Community Dharma Leaders’ Code of Ethics

As Community Dharma Leaders (CDLs) authorised by the Gaia House Teacher Council, and as individuals in training for this role, we agree to the following commitments. These are based on the five precepts that Dharma teachers in the Insight Meditation tradition associated with Gaia House commit to. The teachers’ precepts are in turn based upon the application of traditional Buddhist ethical guidelines to the teaching role. While we use the term ‘precepts’ for the sake of consistency with the teachers’ Code of Ethics, we understand these as training guidelines to be cultivated in an ongoing fashion, and through which our practice grows and our understanding is refined.

We recognise that the foundation of spiritual life rests upon a mindful and caring relationship with the life around us. While we seek to observe these commitments in all parts of our lives, we recognise that in particular we need to honour the trust placed in us and be sensitive to our position within our sangha (practice community). We believe CDLs need to foster and uphold a safe environment in which community members can lower their guard and cultivate inner focus. Therefore, it is essential CDLs have a high level of personal integrity and seek to maintain clear boundaries when serving their sangha.

1. We undertake the precept of refraining from causing harm

In undertaking this precept we acknowledge the interconnection of all beings and our respect for all life.  We seek to refine our understanding of not killing and non-harming in all our actions.  We seek to understand the implication of this precept in difficult areas, for example euthanasia, abortion, and the killing of insects or other animals that may be considered pests.  While some of us are vegetarian or vegan and some are not, we all commit ourselves to fulfilling this precept in the spirit of reverence for life.

We also commit to the principle of non-harm to those who participate in groups that we may teach, facilitate or support. This includes the participants, as well as co-leaders. We will endeavour to recognise and address unskilful or harmful actions in these groups. We undertake not to abuse any position of authority, including but not limited to issues around sexual misconduct (see Precept 3). Where appropriate, we undertake to have a qualified mentor or supervisor in carrying out this role.

2. We undertake the precept of refraining from taking that which is not freely given.

We agree to not take that which does not belong to us and to respect the property of others.  We agree to bring awareness to our use of the earth’s resources so as to respect the needs of other beings and future generations.  We agree to be honest in our dealings with money and not to misappropriate money committed to Dharma projects, and we make the same commitment with regard to other material goods.  We agree to offer teachings without favouritism in regard to students’ financial circumstances.

3. We undertake the precept of refraining from sexual misconduct.

We agree to avoid causing harm through the expression of sexuality and to avoid sexual exploitation. CDLs with vows of celibacy will live according to their vows.  CDLs in committed relationships will honour their commitments. All CDLs agree not to use their role to exploit their authority and position in order to assume a sexual relationship with anyone in their sangha community.

We recognise the CDL role is different to that of teachers and yet still involves some elements of the transference, projection and power differential that makes the teaching role a complicated and delicate one with regard to intimate relationships.

We agree to uphold the following guidelines

  1.  If the CDL is in a teacher role with the student, the guidelines in the Gaia House Teachers’ Code of Ethics should be followed – these state:
    1. A sexual relationship is never appropriate between teachers and students.
    2. During retreats or formal teaching, any intimation of future teacher-student romantic or sexual relationship is inappropriate.
    3. If interest is genuine and a committed relationship develops over time between a single teacher and a student, the student-teacher relationship must clearly and consciously have ended 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 a 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
  2. If the CDL and the other person are peers within the sangha, then both should be guided by the 3rd precept and again any relationship should include a conscious commitment to enter into a relationship that brings no harm to either party nor to any other members of the sangha.

If it is unclear which of the above applies, the CDL should discuss the situation with a sangha member outside of the situation (e.g. their mentor or another CDL) to facilitate clarity and sensitivity with regard to the ethical implications of the relationship.

We are mindful of the deep harm that has been caused through the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, young people and vulnerable adults, in all parts of society, and especially in faith and spiritual contexts. We recommend that, where appropriate, CDLs and their sanghas develop safeguarding guidelines and procedures.

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 communities. We agree to hold in confidence what is explicitly told to us in confidence, except when we are concerned that someone may harm themselves or others . We seek to cultivate clarity, awareness and the qualities of loving-kindness and honesty in all forms of communication, including online.

5. We undertake the precept of refraining from intoxicants that cause heedlessness or loss of awareness.

It is clear that substance abuse and dependence are the cause of tremendous suffering. We agree that there should be no use of intoxicants while attending dharma events or while teaching.  We agree not to misuse intoxicants at any time.  We agree that if any CDL has a drug or alcohol addiction problem, it should be addressed by their peers, mentor and/or the Gaia House Teacher Council and as far as possible, the CDL will be supported with integrity and compassion.

Community Dharma Leaders (CDL) training programme