WW II Brings Spiritual Diversity to Santa Fe

The Santa Fe Japanese Internment Camp during WWII.

On December 7, 1941, the psyche of Americans received a jolt with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. By March 1942 Japanese-American prisoners began to arrive in Santa Fe. Considered people of foreign enemy ancestry, the men came from mostly the West Coast and Hawaii. Their arrival in Santa Fe began with an executive order signed in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Santa Fe Japanese internment camp became one of several opened throughout the country.

Seeds of Dharma

The men imprisoned at the camp in Santa Fe totaled 4,555. These so-called “enemy combatants” included teachers, journalists, businessmen, and artists. The American government felt these types of people were a threat because they were free thinkers. Forced to leave their families, businesses, and all ties to the community, the men found a way to endure their hardships. Along with these erudite prisoners were Buddhist “ministers” (teachers) who withstood the camp’s privations through the teachings of Dharma. Buddha taught the manifestation of spiritual awakening. This discipline known as Dharma helped to alleviate the universal human experience of suffering. Through the enlightenment of Dharma the prisoners found the solace needed to abide such dire conditions.

Maha Bodhi Stupa

During this dark time in U.S. history the seeds of Buddhism were planted in Santa Fe. Three decades later Buddhism took root. The Maha Bodhi Stupa, the first of its kind in the United States, began in 1973 on Cerro Gordo Road. The history of the sacred art contained in a stupa began in India during the 4th century. Stupas embody the living presence of an enlightened mind. They provide the protection that comes from the wisdom and compassion taught by the Buddha. Now known as the Cerro Gordo Temple, it’s located in the hills north of Santa Fe. Throughout its history it has been utilized by Zen, Vipassana, and Vajrayana Buddhists groups and is an ongoing temple for Dharma activities.

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