Soto Zen North America

Code of Ethics

As a Soto Zen priest and member of Soto Zen North America we have committed to living an ethical life. Central to our vows are sincere efforts to provide a safe, financially stable, and ethically upright temple or Zen center environment for all temple members, participants, and visitors. The 16 Bodhisattva Precepts of Zen Buddhism provide a basic ethical framework for all Soto Zen priests:

The Three Refuges

I take refuge in Buddha.

I take refuge in Dharma.

I take refuge in Sangha.

I take refuge in Buddha, honored as highest.

I take refuge in Dharma, honored as stainless.                     

I take refuge in Sangha, honored as harmonious.

I have taken refuge in Buddha.

I have taken refuge in Dharma.

I have taken refuge in Sangha.

namu kie butsu 南無帰依仏

namu kie ho 南無帰依法

namu kie so 南無帰依僧

kie butsu mujō son 帰依仏無上尊

kie ho rijin son 帰依法離塵尊

kie so wagō son 帰依僧和合尊

kie bu-kyo 帰依仏竟

kie ho kyo 帰依法竟

kie so kyo 帰依僧竟

The Three Pure Precepts

First are the precepts of restraint.

Second are the precepts of adopting good qualities.

Third are the precepts of benefiting all living beings.

The Ten Prohibitory Precepts

First is the precept not to kill living beings.

Second, precept not to steal.

Third, precept not to misuse sex.

Fourth, precept not to engage in false speech.

Fifth, precept not to deal in alcoholic beverages.

Sixth, precept not to point out the transgressions of others.

Seventh, precept not to praise oneself and denigrate others.

Eighth, precept not to be stingy with the dharma or material things.

Ninth, precept not to give rise to anger.

Tenth, precept not to disparage the three treasures.

Ethical Standards

While the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts are the foundation of my vows, additional ethical standards and guidelines provide clarity. In summary:

As Soto Zen priests we should:

As a Soto Zen priests we should not:

Priest Responsibility

The priest relationship with practice students and temple members is founded on deep trust and respect. The authority of the teacher carries with it an increased responsibility to avoid situations and actions that could result in harm to the student, the community, or the teacher. The responsibility for maintaining appropriate and clear boundaries rests with the Zen priest. Priests should not misuse status or authority to achieve privileges or other consideration, or to inappropriately influence others.

Priests are to seek appropriate professional assistance for their own personal problems and conflicts, especially those that might impair their pastoral ability and judgment.

Priests should not work in isolation but must be mindful of the need to maintain collegial and professional associations. It is necessary for priests to develop and maintain such associations for the purposes of maintaining supervisory skills, and spiritual insights, educational acumen, and current knowledge of resources for ministry. Forming a priest support group is encouraged.


Soto Zen priests are not to claim directly or by implication any pastoral or professional qualifications that exceed their actual qualifications or abilities. Priests are expected to make appropriate referrals for matters that go beyond moral, spiritual, or religious guidance or whenever the needs of temple members exceed those that can be competently handled by the clergyperson.

Sexual Misconduct

Zen priests respect and protect the personal autonomy of all students, and refrain from sexual involvement with temple members and/or Zen students. The development of a sexual or sexualized relationship between a priest and a person with whom they have had a pastoral relationship is forbidden. Should a priest find themselves struggling to uphold this standard, they should seek immediate guidance and counsel from the Sokan or other senior teachers in Soto Zen North America.


In order to make the Dharma accessible to all, Soto Zen priests wholeheartedly commit to employ and serve all qualified persons without discrimination regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability, or economic status.


Priests should treat all pastoral conversations as confidential, except as may be required by law. If a person communicates an intention to harm themselves or others, this must be reported, as appropriate. If a person confesses to child sexual abuse or other abuse, the priest can and should notify the authorities immediately. Many states have mandatory reporting laws for clergy. Soto Zen priests must be aware of and in compliance with these laws.

Fiduciary Responsibility

Priests should act in the best financial interests of the Zen temple center and never use funds or assets that belong to the temple without express permission. Priests should provide accountable and transparent stewardship of temple funds. It is improper to mingle personal funds of any kind with temple donations. Items purchased from temple donations are the property of the temple, at least until such time as they may be given to the priest as a gift by the temple members. Priests who improperly use discretionary funds for personal use may be subject to income tax reporting requirements, as well as civil, and/or criminal penalties.

Drugs and Alcohol

In consideration of the priest’s position of authority, behavior with drugs, alcohol and all intoxicants must be in alignment with the precepts. Abuse of intoxicants is an ethical violation and is subject to the procedures outlined below.


In accordance with the first Zen precept not to kill living beings, no Soto Zen priest shall use or be in possession of firearms. Priests, staff, students, volunteers, and visitors, may not carry a weapon in any Soto Zen temple or Zen center. This prohibition applies even if the person is licensed to carry a weapon under local law.


Procedures for addressing ethical concerns:

The following procedure can be adapted to address the concerns of individuals or groups of practitioners under the guidance of a teacher but without an Administrative Board or Board of Directors.

Ethics Procedures Part 1

If a student brings forward a concern, it may be addressed directly with the teacher.  It may also be wise to discuss this with another qualified SZBA or ASZB recognized teacher to assist in discernment and in resolution of the concern. Rev. Zuiko Redding ( of the Cedar Rapids Zen Center and Rev. Tenku Ruff ( can be contacted for this purpose, or, to find a list of SZBA teachers, see .

Informal Ethical Process

If a matter of importance concerning ethical guidelines or practices arises, it may be brought to the attention of the Teacher and/or another qualified teacher.

Formal Ethical Hearing Process

If matters of importance are not able to be informally resolved, a Hearing Panel may be convened to implement a Formal Process. The Panel may consist of another teacher selected by me, a teacher selected by the student and a third teacher selected by the two advising teachers, the Ethical Designee.

1. Bringing a Concern

A Formal Process is initiated by communicating in writing with the Ethical Designee. This “letter of request” must include:

  A clear statement that a formal ethical hearing process is requested.

  The name of the person(s) to whom the matter pertains.

  A description of the alleged matter sufficient enough to allow the Ethical Designee to decide whether the matter is appropriate for a formal hearing process.

  A description of prior attempts to resolve the matter.

  A statement of the resolution sought.

2. Accepting a Concern

Once the Ethical Designee has received a letter of request, the Ethical Designee, will, within 30 days convey to the requester the acceptance or non-acceptance of the matter for formal hearing.  In the event the matter is accepted for formal hearing, the Ethical Designee will also notify persons named in the Letter of Request, as appropriate.

3. Convening the Hearing Panel

Once the parties have been notified, the Ethical Designee, in consultation with the Head Teacher, will convene the meeting. One panelist chairs the hearing and insures that a record of the hearing is maintained.  Each member of the panel must be without actual or apparent bias or conflict of interest. 

4. Hearing the Concern

The chair schedules a private hearing for the persons involved to have a full and fair opportunity to present their understanding of the matter at hearing.  The Panel may ask questions and request information.  The panel will consult with the Head Teacher.

5. Hearing Panel Decision

Once the Hearing Panel determines that it is sufficiently informed of the matter(s) heard, it will close the hearing and deliberate.  Deliberation will include consultation with the Head Teacher.

As soon as reasonably practicable, the panel will issue a written decision and distribute it as appropriate.

6. Partial List of Possible Resolutions by a Hearing Panel

This is a partial list of possible resolutions intended to encourage open-minded and creative decisions. While it is not possible to anticipate every kind of situation which might require resolution, this format hopes to ensure a process that benefits all.  The findings could apply to either the teacher or the practitioner.

 Finding of no ethical breach while acknowledging the existence of a problem which needs resolution elsewhere.

 Reversal of an administrative decision or action.

 Direct or mediated private apology.

 Apology to the community.

 Follow-up meetings with the head teacher.

 Recommended education or training or intervention program (e.g. therapy or relevant 12-step program).

 Private reprimand.

 Public censure.  The findings and action of the Hearing Panel as well as the reprimand, are made public to the Sangha.

 Period of probation, with probationary terms set by the Hearing Panel.

 Suspension or dismissal from position of responsibility in the Sangha.

 Suspension from teaching for a period of time. A suspension should stipulate the conditions by which a person may commence teaching. 

 Limiting the decision simply to whether or not an ethical transgression occurred.

Ethical Violations and Members’ Obligations to Soto Zen North America

Soto Zen Buddhist priests have a special responsibility to ensure a safe teaching environment for all Zen students, temple members and temple visitors. All priests registered with Soto Zen North America are bound by these principles:

  1. Self-reporting Clause: Members shall take responsible action when they become aware that they themselves or another SZNA member is impaired or otherwise unable to maintain the SZNA Code of Ethics. Soto Zen North America members shall provide the Sokan’s office immediate notice of any complaint of unethical conduct made against them. If a priest has been found by their temple or Zen center to be in violation of the SZNA ethical guidelines, they must immediately report this to the Sokan’s office and to the appropriate authorities, in accordance with applicable laws. Should the priest not report, their temple or Zen center officers should do so. If the ethical violation is not otherwise reported, an SZNA member not affiliated with the temple may report the violation to the Sokan’s office. Priests found in violation of the SZBA Code of Ethics may be subject to suspension of membership.