Police raid 'Buddha boy' ashram in Nepal

CNN/January 10, 2019

By Sugam Pokharel and Joshua Berlinger

New Delhi -- Authorities in Nepal raided one of the ashrams of a spiritual leader -- whose supporters believe he is the reincarnation of Buddha -- while investigating the disappearance of four of his followers.

Uma Prasad Chaturvedi, a spokesman for Nepal's Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), said police began searching the ashram, a type of spiritual monastery, north of the capital, Kathmandu, after getting a tip that a body was buried there.

The police search of the premises failed to uncover any human remains.

The four people missing, two men and two women, worshipped at other ashrams associated with Ram Bahadur Bomjan, according to Chaturvedi. Their families have not heard from them in more than two years, he said.

"We don't have complaints specifically against Bomjan," Charurvedi said. "Since these missing people are missing from his ashram, we may have to question him eventually. But we haven't done that just yet."

He said followers who live at the ashram are being questioned.

Bomjan could not be reached for comment. Officials with Bodhi Shrawan Dharma Sangha, the organization that manages Bomjan's ashrams, issued a statement that didn't address the disappearances, but said, "we are sad and disappointed about the recent media reports."
The statement made no specific mention of the four missing individuals.

The case has thrown Bomjan, 28, into the spotlight more than a decade after he first gained international attention. In 2005, at the age of 15, he retreated into the jungle to pray for 10 months, local media reported at the time. According to his followers, he did so without food, sleep or water.

Those claims were never independently verified, but it led some to laud him as the reincarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in Nepal some 2,500 years ago, and later became known simply as Buddha, meaning "enlightened one."

Bomjan was quickly dubbed in local media as the "Buddha boy," which helped to further his fame, as thousands from across the country and neighboring India traveled to see him while he was in the jungle.

Bomjan began preaching about two years later, according to his website, attracting an audience of about 3,000 people during his first sermon. He and his supporters then used his fame to set up a network of ashrams around Nepal dedicated to his teachings.

But recently, Bomjan has been dogged by allegations of wrongdoing. An 18-year-old nun publicly accused him of raping her at one of his ashrams in September 2018.

Kunda Dev, a police inspector in Sarlahi district -- where the alleged incident took place -- said the nun never filed an official police complaint and so police never filed charges. Dhiraj Pratap Singh, a senior superintendent at Kathmandu Metropolitan Police's crime division also told CNN that no formal complaint was ever made to authorities.

Bodhi Shrawan Dharma Sangha officials denied the rape allegations in a news conference that month, calling them "completely made-up."

Neither the president nor the general secretary of Bodhi Shrawan Dharma Sangha returned CNN's phone calls seeking comment on the rape allegation and the missing worshippers.

In its statement Saturday, Bodhi Shrawan Dharma Sangha said: "We appeal to our followers and supporters to not get distracted, and remain patient and calm. ... We would like to request our followers and supporters to continue to walk the path of truth, and continue to help the Nepal government to find the correct facts."

The statement made no specific mention of the four missing individuals or the assault allegations.

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