San Francisco Zen Center commits to becoming a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist institution where Buddhist practice is made as accessible as possible.
Mahayana Buddhism teaches that everyone has the capacity to awaken, and our own liberation is bound up with that of all other sentient beings. Thus, the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) sangha must be universally accessible and supportive for the good of everyone’s liberation. We want everyone who comes to SFZC to feel that they are welcomed, included, treated equitably, and have access to Zen practice opportunities—regardless of factors such as race/ethnicity, country of origin, income level, class background, gender, sexuality, age, and disability status. In order to do so, we must foster diversity, equity, inclusivity, and accessibility (DEIA).
We are working toward SFZC’s long-term vision for DEIA:
To embody diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility throughout San Francisco Zen Center’s teachings, practice, organizational culture, policies, and operations as a manifestation of our vow to awaken together with all beings.
On this page:
Links to DEIA resources and the Central Committee's feedback form:
Definitions of D - E - I - A
Diversity is the representation of all our varied identities and differences (race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, tribe, caste, socio-economic status, thinking and communication styles, etc.), collectively and as individuals.
Equity seeks to ensure fair treatment, equality of opportunity, and fairness in access to information and resources for all.
Inclusion builds a culture of belonging by actively inviting the contribution and participation of all people.
Accessibility is giving equitable access to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience.
(Source: The Ford Foundation)
These are some of the specific ways we envision manifesting D-E-I-A at SFZC
Diversity: Acknowledging and valuing differences among a group of people. SFZC is committed to increasing and supporting diversity within both the residential sangha and the wider sangha. This includes: differences of race, ethnicity, language, nationality, cultural and religious background, socioeconomic status, education, age, gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, marital status, parental status, opinions, and other social and economic differences.
Equity: Treating people fairly. At SFZC, this means making access to Zen training opportunities as broad and unbiased as possible. Zen training opportunities include offerings open to non-residents as well as residents (e.g. zazen, Dharma talks, classes, sesshins, intensives, practice periods, ordination, sangha leadership, teacher training). These opportunities also include recruitment and selection into residential practice, as well as recruitment, placement, promotion, and retention in work practice and leadership positions.
Equity does not necessarily mean treating everyone the same. Certain groups of people have been historically under-served and under-represented in terms of their access to many types of opportunities within the US, including Zen training opportunities. Thus, in order to foster greater equity, SFZC’s policies and practices must identify and remove barriers to the full participation of some groups.
Inclusion: Ensuring that individuals across different backgrounds feel safe enough to participate fully, by being welcomed, respected, valued, seen and heard. Strengthening inclusion involves sharing power with individuals and/or groups who have not previously been fully included in processes, activities, and decision/policy making. It also involves examining the social and cultural practices, norms and environment of SFZC and intentionally modifying them to make them more inclusive.
Accessibility: Accessibility is a core part of SFZC’s mission “To express, make accessible, and embody the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha.” It includes providing equitable access to classes, programs, temples and Zen training opportunities, taking into account the diverse needs of individuals, including needs related to varying abilities, experience and financial status.
(These definitions were inspired by and adapted language from the Spirit Rock website, the Alliance for Buddhist Ethics, Karen Armstrong on the National Association of Colleges and Employers website, UC Berkeley Center for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity, and the University of Houston’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion.)
While we support all aspects of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, the primary focus of DEIA-related initiatives at SFZC is to foster racial justice in our sangha. Racial justice is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity. Operationalizing racial justice means reimagining and co-creating a just and liberated world. (See racialequitytools.org.)
DEIA activities at SFZC are overseen by the Central DEIA committee under the auspices of the SFZC Board of Directors. The committee holds the primary responsibility for the development and oversight of specific strategic objectives and key results related to DEIA, including developing and implementing short-term strategic plans. These strategic objectives are supported by both the leadership of SFZC and the SFZC Board.
Members of Central DEIA Committee
NOTE: The Central DEIA Committee is being reconfigured and reorganized. Updates will be posted here when they have been determined.
Strategic objectives that the Central DEIA committee has been focusing on
Training related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility for SFZC staff and the public
SFZC is increasing its offerings of educational and training opportunities for all levels of staff and the wider community through classes, reading groups, materials, workshops, and public programs. Local DEIA groups at the three temples focus on implementing projects and objectives specific to their location, such as racial justice study sessions for residents, employees, and practice leaders.
One of the main areas of focus within the current training is for white-identified members of the sangha to learn how to recognize and practice skillfully with their racial conditioning, with a goal of supporting anti-racism on a personal and institutional level. Unpacking Whiteness: Reflection and Action is an ongoing group open to the public that meets monthly online to provide such training. In addition, white-identified leaders and senior staff as well as other SFZC staff have attended multi-day trainings on this topic, and such trainings will continue.
Supporting greater inclusivity
Affinity groups help support inclusion by creating dedicated spaces for those with a common identity to meet and support one another in their Buddhist practice. The Queer Dharma, Zen en Español, and Young Urban Zen groups meet regularly (currently online) and are open to the public. Green Gulch Farm has a group for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) residents. The DEIA committee supports the forming of additional affinity groups, including for BIPOC members of the community, at the other two temples.
In order to create effective strategies to reduce barriers to inclusion, we need to better understand the barriers that currently exist. We will re-examine input we have already received regarding SFZC’s culture (both as an organization and in the residential community) with an eye to where we can have the most immediate impact. We will also seek additional input from current residents, with an emphasis on feedback from students who identify with a marginalized group such as BIPOC or those with disabilities.
The DEIA committee is also taking immediate steps to overcome barriers to inclusion, and will continue to make recommendations going forward as additional barriers which need to be addressed become apparent. Some of the steps taken include:
- SFZC leaders are inviting an increasing number of BIPOC speakers both from within and outside of SFZC to give Dharma talks and other online offerings.
- When senior leadership positions open, current SFZC leaders reach out to qualified BIPOC staff to encourage them to apply.
- The DEIA committee is examining ways to remediate structural barriers to inclusion, including barriers in pathways to leadership. For example, easing residency requirements for senior leadership positions would allow for a larger pool of BIPOC applicants.
Creating policies to support ongoing DEIA work
The DEIA committee is working on putting in place policies, procedures, and organizational structures to support ongoing DEIA work.
We are exploring how to better communicate about the work of the committee and to improve pathways for ongoing feedback to the committee, such as through our new online feedback form (link below).
We are also adding requirements for cultural competence and awareness of and commitment to DEIA to job descriptions, including all SFZC leadership positions.
The Central DEIA Committee has formed working groups to set objectives and key results in the above three areas. We will update this page as our work progresses.
If you have feedback regarding DEIA that you would like to share with the Central DEIA Committee, please contact the Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at DirectorDIB@sfzc.org or click here to submit a feedback form.
NOTE: There is often a power differential between the giver and receiver of feedback, which can lead to isolating or punishing people who give feedback. Please know that SFZC prohibits retaliation and commits to protect anyone who reports any feedback or complaints related to diversity, equity, inclusion, or accessibility at SFZC. If you believe you have been subject to retaliation, please report this to the local temple Director or Human Resources as soon as possible so that we may investigate the matter in a timely and appropriate way.
For any other questions or comments or if you would like to get in touch with the Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, contact Eli Brown-Stevenson@sfzc.org or email DEIA@sfzc.org.