Between Buddhism and the hard yards of police work

by PAUL BIBBY, Manning River Times, March 12, 2009

New South Wales, Australia -- BUDDHISM and law enforcement are unusual bedfellows. Adhering to the principles of non-violence, calmness and love for all human beings is not easy when your day job involves investigating and locking up potentially violent criminals.

But a handful of NSW Police have committed themselves to the ancient philosophy and are applying it in their daily work.

"It's easy to be appalled and disgusted with the things I have seen, and to view the people that I have to deal with as inherently bad," one officer, Jason Puxty, said.

"Buddhism has taught me to understand them as people who have done very bad things.

"I will pursue them, process them and deal with them appropriately, but at the same time treat them with dignity and compassion."

Mr Puxty and another officer, who wished to be known only as Sean, turned to Buddhism after witnessing a series of tragedies on the job. "Jason and I have seen some pretty terrible stuff and we can now better rationalise what we're seeing and understand how we react to it emotionally," Sean said.

"Think about a car accident. Sitting there and trying to figure out 'why?' doesn't bring anyone back. I'm better serving people by being full minded and recognising that unfortunately people get taken at a young age through tragic circumstances."

Both men have embraced the teachings of the Australian Buddhist nun, Robina Courtin.

Formerly a militant left-wing lesbian activist who later became the Dalai Lama's body guard, Sister Robina is now the director of the US-based Liberation Prison Project, which helps 400 prisoners through regular visits, teaching and advice.

"If you strip away all the religious packaging … Buddhism is about the mind," Sister Robina said during a visit to the Vajrayana Institute in Ashfield last week.

"Whether someone is an offender or a police officer, the job for them is the same - knowing your mind well, sorting out what's in there, and then beginning to change yourself."

But what of the moments when circumstances demand the officers hurt another human being?

"If I have to use force to save myself and others I will do that, but I know there will be a karmic price to pay," Mr Puxty said.

"I have taken an oath not to do certain things - not to kill, not to lie, not to steal. I will only do it to protect people, but I know that there will be an effect."

Both men point out that their views do not reflect the position of the NSW Police Force, but they believe some of their colleagues could benefit from Buddhist teachings.

"I look at my colleagues who have hit a brick wall emotionally with the job and I think they could benefit," Sean said.

"But there aren't many who have taken on the belief system. There's a conflict between how most view the job and how they view Buddhism."