As IMS teachers, we recognize that the foundation of spiritual life rests upon our mindful and caring relationship to all the lives and life around us. For those of us who live a lay life, we acknowledge that without the support of monastic vows and customs from our Theravada Buddhist roots in Asia, we need clear Western guidelines that help ensure the wisest ethical conduct possible.
In keeping with this understanding, and for the long-term benefit of ourselves and the community at large, we agree to uphold, at a minimum, the five lay training precepts. These are expanded below to make them explicitly appropriate in our role as teachers of the Dharma in our specific cultural setting.
We agree to the following guidelines:
1. We undertake the precept of refraining from killing.
We agree to acknowledge the interconnection of all beings and our respect for all life. We agree to refine our understanding of not killing and non-harming in all our actions. We seek to understand the implication of this precept in such difficult areas as abortion, euthanasia, and the killing of pets. While some of us recommend vegetarianism, and others do not, we all commit ourselves to fulfilling this precept in the spirit of reverence for life.
2. We undertake the precept of refraining from stealing.
We agree to not take that which does not belong to us and to respect the property of others. We agree to bring consciousness to the use of all of the earth’s resources in a respectful and ecological way. We agree to be honest in our dealing with money and not to misappropriate money committed to Dharma projects. We agree to offer teachings without favoritism in regard to any student’s financial circumstances.
3. We undertake the precept of refraining from sexual misconduct.
We agree to avoid creating harm through sexuality and to avoid sexual exploitation or relationships of a sexual manner that are outside the bounds of the relationship commitments we have made to another, or that involve another who has made vows to someone else.
IMS teachers with vows of celibacy will live according to their vows. IMS teachers in committed relationships will honor their vows and refrain from adultery. All teachers agree not to use their teaching role to exploit their authority and position in order to assume a sexual relationship with a student.
Because several single teachers in our community have developed partnerships and marriages with former students, we acknowledge that such a healthy relationship can be possible, but that great care and sensitivity are needed. We agree that in this case the following guidelines are crucial:
- A sexual relationship is never appropriate between teachers and current students.
- During retreats or formal teaching, any intimation of future student-teacher romantic or sexual relationship is inappropriate.
- If interest in a genuine and committed relationship develops over time between a single teacher and a student, the student-teacher relationship must clearly and consciously have ended, and the student and teacher must then consult with a senior teacher before any further development toward a romantic relationship. Such a relationship must be approached with restraint and sensitivity – in no case should it occur immediately after retreat. A minimum time period of three months or longer from the last formal teaching between them, and a clear understanding from both parties that the student-teacher relationship has ended must be coupled with a conscious commitment to enter into a relationship that brings no harm to either party.
4. We undertake the precept of refraining from false speech.
We agree to speak that which is true and useful and to refrain from gossip in our community. We agree to hold in confidence what is explicitly told to us in confidence. We agree to cultivate conscious and clear communication, and to cultivate the quality of lovingkindness and honesty as the basis of our speech.
Specifically, we will not publish any confidential conversations with students, whether those students are named or remain anonymous, without their prior written consent. This includes Dharma articles, books, interviews and blogs, both in print and online. Conversations with yogis may be recounted in Dharma talks, whether posted online or not, as long as prior verbal permission is given. It is generally suggested that the teacher mask the yogi’s name and other identifying details.
5. We undertake the precept of refraining from intoxicants that cause heedlessness or loss of awareness.
It is clear that substance abuse is the cause of tremendous suffering. We agree that there should be no use of intoxicants during retreats or while on retreat premises. We agree not to abuse or misuse intoxicants at any time.
Unlawful Harassment Prevention Policy
In addition to the precepts, IMS’s Unlawful Harassment Prevention Policy is also part of the Teacher Code of Ethics. That policy can be reviewed here.
To help uphold the standard of ethical behavior at our centers, IMS’s Board of Directors has created an Ethics Committee, comprised of board members and senior staff, that is responsible for receiving and addressing complaints of unethical behavior at IMS by teachers, staff or volunteers.
The committee can be contacted through the Human Resources Manager at 978-355-4378 ext. 335 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions or complaints will be handled or investigated as appropriate.
If any teacher demonstrates a violation of any of the above code – including inappropriate sexual conduct, a drug or alcohol addiction problem, or breaches confidentiality by publishing conversations with retreatants – the teacher assumes all actionable liability.
Teachers understand that any such violation will be addressed immediately by the Executive Director, the Guiding Teacher Committee and/or IMS’s Board of Directors (via the Ethics Committee), and may result in IMS severing its relationship with the teacher.