Ethics Guidelines

Ryumonji Zen Monastery aims to provide a supportive and caring environment for practice. Behavior of leaders and community members is expected to be in accordance with the principles of practice outlined in RZM Ethics guidelines.

Adopted by RZM Board as revised on March 20, 2016

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


Ryumonji Zen Monastery (Ryumonji or RZM) envisions an environment and practice tradition designed to facilitate awareness of the interdependent workings of the universe. This is nurtured by a practice of silent reflection and compassionate living. Life in the Ryumonji community reflects compassionate awareness of living in peace and harmony with each other, with all beings, and the earth itself.

The intimacy of Zen practice, including the relationships of teachers and students, and of dharma friend and dharma friend, is a source of great joy in the Ryumonji sangha. The bodhisattva precepts serve as our guide along the path of right speech, right conduct, and right relationships. Practice is based on trust, safety, respect, and true communication.

Mindful Speech

In a small community, great harm can come from speech that is inconsistent with the precepts. Mutual respect and trust are built when all sangha members speak truthfully and compassionately with the intent to be helpful, and observe the clear mind precepts regarding right speech: refraining from lies, gossip (self-serving talk), slander, angry or abusive speech, and apportioning blame.


Dokusan (formal one-on-one practice interviews between teacher and student) and more informal practice discussion can be venues for sharing highly sensitive personal information. Honoring the dialogue between teachers and students is a foundation of personal and sangha relations. Teachers are expected to maintain confidentiality about matters raised in dokusan or practice discussion. Students are expected to refrain from idle talk about matters brought up in dokusan and practice discussion, and to respect confidences shared with other RZM members.

Confidentiality is the basis of mutual trust between student and teacher. However, for the well-being of individuals and of the sangha, there are times when teachers and/or practice leaders need to consult about matters raised in practice discussion. Such consultations are never done lightly, and only as much information is to be shared as is needed to clarify and bring harmony to the situation at hand. The consultations themselves are to be kept confidential. Such consultations are required where a serious ethical breach has occurred or where specific reporting laws apply.

Relationships within the Sangha

Our practice at RZM 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. It is our intention to be compassionately aware of these factors while returning to our original vow to awaken with all beings, and to practice spiritual friendship at RZM and in the wider world.

Following are comments regarding specific types of relationships within our sangha:

1. Teacher and Student Relationships

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 trust, or use power and/or position for personal gain or manipulation. Such harm can damage the whole community. At RZM, all the priests and lay persons have made a commitment to conduct relationships in accord with the bodhisattva precepts. Because of this commitment, responsibility for maintaining appropriate and clear boundaries always rests with the priest/practice leader. They will respect and protect the personal autonomy of all students, and refrain from sexual involvement with students. In particular, any relationship that is exploitive or abusive in nature and is based in any way on the imbalance of power between the practice leader and student is prohibited. The consequences of inappropriate behavior in the area will be determined by the Ryumonji Board of Directors following investigation by the Ethics and Reconciliation (EAR) committee.

2. Therapists, Helping Professionals, and Business Relationships

Ryumonji is a dharma practice environment. Sangha members are discouraged from using the community as a source of clients or business opportunity. We request that RZM teachers and 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 the same dharma center.

Conflict Resolution and the Ethics and Reconciliation (EAR) Committee

In the course of daily sangha interactions, disagreements, conflicts, misunderstandings and unethical behavior can occur. 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 a teacher or practice leader 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 the conflict, if a one-to-one attempt has failed.

In some situations, however, the ethics of a particular behavior may not be clear. The EAR committee exists, first and foremost, to assist sangha members when they are not sure about their own ethical course.

The EAR Committee will be appointed by the Ryumonji Board of Directors and reflect the diversity of the Sangha. It will include both clergy and lay members of the sangha. The EAR Committee will have the authority to investigate complaints and make recommendations to the board. Any decisions regarding discipline related to complaints will be made by the board of directors. If a member of the EAR Committee is the subject of a complaint that person will be recused from meetings regarding the complaint. The names and contact information of the members are available on the Ryumonji web site.

If the situation warrants, the EAR Committee or board of directors may consult with an outside mediator as well.

Sangha members are encouraged to bring concerns to any member of the EAR committee for consultation, support and advice. Generally, the earlier one seeks consultation, the better. However, sangha members may seek such consultation at any time. In some cases, a meeting with a single member of the EAR committee may be sufficient to clarify the issues involved; in other situations, either the sangha member or the EAR committee member may wish to consult with the entire committee. The EAR Committee will investigate and report their findings and recommendations to the board of directors.

Among the situations where consultation with a member of the EAR committee is warranted are: those involving inappropriate sexual behavior; abusive conduct or harassment; incompetence that threatens the sangha; and use of a position for personal gain or exploitation.

In certain situations, it is unethical to do nothing. The following conduct must be brought to the attention of the EAR committee: 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 an RZM position.

Furthermore, if an RZM teacher or EAR committee member learns of incidents of abuse of children or vulnerable adults, such incidents must be reported to the appropriate legal authorities.

Addressing Complaints

A complaint may be filed by downloading the complaint form (PDF). A member may bring a complaint when there is a breach of these guidelines, a conflict, or a confusing situation for which they would like to seek reconciliation or resolution.

Maintaining the well-being of the sangha is the mutual responsibility of all members. If you feel that the guidelines discussed here are not being observed, or simply wish to share your discomfort, we request that you bring your concerns to the attention of one of the names listed below. The complaint form may be used for written concerns and/or complaints. Your questions will be taken seriously and examined according to a principled and confidential process and will not be shared outside of Ryumonji’s Board of Directors and/or the EAR Committee. We hope that diligent inquiry, honesty, compassion, and openness will strengthen the sangha and support our wonderful Zen practice for many years to come.

Current members of the EAR Committee:

Rev. Jinen Conway
6046 27th St. N.
Arlington, VA 22207

Lee Zook, Secretary, Board of Directors
3001/2 W. Water St.
Decorah, IA 52101

Rev. Eido Espe, Ryumonji Vice Abbot
636 Polk Blvd.
Des Moines, IA 50312

Rev. Jakudo Peterson, President, Board of Directors
1014 Pinehill Drive
Albert Lea, MN 56007
507-373-0632 (Evenings – please leave a message if no answer)