Jungle search for teenage 'Buddha'
Saturday, March 11, 2006; Posted: 11:31 p.m. EST
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) -- Hundreds of people scoured
a jungle in southern Nepal on Sunday for a missing
teenager who many believe is the reincarnation of Buddha.
Ram Bahadur Banjan, 15, disappeared Saturday from a
forest where he had meditated for the last 10 months,
during which his associates said he consumed no food
Local official Santaraj Subedi said police, followers
and family members were looking for the boy in the
jungles of Bara, about 160 kilometers (100 miles)
south of the capital, Kathmandu. Police official
Gautam Raj Kattel said some people said they saw Banjan
walking southwards before dawn on Saturday. His
clothes were found near where he had been meditating.
Banjan had been sitting cross-legged and motionless
with his eyes closed in a niche among the roots of
a tree in the jungle since May 17, 2005. Thousands
of followers flocked to see him every day. The area
is known to have substantial numbers of communist rebels
who have been fighting government troops for a decade.
But Kattel said he doubted the boy was abducted by
the rebels or by local criminals, adding he believed
Banjan just wandered off.
Many followers believe Banjan is a reincarnation of
Gautama Siddhartha, who was born not far away in
southwestern Nepal around 500 B.C. and later became
revered as the Buddha.
Visitors have only been allowed to view Banjan between
dawn and dusk from a roped-off area about 25 meters
(80 feet) away. His handlers kept him from public
view at night, when they would place a screen in front
of him. Buddhist priests who visited him said the boy
was not the incarnation of Buddha, but believed he
had been meditating for months. 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.
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