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I have been tracking the story of Ram Bahadur Bomjan (or Ram Bomjon) for a couple of months now. Ram Bomjon is a teenage boy in Nepal who, his supporters claim, has been meditating without eating or moving for about eight months now, sitting under a pipal tree, just as Buddha did.
The comparison to the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, has been central to this story, as it has been claimed that Ram Bomjon is the new Buddha. Bomjon’s supporters have actually petitioned the government in Nepal to register the organization that surrounds and supports the meditating boy under the name Noma Buddha – new Buddha.
There are important differences, however. Gautama did not receive pilgrims, or have people promoting his meditation. He just sat and meditated, without protection or guidance. Furthermore, Gautama did not sit for eight months. He took under 50 days to reach enlightenment. Gautama’s teachings include the idea that ascetic practices that are too extreme lead to failure, and are misguided.
Ram Bomjon’s supporters don’t seem to see things the same way as Gautama did. They have formed a committee to protect and conceal Ram Bomjon, leading to strong suspicions that the meditating boy is eating and moving about at night. The committee says that Ram Bomjon needs to be guarded from the wild animals that roam the area at night, including tigers. They also say that Bomjon needs to be protected from distractions, such as noise, or being touched. One recent, comprehensive article on the subject quotes a member of Bomjon’s inner circle as explaining,
““Miscreants tried to disturb him by creating noise in the area, and pinching him with sticks,” Thing says, “That is why it was necessary to manage the place in an organized way.”
Such excuses seem credible at first glance. After all, who could meditate while being looked at, talked to, and prodded?
On consideration, I remain skeptical. Who could meditate while being looked at, talked to, and prodded? Well, according the stories, Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha could.
The legends of Gautama’s enlightenment say that, while he was meditating, Mara, the magical lord of desire and attachment, came to tempt him. Mara talked to him, to persuade Gautama to return to his wife and child. Mara shouted at Gautama, made distracting presentations of fear and lust in front of him, and even hurled lightning bolts at him. Still, the Buddha did not budge, and remained steadfast to his purpose of gaining enlightenment.
Now, if Siddhartha could withstand temptations of lust, of family loyalty, and of the most intense terror possible, are we really to believe that the New Buddha cannot keep his concentration if viewers are allowed within 15 feet, if people make noises, or poke at him gently with a stick? Of course, an ordinary teenager could not withstand such temptations and distractions, but a Buddha could.
There’s something very suspicious about a group of people who claim that they have a new Buddha, but are unwilling to hold their Buddha to the same standards that Buddhism has had for Buddhahood for centuries. If you’re going to call Ram Bomjon the Buddha, and say that he hasn’t moved or eaten for two-thirds of a year then allow him to be examined by physicians to verify the truth of the matter. If Siddhartha Gautama could withstand lightning bolts hurled at him from the spirit of temptation incarnate, then surely the new Buddha can keep his meditation intact while physicians take a blood sample. Surely, as Buddha did not need to be covered and protected at night, Ram Bomjon does not…
… unless Ram Bomjon is not a new Buddha. Unless Ram Bomjon is a fake.