Ethics in Buddhism is generally descriptive, not prescriptive. In the domain of spiritual development, which is explicitly concerned with the individual’s growth in an understanding and compassion that go beyond social convention, a prescription of behaviors in terms of contemporary norms is not appropriate. Instead, what is presented here is a response to a question: how might those drawn to spiritual growth, whether teacher, student, donor or follower, approach their interactions? It is a condensation of reflections from three sources: various traditions of Buddhism, experience garnered over the past twenty-five years and a variety of models, including those mentioned above.
Unfettered Mind provides resources to those interested in spiritual awakening, that is, in finding a path of practice and a way of life that progressively frees them from deadening beliefs and behaviors and enables them to be awake and engaged in the fullness of life. To this end Unfettered Mind draws primarily but not exclusively from the teachings and practices of Buddhism.
As a non-profit organization in the United States of America, Unfettered Mind is bound by and respects the laws and regulations governing such organizations.
Ethical behavior is an appropriate response to the trust others have placed in one. In the case of Unfettered Mind, the basis for trust is the pursuit in good faith of a path of awakening.
In Unfettered Mind’s approach to spiritual awakening, two fundamental principles are balance and personal responsibility.
Balance is the union of knowing and acting at the point at which experience arises. Because life is dynamic, imbalances inevitably arise and call for a response, even if the response is no action. The essential ethical obligation is to move in the direction of balance, responding to what arises in experience to the best of one’s abilities. Obligation arises out of a personal choice as to where one takes a stand in response to imbalance.
Personal responsibility means that it is the individual who decides what to do and, consequently, is responsible for his or her actions. No way of life nor any path of practice can ensure that everything turns out as one expected or intended. When things turn out differently, the ethical response is to learn from one’s experience, not to hold others accountable for problems stemming from one’s own actions.
Unfettered Mind provides resources — teachers, programs and information —for those who have a genuine interest in spiritual awakening, have the skills and abilities to manage their own lives and have a capacity for independent discipline and practice. Unfettered Mind does not provide psychotherapy or seek to address psychological issues or personality disorders in people who make use of its resources.
While people who make use of Unfettered Mind’s resources may have similar interests, Unfettered Mind is not a membership organization or community.
The three bases of relationship — transactional, undertaking and connection — provide a framework for understanding the relationships in which Unfettered Mind engages, namely, the relationships with students, donors and followers.
Students are those who attend programs or consult with a teacher at Unfettered Mind. Donors are those who donate their time, energy or money to the furtherance of Unfettered Mind’s purpose. Followers are those who listen to podcasts and make use of Unfettered Mind’s published resources but do not attend programs or consult with a teacher.
A transactional relationship is a relationship in which the parties are primarily interested in what they can gain from the relationship. When the transactions are made with the intention that all parties benefit, it becomes a mutual benefit relationship. An undertaking relationship is a relationship in which the parties are primarily interested in what can be accomplished or achieved through the relationship. When an undertaking is a common aim of all, it becomes a shared aim relationship. A connection relationship is a relationship in which the parties are primarily interested in the interaction itself, and what can be gained or accomplished is less important. When all enjoy or value the emotional quality of the interaction, it becomes an emotional connection relationship.
The teacher-student relationship is primarily a shared aim relationship in which the teacher and student undertake to define a path of practice for the student in his or her pursuit of spiritual awakening. A student is only a student when the teacher has explicitly accepted the student as a student and the student has explicitly accepted the teacher as his or her teacher.
Unfettered Mind has a shared aim relationship with donors, that is, through the executive director and the board of directors, the time, energy or money of donors is used to make teachings and guidance available to others, whether through programs or through publications. Donors include those who donate money as well as those who volunteer their time, energy and skills to work on projects associated with Unfettered Mind.
Unfettered Mind makes material on spiritual awakening freely available as a public service. People who follow Unfettered Mind, through the website, books, podcasts or other media do so of their own volition and out of their own interest. Unfettered Mind cannot and does not take any responsibility for how people make use of the information it provides.
Teacher and Student
The teacher-student relationship is based in mutual respect, on the one hand respect for the student’s interest and efforts, on the other respect for the teacher’s training and experience. In particular, the teacher-student relationship is not a parental or paternalistic relationship.
The teacher trusts that the student is seeking in good faith guidance in his or her path of practice. The student trusts that the instruction and guidance provided by the teacher are intended to help the student in his or her path of practice, not to benefit the teacher or the organization.
The teacher is responsible for providing the student with methods, perspectives and exercises drawn from the teacher’s own experience and training. The student is responsible for bringing to the teacher the questions, challenges and insights that come through his or her efforts. Through repeated interaction, the teacher’s instructions are shaped to the student’s questions and challenges. The student is then responsible for practicing those instructions, developing his or her abilities and meeting with the teacher when he or she feels the need for further guidance.
Both teacher and student are responsible for building and maintaining a relationship in which the student can grow and develop spiritually. Trust and respect are essential on both sides as effective learning can take place only in a balanced relationship. Both parties must act in good faith, honor the aim of the relationship and protect the relationship from their own emotional reactions. When either party feels these conditions are not present, that party is responsible for communicating his or her concern to the other and taking whatever actions are called for.
Part of the teacher’s responsibility is to awaken the student to new possibilities and give the student a way to free him- or herself from problematic patterns and beliefs, whether those patterns and beliefs are personal, social or cultural. Because the student may find that basic beliefs about survival, emotional needs and identity are being called into question, tension and differences may arise. When differences do arise in the relationship, both parties are responsible for addressing them constructively.
If, in the course of working with a teacher or attending a program, psychological, relationship or personality problems in the student are identified that inhibit the student in his or her path, the student is responsible for addressing them in addition to his or her work with Unfettered Mind. The teacher may make such additional work a condition for continuing to work with the student.
To facilitate a broad understanding, students of Unfettered Mind are encouraged to explore programs offered by other teachers and organizations. If the student actively works with other teachers, he or she must so inform the teacher at Unfettered Mind and, to avoid confusion, specify which teacher the student takes to be the primary teacher. The choice of primary teacher is the responsibility of the student, not the teacher at Unfettered Mind.
The relationship may end by mutual consent of both parties or because the aim of spiritual awakening can no longer be undertaken, i.e., the teacher feels that he or she can no longer provide the student with guidance and training or the student no longer finds the teacher helpful. In either case, the ending of the relationship must be clearly communicated to the other.
When the teacher-student relationship has ended, whatever the reason, teacher and student may engage other forms of relationship with each other. If the teacher and student do engage in another kind of relationship, they cannot return to a teacher-student relationship: however good their intentions, it is difficult to re-establish the requisite trust.
If the student feels that the teacher is at fault — for example, not providing helpful guidance, acting incompetently or taking advantage of the student for material, emotional or social benefits — and has not been able to reconcile his or her experience with the teacher, the student may file a complaint with the Board of Directors of Unfettered Mind. The filing of such a complaint is a de facto acknowledgment that the differences are irreconcilable and the relationship has ended.
Imbalances arise when either teacher or student seeks material, emotional or social benefits from the relationship. Imbalances also arise when teacher and student work on other projects together or either is interested in an emotional connection. The teacher-student relationship takes precedence over these other forms of relationship. If either party wishes to make such benefits, projects or emotional connection the primary basis of the relationship, the teacher-student relationship cannot continue and the other party must be so informed.
Donors and Volunteers
The fulfillment of Unfettered Mind’s purpose is made possible through the donations of those who value the resources it provides. All donors, whether students or not, whether they donate time, skills, energy or money, participate in a shared aim relationship with Unfettered Mind, namely they and Unfettered Mind are undertaking to make resources for spiritual growth and awakening available. Unfettered Mind is responsible for providing those resources and doing so in good faith and with integrity.
All donations to Unfettered Mind, whether of time or money, are used to support Unfettered Mind’s purpose. They are not used for the personal benefit of individuals.
A person’s donation of time, energy or money must be such that the donation or volunteer activity does not create imbalances in his or her life. If a teacher or project leader sees a donor or student’s donation or volunteer activity as creating an imbalance, then he or she needs to bring that imbalance to the individual’s attention and, possibly, decline the donation or redirect the volunteer’s activity to address the imbalance.
In the case of conflict between a student’s donation of time, energy or money and the student’s path of practice, the student’s path of practice takes precedence.
Unfettered Mind provides information on practice and life through its website as well as books, articles, email newsletters and other media.
Accordingly, Unfettered Mind will do its best to ensure that the material it provides is accurate and of good quality, that it acknowledges the provenance of the material and that it provides appropriate attribution.
Unfettered Mind makes this material available free of charge. Those who make use of the information are encouraged to become donors, i.e., to make whatever contribution they can to help Unfettered Mind fulfill its purpose.