The Next Buddha? Buddha Boy Tapaswi Palden Dorje – Ram Bahadur Bomjon
By J Ocean Dennie
In a poor backwater region of southern Nepal, an 18-year-old boy by the name of Ram Bahadur Bomjon may very well be on his way to becoming the next Buddha.Bomjon (born c. 9 April 1990, sometimes spelled Bomjan, Banjan, or Bamjan) was dubbed ‘Buddha Boy’ by the international media back in 2005 after reports surfaced that during the course of several months of deep meditation, he neither ate nor drank. After ten months of intense media frenzy and public scrutiny, Bomjon disappeared into the jungle in March 2006, reappearing briefly later that month to announce plans to meditate in solitude for the next six years. Members of the local community and followers of Bomjon were already referring to him as the next incarnation of Buddha, something that was prophesied by Shakyamuni Buddha. In a message to devotees, however, Bomjon was quite clear that he had not yet attained Buddhahood but was simply a ‘meditator on truth’. He did suggest, however, that he was a reincarnated Tibetan rinpoche. To reflect this, the moniker Palden Dorje was adopted.
Like many others, I had first heard of ‘Buddha Boy’ during his initial period of meditation and was instantly fascinated with the story, but following this, only tidbits of news trickled out from Nepal. I thought of eventually searching for the recluse and perhaps writing an account of my adventures, imagining myself trampling through the jungle chasing whims and mirages.
I was in Bangkok when news of his public appearance suddenly broke in early November of last year. Reports at that time had indicated he would be offering darshan (a public blessing) for only a few more days. I had to act quickly, so I booked a seat on the next available flight to Kathmandu with hardly a second thought.
The list of apparent miracles associated with Palden Dorje is intriguing. In addition to his astounding feats living without sustenance or sleep, it is claimed two venomous serpents bit him with no detrimental effect. Devotees once reported seeing his head illuminated similar to the aureoles surrounding saints. On another occasion, the ground in front of him was said to have suddenly combusted into flames but he remained unscathed. He has also been spotted conversing with wildlife.
In an attempt to separate fact from legend, I planned to set out for the district of Bara, and a site near the town of Nijgadh, approximately 160 kilometers from Kathmandu.
I arrived in Simra, a convenient hub, at four in the morning after a numbing ten-hour bus ride from the capital city. I quickly checked into one of a handful of hotels in the small town known more for its choking steel factories than anything holy. After only an hour or two of rest, I hopped on a local bus, repeating to the ticket-taker, ‘Bomjon, Bomjon’. I was dropped off at the side of the highway, facing a dirt road leading into the jungle. Several hundred people were streaming down the road. As I made my way along, Nepalis and Indians passed on bicycles and tractors, in rickshaws, vans, and even crammed buses.
I eventually met up with three Nepali teens skipping school in order to receive darshan. Nirazin, was the only one of the trio to have previously seen Palden Dorje. When Nirazin first heard of him, he thought it was a joke, but after observing the young meditator up close, he realized he had made a mistake. “He is meditating for peace. He is meditating for us. I think he is the next Buddha, even though I am aware that he did not identify himself in that way”.
After a six kilometer hike to our destination, I was astonished with the sheer numbers assembled. The lineup into the gated area followed a parched river bed and extended for at least a kilometer. At the tail-end of the line were countless vendors selling fried food, religious trinkets, beads, even photos and DVD’s of Palden Dorje. Those selling traditional Tibetan kata scarves were making a killing. Nearby, there was even a hand-operated Ferris wheel. The atmosphere was festive and chaotic.
By the sheer fact I was the only visibly obvious foreigner in line, I was ushered to the front almost without delay. Entrants were forbidden to carry in cigarettes or lighters. Shoes and belts were also to be left behind. Those of us passing through the entrance were purified with water sprayed from a sprig of cedar.
We proceeded down a cordoned trail, leading back into dense jungle. Prayer flags were strewn along the path. Quickly, an ethereal serenity overtook us, accompanied by a welcome silence in contrast to the uproar of the crowds waiting in line. Everyone spoke in hushed tones, some chanted mantras, mothers shushed babies. An occasional bird song punctuated the stillness. There were butterflies everywhere.
The trail led into an arbor adorned with even more prayer flags radiating out from an imposing whitewashed stupa, about ten meters tall. In the heart of the arbor, a massive bodhi tree towered over the stupa. And there, on a pedestal at the base of the tree, sat Palden Dorje touching each kata held up to him and then dabbing the crown of the person’s head using a miniature dorje. The line was briskly moved along by a cadre of Tibetan monks and volunteer attendants.
When my turn came, I lowered my head with my arms outstretched holding the kata and walked toward him. Instead of the usual blessing, Palden Dorje grabbed the kata and slung it around my neck. I instantly felt hands on me, leading me away, but not before I had a moment to look up into his face and to gaze into his dark eyes that seemed to reflect a depth I have rarely encountered. Following this, I sat off to the side and meditated upon the scene for the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon.
I was quite taken with Palden Dorje’s appearance. For someone who had been meditating in the jungle continuously for months on end, he looked surprisingly fit and fresh. He was not emaciated in any way and I noticed he continued to maintain a fair bit of muscle tone in his arms. The messy tussled hair of earlier photos was now replaced with long curly locks well beyond shoulder length. He was donning a white robe that wrapped over his left shoulder. All in all, Palden Dorje looked comfortable and content. He remained silent save for an occasional whisper to a nearby attendant.
As the sun commenced its descent, I spoke with Romee, a Brit, and one of only a handful of foreigners present. Throughout the day, he had stood practically motionless near Palden Dorje, acting almost like a sentry, armed with poise and serenity.
Romee believed that Palden Dorje is engaged in a very high meditation that has not been publicly undertaken for centuries, if not millennia. Romee was led here through astral communications he received from the young guru. He mused that Palden Dorje will likely remain in this spot now for the rest of his life.
On my hike out back to the highway that evening, I followed the river bed which was a slightly shorter, if not dustier route. I met Moon Kim, a spry 74-year-old Korean-Canadian. “He’s a god, he’s a Buddha, whatever you want to call it,” claimed Moon. “Nobody knows how he is surviving without food or water, but it’s not a big deal for him. The way I look at it, when you go to heaven and spend a day there, a century passes here on earth, so three and a half earth years for a divine being isn’t even an hour up there.”
I returned early the next morning to receive darshan again and to continue to sit off to the side and watch the assembly line of devotees approach him for a blessing. It conjured up parallels with Amma, the famous hugging saint of southern India. It even reminded me of the solemnity of parishioners lining up to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion.
On the following morning, I was met with delirium at the gate since it was believed to be the final day of the darshan. The armed police that were present the day before were replaced on this day with boy scouts and girl scouts clearly not up to the task of crowd control. Several of the volunteers were now locked hand in hand, forming a human chain against the riotous throngs attempting to break the queue. I had to holler and wave my arms at one of them, Uman, whom I had spoken to the day before in order to gain his attention and hopefully a free pass back into the arbor. It eventually proved successful.
Before entering, I asked Uman why Palden Dorje suddenly decided to break his six-year meditation. His answer seemed to imply that conditions were ripe for a public appearance again. Uman noted how even more chaotic the situation had been at the previous site in nearby Ratanpuri. “There was just no management of the crowds back then. Now that we have been able to set up a basic system here, it makes things a lot easier for everyone.” In spite of his assurance, I noted the infancy of the infrastructure, unlike the more sprawling operation in Puttaparti, home to India’s super-celebrity guru Sathya Sai Baba.
There is definitely a pervasive rock star adoration toward Palden Dorje. One young Nepali girl I met, after asking her why she was attracted to him, said, “He’s very beautiful.” When I asked if she thought of him romantically, she blushed and said emphatically, “No, no, that would be like having God as a boyfriend.”
After parting ways with Uman, I received darshan once again and assumed my position off to the side. At some point while meditating later in the morning, an inexplicably dazzling emerald luminescence flooded my headspace for a sustained period of time before finally dissolving. There was also a period of ‘whiteness’, similar to when a camera lens is on a high exposure. Following this, throughout the afternoon, I kept sensing in my peripheral vision monks sitting beside me in meditation. When I turned my head slightly to get a better look, there was never anyone there.
As I was leaving that day, I was informed that Palden Dorje, had suddenly decided to add three more days to the darshan since people just kept coming. It looked like I would be sticking around for a little longer then.
The next day, however, threw me for another loop. This time, as I made my way down the dusty river bed, I noticed there was an almost complete absence of people heading in. There was no line-up and the arbor was even more exceptionally quiet than usual. Palden Dorje’s countenance displayed a hint of bewilderment with the trickle of people.
In spite of this, he continued undeterred. On two separate occasions, thunder struck from a completely cloudless sky. Palden Dorje looked up quickly and scanned the skies both times as if in search of some sign. Apparently, Palden Dorje had mentioned in the past that the gods would be present during his tenure and would manifest as thunder.
As each day passed, my meditations grew progressively stronger. On the fifth day, there was a robust serenity in both body and mind despite the onset of a head cold. (I had been sneezing viciously before entering the arbor). There was very little bodily discomfort, however, as I ventured deeper into Void.
The final day of the darshan saw a return to chaos. The gigantic crowd was in turmoil again and some people were seething with anger due to the constant stream of queue jumpers. Once again, thankfully, I was plucked out of the line by a boy scout who took some interest in me. He accompanied me to the area near the gate, which was sealed at that time and surrounded by monks.
When we were finally allowed in, I wondered: could this really be a scam? Could all these monks and nuns and volunteers and serious devotees, committed to the pursuit of truth, be mistaken? If the local community was trying to reap financial benefits from the Buddha Boy phenomenon as some suggested, why restrict his public appearances? If the skeptics were to be believed, then where was the incontrovertible proof of wrongdoing? So far, I had seen nothing convincing to tarnish a reputation.
I was led to a section reserved for journalists very close to where Palden Dorje sat on his pedestal, boxed in by cloth erected to act as a visual barrier. At least half a dozen news network cameras from Nepal or India were arranged in front with a barrage of microphones. A single female Western journalist scribbled notes onto a pad. Monks and nuns were seated opposite us in a section reserved exclusively for them. The public then sat in a wide circle around the tree.
As the minutes passed, the restlessness escalated into a madhouse mania. Though it seemed quite comical and silly, there was a tinge of sadness when I realized how we contort such a thing of virtue into a media-exploited extravaganza. I am just as much to blame. I worry that a simple purity will be devoured by the obsessive sophistications of our society. A boy meditating in the jungle is not enough for us. World tours, bestsellers and talk show interviews would be the new standard.
Palden Dorje stood up to the microphones and held the attention of the restless crowd for the ten minutes or so that he spoke in Nepali. Strangely, he concluded halfway between a sentence, trailing off, letting the words, both spoken and unspoken, hang in the air. The brief spell of serenity quickly degenerated into a frenzy again as Palden Dorje returned to his pedestal and people began lining up to receive darshan. The young man suddenly shifted gears into overdrive, ludicrously blessing with a pace so quick he was practically bonking people on the head with the dorje as they passed.
In the midst of the pushing and shoving nearby, I was led into a profound meditation, insulated from the riot but still acutely aware of it. I remained motionless in body and mind for over an hour. When I opened my eyes, I noticed I was the only one in the midst of thousands who had bothered to do such a thing. At least Palden Dorje was smiling. It was all quite surreal. Instead of trying to line up, I left quietly, bowing inconspicuously, brimming with a wondrous delight.
Since Palden Dorje was not about to indulge me with an exclusive interview, I wanted to speak to a fellow by the name of Jas Waiba. As a member of the steering committee that liaises with Palden Dorje, I figured he would be a reliable authority. When I arrived at the site the next day, I was not surprised to see the place practically deserted – all the vendors had disappeared while only a handful of monks and nuns remained, packing up in preparation to head out. Plastic bags tossed about silently on a slight breeze. The gate was barricaded and a single monk sat in the shade to guard against any unauthorized entry. The whole thing had the feel of the day following the conclusion of an outdoor music festival. Palden Dorje was on his own again.
I eventually caught up to Jas on his way home. Jas has been a committee member for over a year now. The committee is comprised of members mostly from local communities. It was formed as a response to the crowds and problems that swelled as news of the boy spread like wildfire. Jas told me the committee can do nothing without the consent of Palden Dorje. Typically, the committee is summoned when a signal is received from Palden Dorje, a signal only one or two individuals have knowledge of.
“Before,” Jas exclaimed, “Palden Dorje was in deep meditation. Now, he is conducting special esoteric exercises and holding conversations with gods.” I asked him if he himself had been privy to any miracles. With a slightly ominous tone, Jas said, “sometimes, we hear explosions and trees cracking, and when we go to investigate, there is no sign of any damage.”
Over lunch, Jas is quite straightforward in his assessment of Palden Dorje. “He is a bodhisattva. In the future, he will be Maitreya, the next Buddha. This is a certainty. I am confident in this because I have witnessed how he mixes peace with power. He can destroy and he can create. I cannot give you all the details at this time because I have been sworn to secrecy with respect to some matters.” He later hinted, however, toward some esoteric power that could possibly render the weapons of the world completely useless.
Jas is unconcerned with the naysayers. “There is no way to dispute them. Everyone has a right to be skeptical. It is not my job to convince them. I know what I know. Truth comes through illumination not attempts at convincing someone.”
Palden Dorje could very well be the one the world has waited for, but how can someone ever know for sure. He is markedly different from other gurus I have encountered. No matter what his status, he is an inspiration.
Although I can certainly say that Palden Dorje embodies a very powerful essence, what else had I actually discovered about him? It all seemed so ephemeral. I felt like I had failed to clearly ascertain the truth behind this Nepali teen but, on the other hand, I realized there is some value in what remains mysterious.
So perhaps it is best to leave it as such. Better yet, when he is ready for visitors again, why not book a flight to Nepal and experience the phenomenon for yourself?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
Ram Bomjon – Buddha Boy Banjan – Ram Bomjan – Buddha Boy Bamjan – Nepal Buddha Boy Documentary
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