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Ethical Policy of the FPMT

The purpose of this policy document is to help maintain and foster a supportive environment for Buddhist practice within the FPMT. This document describes the ethical responsibilities of people in positions of authority within the FPMT, such as teachers, interpreters, center directors and spiritual program coordinators in the centers, and Board members and members of the International Office Management Committee within the larger organization. This document should be accompanied by the document entitled Grievance Procedures, which outlines the procedures that should be followed if complaints or grievances against any of these people should arise.

As Buddhists, our main concern when grievances arise is the ability to forgive and be compassionate within an understanding of karma. Genuine forgiveness and apologies for inappropriate actions should in general be accepted and encouraged. This means that the 'victim' also has a responsibility to be compassionate.

A fundamental responsibility to ourselves and to the FPMT community is to create a supportive, harmonious, and safe environment for Dharma practice. If we notice conduct that we believe is harmful to an individual or the community as a whole, it is crucial that we recognize and express our concerns, so a culturally appropriate forum for dealing with problems, needs to be developed. Ethical guidelines are commonplace in most businesses, organizations, and government offices. As a Dharma organization, we should maintain an even higher standard of ethics than an ordinary organization.

As Buddhist practice includes the support and involvement of a spiritual community, participants in FPMT centers are caretakers of the community’s well-being. We share a responsibility to foster an environment of integrity and respect. Part of our shared responsibility involves refraining from behavior that harms other participants or the community as a whole. Another part of our shared responsibility is to attend to any concerns we may have about misconduct within the FPMT.

FPMT center teachers, directors, and staff are trusted to behave in ways that further the community’s well-being. The community expresses its special trust in individuals by placing them in these positions. In addition, these individuals are seen as representing Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and the FPMT; in that way, they act as ambassadors, and their behavior is a reflection on Rinpoche and the entire organization.

Examples of misconduct include, but are not limited to, physical violence, sexual harassment, such as inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances, misappropriation of community funds for personal use, and sexual relationships between teachers and students. Misconduct on the part of those in positions of trust can significantly undermine the community’s integrity; and users of the center can be considerably demoralized, and lose faith in the center. For these reasons, this behavior is prohibited, and the procedures outlined in Grievance Procedures should be put into place if such a breach occurs.

The five Buddhist precepts are the basis of ethics in FPMT centers. The FPMT Handbook states:

For the centers to offer a Dharma environment depends on each member of the community emphasizing Dharma in their own life. To facilitate this all those visiting or living in a center, while in the center are required to live within the basic five precepts.

The five precepts are not to kill, steal, indulge in sexual misconduct, lie or take intoxicants. Intoxicants include alcohol, narcotics and cigarettes.

In addition, the following policy is established:

Relationships: Sexual relationships between FPMT staff in positions of authority, especially teachers (please see below for additional policy for Dharma teachers), and beginning Dharma students are strongly discouraged, due to the power and authority imbalances inherent in this relationship. FPMT teachers and staff should also be careful to refrain from behavior that could be interpreted as sexual advances or sexual harassment. In addition, even if a potential relationship between a staff member and a student would not otherwise be discouraged, no staff member should make sexual advances to any participant during a course or retreat.

Right Speech: It is important that FPMT teachers and staff be careful not to gossip about or disparage other teachers, FPMT staff, or students, or use harsh or abusive language. We should avoid speech that is intentionally hurtful. If we are hurt or angry, we should wait before we respond and think about the impact and usefulness of our words. Overhearing conversations in which other teachers or students are disparaged can have an especially negative impact on newcomers and visitors to the center. If a difficult exchange is warranted, it should take place in private, away from the public areas of the center.

Center Finances: Great care should be taken in dealing with center finances. In a Dharma center, the way certain financial transactions are handled is regulated by codes of conduct that are far more stringent than those of an ordinary business. Money that has been donated for specific Dharma projects should never be made available for general operating expenses, except as a temporary loan, and income from Dharma items should be used for Dharma purposes, not for general expenses. All Center income and expenditure should be clearly and transparently accounted for, according to generally accepted accounting principles.

Non-discrimination: Our way is to accommodate and not exclude anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or physical handicap. FPMT staff should also be aware that there are laws in effect in many countries prohibiting discrimination based on many of these factors. The underlying principle, which is a fundamental part of our Dharma practice, is to treat others with respect, in a way in which we would like to be treated. 

Because of the uniqueness of the teacher-student relationship, FPMT Dharma teachers are required to observe the following additional policy:
Confidentiality: Teachers should respect the confidentiality of students, and treat all communications from students with professional confidence. Teachers should assume that all conversations with students are private, and should not disclose information acquired in the conversation without the consent of the student. This is another way of respecting the guideline of right speech mentioned above. This is also required of interpreters.
Qualifications: Dharma teachers should be honest about their qualifications, and should be careful to correct any misrepresentation of their qualifications.
Relationships: Teachers are not to engage in a sexual relationship or communicate such an intention with a student who they meet during one of their classes. If the teacher and student wish to enter into an intimate relationship, the teacher must take responsibility to ensure that a period of more than six months has elapsed between the end of the course and the beginning of the relationship. This is to help protect both the teacher and the student from misusing the teacher-student relationship.
Dharma teachers are usually held to high standards of conduct and thus should make every effort to conduct their personal relationships in an exemplary manner. Teachers should never use their authority and position in order to initiate sexual and intimate relationships with students.

If the Ethical Policy is Breached
In a case that a center staff member or volunteer is accused of having breached the FPMT Ethical Policy, and a grievance procedure is initiated against them, that individual's case should be considered by his/her line manager.

If the individual is the center director or resident teacher, then their case must go to the International Office Management Committee, and possibly to the Board. That individual may be subject to disciplinary procedure. If the individual is a member of the Board of FPMT Inc., the case must go to the Board of FPMT Inc.

It is FPMT policy that every individual accused of breaching ethical policy be given the opportunity to explain their behavior, and if it is agreed that they indeed were unethical, have the benefit of receiving an explanation of why their conduct was considered unethical. If that individual agrees to change that conduct in line with FPMT Ethical Policy, they should be given the opportunity to continue serving that center, unless that center's governing body consider it too detrimental to the center. However, if they do not agree, or are considered to have breached Ethical Policy a second time, they will be dismissed immediately from their position.

Center Services, International Office, Oct. 2000