Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bless Me, Buddha Boy

Via The Age of Australia comes this story from Nepal about a 15-year-old boy who is becoming one of that country's highest-paid magicians:

For the past nine months, [Ram Bahadur Bomjan] has sat, meditating at the base of a peepal tree in Nepal's Bara District, without food, water, sleep or the need to use the toilet. If that was not remarkable enough, on January 19, he spontaneously combusted, burning off the clothes he has worn for nine months but leaving no scars. Lest there be doubters, his followers caught that combustion on video and plan to present the footage, seen by The Age, at a news conference in Kathmandu, soon.

At least he has some level of integrity. He doesn't want to be called Buddha Boy!

Last November, he briefly emerged from his meditation to announce: "Tell people not to call me the Buddha, I do not have the Buddha's energy, I am only at tapaswi level." A tapaswi is a sage who practises austerities.

Like any good magician, he knows that staging and audience perspective are everything!

At the site, a series of fenced alleys loop through the forest, directing pilgrims in a one-way stream past the open front of the peepal tree where the boy, with distinctive sloping shoulders, sits slumped inside. Pilgrims are kept at 30 metres distance as they walk past the donation boxes stuffed full of Nepalese rupees.

Thirty meters (not quite 100 feet) ought to be plenty close for fraud-detection purposes, right? Especially when, "At night the forest site is dark and only his supporters stand guard."

Medical teams have not been allowed closer than 5 meters (about 15 feet). Think about how a good magician can fool you right under your nose. Certainly it wouldn't be hard for James Randi or Penn & Teller to pull off this scam with such a setback distance. Think about the stunts David Blaine has pulled. He must be envious. I bet he's en route to Nepal right now to see if he can get his own peepal tree.

And as for the so-called "spontaneous combustion":

The last message from the tapaswi, after he spontaneously combusted, was addressed to those who doubt him, saying the fire showed the reality of his power and he would use it another three times during his meditation.

Translation: "I've got three more bags of flash powder in my stash, and it's harder for my confederates to get way out here in the sticks of Nepal than food is."

It's time for all rational Buddhists to denounce this charlatan. Taking money from superstitious peasants is a terrible way to advance spiritually. And lying about one's spiritual attainments was an offense worthy of casting from the Sangha for early Buddhists:

Should any bhikkhu, without direct knowledge, boast of a superior human state, a truly noble knowledge and vision as present in himself, saying, "Thus do I know; thus do I see," such that regardless of whether or not he is cross-examined on a later occasion, he — being remorseful and desirous of purification — might say, "Friends, not knowing, I said I know; not seeing, I said I see — vainly, falsely, idly," unless it was from over-estimation, he also is defeated and no longer in communion.

The seriousness with which the Buddha regarded a breach of this training rule is indicated by his statements to the original instigators:

"You misguided men, how can you for the sake of your stomachs speak praise of one another's superior human states to householders? It would be better for you that your bellies be slashed open with a sharp butcher's knife than that you should for the sake of your stomachs speak praise of one another's superior human states to householders. Why is that? For that reason you would undergo death or death-like suffering, but you would not on that account, at the break-up of the body, after death, fall into deprivation, the bad bourn, the abyss, purgatory. But for this reason you would, at the break-up of the body, after death, fall into deprivation, the bad bourn, the abyss, purgatory... Bhikkhus, in this world with its devas, maras, and brahmas, its generations with priests and contemplatives, princes and men, this is the ultimate great thief: he who claims an unfactual, non-existent superior human state. Why is that? You have consumed the nation's almsfood through theft."

Perhaps one day a Nepalese sitcom will make light of this boy, much like the episode of Bless Me, Father in which a priest tries to perform a convincing miracle so he will be on the road to canonization after death.

Hat tip to Authentic Personality.



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