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Lions Roar : November 2012
89 SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2012 I felt such affinity with the land too. Those deep old valleys of Central Europe had been a Jewish homeland for so long. I sensed an emptiness here, an absence in the bare, grassy slopes, and began to wonder if the land itself missed the Jews, if in some way it was happy to have a Jew here once more, treading its paths. And I did tread them. A network of footpaths threads through the Black Forest, and it was possible to go hiking for an hour or two in several different directions and meet with a few cows or goats, and now and then another hiker. There were pine woods and deciduous trees, and precipitous slopes with little burnished-roofed villages glinting at the bottom. There were farmsteads with large pitched roofs and tremendous stores of firewood neatly stacked. It was somehow like a cross between the Lake District of northern England and the forested hills of Poland, where many of my forebears had lived. AS MY FIRST TALK was approach- ing, I began to feel uneasy again. Would I be betraying myself and all Jews if I said nothing? But what would I say? In short, I didn’t know whether to bring up the Holocaust, and my Jewishness, or not. I had been planning to talk about Ganto and Seppo, two great masters of the Tang period, and just stick to Zen. But if I didn’t address the matter at all, it might intensify and grow, and come to overshadow the whole sesshin. More than anything, I realized, I was experi- encing a great well of sadness. I decided I had to talk about it, about how it felt to be Jewish in Germany and about what had happened to the relationship of these two peoples. “Ich bin ein halb-Jude,” I began with trepidation, but hoping that somehow, as often happens with things we dread, this could turn out to be a powerful and healing experience for everyone. The cat was out of the bag and there was no going back. I found myself giving up all sense of control, letting the talk go where it wanted. What became clear, then and through the rest of the retreat, was that whatever horrific trauma was inflicted on the Jew- ish people by Hitler, Germans today are also still traumatized by their country’s killing orgy. What Germany had done to “us Jews” had wounded Germany too. Monstrous cruelty inflicts a cruelty on the perpetrators as well as the victims. It was as if the country were still shocked by the madness that had seized it two gener- ations ago. They too needed healing. Once I saw that, something remark- able began to happen. For the rest of the retreat people came and wept with me, with relief and gratitude. The source of suffering might be different for each of us, but we could still meet in the com- monality of our suffering itself. It was precisely there that healing could be found. What a burden they had been carrying, an unexpungible guilt, a per- manent stamp of shame they felt wher- ever they went in the world. When abroad, Germans often feel that just to admit they are German is an act of pen- ance. There was no escape from it. The sins of the fathers had been visited upon the sons and daughters. That was part of what I learned dur- ing the sesshin. But this wasn’t just about the rights and wrongs of collec- tive forgiving or forgetting. It was also about someone—me—who thought he knew how to forgive and discovered he did not. I still felt, fundamentally, that forgiveness was mine to give or with- hold. By holding on to my prejudice against Germany, however historically justifiable it might be, I had been try- ing to control something—the hor- ror, the scale of the devastation, the overwhelming human tragedy. But as hardness melted in the dharma of the sesshin, it became clear that forgiveness was a larger force than any one of us, and that as long as I believed myself to be the bestower or withholder of it, I could not truly forgive anything at all. I didn’t know until now that when we forgive, we are also forgiven. So if we are convinced Don’t Go There continued from page 43