?Little Buddha? goes missing

by Indra Adhikari, Nepalnews.com, Mar 12, 2006

Kathmandu, Nepal -- Missing from his well-known meditation site - at the lap of a peepal tree in the forest of Rantapuri in the southern district of Bara - for more than 24 hours, 16-year-old Ram Bahadur Bomjan - popularly known as 'Little Buddha' - continues to make headlines in major media outlets around the world.

<< The little Buddha of Bara

Though police is yet to venture out to look for the ‘mystery boy” to avoid encounter with the Maoist rebels, hundreds of local villagers are searching the area hoping that they may find him meditating deep in the forest.

Bomjan “disappeared” from the site of his meditation from early Saturday without telling anybody where he was heading. Police have refuted reports that he may have been abducted.

How and where did Bomjan start meditation has become a popular story by now. On May 17 last year, he started meditation under a Peepal tree near his house --protected on both sides by wings of the trunk enclosing him in a tender embrace—reportedly without taking any food and even water.

The meditation site is seven km inside the Charkose Jhadee, located to the north of the east-west Mahendra Highway. The nearest town Nijgadh of Bara, lies at a distance of about one km.

Even if the number of pilgrims and observers thinned out in later days compared to two months ago, microbuses have not stopped operating from the highway to the meditation site. Private jeeps, cars and motorcycles still are seen in queue to get “darshan” of the young Buddha.

The meditation site has been cordoned off with ropes. The first cordon is 25 metres away from the actual place where Bomjon sits cross-legged while the second cordon lies 50 metres away. A third was being planned to stop the approach of people near him that would disturb mediation. A vehicle park has been constructed leaving Ram at the centre of an ever growing circle of rubbish. Media personnel and investigation teams were allowed to go up to first cordon but were not allowed to make noise or touch him.

Buddhists flags are raised from distant place. Between 5:00 p. m. and 5:00 a. m. nobody was allowed to see him, and a screen was erected for that purpose. Many people speculated that he ate and drank during that time.

Early life

Bomjan was born in February 1990 in Ratnapuri village of the district. Bomjon studied Buddhism for five years after attending the local primary school till class five. He was accepted into the priesthood by Som Bahadur Lama of Sudha, Ward 8 of Chhatiwan Village Development Committee. He then spent some time in Lumbini in 2003 and Bodhgaya ( India) in 2004, spending one more year studying Buddhism and returned home last January. Returning home from India, he became ill for some time, and when he recovered he walked with a limp. He studied Buddhism on his own at home after returning from India.

“He never touched any meat or fish, nor did he drink any alcohol. He was so different from others," said his mother, Mayadevi. "He never fought with anyone and was peaceful by nature. He, however, hesitated to shave his head,” she added.

Interestingly, the name of Lord Buddha’s motehr was Mayadevi and he meditated also under a peepal tree. He had achieved enlightenment after meditating for 49 days, according to Buddhist scriptures.

Bomjan, also called sometimes as Dorje by his friends, often acted differently from his childhood, frequently observing other people in worship and praying himself. He was born with a "peaceful nature" and would never get into a fight or kill an animal. Beginning at the age of five he only took leftovers for food, and went hungry if there was nothing.

According to reports, on May 16 last year, he admonished his family to not kill animals or drink alcohol, then left home while they slept. A search was conducted and he was found under a nearby Peepal tree in meditation. He told his family to go home and not to worry about him.

'The Buddha'

Within days, local Buddhist leaders and villagers claimed that he was a reincarnation of Lord Buddha born about 6 th century BC at Lumbini, southern Nepal. Ram, however, told them, "Tell the people not to call me a Buddha. I don't have Buddha's energy. I am at the level of Rinpoche-- the lesser divinity.” He was quoted as saying that he would need six more years of meditation before he may become one.

According to Buddhist beliefs, once a person reaches the state of enlightenment (bodhi) and becomes a Buddha, he is never reincarnated. To become one with Buddha means ending the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that it is believed the soul goes through until it reaches enlightenment. Any human being can become a Buddha by realising the true nature of existence, but when one reaches this point, the soul will not be reincarnated.

Nobody has seen Bomjan leave the tree at least during the daytime, but he was not watched at night, and nobody was allowed to approach him too closely. He did not respond to any questions.

On July 24 last year, Bomjan opened his eyes to tell his brother to call him "Om Namo Buddha Gyani" ("Salute to the wise Buddha").

He spoke up when he was reportedly bitten by a snake twice. His followers said he was healed automatically and did not need any medical treatment.

Management and publicity

People usually tend to be in search of miracles, more so if you are in the middle of a violent conflict. The 'little Buddha' attracted thousands of visitors from around the country and became “hot news” for media from all over the world. International news channels like CNN, BBC, and other major news agencies carried a number of stories on the meditating Bomjan.

People from different walks of life started pouring into the meditation site since last October after Bomjon got publicity as the re-incarnation of Lord Buddha. Millions have visited the site so far. “Om Namobuddha Tapoban Protection Conservation Committee” headed by Bed Bahadur Thing was constituted for the management of the meditation site.

A local conundrum

A joint meeting of the district administration, security bodies and representatives of the committee held at the Zonal Administration Office on November 18, last year, had decided to screen the meditating boy and stop visitors from seeing him. Before this, the District Administration Office of Bara had ordered the Committee to furnish its income-expenditure details.

Security forces claimed that large portion of the money and other offerings made at the meditation site and the amount collected from selling Bomjon's pictures, CDs and biography goes to the Maoists. The management committee refuted such allegations and said the collection was spent on the management of the area and was never given in donations to the rebels. They also appealed both the warring sides to declare the area as zone of peace.

No scientific tests were undertaken

An eight-member team of health workers headed by district hospital's Medical Superintendent Ram Lakhan Shah observed the meditating boy for half an hour on November 14, 2005. The medical team that made the observation from a distance of five metres concluded that there was no doubt that Bomjon was alive and suggested that they needed to observe him for at least a week to reach into any conclusion. During the half hour observation the medical team noticed Bomjon breathing three times, swallow his saliva once and move his eyelashes.

The district administration on November 16, 2005 had written to the Royal Nepal Academy for Science and Technology (RONAST) and the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) to carry out Bomjon's medical examinations.

In December 2005, a nine-member committee led by Gunjaman Lama watched Bomjan carefully for 48 hours and observed him not to take any food or water during that time. A video recording was also made of this test. However, they were unable to approach him closer than three meters or take readings of his vital signs, other than to confirm that he was alive and breathing.

The team suggested testing his blood to prove whether he has taken any food but the management committee rejected the proposal. Any physical examination of Bomjon was not acceptable to the Committee.

Money matters

With the influx of the people a thriving market grew in the once pristine forest, supplying pilgrims with everything from chewing tobacco and bicycle repairs to incense and sacred amulets. The ground was covered in litter.

Prakash Lamsal, a local businessman was quoted by the London based newspaper Telegraph as saying that "Some people are selling 2,500 rupees worth of tea a day." Business of other consumable goods, items for offering to the 'Buddha' and flowers have grown up at large.

“These lamas [monks] are going to build mansions out of this. If I wasn't a bit embarrassed I'd take a van down there and set up a stall,” Lamsal said.

Sales of booklets and pamphlets depicting the life and discourse of Buddhism increased. Hawkers in Kathmandu and other major cities sell booklets and CDs. Many of them sell more than 100 pieces a day.

Photographs of Bomjan are available for five rupees from his makeshift shrine and have become ubiquitous across the region.

The mysterious escape of Bomjan from early Saturday has only added to the curiosity of the people and is likely to come up with more stories regarding his life and future.

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