Daniel Sutton-Johanson, who founded Southsea Sangha, is participating in the UK’s first Community Dharma Leader (CDL) program, authorised by the Gaia House Teacher Council. As individuals under this new role, Daniel and his fellow colleagues 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 an adaptation of traditional Buddhist ethical guidelines. 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.
This code is a draft code, awaiting final approval of the Gia House Teachers Council.
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 inparticular, we need to honour the trust placed in us and be sensitive to our position within our sangha (practice community). 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 undertake to maintain a duty of care towards them, by undergoing appropriate training, by providing appropriate vetting of potential group members, and by keeping a caring eye on group members. 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 community, including students, sangha members and peers.
Because some CDLs are in existing relationships with other sangha members and fellow practitioners we recognise 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. A sexual relationship is never appropriate between a CDL in a teaching role and students. It is never appropriate for a CDL to begin a sexual relationship with a current student, or participant on a retreat or course, or anyone within a context where the CDL is teaching.
b. During retreats, courses or formal teaching, any intimation of future romantic or sexual relationship is inappropriate.
c. If interest in a genuine and committed relationship develops over time between a CDL and a sangha member, the student-teacher aspect of that relationship must clearly and consciously have ended before any further movement towards a romantic or sexual relationship. Such a relationship must be approached with restraint and sensitivity. In no case should it occur immediately after a course or retreat, regardless of the CDL’s role in it. There must be a minimum time period of three months since the last formal teaching situation, a clear understanding from both parties that the student-teacher relationship has ended, and a conscious commitment to enter into a relationship that brings no harm to either party.
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 lovingkindness 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 the Gaia House Teacher Council and as far as possible, the CDL will be supported with integrity and compassion.