Tales of reincarnated Buddha focus on boy

By Binaj Gurubacharya, Associated Press, November 25, 2005

15-year-old in Nepal jungle draws crowds

KATMANDU, Nepal -- A teenage boy has been meditating in a Nepalese jungle for six months, and thousands have flocked to see him, with some believing he is the reincarnation of Buddha, according to police and media reports.

Ram Bahadur Banjan, 15, sits cross-legged and motionless with eyes closed among the roots of a tree in the jungle of Bara, about 100 miles south of Nepal's capital, Katmandu.

He supposedly has been that way since May 17, but his followers keep him from public view at night.

A reporter for the Kantipur newspaper, Sujit Mahat, said he spent two days at the site and that about 10,000 people are believed to visit daily.

Soldiers have been posted in the area for crowd control, officials said.

A makeshift parking lot and cluster of food stalls have sprung up near Banjan's retreat, an area not previously frequented by visitors.

Many visitors believe Banjan is a reincarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born not far away in southwestern Nepal around 500 B.C. and later became revered as the Buddha, which means Enlightened One.

Others aren't so sure.

Police inspector Chitra Bahadur Gurung said officers have interviewed the boy's associates about their claim that Banjan has gone six months without food or drink.

Officers haven't directly questioned the boy, who appears deep in meditation and doesn't speak.

"We have a team . . . investigating the claim on how anyone can survive for so long without food and water," Gurung said.

Local officials have asked the Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology in Katmandu to send scientists to examine Banjan.

Mahat said visitors can catch a glimpse of Banjan from a roped-off area about 80 feet away from him between dawn and dusk.

Followers then place a screen in front of him, blocking the view and making it impossible to know what he is doing at night, Mahat said.

"We could not say what happens after dark," Mahat said. "People only saw what went on in the day, and many believed he was some kind of god."

Buddhism teaches that right thinking and self-control can enable people to achieve nirvana -- a divine state of peace and release from desire. Buddhism has about 325 million followers, mostly in Asia.