Little Buddha?

updated 12/12/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/12/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

Nepalese villager Maya Devi had doubts when her 15-year-old son Ram Bomjon—one of nine children with her farmer husband—announced he was going to start meditating last spring. "I wasn't very happy about it," says Devi, 51, who thought the meditation might get in the way of Bomjon's chores. But that was before the crowds began arriving. "Now that everyone is coming to see him," she says, "I am very pleased."

What mom wouldn't be? Since May 23, when the boy reportedly began a silent, cross-legged trance beneath a giant pipal tree, an estimated 100,000 people have flocked to the family's village 95 miles south of Kathmandu to see the teenager, who devotees say has not moved, eaten or taken a drink since he began his vigil. Some pilgrims claim he is a latter-day Buddha—the holy man who inspired the Buddhist faith some 2,600 years ago.

Nepalese officials have urged an investigation into the claims about Bomjon's superhuman feat. (Handlers draw a curtain to block public view at night.) That hasn't stopped thousands of pilgrims from visiting the impromptu shrine each day. "I feel very good, very light, very cool," Sun Maya Lama, 45, said after her visit. "I feel great love for him."

Buddhist scholars are less sanguine. The original Buddha had a similar experience, meditating for 49 days beneath a tree. But some—like Mahiswar Raj Bajracharya, chairman of the Nepal Buddhist Council—say Bomjon is no Buddha. "You will not get enlightenment just because you make your body suffer," he says. "He's just a kid."

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