chobo-Ji we make sure that at least one person is designated at the beginning of each weeklong sesshin to represent the ethics commit- tee. This person is given time at the beginning of the retreat to outline basic guidelines, which are also posted, and becomes the initial go-to person if there is some incident that needs atten- tion. Between sesshins, our policies are posted in our sangha lounge along with the membership of Since 1999 I’ve been the abbot of Chobo- Ji in Seattle and a student of my ordina- tion teacher, Genki Takabayashi Roshi, and my dharma lineage father, Eido Shimano Roshi. From the perspective of both student and teacher, I have experienced all sorts of heartache arising from conflict within the sanghas where I have practiced. I know what it feels like to be accused of behavior I did not do. I know what it is like to be called on behavior I did do that was unwelcome and misunderstood. I know what it is like to call students on the carpet for inappro- priate behavior. I know what it is like to see the most well-intentioned process of reconciliation between aggrieved sangha members go awry. I know firsthand what it is like to sit on a govern- ing board and an ethics committee investigating ethical breaches of a beloved teacher. When conflict arises within a close community, how do we deal with it? This matter is especially important and more difficult when someone in a position of authority is suspected of wrongdoing. Buddhist sanghas are supposed to represent the epitome of harmony, communication, mindful- ness, skillfulness, and compassion. How then do we approach the inevitable conflicts that arise in all real communities between real people with real limitations and shortcomings? If the behav- ior of the spiritual leader is called into question, who has the authority or even the chutzpa to investigate and hold them accountable? Many groups have fairly well-defined statements of ethical behavior, and some have well-designed mechanisms for dealing with misunderstanding, conflict, and ethical breaches. However, as we all know, poor behavior cannot be legislated away, and the success of conflict resolution even when the rules are well thought out will largely depend on the skillfulness of the participants. LET’S TALK EDWARDDAIKICADMAN GENJO MARINELLO OSHO is the abbot of Chobo-ji, a temple in the Rinzai-Hakuin lineage of Zen in Seattle, Washington. He studied with the founding abbot of Chobo-Ji for twenty years, and later trained with Eido Shimano Roshi, who declared him a dharma heir in 2008. He is also a psychotherapist in private practice. GET READY for CONFLICT Genjo Marinello says sanghas must take steps to prepare for ethical breaches and conflicts before they happen.