People who are devoted to ancient religions often have a difficult time acknowledging that their beliefs could possibly be interpreted as myths. They take the old stories about remarkable events at face value, and insist that such remarkable events couldn't have been made up. It just couldn't be, from their perspective, that the stories about these religious figures didn't happen exactly as told.
Of course, these people are ignoring a rich, ongoing tradition of the creation of messiahs out of ordinary individuals. The United States of America has seen plenty of these movements even in its short history, ranging from Joseph Smith of the Mormons to Elvis Presley of the Rockers.
Right now, in Nepal, the process of guru manufacture is providing another example of how groups of people are able to develop mythologies around interesting people, even in modern times.
In Nepal, a 15 year old boy named Ram Bomjon is said by his followers to have been mediating under a pipal tree without moving for six months. He hasn't eaten. He hasn't slept. He hasn't even gone to the bathroom the whole time. Last week, Ram was bitten by a snake, but didn't move. So say his followers, anyway. They say he is a new buddha. They say that light can be seen shining from his forehead during the night.
To get literal for a minute, let me say I don't believe the story. Certainly, the boy is being watched through the day, and is performing an admirable show during that time. But, it is very suspicious to me that the core group of the boy's devotees won't let other people near Ram, even though thousands of people have flocked to the site to see the boy, and an improvised community has arisen to deal with the pilgrims. Ram's inner circle won't even allow doctors closer than 15 feet. To me, that signals something that needs to be hidden.
But, whatever the truth, the whole scene is fascinating. It's kind of like watching a volcano break ground for the first time, building its cinder cone mountain before one's very eyes. It will be interesting to see what new myths develop around this event, and how those myths are managed by the people around Ram Bomjon.
Even those of us who are half a world away from his vigil have something to learn from Ram. Those who would think that their particular holy man or spiritual leader from ancient times was unique would do well to reflect upon the growth in belief around Ram Bomjon, and consider that their particular reverence is just one instance in a global, repeating pattern in the development of myth.