In order to maintain a safe refuge for meditative practice and contemplative experience, we join together in living by a code of ethics during our time at any program produced by Hoʻi ka Hā (HKH). This code of ethics applies to all teachers, presenters, program staff, service and location providers, retreat participants, guests, residents, and volunteers.
This document draws on multiple sources, including both Buddhist and contemporary secular wisdom. It encodes our intentions and aspirations, provides guidelines for ethical behavior, and clearly prohibits certain actions.
The Buddha taught ethical conduct (shīla) as the very foundation of the spiritual path. It is central to HKH’s mission. The path of ethical development requires both deep contemplation of one’s values and principles, and compassionate listening to the needs and experiences of others. It is therefore our shared responsibility to develop and maintain wholesome conduct in our interactions.
Because our programs and retreats may involve heightened states of awareness, sense perception, feelings, emotions, altered thought patterns, and elevated states of consciousness, a strong ethical foundation is particularly important for protecting the welfare of participants in the vulnerable process of personal and spiritual development.
We also recognize that today, and throughout history, power imbalances that result in the marginalization of individuals and groups— based on ability, age, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other such dividing lines — are directly connected with unethical behavior. Through this code of ethics, we intend to raise awareness of the power dynamics that uniquely emerge within the parameters of HKH’s program setting, as well as the overarching cultural forces that may influence our interactions.
This code is divided into three sections: 1) The Prohibited Conduct section lists behavior that is expressly prohibited. 2) The main body of the Code of Ethics offers a discussion of the values and principles we commit to as individuals and as a community. 3) The Institutional Commitments section details actions and principles that we commit to as an organization and to which we hold ourselves accountable. We expect everyone who comes to HKH to honor in word and action the values herein.
HKH is committed to cultivating an environment free of harassment, discrimination, and violence and will take steps to prevent such conduct, its recurrence, and discriminatory effects on members of the HKH community. The following behaviors are prohibited and will have consequences, which may include temporary or permanent dismissal from any in-person program location, employment consequences, restrictions on participation in HKH activities, and/or reporting to relevant law enforcement or oversight authorities:
- Intimidation, bullying, and physical violence including assault, battery, and displays of threatening behavior.
Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence
- Sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, and stalking.
- Actions that constitute clergy sexual misconduct, including initiating or allowing a sexual relationship with a person under one’s spiritual care, or misusing the teachings or invoking spiritual benefit in order to obtain sexual favors.
- Dating violence, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual exploitation.
- Emotional and psychological abuse, harassment, and slanderous or discriminatory speech.
- Possessing, consuming, or being under the influence of illegal substances on HKH property;
- Possessing or being under the influence of any intoxicant or controlled substance in public, in any program or retreat setting unless permission is granted for program-specific purposes, in any workspace, or during work hours.
- Discrimination or exclusion based on ability, age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
- Retaliation against anyone who reports an alleged harm.
Additional Unlawful Conduct
- Financial malfeasance.
- Violations of local, state, or federal law.
Code of Ethics
This code is meant to be read by teachers, staff, participants, and volunteers. Some parts may apply only to teachers or staff, but we feel it is important that everyone be informed about the agreements all parties are making in coming to any HKH program or retreat.
We see power and ethics as inextricably tied. Ethical conduct involves understanding how power informs our roles and responsibilities. While everyone has personal power, some social or professional roles confer increased power that we believe should be accompanied by heightened ethical responsibilities.
We will not abuse the power granted by our role within a retreat setting, by our professional position at HKH, or by our wider cultural status. Instead, we will utilize our increased influence to prevent harm, empower others, and serve them in their practice of awakening to their own inherent wisdom.
While involved in any HKH program or retreat, teachers are entrusted as authority figures and representatives of their respective traditions and disciplines. They are responsible for holding this awareness and for maintaining appropriate boundaries to protect participants. They will not exploit or otherwise misuse the power of their status in their relationships with participants, staff, or volunteers.
Feedback and Accountability
We aspire to create an environment where feedback is given and honored in all directions, regardless of position. We encourage and welcome feedback and dialogue to better understand the impact of our speech and actions and increase our capacity to skillfully be of benefit.
Regardless of seniority, when feedback is offered we will receive it respectfully, aspiring to create an environment of vulnerability and gratitude. If we hold a position or role that confers power, we have a heightened responsibility to be sensitive and responsive when given feedback about the impact of our speech and actions.
We will hold ourselves accountable for our actions even if that impacts our social status, reputation, or self-image.
We will not enable misconduct, but rather understand that we all work together to nurture a safe, healthy culture of respect and care.
Aware of the oneness in ALOHA of all life and life’s vulnerability, we commit to not act out aggressively. Rather, we intend to cultivate an environment that balances strength, gentleness, and trust, and to provide that environment for others.
We aspire to protect and nurture the sacredness and longevity of life.
We practice generosity, offering what material and emotional support we can. We will not take what is not offered.
We will respect other people’s personal boundaries and take care of ourselves by communicating our own.
Recognizing the responsibility of the teacher’s role, and taking into account the power differential that arises within a retreat setting, while teaching a HKH program or retreat, teachers will not initiate or allow a sexual relationship with a participant, staff, or volunteer during a retreat, event, or other situations when they are in a position of authority.
While at HKH program or retreat, HKH staff members or volunteers are not permitted to engage in a sexual relationship with any participant unless there was an established, pre-existing sexual relationship. This boundary exists in acknowledgment of the potentially vulnerable state of our participants.
Aware of the power of speech, we commit not to engage in destructive gossip, verbal or emotional abuse, insults or demeaning comments, inappropriate or excessive use of profane language, or manipulative or deceptive speech. Rather, we aspire that our speech will be truthful, kind, and in service to the genuine integrity and harmony of the community.
Aware of the sacredness of our own body and knowing how our actions affect others and the sanctity of the land and community, we will not abuse it with excessive intoxicants. Rather, we aspire to sanity in our relationship with alcohol and other intoxicating substances, and to support others on their own journey.
Working with the Mind
Understanding that ethical misconduct is rooted in afflictive emotions, we will work with our minds to release attachment, aggression, and confusion and cultivate generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom.
We commit to a path of introspection, examining our intentions, particularly when we take on roles that grant us authority.
We will seek to understand and address oppression in our community.
We will not pervert the wisdom of spiritual teachings to discount, disregard, or ignore issues of social and political oppression.
We will seek to understand the potential prejudices and privileges afforded by the unique intersections of our relative social identity.
We will notice whose voices are dominating a conversation and who is absent from the room. We will take ongoing responsibility for building an inclusive culture.
Practicing cultural humility, we will seek to be attuned and sensitive to cultural differences and will not force conformity in anyone’s embodied or vocal expression.
We will endeavor to love our fellow human beings in the totality of who they are.
These are commitments that HKH makes as an organization. All staff, leadership, and members of the Governing Council are responsible for upholding these principles.
Finances and Governance
We will be transparent in our governance structure as a managed program of Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network – an independently incorporated 501c3 nonprofit.
We will make financial reports public on our website and create yearly reports that clearly communicate HKH’s financial position.
We will honor our financial agreements.
We will use restricted money for its requested specific purpose. We will be able to account for its activity and show how the funds were used.
We will clearly state our prices and fees.
Commitment to Training, Education, and Self-Reflection
Recognizing that we are all human beings on a path of growth and learning, we commit to ongoing self-reflection and education.
HKH will provide formal training to staff, volunteers, and leadership on ethical conduct, including trainings that address personal and societal oppression, power dynamics, and skillful bystander intervention. HKH will provide specific training for key personnel to ensure they are qualified to carry out their responsibilities as laid out in the grievance procedure.
Transparency and truth are crucial to our institutional integrity.
We will actively support official investigations into any crimes or ethical misconduct alleged to have occurred as a result of HKH.
Accountability and Enforcement
As an organization, we will hold ourselves accountable by creating clear policies and procedures that staff, teachers and board follow.
HKH reserves the right to exclude anyone from HKH or HKH events if HKH determines, in its sole discretion, that such person poses a risk of harm to anyone, notwithstanding a lack of substantiation of any accusation.
Published in January 2023
Sources/ Further Reading
Dr. Cedar Barstow, Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics (Boulder: Many Realms Publishing, 2015).
Kylea Taylor, The Ethics of Caring (Santa Cruz: Hartford Mead Publishers, 1995).
Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed., The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2016).
Brian Lesage and Sebene Selassie, “A Conversation about Cultural Spiritual Bypassing,” Insight Journal, a publication of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, 2019, https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/article/a-conversation-about-cultural-spiritual-bypassing/
Charlene Leung, “The Healing Practice of Cultural Humility,” Lion’s Roar, July 16, 2018, https://www.lionsroar.com/the-healing-practice-of-cultural-humility/
An Olive Branch’s recommended Code of Ethics: https://www.dropbox.com/s/eghmwtbyqz50gwm/AOB_CodeOfEthicsDraft_March2019_final.pdf?dl=0
“Rigpa Code of Conduct,” Rigpa, accessed June 15, 2019, https://www.rigpa.org/rigpa-code-of-conduct