With or Without Repentance: A Buddhist Take on Forgiveness

Ethical Perspectives 28 (3):263-285 (2021)
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Forgiveness is mostly seen as a virtuous human response to wrongful conduct. But what happens when there is no acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of the wrongdoer? Does the forgiveness of the unrepentant still count as forgiveness? The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, for instance, is a figure who highly promotes the value of forgiveness. His homeland has been occupied by China since 1950, yet he maintains that he forgives and feels no enmity towards the Chinese government. The Chinese authorities, for their part, have never admitted to wrongful invasion of the ‘roof of the world’, hence there has been no acceptance of the Dalai Lama’s forgiveness. Can the Dalai Lama’s forgiving under these circumstances, however, still be seen as forgiveness? In the present contribution, I shed light on the Buddhist view on forgiveness in the hope of inspiring ideas that might contribute to the pursuit of peace. Firstly, I explore certain matters surrounding the general idea of forgiveness and subsequently introduce Buddhist perspectives. Secondly, I respond to the key question of this paper by highlighting the Dalai Lama’s views as a means to elaborate on the Buddhist stance. I conclude by comparing Buddhist points of view with some contemporary philosophical perspectives and illustrating some distinguishing features of the Buddhist notion of forgiveness. From the above, I endeavour to establish that the Buddhist take on forgiveness is ultimately unconditional.


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