IS THIS BOY THE NEW BUDDHA?
The Mirror (UK), December 28, 2006
By Nick Webster
The farmers son who is hailed as a God by followers
SITTING cross-legged in a jungle clearing in southern Nepal, his eyes tightly shut and his arms resting on his knees, the 16-year-old boy seems lost in silent meditation – and oblivious to the armed police surrounding the remote site.
They are there for a very good reason. Where Ram Bahadur Bomjan goes, tens of thousands of people tend to follow.
Many Buddhists and Hindus throughout Nepal and India think the farmer’s son is Buddha reincarnate. They believe he existed for 10 months without food or water, survived the bite of a poisonous snake without treatment, and was left miraculously unscarred after being engulfed by holy fire.
But cynics call Bomjan a fake, whose only gift is in extracting cash from gullible pilgrims, which he passes on to rebel fighters.
The mystery deepened on Christmas Eve when, after a nine-month disappearance, the Boy Buddha suddenly reappeared.
On March 11 he had left his niche among the roots of a pipal tree in the Bara province, about 100 miles south of the capital Kathmandu, and vanished.
A massive search was launched, continuing even when the authorities ruled out foul play, but with no success.
Then on December 24 a group of cattle herders spotted Bomjan in dense jungle, about 10 miles away from the tree where he used to meditate.
The young Buddhist monk seemed bulkier than before but claimed he’d been living on wild herbs. His hair was longer and, bizarrely for a pacifist, he was carrying a scimitar-style sword – justifying it as protection against wild animals.
He said: “Lord Buddha used to arrange his security by himself. So I was forced to do so myself.”
Yet it seems his “miraculous” reappearance will do little to unite opinion across the Asian sub-continent about whether Ram Bahadur Bomjan is the new Buddha or a phoney.
His fame stems from a 10-month fast, which began on May 16, 2005, when his followers claim he neither ate nor drank, and was sustained by meditation alone – most humans will only survive a matter of days without water.
This led to unfounded rumours that the motionless Bomjan sitting beneath his pipal tree was either a statue or a corpse.
As word spread about his feat, 10,000 people a day began coming to pay homage to him. None of the many pilgrims who filed past his tree spotted anything amiss but they were allowed no closer than 25 metres away.
And for the entire 10 months of his marathon meditation, every day between 5pm and 5am nobody was allowed to see Bomjan, his closest followers screening him from view with blankets.
Such activities obviously fuelled speculation that he survived by eating, drinking and moving around at night. So the Nepalese government sent a delegation of investigators to get to the bottom of the mystery.
FOR 48 hours they watched as Bomjan neither ate nor drank. But while allowed closer than the pilgrims, they were kept three metres from the boy and were banned from doing medical tests.
A group from the Indian Rationalist Association tried to carry out an independent assessment, but were thwarted by the screens and threatened by Bomjan’s supporters.
“This is a typical case of fraud,” said their president, Sanal Edamauku. “The boy must be simply eating and drinking at night.
“The claim that he was fasting cannot be taken seriously, unless a fraud-proof blood test confirms that there is no glucose in his blood.”
None of which deterred Bomjan’s followers, who claim they saw light emanating from his forehead – further proof of his divinity. Their belief was further strengthened when the bite of a poisonous snake appeared to have no ill effect. He told onlookers: “A snake bit me but I do not need treatment. I need six years of deep meditation.”
Most mysteriously of all, his devotees claim Bomjan spontaneously combusted – flames burning the clothes from his body but leaving him completely unharmed. The story of his meditation resembles an episode in the life of Gautama Buddha, who 2,500 years ago founded the religion which now boasts 325 million followers, mostly in Asia.
Despite Bomjan himself saying: “Tell people not to call me the Buddha, I do not have the Buddha’s energy,” the claims of his divinity grew. Believers pointed to several compelling coincidences – Buddha was born Prince Siddhartha Gautama 160 miles from Bara in 560BC. And both Buddha and Bomjan had a mother called Maya Devi.
Yet his critics dismiss this as mere windowdressing to a massive fraud. While the pilgrims have transformed this section of jungle into a colourful mass of prayer flags and flower garlands, an army of traders have also invaded the forest near Ratanpuri to sell snacks, tobacco, bicycle parts, incense and sacred amulets.
WITH much of the local economy depending upon Bomjan, the talk is of a village-wide hoax.
The cash donations which have flooded in from pilgrims are now in a local bank. One of the most recent deposits was �5,000 – a huge sum in a region where the average wage is �2.50 a week.
His supporters say the money is for Bomjan’s security – they also rake in cash from an entrance fee as well as the sale of books, pamphlets, and cassettes promoting him as a new Buddha.
But there have been accusations that the donations are funnelled off to fund Maoist rebels determined to establish a Communist People’s Republic of Nepal.
As his followers flocked back to the jungle to celebrate Bomjan’s re-emergence, armed police had to be deployed to keep order.
For more than an hour Bomjan abandoned his meditation, preaching to the faithful, urging them to shun alcohol and violence. He said he disappeared due to the constant stream of visitors – especially drunks – disturbing the peace at his haunt.
He told local journalist Raju Shrestha: “I have been wandering in the forests since then. I am engaged in devotion which will continue for six years.”
Shrestha later said: “I don’t think he is a Buddha, but he has some sort of extra strength to meditate.”
Now, as his supporters celebrate his return, the sceptics have found more ammunition for their claims from the latest photographs of Bomjan.
Such is their suspicion surrounding the Boy Buddha they are saying his long, lank, dirty hair is drawn across his face to disguise the fact he is another boy entirely.
Believers have taken over Bara’s jungle – so too have the traders