Buddhist monastery finds home near Decorah

In the rolling hills of northeast Iowa, amid fields of cattle and corn, sits a simple, cream-colored building. The gravel road leading to the dwelling climbs an incline. A weathered wooden sign surrounded by flowers and tall grass reads “Ryumonji Zen Monastery.”

A Buddhist monastery, the only one of its kind in the state. Buddhism, an Eastern religion that began in India, follows the teachings of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. It focuses on participating in good to reach enlightenment.

Buddhist communities increasing across Iowa

Iowa’s Buddhist population grew in the last several decades with new places to practice — Cedar Rapids, Clive, Decorah. Now Indianola. 

The latest is in Warren County’s county seat of Indianola, where the former Saint Thomas Aquinas Church, built in 1958, will become a Buddhist temple. The Board of Adjustment approved a special work permit at a November meeting. “Mostly, this would be a place of peaceful contemplation,” the Karen Buddhist Association wrote in its application to the city. The Karen Buddhist Association of Iowa is made up of about 50 families.