Ethics policy

The Shambhala Meditation Center of Atlanta (SMCA) is committed to a practice, study, and work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. Everyone has the right to practice, study, and work in an atmosphere that is free from discrimination, harassment and conflicts of interest.

The SMCA Ethics Policy is based on the profound view of basic goodness, manifesting as respect for each person regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical/mental abilities, language, political beliefs, religious beliefs or socio-economic class, or occupation. It is intended to support a shared sense of propriety in which respectful relationships and social interactions proliferate. The capacity to experience basic goodness in oneself and others occurs more readily in a community in which ethical standards are upheld.

All Shambhalians, whatever their participation or role in the activities associated with SMCA, have a responsibility to co-create a safe and nurturing environment in which everyone can study and practice without hindrance. Further, we have a responsibility to avoid actions that cause others unnecessary distress or alarm.

We aspire to relationships that are characterized by appropriate action; relationships based on trust, cooperation, openness to differences, good communication, fairness, kindness, and respect.


While not all SMCA participants take the following vows, they inform the behavioral standards in this policy. Traditionally, the first four precepts assist in establishing stable morality, and the fifth precept – to abstain from intoxication – supports the development of mindful awareness to adhere to the ethical standards.

The Five Lay Precepts

  1. A practitioner does not kill but rather nourishes and protects life.
  2. A practitioner does not steal but rather cultivates and encourages generosity.
  3. A practitioner does not misuse sexuality but rather cultivates and encourages open, honest, and healthy relationships. Practitioners do not engage in sexualized behavior that threatens or breaks the vows and commitments of others.
  4. A practitioner does not lie but rather cultivates and encourages truthful communication.
  5. A practitioner does not intoxicate themselves or others but rather cultivates and encourages clarity.

The following vows, offered as part of one’s path in SMCA, further support the cultivation of ethical behaviors, based on a connection to an experience of basic goodness.

The Refuge Vow

The commitment of taking the refuge vow is to abandon harm to oneself and others.

The Bodhisattva Vow

With a mind of love and compassion, to attain Complete Awakening in order to benefit all beings.

The Shambhala Vow

The acknowledgement and proclamation that all beings have basic goodness.

The Enlightened Society Vow

Affirming that based on humanity’s goodness, a good society can come about.

The Samaya Vow

Without going into the nature of samaya, there are two points to highlight. The first is that teachers and students who take samaya vows hold and maintain the previous vows and have a special commitment to do this thoroughly. The second is that a root downfall of samaya on the part of either the teacher or the student is to act immorally or deceive someone so as to impair, damage, or reverse their faith.


Other Teachings and Practices

There are many other teachings and practices that support the development of ethical conduct, including contemplations, chants, Paramita Practice, Slogan Practice, the SMCA Edicts of Wholesome Human Conduct, and more.


Unethical Behaviors:

All leaders and representatives of SMCA, visitors, and other representatives will adhere to the following:

  • Refraining from unlawful actions, which will result in automatic dismissal and may be reported to law-enforcement officials, such as:
    1. abuse of children and vulnerable adults, which also requires mandatory reporting to law enforcement
    2. unwanted sexual contact, assault, stalking, or harassment
    3. physical violence
    4. financial Malfeasance
    5. theft
    6. possession or consumption of alcohol by individuals under the age of 21, or providing alcohol to anyone under the legal drinking age
    7. possession of illegal drugs, including prescription medication not prescribed to you
    8. damaging property
    9. violating any other state and federal laws
  • Refraining from sexual misconduct, such as:
    1. actions that violate specific vows and oaths taken by teachers, meditation instructors, program directors, coordinators, staff, and others in a representational role
    2. use of the dharma or other spiritual principles to obtain sexual favors
    3. behavior that interferes with the development of an individual’s spiritual path, including false teaching and implying that intimacy with the teacher will lead to enlightenment or is falsely justified by the excuse of following samaya

Since SMCA is a spiritual organization that focuses on the transmission of Buddhist and Shambhala teachings, we explicitly acknowledge the great harm, both psychological and spiritual, that results from teachers becoming sexually involved with their students. This harm impacts both the teacher and the student as well as the community as a whole. We, therefore, consider it always unethical for a teacher to engage in sexualized behavior with their students. Power dynamics are inherently built into teacher-student relationships. The teacher holds the power in the relationship with the student and therefore is responsible for preserving the teacher-student boundary. The power differential influences how students respond to the teacher (admiration, adoration, etc.) and makes it impossible for any sexual relationship, even consensual, to be ethical. Instead, teacher-student relationships should be based on mutual respect, compassion, and kindness.

  • Refraining from discriminatory and intimidating behavior, such as:
    1. verbal or emotional abuse, including screaming, threats, and bullying
    2. discrimination or exclusion with regard to race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, ethnicity, language, physical ability, or socio-economic status
    3. shunning or otherwise retaliating against those who report harm
    4. distorting and using teachings for personal advantage
  • Refraining from conflicts of interest, such as:
    1. avoiding any situation that might take unfair advantage of others, including emotionally and financially, or have the appearance of doing so
    2. allowing SMCA property, information or resources to be used for personal benefit without Center Director approval


(to be displayed in a prominent public location within the main SMCA building)



The mission of the Shambhala Meditation Center of Atlanta is to offer meditation practices as a path to discovering the gentleness, fearlessness, and intelligence inherent in every human being, and to build a community based on human goodness and dignity. We are here to develop confidence in basic goodness, which exists in all beings. None are excluded. We do this through meditation practice, the study and contemplation of Buddhist and Shambhala teachings, and ethically grounded community engagement that honors the inherent worth and dignity of all beings.

Code of Conduct

The Code of Conduct explains how we conduct ourselves through our interactions and applies to all individuals visiting the center, members and leaders of SMCA. The Code of Conduct serves as the foundation for ethical behavior in the SMCA community. It is important for visitors and members to familiarize themselves with this Code of Conduct. 

Our Guiding Principles

Diversity and Inclusion

The SMCA is committed to a practice, study, and work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. We promote a community that respects each other’s diverse backgrounds, experiences and opinions. Open communication, trust, mutual respect, and safety are core values.

Freedom from Discrimination and Harassment

Each individual has the right to practice, study, and work in an atmosphere that is free from discrimination, harassment and intimidation. Discrimination or exclusion with regard to race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, ethnicity, language, physical/mental ability, occupation, political beliefs or religious beliefs will not be tolerated.

Freedom from Conflicts of Interest

Everyone is asked to avoid situations that may create, or even appear to create, a conflict between your personal interests and the interest of the SMCA community. Through reflection, carefully consider how decisions might appear to be influenced by personal interests or relationships. Do not allow SMCA property, information or resources to be used for personal reasons.

Integrity in Receiving and Using Resources

Our SMCA community desires to reduce our carbon footprint and increase sustainability. Everyone is expected to use SMCA resources to minimize waste and to participate in our environmental initiatives.

What is Expected of Me?


Follow the Code of Conduct: Visitors and members of Shambhala Atlanta, regardless of position held, are accountable for following the Code of Conduct.



Report Concerns:

We request that you report activities that you believe may violate the Code of Conduct. Prompt reporting may allow us to avoid or mitigate serious harm to SMCA and others.



Comply with Laws:

We are committed to compliance with applicable laws and regulations of our community. You are encouraged to consult with local law enforcement to report any concerns. Contact with local law enforcement does not dismiss the responsibility to report concerns through the Code of Conduct. Nothing in the Code of Conduct prevents you from reporting potential violations of law to government authorities.


Common Questions

What if I want to remain anonymous?

Concerns may be reported anonymously although it may impact the depth of investigation. Regardless of how you report a concern, it will be investigated; however, it will not allow the investigators to follow up with you.

What happens if I report a concern?

All reports are taken seriously and are treated confidentially. SMCA or the reporting committee will not retaliate against anyone for reporting in good faith suspected unethical conduct or violations of the law. Any suspected retaliation should also be reported.

What should I do if a leader or volunteer of Shambhala asks me to do something I think violates the Code of Conduct?

Do not do anything you believe violates the Code of Conduct. Express your concern to that individual. If you are not able to express your concern to that individual directly, or you get an answer you feel is inaccurate or unacceptable, report your concerns.

How Do I Report Suspected Violations or Concerns?

If you suspect it, report it. Promptly report suspected unethical, illegal, or fraudulent activity by anyone in the community at SMCA to one or more of the parties below. You do not have to be certain that inappropriate activity has occurred. We will investigate situations and determine if a violation has occurred. Promptly reporting will help us avoid or mitigate serious harm.


Oath of Understanding & Adherence to the Code of Conduct

This Oath of Understanding & Adherence to the Code of Conduct applies to all leaders and representatives of SMCA, visitors, and other representatives.


You have a duty to the Code of Conduct that includes:

  • promoting the awareness of the Code of Conduct
  • setting a good example by acting ethically
  • acting with integrity
  • creating an atmosphere that encourages others to speak up to express ideas/concerns without fear of retaliation
  • handling concerns with respect and appreciation
  • sharing information only with those who have a “need to know” to address concerns
  • and, understanding how failure to follow the Code of Conduct can have a serious impact on the SMCA community


By my signature below, I agree to the following:

  • As a leader and/or representative of SMCA, I have read and understand the SMCA Ethics Policy. I understand and agree that I will conduct myself accordingly.
  • I understand that the Ethics Policy pertains to my current role(s) as well as to any future roles I may hold.
  • I understand that I am responsible for making reports of possible incidents of misconduct. I will notify the Center Director or contact the Ethics Officer on the Ethics Panel.
  • I understand that I may be required to notify local authorities if there is a viable threat of harm that a person makes towards themselves or others. Complainants should be informed that reporting through the Ethics Policy does not prevent them from also informing law enforcement if they choose to do so. If there is an emergent issue requiring first responders, call authorities first, then consult with the Center Director.
  • I understand that this Ethics Policy is binding on all members, visitors of SMCA, whether or not they sign the Oath of Understanding & Adherence to Code of Conduct. I will adhere to this policy and support fellow teachers and leaders in adhering to this policy.
  • I understand that if a complaint is lodged against me, I may be temporarily suspended from the duties of my role pending the outcome of an investigation. I also understand that if my behavior does not comply with the Ethics Policy, I may no longer be acknowledged as an SMCA representative until such time as the Ethics Panel agrees that I have accomplished suitable remediation, which they defined in the Adjudication Step of the Complaint Procedure.
  • I understand that the names of individuals who are terminated from teaching or leadership roles due to misconduct will be communicated.


The Code of Conduct, along with our mission and core values, helps put our values into action. When faced with decisions about conduct, ask yourself – Does my decision reflect our core values? How would the decision make other Shambhalians feel? Am I willing to be held accountable? Integrity is honesty, truthfulness, honor and reliability.

By signing this statement, I agree to adhere to the SMCA Ethics Policy.


Print Name: ____________________________________


Signature: ______________________________________             Date: __________________

Appendix B: SMCA Ethics Panel


Individuals who make a complaint about the conduct of any SMCA employees, board members, meditation instructors, guides, teachers, visiting teachers, volunteers, or sangha members may bring a complaint to the Ethics Panel. The Ethics Panel will have the following positions:


Ethics Officer – This person will receive all complaints, inform other panel members that a complaint has been received, collaborate with other Panel members about how to address the complaint, and be responsible for keeping records of complaints, relevant correspondence, and findings.

Ethics Information Officer – This person will notify Center administrators, board members, and others as needed when a complaint has been received. This person will also write regular reports, at least once a year, summarizing the activities of the Code of Ethics Panel and deliver it to the SMCA governing Board of Directors. This person will also make public the name of office holders who have their responsibilities suspended or terminated as a result of a complaint.

Ethics Panel Members – The Panel shall be comprised of at least three members of the community. The Ethics Panel are members of SMCA who are especially skilled in addressing trauma, interpersonal conflicts, behavioral health issues, addictions, and methods to mediate in painful situations. Prospective members of the Ethics Panel will be vetted to ensure they have the community respect, history of virtuous conduct, and the interpersonal skills to work collaboratively with others when addressing painful conflicts. The Ethics Panel will reflect the diversity of the community. Appointments to the SMCA Ethics Panel will be approved by the SMCA’s Board of Directors.


Appendix C: Complaint Procedure

The intent of this Complaint Procedure is to provide the path for persons who believe they have been inappropriately treated and who seek resolution. Anyone who brings forward a complaint is to be treated with care and respect.


Steps in the Complaint Procedure:
The Complaint Procedure consists of five sequential steps.

  1. First is the initial report of alleged harm – a description of what happened; followed by an offer of immediate care along with an explanation of the procedure and an opportunity to discuss the requests, needs, and interests of the complainant.
  2. Second is communication of the alleged harm – inform SMCA leaders responsible for administration of this Ethics policy about the complaint.
  3. Third is notification that a report of alleged harm has been filed – enable specific leaders to take appropriate steps and provide protection for the complainant, as needed.
  4. Next is investigation – discover the facts of what happened using interviews and other methods.
  5. The final step is adjudication – a review of the evidence resulting in a decision about the status of the individuals involved in the case.
  6. An appeals process will be defined at a later date.


The Complaint Procedure:

  1. Initial Report of Harm • Anyone wishing to make a complaint may speak with a local leader such as the Center Director. The office holder who receives a complaint will then refer it to the Ethics Officer. If for any reason the complainant does not feel comfortable filing a complaint with a local leader, they may directly contact the Ethics Officer who handles all incoming complaints on behalf of the Ethics Panel. Before proceeding with remaining steps, the Ethics Officer processes the complaint and confers with the reporter to offer immediate care, answer questions about the procedure, and address their requests, needs, and interests. Note: This Policy does not replace the use of legal remedies for unlawful conduct, including reporting to law enforcement.
  1. The Ethics Officer confers with the Ethics Panel. • In jurisdictions where mandatory reporting is required, complaints involving abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult require the Ethics Officer to contact law-enforcement officials. Also, anyone in SMCA who is a mandated reporter with first-hand knowledge of the incident must make the appropriate reports as defined in the local jurisdiction.
  1. Notification • After consultation with the reporter and to ensure the care and protection of the reporter, the Ethics Information Officer or the Ethics Officer notifies the Center Director in a timely manner. If a Director is named as the offender, the Ethics Officer and the Information Officer will consult with the Ethics Panel to decide which leaders should be notified.
  1. Notifying the Respondent. • The Ethics Officer notifies the named person (respondent) that a complaint has been made about their conduct and forwards the written complaint to that person. The Ethics Officer requests that during the investigation of the complaint that the respondent, or anyone on their behalf, not contact the complainant or others who may bring this issue up with the complainant. The Ethics Officer requests the respondent to provide a written response to the complaint. Suspension of a teacher or leader pending adjudication can occur at the discretion of the Ethics Panel except in cases of sexual misconduct where temporary suspension is mandatory. The intention of the suspension during the investigation is not to convey a sense of “guilty until proven innocent” or to stigmatize the respondent, but to communicate that the complaint has been received and is being taken seriously. This will allow the respondent, the complainant, and the surrounding community a chance to pause, reflect on what has happened, and care for themselves during the period of the investigation, without triggering secondary anxiety that the respondent is still in a position of power.
  1. Initiating Any Necessary Records Changes. • If applicable, the respondent’s status will be changed to “inactive” to avoid inadvertent invitations to teach/lead during the period of the investigation in SMCA records.
  1. Investigation • Within five business days of receiving the notification of the complaint, the Ethics Panel will discuss appointing an investigation panel to conduct the investigation of the complaint. Utilizing panel members with expertise relevant to the complaint is recommended. The investigation panel would typically be comprised of two or three members. During the investigation, no SMCA teacher or leader, panelist, the reporter, or the respondent will make public comment of any kind.


The objectives of the investigation are to:

  1. Discover the veracity of the complaint that the Ethics Policy of SMCA has been violated. Until the investigation and adjudication are completed, there will always be an assumption of good faith on the part of the complainant and innocence on the part of the respondent.
  2. Identify any harm that has arisen as a result of the complaint regardless of its veracity.
  3. Hear the requests of the reporter for redress (e.g. personal apology, public apology, reimbursement for therapy fees, other damages, etc.).
  4. Offer all parties the opportunity for support during the Complaint Procedure process. Both the complainant and the respondent may choose an advocate to accompany them during the process. The Ethics Officer can refer the complainant and the respondent to advocates if needed.
  5. Provide a provisional report to the entire Ethics Panel detailing what has been discovered during the investigation including:
    1. specifics of any violation of SMCA Ethics Policy
    2. specifics of the harm (both direct and collateral) resulting from any demonstrated misconduct by the respondent
    3. recommended actions to make amends for the demonstrated misconduct
    4. recommended actions regarding the future status of the respondent
    5. recommended actions regarding the future status of the complainant if it is found that the complaint was made in bad faith and that it constituted an act of harm
    6. recommended measures to be taken by the board that could help lessen the likelihood of any such violation occurring in the future.



At the conclusion of the investigation, the entire Ethics Panel reviews the evidence and recommendations and makes a decision about whether the allegations have been proven and the future status of the individuals involved in the case.

If a violation of the SMCA Ethics Policy has occurred, the Ethics Panel may initiate actions that include but are not limited to the following:

  • Suspension of the respondent from leadership or teaching activities, if applicable.
  • Initiate legal action if indicated.
  • If appropriate, require the respondent to attend counseling, participate in a rehabilitation program, or reconciliation process. If the respondent accomplishes suitable remediation, the Ethics Panel may reinstate the individual, taking into consideration the well-being of the reporter and others impacted by the behavior described in the original complaint.

If it is determined that no violation has occurred, the Ethics Panel will tailor an appropriate response to each case in consultation with the respondent. The complainant and respondent will be notified of the conclusions regarding the complaint. If the adjudicating panel determines that the complaint was made in bad faith and that it constituted an act of harm, the adjudicating panel will work with the individuals involved to establish the most effective way in which amends can be made. 

A SMCA teacher or leader who unreasonably refuses to participate in this process may in their absence be deemed unfit, on the grounds of a lack of confidence, to teach or hold a particular leadership role, and be suspended or have their participation in the community limited in some way.



An appeal process will be determined in the future. In the meantime, individuals wishing to appeal an Ethics Policy decision can indicate their intent to appeal to the Ethics Panel so as to receive notification when the appeals process is finalized.

Additional Provisions: 


If the complainant wishes to remain anonymous and requests that the person about whom the complaint is being made not be informed of their identity, this anonymity will be respected to the greatest extent possible, while acknowledging that an effective investigation may require disclosure. Anonymity will be discussed with the complainant during the investigation and the complainant must acknowledge that their anonymity may limit the nature of what can be done. 

Relationship between the Code of Ethics and Violations of the Law

The Ethics Policy is an internal SMCA policy for the benefit of our community. It is not part of the legal system of the general society. The existence of a SMCA process for responding to complaints within the SMCA community does not preclude the rights or obligations of individuals or office holders to report violations of the law to the appropriate-law enforcement authorities. Individuals and office holders are directed to be aware of and comply with applicable local requirements to report possible violations of law, if any. There are mandatory reporting requirements regarding the possible threat or harm to children and vulnerable adults, and a duty to warn if someone makes a viable threat to harm another person or themselves. 


SMCA believes it is important to ensure that no one involved in the Complaint Procedure is subjected to unsubstantiated or harmful gossip. Adherence to the Buddhist precept vowing respectful speech is fundamental to our practice. This standard applies both to the person(s) bringing the complaint and to the person(s) against whom the complaint is made. Individuals engaging in the Complaint Procedure commit themselves to confidentiality. The principle of confidentiality means that the matter is not discussed with people who are not involved in the process but may include discussions by the parties with counsellors or close confidants, to whom the principle of confidentiality also applies. The principle of confidentiality should be explained to all those involved and an agreement to respect confidentiality should be obtained from each person prior to their making oral or written statements. The principle of confidentiality begins when the reporter making the initial complaint speaks with the first leader. The principle of confidentiality applies to:

  • The leader receiving the report of harm except when there is a mandatory reporting requirement (abuse of minors and vulnerable adults), a duty to warn of potential harm to self or others, or a potential violation of the law.
  • Local sangha leaders and governing bodies who are aware of the complaint.
  • The Ethics Officer
  • The Ethics Panel and any investigation panels with the acknowledgment that there may be a need to disclose essential information as part of this process.

Once adjudication has been completed, the principle of confidentiality continues for the Ethics Panel and any other panels involved in the case. Confidentiality for others, however, no longer applies. 

Limits to Confidentiality

All parties involved in an Ethics case should be aware that there are limits to confidentiality when the possibility of physical violence is present or if a vulnerable person is at risk of harm or has been harmed. If at any point within the complaint process an officer of SMCA is made aware of a situation that involves a threat of physical harm to self or other, there may be a duty to warn the relevant local authorities and/or the person being threatened. In such cases, the Ethics Officer should be contacted immediately. They will assist in determining the best course of action. 

Proper Use of the Ethics Policy

This Ethics Policy enables individuals to report wrongdoing and unethical behavior without fear of retribution. Shunning or retaliating against reporters of harm are violations of the Ethics Policy of SMCA and may be cause for filing a complaint. 


If either the complainant or the respondent wishes to object to the presence of an individual on an investigation panel, they may do so in writing to the Ethics Officer, who will be responsible for deciding the merits of the objection. If the objection is to the presence of the Ethics Officer on the panel in a particular case, the decision will be the responsibility of the entire Ethics Panel to consider. If a member of the Ethics Panel feels they cannot remain impartial, or has a conflict of interest (i.e. a personal relationship with either the complainant or the respondent), they must recuse themselves from that panel. 


Some complaints about divisions within a community are outside the scope of this policy. Examples include but are not limited to complaints about the quality of teachers. Complaints about teaching competency should be addressed to the Office of Practice and Education. Complaints about leadership competency should be addressed to the Board of Directors. Efforts will be made to identify resources to as