My job as a Buddhist is to observe my mind. Using tools such as meditation, reflection and contemplation to become familiar with the inner workings of the mind.
Within corrections, amongst inmates and staff, and much like ‘on the outside’, Buddhism is quite fashionable. People love to quote the Buddha, but rarely implement the teachings into their own lives.
The Buddha’s teachings are altruistic, loving, compassionate and transformative. But, it requires an authentic teacher and serious commitment by the practitioner.
“It’s you that has to do the work”
Often when I’m presenting the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), inmates are shocked to hear, the Buddha is not our saviour.
We often hold the view that someone will save us, like a doctor, a psychologist or life partner from ourselves and bad habits. “It’s you that has to do the work”, I explain.
I’ve been a prison chaplain for 5 years and I honestly think I’ve heard it all. The work I do is to support, motivate and encourage inmates to do better. In a private, confidential and safe space inmates can offload and share their life story.
It’s to a chaplain, that one can express their deepest trauma or regrets and have it heard with an open heart. No judgment and no shame.
Reoffending behaviour happens because we don’t know our habits, our attachments and desires. We go about living life thinking, this is how it’s meant to be.
“Did you know there’s another way to live?”
Buddhist chaplains are committed to reducing reoffending behaviour by helping inmates understand the key skills needed for emotional processing, healing and growth.
Through the deep and positive teachings of the Buddha inmates learn about the nature of the mind and begin to take control of their own lives.
We need to know ourselves, the nature of the mind and become aware of our negativity and positivity.
When I ask an inmate, “did you know there’s another way to live?” they often tell me no.
Meditation is the way to bring about mental stability.
Most of us live our lives recalling the past and fantasising about the future. Who wants to be in the moment when you’re in a prison? It’s our mind that’s usually the prison.
Bringing about mental stability allows us to reflect and contemplate. It’s from this mind we can invoke a healthy feeling of regret and remorse for past negative actions. Only then can we commit never to do them again.
‘’Imagine if there was no way of purifying those icky feelings, when we recall a negative action.”
The Buddha gave many teachings. In the prison setting one of the most powerful is the, ‘Four Remedial Forces’. How to purify negative deeds.
It’s a practical 4 step process to admit ones negative actions, recognise its impact on your life and others, and then with deep remorse and commitment, never repeat the action again.
The final step is the recitation of an aspirational prayer that reminds us of our positive nature and our ability to become the best a human being can be… totally positive, empathetic, loving, supportive and emotionally balanced.
Inmates appreciate the practical process of purification. Often I’ll ask; “image if there was no way of purifying those icky feelings, when we recall a negative deed”.
The burden can be put down and ‘The Four Remedial Forces’, is how we do that.
Other important topics discuss suffering, interdependence and impermanence. Once you’ve heard these it cannot be unheard.
The Dharma is powerful, aspirational and practical.
Today, some would argue the Buddha was the world’s best cognitive therapist. Witnessing positive change over and over again, I would tend to agree!