A 15-year-old boy whose followers believe he is the reincarnation of Buddha has disappeared after 10 months of meditation in the Nepalese jungle, officials said Saturday.

Followers of Ram Bahadur Banjan reported his disappearance and search parties on Sunday split up in the jungles of Bara, about 100 miles south of the capital, Katmandu, to investigate, said Santaraj Subedi, the chief government official in the district.

Gautam Raj Kattel, a police official, said eyewitnesses reported seeing the teen heading south before dawn on Saturday. His clothes were found near the spot where he had been meditating.

Kattel said officials did not believe Banjan had been abducted by communist rebels or robbers.

Banjan has been sitting cross-legged and motionless with eyes closed in a niche among the roots of a tree in the jungle since May 17, 2005, according to his associates, who claim he has had no food or water during that period.

In recent months, thousands of people have come to glimpse the boy, including many who believe Banjan is a reincarnation of Gautama Siddhartha, who was born not far away in southwestern Nepal around 500 B.C. and later became revered as the Buddha.

Visitors have only been allowed to view the Banjan between dawn and dusk from a roped-off area about 80 feet away. His followers kept him from public view at night, when they would place a screen in front of him.

Buddhist priests who visited him said the boy was not the incarnation of Buddha but believed he had been meditating for months.

Buddhism teaches that right thinking and self-control can enable people to achieve nirvana — a divine state of peace and release from desire. Buddhism has about 325 million followers, mostly in Asia.