Long before Ram Bahadur Bomjon claimed to be the reincarnated Buddha, he was just a simple, strange 15-year-old who left his Nepalese village to meditate under a tree until he reached enlightenment — just like the Buddha before him. He sat in the same spot and lived without food or sleep for 10 months. People were dumbfounded by his spiritual power and purpose. Had the Buddha really come back to lead us all into a better world?
The year was 2005. That same year, National Book Award-winning author George Saunders traveled to Kathmandu to meet Bomjon, or “Buddha Boy” as the Western press had dubbed him. Saunders trekked deep into the unruly jungle that’s shadowed by the distant Himalayas and recalled his adventure for GQ, reporting back that he felt as though he’d experienced a miracle. A divine presence.
Now, admittedly, in 2005, innocence was easier to come by, and miracles seemed more realistic. You see, George W. Bush was president. People were in the mood to believe better leaders were out there, just waiting to be found if you looked hard enough. And some, like Saunders, were willing to tramp off into a tiger-infested jungle to find them.
No matter the era, though, things that appear too good to be true usually are. So today, the Buddha Boy, a 28-year-old Buddha Man, is back in the headlines, a bizarre history of violence nipping at his heels. Local women are missing. Monks, too. His elder sister, once his closest confidante, is dead as well. Mysteries and rumors abound. Buddhist nuns have accused Bomjon of multiple sexual assaults, and he faces a federal investigation by Nepalese authorities.
The questions about him now are far less spiritual and much more modern. Namely: Is the Buddha Boy’s #TimesUp?
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Bomjon entered this world under a full moon on the 96th day of the year, April 6, 1990. His mother says he emerged with a shriek, like a tiny clap of thunder. He was unlike her older children, unlike any of the other children in the tiny rural Nepalese village.
The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was also born in Nepal, just 160 miles away from where Bomjon started his life. Buddhism was also born in Nepal. It’s a highly spiritual land, tucked away from the full grip of modernity — the sort of place where the locals might believe that one of them could be the reincarnated soul of the Lord Buddha.
Then again, even rural locals found it laughable when Bomjon first began to sit underneath a peepal tree and meditate on May 16, 2005. Other kids taunted him. The older teens, too. So did the adults. Who did this boy think he was? But they also all knew the story of the Buddha sitting beneath a sacred peepal tree for 49 days, until he reached enlightenment. After Bomjon continued to meditate, sitting motionless for days, refusing food or sleep, they stopped laughing, they stopped teasing him and they started to believe in his spiritual power.
Could this boy be him — the Buddha?
Soon word spread. The faithful made pilgrimages to see him. One of his childhood friends, Prem, took on the role of spiritual assistant and protector. He tended to the meditating monk like the boy was the Dalai Lama. In fact, many of the lamas authenticated Bomjon’s spiritual powers. Some said they recognized him from other lives. By the time Bomjon had been meditating for five months straight, a whole industry developed around him, to provide for the pilgrims who came to see the Buddha Boy with their own eyes.
Obviously, many were skeptical and assumed it was a con that the villagers were profiting from. A local businessman, Prakash Lamsal, told the Telegraph, “Some people are selling 2,500 rupees [roughly $35 in November 2005] worth of tea a day. These 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.”
This assumption, however, was questionable. As Saunders noted when he traveled to meet the Buddha Boy, the locals had only raised $6,500 for their local Village Committee, created to manage the growing pilgrim site and protect the Buddha Boy from all the outsiders who had come to see him. In other words, if it was a scam, they weren’t monetizing it well. This also lent credence to the boy’s credibility. It wasn’t an obvious cash grab the way religion so often is in the West. This boy was no televangelist. His spiritual birthright was legit. As Saunders wrote in GQ:
“We reach the inner fence: as far as anyone is allowed to go. At this distance, I can really see him. His quality of nonmotion is startling. His head doesn’t move. His arms, hands, don’t move. Nothing moves. His chest does not constrict/expand with breathing. He could be dead. He could be carved from the same wood as the tree. He is thinner than in the photos; that is, his one exposed arm is thinner. Thinner but not emaciated. He still has good muscle tone. Dust is on everything. His dusty hair has grown past the tip of his nose. His hair is like a helmet. He wears a sleeveless brown garment. His hands are in one of the mudras in which the Buddha’s hands are traditionally depicted. He is absolutely beautiful: beautiful as the central part of this crèche-like, timeless vignette, beautiful in his devotion. I feel a stab of something for him. Allegiance? Pity? Urge-to-Protect? My heart rate is going through the roof.”
Later, Saunders added:
“Soon I’m sitting canoe-style between Lama One and Lama Two. I can hear Lama One mumbling mantras under his breath. Suddenly he turns to me, again makes the gesture, points into the Enclosure. I get it now: The gesture means, Look, there is something emanating from the boy’s forehead!
Do I see it?
Actually, I do: Vivid red and blue lights (like flares) are hovering, drifting up from approximately where the boy is sitting, as if borne upward on an impossibly light updraft.
What the heck, I think. My face goes hot. Is this what a miracle looks like, feels like, in real time?
I close my eyes, open them. The lights are still drifting up.
A noise begins, a steady drum-like thumping from inside the Enclosure, like an impossibly loud heartbeat.
For several concept-free seconds, it’s just: colored up-floating lights and the boy’s amplified heartbeat.”
There was a documentary, “The Boy With Divine Powers,” produced for the Discovery Channel filmed at roughly the same time of Saunders’ visit. It discusses the doctors and medical professionals who had come to confirm whether this teen boy really had subsisted on prayer alone. No food, no sleep. Staying in the same spot for 10 months.
All of which is to say, take a look at him with your own eyes and see for yourself what you think:
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On March 11, 2006, the Buddha Boy disappeared. The fence that surrounded his enclosure was cut. His clothes were left behind. There was no blood, no signs of foul play. Locals reported seeing him walk into the jungle.
Eight days later, Buddha Boy once again returned to his village. He spoke with elders of the Village Committee and informed them, “There is no peace here.” He planned to go be alone. He would sequester himself inside a hidden location and be attended to by loyal lamas, like Prem. After six years passed, he would re-emerge with wisdom for the world.
He didn’t last a year.
A local herdsmen spotted him in the jungle on December 26th, alone, noticeably bulky, especially for someone who, at this point, claimed not to have eaten anything for 19 months. He’d also, the herdsmen reported, grown out his hair and had a sword strapped to his back.
Three months later, in March 2007, Bomjon left word with one of his loyal monks that he planned to seek out yet another new secret location. But by the end of the month, locals had once again discovered his hiding place. A rural policeman went out and visited the Buddha Boy, who had constructed an underground, seven-foot-by-seven-foot meditation bunker. Bomjon informed the police officer that he planned to stay there, by himself, for three years.
In July, however, it was reported by a Nepalese blog that Bomjon had attacked a young shepherd with his sword. The 22-year-old man claimed he’d been held against his will for three hours as he was beaten. The lamas attending to Bomjon claimed that the shepherd had entered the meditation compound with a khurpa (a traditional Nepalese knife). And so, it was self-defense — even though the sword attack nearly decapitated the shepherd. The Buddha Boy ordered his brother, Dil, to take the shepherd on a motorbike into the village to get medical help. No criminal case was pursued.
A month later, Bomjon once again officially broke his meditation. This time, he emerged from his underground meditation bunker to give a speech to a crowd of 3,000 in the Halkhoriya Jungle in southern Nepal. “The only way we can save this nation is through spirituality,” he told the gathered assembly of faithful. Similarly, in November, he held a spiritual summit for 10 days, and allowed his followers to laud him as a living saint. There were reports that 400,000 people visited him to do so. Some had traveled for days to attend. The line to receive a blessing from the guru was nearly four miles long.
His team of closest supporters, now officially called the Buddha Jungle Meditation Conservation and Prosperity Committee, still insisted that Bomjon hadn’t eaten anything or slept in two years. But this was a lie. In the Discovery Channel documentary, there’s footage of Bomjon eating. Plus, a reporter once caught Bomjon sleeping.
Not that any of this diminished his devotees’ faith in him. It did, however, legitimize the suspicions of the skeptics and emboldened other Buddhist leaders who sensed that the Buddha Boy was a fraud. Mahiswor Raj Bajracharya, president of the Nepal Buddhist Council, said at time time, “We do not believe he is Buddha. He does not have Buddha’s qualities. He may have achieved great heights in meditation, but that alone doesn’t make him a Buddha. A Buddha needs life experience, a young man who has not seen the world at all cannot be a Buddha.”
Such statements, though, were easily dismissed as jealousy.
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In 2010, the Buddha Boy was once again investigated by local authorities after he beat 17 villagers. “He struck us on our back and head with an axe handle. He didn’t even relent even after we apologized,” said Narayan Chaudhary, a 45-year-old Buddha Boy devotee. “There were 17 of us, and we could have retaliated. But we couldn’t do anything other than join our hands in apology.”
Ever defiant, Bomjon informed the police that if he were charged for a crime, he had no plans to show up in court. “Do you think a meditating sage will go to the court to hear a case?” he asked rhetorically. He later stated, “I took action against them as per the divine law,” before adding, “I abide by the law, but only the right ones. There are wrong laws too. I have done no wrong. They disturbed me while I was meditating… tried to manhandle me. I was therefore forced to beat up them.”
A couple of years later, local authorities returned to Bomjon’s meditation compound. This time it was a rescue operation. There were reports the Buddha Boy was keeping two women chained to trees in the jungle. His attendants were beating and sexually assaulting them. The police freed the women, and the Buddha Boy was accused of kidnapping them.
One was a local woman from Sindhupalchok. Her name was withheld from the media. The other was a 35-year-old Slovakian woman, referred to as Marichi in news reports. She’d come to serve and adore Bomjon. She revered him as a true guru, the reincarnated Buddha. But he twisted her faith against her until she found herself chained to a tree, beaten and assaulted for three months straight, as her guru accused her of being a witch sent to disturb his meditation.
In a blog post from a site that claims to be written by Marichi, the poster claims:
“I had been a long-time Bomjon-supporter and volunteer in translations of his teaching in 2011, invited to Halkhoriya in Nepal to help [Bomjon] in the terrain, by Andrea Good, the then leader of Western followers. But I was long before that an active online manager of the ‘Buddha Boy Google Group’ (already deleted) with more than 700 members, assistant in many translations about Bomjon and the proof-reader of Andrea’s book on Bomjon, Reflection on Palden Dorje.
“After I have arrived to Nepal in January 2011, I stayed in his Halkhoriya compound, constructed around his ‘meditation place,’ between January and March 2011. Later I was unexpectedly, without any given reason excommunicated, but remained an outspoken propagator of the Buddha Boy, devoted to him and supporting him and humbly accepting his ‘ban,’ as they called it.
“After one year of stay in the area of Halkhoriya, when my main prayers and support continued to be directed towards Bomjon, I had been suddenly enticed to return to his compound by a lie that he wished to have an urgent conversation with me, on 28 December, 2012. I had been then kidnapped and held hostage by him for three months till 24 March, 2012, beaten by him and his monks and civilian attendants, tortured by countless bizarre ways, and sexually assaulted at his order. The heavy chains he used to tie me damaged my neck bone and ankles. He had also robbed me of my computer, phone and other devices and of my Czech ID card.
“He had ordered many of his attendants, Buddhist monks, to torture me and beat me regularly, while I was left on the chains alone in the deep jungle. The only time when he ordered me to unchain from the tree was for the Big Beating during a new moon night, when my two wrists had been broken by Bomjon himself and Molam lama, he broke a hole into my forehead, before I was carried back to the tree and chained to it again.
“He ordered his attendant Darshan Limbu to add to my suffering by sexually assaulting me on repeated occasions, in a sick and desecrating way, in between the mantra-chanting of his Puja. While there were tens of thousands of people, including hundreds of foreigners just a few minutes’ walk from the tree I was chained to, the torturing, terrorizing with ‘we will kill you tomorrow’ and sexual defiling continued.”
After she’d been rescued and freed from her chains and abuse at the hands of her former guru, Marici claims the only recourse was against her: That is, the government of Nepal made her pay a fine for overstaying her visa.
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All of this started to worry Maya Devi, the Buddha Boy’s mother. She sent two of her sons to his compound to bring home their 13-year-old sister Ranjita. Maya Devi no longer felt her daughter was safe in an environment where rape and torture occurred with impunity. But Bomjon refused, imprisoning his two visiting brothers instead. After five days, he released them, but without Ranjita. Maya Devi went to the local police and asked for help getting her daughter back. She told them she feared an incestuous relationship.
But when the local authorities visited, Ranjita told them she wanted to stay. His other siblings there, though — his older brother Shyma, and his sister Manu, both of whom shaved their heads and became Buddhist monks in 2011 — regrew their hair and left their orders within a year. They’d seemingly lost their faith in Buddhism — and most of all, their brother.
And so, Bomjon created his own faith, which he called Maitreya Buddhism. He would later replace the traditional red robes of Buddhist monks with his own blue color, created to signify his new faith tradition. He also updated the Gautama Buddha’s religious teachings with his own. The Buddha had Five Precepts. Bomjon raised it to eight, and later, 11. In all ways possible, he leaned extra hard into his role as a Buddhist messiah.
By 2011 and 2012, he had also surrounded himself with a crew of dangerous men who pledged their undying loyalty to him. They were brutal enablers, ones willing to do unspeakable things at the request of the Great Man. His right-hand man is a Polish convert originally named Tomek Tarnawski, but who now goes by Tom Dorje. Victims of the Buddha Boy repeatedly cite Dorje’s involvement in their torture, describing him as both an enforcer and trusted capo. Marici claims that Dorje “had been directly torturing me.” He was also reportedly involved in the imprisonment and beating of Bomjon’s siblings when they came to collect Ranjita.
Bomjon’s other devoted lieutenants include a man known as Divya Darshan, a local gangster who was so moved by the Buddha Boy, he renounced his old life of sin and converted to Maitreya Buddhism, and Mani Lama, the (former) state minister of health, which provided the Buddha Boy access to the halls of state power.
In late autumn 2014, this group began to really flex its muscle. In particular, there was a reported skirmish between Bomjon’s followers and a mob of angry locals. According to the Kathmandu Post, Bomjon told police that a group of men were drunk and insulted him with offensive slurs. So he beat them in the head and took two of them hostage. Their friends told locals what occurred, and roughly 100 of them marched to the Buddha Boy compound to rescue the hostages. A fight broke out, and four of Bomjon’s men were injured. After arriving on the scene, a police inspector promised to start an investigation, but of course, no charges were filed.
Something equally sketchy went down with Bomjon’s sister Manu. For an unknown reason, she had returned to Nepal and her brother’s compound from Malaysia, where she’d been happily working as a coder and providing for Maya Devi and her extended family. While there, though, Manu suffered a severe beating to the head, at the hands, rumors claim, of Dorje and Darshan.
A year later, she died of unspecified “brain damages.” Some believe she contracted encephalitis. Others say she suffered a brain edema that festered due to the severity of the wounds she received at her brother’s orders. Either way, it was yet another ominous turn of events within the long reach of the Buddha Boy.
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The rumors now grow wilder by the day. One of Bomjon’s disciples told the local press, “He consumes yarsagumba to boost his libido. I myself have mixed yarsagumba solution and given it to him to drink.” The same unnamed disciple later added, “Guru’s mobile phone is full of porn videos. I have also watched some of them when he used to give it to me for recharging.”
There are also reports that Bomjon has a wife named Deepshikha and that he forced her to abort their child. There are also the persistent claims of missing devotees — three nuns and an unknown number of monks. Eyewitnesses have told the Nepalese media outlet, Setopati, they witnessed a disciple get beaten to death, and the son of a missing disciple has neither seen nor heard from his father in the four years since he first went to Bomjon’s compound.
Similarly, the accusations of sexual abuse and rape have only grown more numerous, flagrant and dire, too. In December, Nepalese media reported that, on September 15th, an “18-year-old Ganga Maya Tamang, of Rautahat held a press conference at the office of Community Information Network — the association of community radio broadcasters — in Lalitpur, wherein she had accused Ram Bahadur Bomjon, known across the world as the ‘Little Buddha,’ of raping her.” According to Tamang, she was at his compound, working in the kitchen, when he called her to him. Bomjon then forcibly removed her to a separate room and raped her. Afterward, Tamang gathered up as many young nuns in the compound as she could and they fled to safety. Next, she went to the police.
This time, finally, the accusations are seemingly being taken seriously. “There are widespread reports that Bomjon has been involved in violence against women. This should be immediately investigated to find out what had happened,” Komal Oli, a member of the Nepalese National Assembly, said on the floor of the Parliament in early January. “Let the National Assembly be informed why he has not been arrested until now.”
In fairness, the Nepalese media has tried to call attention to the Buddha Boy’s litany of sins before, but until now, his power and pull has been too immense. As Marici wrote on her blog: “I know much too well how blinding is that ‘drugged state’ called ‘devotion’ towards a ‘guru,’ how all logical and moral reasoning and feeling gets twisted, deformed and dissolved by its ‘light.’ Even more I can understand those unfortunate misled beings who mix this devotion, as I myself did, with motherly and protective feelings towards the ‘Little Buddha.’”
Essentially, what once looked so promising, so miraculous and so wondrous to both Marici and George Saunders turned out to be an illusion — or a delusion, if you prefer. What once appeared so innocent and true, has grown ugly, murderous and hateful with time.
Case in point: Bomjon’s loyal lieutenant and former state minister of health, Mani Lama, arranged for the Buddha Boy to take a foreign trip in 2016, enjoyed from inside a caravan of vehicles similar to what visiting world leaders would expect. “Around five vehicles were arranged for the ‘Guru’ and his disciples. ‘Guru asked me to drive the leading vehicle,’ Lama recalls. ‘Guru asked me to drive very fast. We drove at around 100-120 km/hour.’ Bomjon ordered to not stop the vehicle even if someone were to try to stop, according to Lama. ‘Guru had said to not stop even if a human being were killed,’ he adds.”
Don’t stop even if a human being gets killed. One could say this is the Buddha Boy’s true mantra.
After all, what is the value of human life to a divine being?