Nitartha Institute Ethics Policy
- This policy states expectations for the conduct of students, faculty, paid staff, and volunteers of the Institute, with a focus on different kinds of harassment.
- It describes a process for resolving situations when someone encounters harassment from a community member.
- It uses Buddhist principles and values for describing appropriate behavior, conduct and resolution.
- It describes consequences, including sanctions and disciplinary actions.
- It states that the Executive Council is the group that takes actions or imposes sanctions based on recommendations from the Compassion Council.
- It requires the creation of a “Compassion Council” to help resolve situations. And, it requires the appointment of individuals to assist with mediation.
Nitartha Institute students, staff, and volunteers are expected to, and shall, treat each other with dignity and respect and abide by basic Buddhist principles of not harming others and following the Noble Eightfold Path. To maintain a harmonious environment for study, practice and mindful activities at the Summer Institute and other Nitartha Institute settings, and in keeping with our devotion to our teachers, the teachings, and the sangha, all Nitartha Institute students, staff, and volunteers shall adhere to the following policy:
All staff and volunteers in positions of actual or apparent power, including but not limited to faculty, paid staff, and volunteers must be aware of the power dynamics involved in having a position of power and must not, for sexual gain or financial benefit, misuse the trust placed in them as leaders of the Nitartha Institute sangha. These individuals are expected to abide by the highest standard of ethical conduct and virtuous thoughts, speech, and action.
- Allegations of sexual harassment or other harassment or misconduct at the Summer Institute or at Nitartha-hosted events (wherever held) should be taken seriously and shall, if not resolved in accordance with clause 2 below, be reported to the Compassion Council, described in 4 below.
- The conflicting parties are asked to enter into a meaningful dialog to resolve apparent or real issues of misconduct. The parties are encouraged to use mediation with the help of Nitartha staff and volunteers who have been asked and granted authority to act as mediators. The mediators are identified and appointed on an annual basis by the Executive Council or at the beginning of the Summer Institute (see 3). In entering a meaningful dialog, please abide by Right Speech and Right Motivation.
- In more severe situations, where an individual has experienced or is experiencing trauma as a victim, then meditation is not recommended. Instead, the Compassion Council (described below) will meet with each individual separately to understand the nature of the conflict or victimization. The Council will then make a recommendation to the Executive Council on actions to take.
- The Nitartha Institute will identify and appoint individuals to be mediators to assist in resolving conflicts and issues of misconduct. These individuals have some training in mediation. The Executive Council will appoint three individuals to these positions on an annual basis, with options to renew the appointment. If these individuals do not attend the Summer Institute, the Executive Council will appoint other individuals, with the appropriate qualifications, to serve as mediators during the Summer Institute. The meditators should not hold senior leadership positions, such as Dean of Academic Studies or Summer Institute Program Coordinator, in part because there may be a conflict of interest in resolving an issue.
- A “Compassion Council” (the “Council”), comprised of one member of the Executive Council, a faculty member, and a mental health volunteer or staff member, shall be formed to support (a) Nitartha community members who allege that they are victims of harassment or misconduct, as described in 10 and 11, (b) members against whom such allegations are made, (c) community leaders to whom such allegations are reported and (d) other members who are directly affected by such allegations.
- Any member described in clauses 4(a), (b), (c) or (d) above may discuss the situation in confidence with a member of the Compassion Council. It is understood that that discussion will not lead to a judgment or legal action on the part of the Council or Nitartha, and is not meant to take the place of professional emotional support or any legal action the member may choose to pursue. It is further understood that the members of the Council are available as concerned fellow community members, and not in any professional capacity. The Council may, however, investigate allegations further and/or refer the member to outside professional support, such as local psychotherapists, if requested.
- The Council shall provide individual support to any member who requests it. This is not a substitute for professional counseling, legal advice or legal action. Furthermore, the Council, upon listening and discussing the situation among the affected parties, will make a recommendation to the Executive Council if additional action is required to resolve the situation. Such recommendations include actions described in section 12.
- In order to promote harmony and avoid schisms in the community, all community members shall practice The Noble Eightfold Path, including Right View, Right Motivation and Right Speech. This shall include honesty in speech, gentleness in conduct and in verbal treatment of others, and the relieving of suffering for self and others. Members shall not partake in wrong speech, i.e., lies, false speech, speech that may create schisms in the sangha, mindless chatter including gossip, rumors and harsh speech.
- As such, members not directly involved as an alleged perpetrator or victim of harassment or other misconduct shall not engage in spreading rumors, gossip or making accusations against others. This includes communications by email and postings on social media that would constitute wrong speech. Members should always practice mindfulness of speech, being aware that words have power.
- Any member who learns of alleged harassment, discrimination or other misconduct shall immediately report same to a member of the Council and shall not communicate rumors to other sangha members by any communication medium.
- Harassment encompasses a broad range of physical, written, or verbal behavior, including without limitation the following:
- Physical or mental abuse.
- Racial insults.
- Derogatory ethnic slurs.
- Derogatory statements about another person’s sexual orientation.
- Unwelcome sexual advances, speech or touching.
- Requests for sexual favors used as:
- a condition of employment, or
- to affect other personnel decisions, such as promotion or compensation.
- Display of offensive materials.
- Accusations of crimes or “bad actions”.
- Discrimination encompasses derogatory comments or exclusionary behavior based on a person’s age, sex, race or color, sexual preference, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability or other “protected class” delineated under state or federal law.
- Harassment or discrimination can be a single incident or a persistent pattern of behavior where the purpose or the effect is to create a hostile, offensive, exclusionary or intimidating environment.
- A community member may face disciplinary action including disenrollment from the Summer Institute and request to leave the program and premises, prevention of enrollment in future Nitartha programs and events, and dismissal from any paid or volunteer position of the Institute. Criteria in determining level of disciplinary action shall be based on fact scenario and will take into account harm to the individual, harm to the Institute and its community, and whether or not there was an unequal power relationship. The Executive Council will decide on the action to be taken based on the recommendations of the Compassion Council.
Self-Inquiry: Addendum to Ethical Conduct Policy
Mind has even more projections than there are dust motes in the sun…
— Milarepa, The Six Questions
Self-inquiry is an important part of ethical conduct. Before taking action, and to ensure adherence to Right Speech, Right Action and the rest of the Noble Eightfold Path, the following guidelines are offered to help bring into focus one’s thoughts and concerns, with the ground and intention of compassionate and skillful communication.
- Can I be clear about my viewpoint, while at the same time being open-minded to other ways to view the situation that I may not have considered?
- Have I reflected honestly on my feelings, needs, habitual tendencies and styles of communication so as not to create obstacles to constructive and compassionate communication?
- How can I encourage mutual understanding and an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation while holding my view in an open way and with curiosity?
- Have I reflected on how my speech or actions may, even inadvertently, have contributed to the conflict or misunderstanding?
- Have I taken responsibility for my view, actions and speech, rather than attributing blame to others?
Am I willing:
- To view the situation as an opportunity to practice mindfully in order to foster greater wisdom, growth and benefit for myself and all others involved?
- To communicate what I think is problematic without blame, accusations, attacks or engaging in wrong speech (harsh words, lies, rumors)?
- To hear feedback and constructive criticism?
- To work toward a collaborate solution that benefits everyone involved?
- To value kindness and open-mindedness above vindication or being “right” and to intend a “win-win” rather than “win-lose” outcome?
- To engage in compassionate and respectful communication?
The Eighfold Noble Path: Addendum to Ethical Conduct Policy
* Quotes of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche taken from unpublished transcripts of Rinpoche’s teachings entitled “Profound View, Fearless Path” (Seattle, WA, December 2000).
The Noble Eightfold Path encompasses Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings on the Fourth Noble Truth, the path out of suffering. Without this path, the first three Noble Truths (life is suffering; clinging to phenomena and “self” as the cause of suffering; and the cessation of suffering by letting go of clinging) would be merely theoretical. What follows is a summary of the eight principles of the Noble Eightfold Path.
Right View is about seeing our experiences as they are as they arise, without trying to change them. Right View begins with an understanding of karma – cause and effect. We are constantly presented with causes and conditions, and we choose our responses in body, speech and mind, moment by moment. Each action we choose to take results in the arising of the next cause and condition. If we choose a beneficial action, the next moment of karma will be beneficial, and if we choose a harmful action, the next moment will cause harm. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche has said, “Right View is the right understanding, and the right understanding is the only way we can begin our journey.”*
Right Intention (or Right Thought) arises directly from Right View. We generate the intention that we and all beings be free of suffering, and speak and act in accordance with that intention, with the heart of compassion and concern for others. As Ponlop Rinpoche said, “Freedom from suffering happens only when there is mutual communication happening between…two hearts…. The only way we can do that is by… seeing the other beings’ suffering clearly…without our projections of what they should have or should not have, but clearly seeing what they really desire, or how they desire to be free from such suffering.”
Right speech is direct and honest. Right Speech refers to speaking the truth, not slandering others, not engaging in gossip or rumors, not using speech that creates schisms in the sangha or in our relationships, and not speaking words that are abusive or harsh, that would otherwise cause pain in others. Right speech communicates Right View and Right Intention. According to Rinpoche, “When those two are reflected in our speech, right speech, then it becomes more profound, becomes more beneficial [and] causes us to develop harmonious relationships in our world.”
Right Action (or Right Discipline) is the manifestation of Right View and Right Intention through our actions. Right Action is action that creates benefit and avoids harm, pain or disharmony. According to Ponlop Rinpoche, “it can be basically understood as not causing suffering to others, and not harming others, and bringing some kind of benefit, insight and joy in others’ life through your action.”
Right Livelihood involves bringing the dharma path into our work lives and our interactions in daily life. As Rinpoche has said “We have a whole eight hours [a day] to work on our spiritual journey…. Right Livelihood is working with…[our] living situations in a most direct and profound way and turning them around into a most positive, spiritual, sacred and profound way of living.”
As Rinpoche has said “Right Effort …is connected to the idea of developing this sense of joy within us, a joy, a delight, in the path that we are pursuing here.” We take delight in engaging in the natural development of our effort to be of benefit that arises on our Buddhist path, the path of the Fourth Noble Truths.
Right Mindfulness involves a sense of precision. We bring the precision of the present moment to noticing our habitual tendencies and story lines that keep us stuck in samsara, so that we can transform them. According to Ponlop Rinpoche, “in this case, you’re looking at…developing a positive tendency to transform, to transcend the negative tendencies [and]…. noticing the flow of things in our everyday experience.”
Right Meditation (also called Right Samadhi or Right Absorption) is the direct experience of mind, moment to moment. According to Rinpoche, “This experience of Right Samadhi or Right Mediation is being grounded in the present moment, to relate with awareness of the moment and to develop a certain sense of trust, confidence and joy in experiencing the moment of nowness…. Right Samadhi combines the relationship [and experience] in our ordinary world with a deepening understanding of [our] own mind.”