Ram Bahadur Bamjan is an 18 year old male whom many people believe is the reincarnation of Buddha (Gurubacharya, 1). Bamjan has spent several months meditating under a tree in the jungles of Nepal without food or water, and has recently emerged to speak to fellow followers of Buddhism. After addressing several thousand devotees, Bamjan plans to retreat back into the jungle to continue his meditation. Because of his devotion to Buddhism, many people see him as the reincarnation of the original Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. Though meditating in isolation without food or water for months in an arduous task, it does not prove that Bamjan is a reincarnation of Buddha. However, Bamjan may as well be considered a modern day Buddha.
As discussed in class, Siddhartha Gautama, the original Buddha, was the first person to achieve Enlightenment. He was once a prince and lived comfortable life, but still experienced suffering (Dalai Lama, 68). He decided that in order to achieve happiness, it was necessary to change his mindset (Dalai Lama, 69). External conditions that we live through are not controllable, but the negative ways of thinking people develop are able to be changed. Siddhartha gave up his lavish life and spent six years in isolation sitting underneath a bodhi tree meditating to try to clear his mind and come to an understanding about suffering and life. Siddhartha eventually did attain enlightenment, and went on to tell other about his experience and realizations, thus beginning the notion of Buddhism. Historical accounts seem to confirm that he actually did spend six years in solidarity, which shows that his spiritual realization was an arduous path; it was not easy to become enlightened (Dalai Lama, 71). It takes a great amount of dedication to reach enlightenment.
I can see how people could relate Bamjan to the original Buddha. He seems to be taking a very similar spiritual path as his predecessor. Bamjan has only spent a number of months meditating, while Buddha spent six years meditating, but the fact that Bamjan survives without any nourishment is a Buddha-like quality. Bamjan’s goal of reaching enlightenment and teaching others is also very similar to Siddhartha. These comparisons to Buddha could be interpreted as Bamjan being an appearance of the sacred. The original Buddha, who lived over 2,500 years ago, seems to be manifest in the current world of human experience through Bamjan (Cunningham and Kelsay, 39). Bamjan could be considered a sacred person, specifically a sage or model. The original Buddha was considered to be a sage who discovered the true reality and ultimately Buddhism (Cunningham and Kelsay, 43). Bamjan, while not the discoverer of Buddhism, is helping to spread the idea of Buddhism and is giving people hope that it is possible to reach nirvana.
The appearance of the sacred is also evidenced through sacred space, that being the jungle in which Bamjan meditates (Cunningham and Kelsay, 51). He meditates underneath a tree just as Siddhartha Gautama did 2,500 years ago. Because of this, the bodhi tree can be considered sacred as an object itself, and the jungle as a geographical site can be considered sacred. Followers of Buddhism came specifically to the jungle to see Bamjan partly because of the aura surrounding the area. Bamjan making an appearance in a city would not have the same religious significance as him addressing followers of Buddhism outside of the jungle in which he meditates.
The appearance of the sacred is also revealed to the people through time. Some people believe Bamjan is the reincarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, thus there is a cyclical sacred time involved (Cunningham and Kelsay, 50). The history of Buddhism is repeating itself, in a sense. However, as discussed in class, when one reaches enlightenment, their soul is freed from the constraints of this world of suffering. They become no more once nirvana is reached, and they are simply free. This can be a difficult concept for those not familiar with Buddhism to comprehend. The Buddha was the first to reach enlightenment, and thus he was freed from the cycle of suffering. This means that he could not be reborn because he escaped from the cycle of rebirth. Just as Rakesh, a Buddhist scolar is quoted as saying, “Being Buddha means the last birth and the highest level that can be achieved. There can be no reincarnation of Buddha, even though Buddhists believe in life after death” (Gurubacharya, 1). With this in mind, it is illogical to believe that Bamjan is the reincarnation of Buddha. It is simply not possible for him to be Siddhartha Gautama reborn. He has to be the reincarnation of someone else. However, I can see how people would consider him to be a “God”. The mental and physical strength it would take to be able to meditate in the wilderness without food or water for an extended period of time must be outstanding.
The Dalai Lama defines meditation as “the process by which we transform our more instinctual attitude to life, that state of mind which seeks only to satisfy desire and avoid discomforts” (Dalai Lama, 46). He also calls it “the process whereby we gain control over the mind and guide it in a more virtuous direction.” Basically, meditation is a tool used to suppress suffering. Though meditation is typically a solitary method of worship, the collective group of people meditating creates a sacred community. The process of meditation is identifying in the nature of Buddhism, and gives its followers the basic structure of how to live their lives (Cunningham and Kelsay, 92).
Bamjan’s method of meditation is almost a model for Buddhists to abide by. He shows how dedicated someone who is serious about reaching enlightenment must be. While his strict ways are not for everyone, his ways are representative of the Buddhist community. They are a people who typically live peaceful and spiritual lives. All Buddhist work towards the same goal of enlightenment as Bamjan does. Bamjan’s “traditional” path to enlightenment is difficult to be achieved by those living in pluralistic settings, but at the very least he is giving those people some hope and inspiration (Cunningham and Kelsay, 101). Bishnu Maya Khadka, a Buddhist who received Bamjan’s blessing is quoted as saying “I got a chance to see God today,” showing how special the moment was for some people (Gurubacharya, 1).
He has helped to bring together the sacred community of Buddhist people, as thousands of them came to hear him speak when he emerged from the jungle. His public appearance created a horizontal worship, as well as vertical worship. Vertical worship was accomplished through the Buddhist people simply hearing and seeing Bamjan. Because of the belief that he is a sacred person, people felt like they were making a connection to the sacred (Cunningham and Kelsay, 105). Horizontal worship was evidenced through the people having common bond with each other. They all shared the privilege of being able to see someone who they believe is sacred together. Bamjan basically brought forth and strengthened the sacred community.
While Bamjan may not be the reincarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, he has helped to bring Buddhists together. A local farmer is quoted as saying: “I have no doubt in my mind he is a God. He has been meditating without food and water and no human can achieve such a feat. I used to hear about such miracles in the past but now I got to see one” (Gurubacharya, 1). There is no question that Bamjan and the aura surrounding him can be viewed as an appearance of the sacred. He shares such similarities to the original Buddha that it is hard for Buddhists to not be excited and hopeful. This appearance of the sacred has led to a strengthening of the sacred community. Buddhists from all around came together to witness Bamjan speak. The solitary process of meditating by Bamjan has made people come together and take part in horizontal and vertical worship. It is fascinating to see how one man could have such an impact on a religious community.