Long Reads Pick of the Week: February 20, 2014

WANT TO SEE A POSSIBLE MIRACLE? NO THANKS, I’M DOING MY TAXES

Last December, I got an e-mail from my editor at GQ. A 15-year-old boy in Nepal had supposedly been meditating for the past seven months without any food or water. Would I like to look into this?

I went online. The boy’s name was Ram Bahadur Bomjon. He was sitting in the roots of a pipal tree near the Indian border. The site was being overrun by pilgrims, thousands a week, who were calling this boy “the new Buddha.” He’d twice been bitten by poisonous snakes; both times he’d refused medicine and cured himself via meditation. Skeptics said he was being fed at night behind a curtain, that his guru was building himself a temple, that his parents were building themselves a mansion, that the Maoist rebels, in on the hoax, were raking in tens of thousands of dollars in donations.

I e-mailed my editor back: I was pretty busy, what with the teaching and all, besides which Christmas break was coming up and I hadn’t been to the gym once the preceding semester, plus it would be great to, uh, get an early start on my taxes.

Then we embarked on the usual Christmas frenzy, but I couldn’t get this boy off my mind. At parties, I noted two general reactions to the statement Hey, I heard this kid in Nepal has been meditating uninterruptedly in the jungle for the past seven months without any food or water.

One type of American—let’s call them Realists—will react by making a snack-related joke (“So he finally gets up, and turns out he’s sitting on a big pile of Butterfinger wrappers!”) and will then explain that it’s physically impossible to survive even one week without food or water, much less seven months.

A second type—let’s call them Believers—will say, “Wow, that’s amazing,” they wish they could go to Nepal tomorrow, and will then segue into a story about a transparent spiritual being who once appeared on a friend’s pool deck with a message about world peace.

Try it: Go up to the next person you see, and say, Hey, I heard this kid in Nepal has been meditating uninterruptedly in the jungle for the past seven months without any food or water.

See what they say.

Or say it to yourself, and see what you say.

What I said, finally, was: This I have to see.

In 2006, George Saunders set out to investigate the mysterious legend of a meditating boy in Nepal who hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in seven months. A miracle? A hoax? That’s what the article tries to find out. I hadn’t really felt compelled to read George Saunders’ work after the recent hoopla over his new book but after reading this feature, I’m determined to read a lot more where that came from.

The Incredible Buddha Boy by George Saunders

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