Buddhism Comes to Santa Fe

Buddhist teachers in dark robes at Santa Fe’s Japanese internment camp.

In 1942 Japanese-American prisoners began to arrive in Santa Fe. The prisoners were considered enemies of foreign ancestry. The men were forcibly removed from other parts of the country, mostly the West Coast. Within weeks, 4,555 men were imprisoned at the camp. These so-called “enemy combatants” were teachers, journalists, businessmen and artists. The American government was threatened by these free thinkers. The Japanese men were forced to leave their families, businesses, and all ties to the community. Along with the prisoners were Buddhist “ministers” or teachers.

Seeds of Dharma

The spiritual leaders withstood the camp’s privations through the teachings of Dharma. This belief system is the manifestation of spiritual awakening. It strives to alleviate the universal human experience of suffering. Buddha shared this practice with followers long ago. Through the enlightenment of Dharma, Santa Fe’s Japanese prisoners sought patience. Their spiritual practice provided them the solace needed to live under dire conditions. During this dark time in U.S. history the seeds of Buddhism were planted in Santa Fe. Just as the prisoners of the WWII Japanese internment camp endured oppression, the spiritual movement was born out of oppression.

CCC Camp Becomes a Prison

The Civilian Conservation Corps camp north of Santa Fe was purchased by the Department of Justice to imprison Japanese-American citizens. The camp had been used as part of President Roosevelt’s plan to rejuvenate the economy. The CCC provided jobs for young men all over the country. They became known as Roosevelt’s “Tree Army.” The cadre of energetic men built cabins at Hyde Memorial State Park in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains northeast of Santa Fe. The National Park Service building on the Old Santa Fe Trail was also built by the young men. The newly transformed CCC became the Japanese internment camp, one of several opened throughout the country in areas considered to be of military importance to the safety of all Americans.

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