The Federal government has announced its intentions to bulldoze a small Tibetan Buddhist Stupa near the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico after the National Park Service seized the land using the power of eminent domain to build an outdoor amphitheater. This comes on the heels of a similar case, when earlier this year the US Supreme Court voted in a 5-4 decision (Salazar v. Buono) to save a Christian Cross residing on NPS land inside the Mojave desert, after the NPS denied a Buddhist organization request to build a small Stupa near the Cross. In yet another similar case in 2006 (Paulson v. City of San Diego), President George W Bush signed into law an act of eminent domain to save another Christian Cross residing on public land inside the City ofSan Diego, after the US Court of Appeals had ordered the Cross to be dismantled, stating the violation of both the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the No Preference Clause in the California Constitution.
Yesterday, I was unable to reach anyone in the National Park Service Headquarters that was willing to give any comment on their plans or reasoning behind bulldozing the Stupa. Certainly, if the Federal government is willing to use the very powerful tool of eminent domain to save a Christian Cross residing on public land, its actions in New Mexico bring up very important Constitutional questions of its endorsement of religion given its willingness to use the same powers to bulldoze a symbol of another religion. The first amendment of the US Constitution strictly forbids the United States government to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The question has to be raised, is there an attempt to establish a de facto ‘official’ religion in the United States, as demonstrated by the actions of several govermental agencies the over the past 5 years? Ken Salazar, the Secretary for the Department of the Interior, which runs the National Park Service, has been eerily quiet about these actions, as has the Obama administration. Unquestionably, the volunteer caretakers of the Stupa have been more than willing to work with the NPS to preserve the Buddhist symbol within the confines of its amphitheater plans, however, any attempts to open dialogue have been met with no success. One of the ongoing advertising campaigns of the NPS has been “Get Involved!”; I suppose they only wish those to get involved if they are indeed Christian.
I can’t help but feel that if this were a massive cross or statue of the Virgin Mary then this would be a non-issue; the Park Service would leave the religious marker be since it was already established and of some importance to the practitioners in the area. In this case, a stupa, a figure of Buddhist reverence (as symbolic of a place that once held the relics of the historic Buddha) is being knocked down for an glorified stage, without any (seemingly) consideration to the local Buddhist population.
Some more info on the “No-Name” Stupa of Albuquerque New Mexico
Rarely does a visitor to a national park have the opportunity to brush past a relic of the great Tibetan Guru Padmasambhava. But at Petroglyph National Park in Albuquerque, strollers may encounter a stupa. Consecrated by lamas and containing the many traditional objects that help make a stupa sacred, this stupa has no name. It is not advertised or even acknowledged by officials at the park’s visitor center.
The National Park Service in iggo began acquiring the property of Harold Cohen and Arriam Emery as part of Petroglyph National Park, established to preserve the Native American rock art chipped into volcanic stones there. The move came six months after the consecration of the ten-foot-high stupa, which had taken Cohen and Emery eleven years to build on their property. According to Cohen and Emory, they lost their home and their battle to retain the stupa. Money they had saved for a future Padmasambhava Center was spent in litigation.
Lama Rinchen Thuntsok of Nepal, who had aided the couple in building the stupa and had consecrated this Nyingmapa bodhisattva-style stupa in 1989, advised them to view the process as a lesson in impermanence and suggested they build a larger stupa. The park service maintains that the stupa has been moved off what is now park land, but Cohen and Emery hope public opinion will influence park service officials to protect and preserve the stupa. [from the Stupa Information Page]