ADDRESSING ETHICAL CONCERNS TODAY
The Adhisthana Kula was set up to investigate and respond to accounts of hurt or harm in the past and their continuing effects in the present, and to establish effective ways of dealing with ethical issues when they arise in the future. The starting point for this work is that everyone attending Triratna activities should be safe and treated with respect and our approach was guided by Buddhist ethical principles, and by the law if criminal matters came to light.
We worked with others to develop a system with a number of elements operating in tandem. Restorative Approaches are discussed in the next section; here we describe Safeguarding policies and procedures, ethical guidelines for teachers and a clarified system of sanctions in the case of more serious ethical breaches by Order members. A new body called the Ethics Kula handles matters of Order Ethics which are not Safeguarding issues. The Adhisthana Kula initiated some of these developments, and in other cases they supported developments that were already underway.
The matters we have been dealing with often prompt strong feelings, and the best ways forward have been a matter of debate. This is work in progress, and we are still in the process of establishing new systems, finding resources to support them and engaging with concerns from Order members.
We regret that we were not able to engage with all the more general areas of past difficulties and think this should be a priority for future work.
The systems described here are not perfect and do not align neatly. We continue to explore where the boundaries between them lie, and they are continuing to evolve as we learn more.
ORDER ETHICS + THE ETHICS KULA
Since its foundation, Triratna’s College of Public Preceptors has had responsibility for suspending or expelling Order members in the event of serious ethical misconduct. (Rather than ‘expulsion’ we usually speak of ‘recognising that someone is no longer acting in a way compatible with membership of the Order’).
In 2017 the overall Safeguarding Officer raised the need for the College to work in concert with the Safeguarding Team, and the Ethics Kula was established.
Where a serious concern is raised about an Order member’s conduct, the Safeguarding team will first address any Safeguarding aspects of the case, for example, where appropriate and/or required, reporting the matter to the police and/or social services, and then the Ethics Kula will determine how best to address the matter within the Order.
Less serious concerns arising in the course of the activities of a Buddhist centre are addressed at a local level if possible, sometimes with the involvement of a Centre’s President (an experienced Order member who is not directly involved in the situation). Other matters, for example those involving probation, suspension, or recognising that someone is no longer a member of the Order, are the responsibility of the College of Public Preceptors.
In common with other religious communities, we are still exploring important issues of principle; for example the issue of confidentiality in relation to formal confession, and how to include in the Triratna sangha those previously convicted for serious crimes – both of which are potentially Safeguarding matters. Our sincere belief that the Dharma should be available to all and that everyone is capable of radical transformation has to be framed by our ethical, legal and regulatory duties to protect others from harm. Mindful of these obligations the Ethics Kula welcomes discussion of these complex matters in various Triratna bodies.
The Ethics Kula is currently drawn from the people who hold positions of responsibility for the Order as a whole, including the College Chair and some Deputies (who have responsibility for applying sanctions in the event of serious breaches of the Order’s Ten Ethical Precepts), the International Order Convenors, and a representative of the Restorative Coordinating Group. They are keen to involve more Order members, including some without institutional responsibilities of this sort, and are considering ways to do so. A third Order Convenor is being appointed who will have particular responsibility for addressing ethical values and concerns in the Order.
In May 2020 the members of the Safeguarding Team ceased to be part of the Ethics Kula, recognising that their function would be better fulfilled as independent advisers.
ETHICAL GUIDELINES FOR TEACHERS
Each Triratna Centre is legally independent. In the UK the trustees of each charity have Safeguarding responsibilities to ensure that their beneficiaries are protected from harm in the course of their charities’ activities.
In 2013 work began on developing a set of ethical guidelines for those in Triratna offering activities to the general public, including classes in meditation or Buddhism, study groups, yoga classes or therapeutic interventions such as mindfulness classes. The Triratna Model Ethical Guidelines were first published in 2016 and are regularly reviewed.
In January 2017 the College of Public Preceptors made a statement about sex between Preceptors and those they ordain making clear that the College had long since determined, with Sangharakshita’s support, that Preceptors:
- should not enter into sexual relations with those they have ordained or are helping to prepare for ordination,
- should also not ordain anyone with whom they have such a relationship, or with whom they have previously had sexual relations.
College Work on Suspension, Expulsion and Probation
The growth of the Order and its increasingly international character have meant that the College has needed to work on clarifying principles and procedures around probation, suspension and expulsion. They also needed to ensure that Order members from very different cultures across the world have a shared understanding of these procedures and are implementing them consistently.
In 2018 Saddhaloka (then Chair of the College of Public Preceptors) published a letter to the Order entitled Suspension, Expulsion and Probation spelling out in detail when these sanctions might be applied and discussing the principles involved in doing so.
In response to a particular case, in 2018 the Ethics Kula developed a Panel Process as a means of addressing allegations of serious ethical misconduct within the Order where the facts are disputed. Using this approach for the first time was not straightforward. A number of Order members have had questions about it and the Ethics Kula have undertaken to review the Panel Process in dialogue with others. We hope we will rarely use such a process, but we need to have effective processes in place, which meet the requirements of any external review, to deal with similar situations in the future.
As in any community, personal conflicts and disagreements are inevitable in Triratna and most will require resolution, not sanctions. The Triratna International Council discussed this in 2016, and in 2018 they agreed a Conflict Resolution document.
Drawing on traditional procedures for resolving conflict outlined in the Buddhist Monastic Code (Vinaya), this document outlines the stages for dealing with a conflict, starting at the local level with face-to-face meetings and – if that doesn’t work – bringing in help from other people including the centre’s President where this is relevant. In some cases, individuals might choose to involve a mediator or an expert in Restorative Processes.
Members of the Adhisthana Kula have been working with Triratna’s International and Area Councils to implement the conflict resolution document’s recommendations in each of the geographical Areas into which Triratna is organised.
Triratna’s Safeguarding system is overseen by the Safeguarding Team who work for Triratna’s European Chairs’ Assembly (the ECA): a charity run by the leaders of all Triratna centres and charitable projects in Europe. The Adhisthana Kula worked closely with the Safeguarding Team in addressing unresolved concerns about ethical misconduct in Triratna’s past.
‘Safeguarding’ is a term used in England and Wales to refer to the regulatory requirement of legally established organisations to ensure that all are protected from harm in the context of their activities. In Scotland it may be referred to as ‘Protection’. This includes sexual, physical and psychological harm, as well as discrimination, for example on grounds of race, gender or disability. The Charity Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Charity Regulator hold trustees responsible for Safeguarding and Protection in the course of their charity’s activities.
Charities’ Safeguarding Duties (The Charity Commission for England and Wales)
What is Safeguarding? (The Scottish Charity Regulator)
Discussion of the need for formal Safeguarding provision in the activities of Triratna centres began at a meeting of the ECA in 2013. In 2015 the ECA’s Communications Officer Munisha published the first Model Safeguarding policies and in 2016 the Triratna International Council published Triratna’s first Model Ethical Guidelines. Also in 2016, Munisha ceased to be Communications Officer and became the ECA’s first Safeguarding Officer, supporting centres’ own Safeguarding Officers with policies and advice. Amaladipa, who has a senior role in the UK criminal justice system, joined her in 2017 as volunteer Safeguarding Adviser and together they comprise the ECA Safeguarding Team.
Prioritising Safeguarding in Triratna institutions
By 2018 almost all Triratna charities in the UK had their own Safeguarding Officer and policies. For UK charities Safeguarding is a regulatory and legal obligation and some other countries have similar requirements; but many do not. Nevertheless the Safeguarding Team recommends that all Triratna charities worldwide have Safeguarding policies and a Safeguarding Officer (or the local equivalent).
The Model Safeguarding policies are offered to Triratna bodies worldwide as the basis of their own documents, and any individual charity may adopt the model policies as their own, adapting and translating them according to local legal, regulatory and cultural needs. Reviewed and republished each year, the range of model policies and guidance documents provided by the Safeguarding Team cover the protection of adults and children from harm, care of teenagers and the safe inclusion of ex-offenders (who have joined Triratna sanghas following convictions for serious criminal offences).
A centre’s Safeguarding Officer is there to receive concerns about the behaviour or welfare of Order members, Mitras and Friends in the context of that centre’s activities. They are responsible for ensuring that Safeguarding policies have been adopted by the trustees and that anyone teaching, leading or volunteering at the centre has agreed to abide by them. Where necessary, concerns can also be reported directly to the ECA Safeguarding Team at email@example.com.
Typically, centres’ own Safeguarding Officers seek the help of the Safeguarding Team with such matters as the proper Safeguarding of family events, management of ex-offenders and addressing mental health problems in the sangha where these compromise the welfare of others.
Triratna’s UK-based development charities, Karuna and the India Dhamma Trust, and Triratna’s central fundraising charity, Future Dharma Fund, also recognise Safeguarding as an important element of their work. As required by the Charity Commission, partner organisations seeking funding from these funding bodies must demonstrate Safeguarding provision.
November 2016 saw the first Triratna training day, attended by around thirty Safeguarding Officers, trustees and others in leadership positions from UK centres, led by a trainer from the CCPAS (now known as Thirtyone:eight), who specialise in Safeguarding training and advice for UK faith groups. Further training followed in Safeguarding Adults and in Child Protection. Subsequent training days, hosted by the Network of Buddhist Organisations UK, have been well attended by people from Triratna. More recently, UK Safeguarding officers have been encouraged to take part in online training with bodies such as Thirtyone:eight or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).