A Tibetan monk escaped to India after 18 years of imprisonment in China. “What was the biggest concern or danger when you were in prison?” asked the Dalai Lama. The monk’s answer surprised him. “I worried that I would lose my compassion towards Chinese people,” said the monk. That was how he talked about the people of a country that killed 1.2 million Tibetans, one-fifth of the population. The Dalai Lama told this story to Simon Wiesenthal, so-called Nazi hunter, to answer a question that Wiesenthal asked in his book “The Sunflower.”
Wiesenthal was imprisoned in Janowska concentration camp and forced to clean up waste in a military hospital with other prisoners. One day, a nurse took him to a patient. He was a 21-year-old Nazi guard who lost his eyes from bomb fragments and was dying from wounds on his upper body and his face. In repentance, he confessed that he set fire to a building full of Jews and opened fire at people who jumped out of the window. He also implored Wiesenthal to forgive him on behalf of the victims because he was a Jew. Wiesenthal did not say a word. The guard died on the next day.
“If you were me, what would you have done?” asks Wiesenthal in his book. Jews say what he did was right because Nazi should never be forgiven and Wiesenthal does not have a right to forgive them on behalf of the victims. But most Christians say he should have forgiven him. Catholic writer Luise Rinser, who is well-known for her book “The Middle of Life,” says, “It is scary that he left a young man repenting and dying without a word.” The Dalai Lama takes the same position as Rinser. He answers the question by telling the story of the Tibetan monk.
These different answers tell us that forgiveness and the attitude towards it are a part of a culture. What culture are we living in, and what would we have done if we were Wiesenthal?