The strange case of the so-called Buddha Boy, is a reminder of how many people in the world are forever cynical and troubled, confused and fearful, mixed up and hopeful. The boy's sudden fame gives the opportunity to put the extraordinary, enduring achievements of the historical Tathagata Himself into a new light.
Born in Nepal, not far from the birthplace of the Buddha, Ram Bahadur Bomjan, Palden Dorje, or Dharma Sangha, as he is now known, caught world attention in 2005 when it was reported the then 15 year old had been continually meditating for months without taking food or water. A Discovery Channel documentary crew, after some difficulty getting past the protective cordon put around him by his family and supporters, managed to film the boy for a 90 hour plus stretch with no signs of him taking any nourishment. This has to be seen as pretty conclusive evidence of his skill and adeptness as a samatha meditator.
Despite this, many cynical views sprang up that he was a hoaxer, a puppet of his family who were supposedly exploiting him for money. Nevertheless, many thousands of pilgrims came to pay homage to him and treated him as a Buddhist saint, or foolishly claimed him as a reincarnation of Gotama. (A technical impossibility, considering the Tathagata is long gone beyond and won't be returning.)
Some time after being filmed, he vanished from the base of the tree where he had been sitting. Grave fears were held for his safety. Further claims of hoax were thrown about. Interest in him waned. The good news is he returned in late 2008, none the worse for wear, and can be currently found sitting on a metre high platform, in the same remote rural location in Nepal, blessing many thousands of devotees who travel from all over Nepal and from around the world to visit him, all for a variety of reasons, whether actual piety, sensationalism, or hopeful curiosity.
In appearance he is a pleasant, attractive young man with long, thick black hair, slightly plump and in robust good health despite his undisputed austerities. His voice is soft and clear, when he does occasionally address the crowds. Overall, he seems to have a quiet, gentle personality, quiet befitting a long term meditator.
There is, so far, nothing particularity original or revelatory in what he is reported to have said. His few utterances are by themselves fairly straightforward Nepalese/Tibetan Buddhist doctrine of the Vajrayana, also known as Tantric Buddhism, Secret Mantra, Esoteric Buddhism and the Diamond Vehicle school. Any senior monk among the many who come to see him would have roughly the same grasp of Dhamma.
Perhaps that is not the point. The thing that strikes the observer most is that here is someone who has acted as the Buddha requested. He has sought his own liberation. He espouses the non-harm doctrine of the Buddha and seeks the happiness of all beings. He has recently become slightly controversial, having made a plea against animal sacrifices carried out at the Hindu Gadhimai festival
Ram's statement about this festival is in line with the first Sila precept to avoid killing. He makes a simple appeal for the ethical treatment of innocent animals. He does not appear to be in any way attacking the right of others to worship in their own way, although considering the underlying tensions within Nepal between the majority Buddhists and minority Hindus, this may not be seen this way.
His position, which echoes the opinion of many animal rights activists throughout the world, not only Buddhists, has the clear historical precedent of Asoka's edicts regarding animal welfare. In the second century BCE, the great Buddhist emperor began phasing out animal sacrifice and all forms of animal slaughter throughout his empire, which covered most of north-east and southern India, even to the extent of encouraging vegetarianism for the health and well-being of his subjects.
Ram's mission has evolved from a personal quest towards the establishment of study centres and monasteries, all for the sake of peace. Time will tell what he has to say about life or its meaning, but his legitimacy and sincerity is beyond doubt. His is an encouraging story. May many be made happy by following his example. It should not be forgotten, however, how many have already been made happy and will continue to be made so by the example of the ultimate teacher, the Buddha.
"What a master can do for his disciples, wishing them well, out of compassion and sympathy, that I (the Buddha) have done for you. Here, O bhikkhus, are the roots of trees and secluded places. Practice meditation, O bhikkhus! Be not negligent lest you regret it later! This is my exhortation to you."
(Images of Ram used with permission.)