'Buddha Boy' reappears after year in jungle

They asked not where he had been or what he had been doing. Instead thousands of jubilant devotees simply trudged to the remote jungle spot in south-east Nepal where a teenage "Buddha Boy" reappeared to preach to villagers, more than a year after he went missing.

Ram Bahadur Bamjon became famous three years ago when tens of thousands of people flocked to watch him sitting cross-legged under a tree for almost ten months. His followers - who say he is the reincarnation of Buddha - claimed that during this time he neither ate nor drank.

Then, last spring, his supporters said that the teenager was planning to go away and meditate for three years in an underground bunker. He was last seen in August 2007, preaching to crowds in Nepal’s Hallori jungle, around 100 miles south of Kathmandu.

Whatever encouraged Mr Bamjon to re-emerge is unclear, but police said that on Monday he appeared, long-haired, dressed in white and looking in good health, and preached to villagers for around 45 minutes. Local officials said he plans to speak to people for an hour a day for another week.

"Hundreds of devotees, including many from neighbouring India are trekking the five kilometres to see him," said one police officer, Prakash Sen. "He spoke to the devotees standing near a temple in the forest. He had shoulder-length hair and had his body wrapped in a white cloth. Since many people are walking to see him, I think he has some of the qualities Lord Buddha had."

When Mr Bamjon first became famous reporters filmed him eating, even though his supporters said he could go without food or drink for days. He was also spotted sleeping when his followers said he was meditating in private. However, a number of witnesses spoke of the young man’s ability to sit fixed in one spot for hours on end

There has been no formal declaration by Buddhist authorities on whether they consider the teenager to be the reincarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in south-western Nepal in 500 BC and later became revered as the Buddha, or "Enlightened One". Buddhist priests have been divided on the issue, despite the claims of his followers. Meanwhile local volunteers have collected thousands of dollars from people who have visited the young man, prompting accusations that he is merely at the centre of a clever and enlightened money-making scam.

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