Buddhist Lent?

With the coming of Lent this week and Ash Wednesday (March 5), I’ve been thinking about the interesting parallels between the life of Jesus and the life of Buddha.

A Buddha statue in a pagoda in Xian, China. Photo by Amanda Greene

A Buddha statue in a pagoda in Xian, China. Photo by Amanda Greene

Prior to his public ministry, for example, Buddha disengaged from his ascetic companions and spent time in solitude.  Although alone, he was not inactive.

He spent the entire time in meditation and reflection.  During this time, he was visited by the devil-figure Mara, who sorely tempted the Buddha from the goal of awakening.  Mara failed, and Buddha emerged from his solitude, it is told, in an enlightened state.  He was brought nourishment, and shortly thereafter he began his first public teaching.

Prior to his public ministry, Jesus also disengaged from the world and spent 40 days and nights in the desert of Judea.  During this time, Satan appeared to Jesus and tempted him. As Jesus refused each temptation, Satan departed, and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus. Soon Jesus gathered his disciples and began his public ministry of teaching and healing.

This life-event of Jesus is celebrated in much of Christendom as Lent, the solemn six-week season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Lent is characterized by prayer, penance, repentance, alms giving and self-denial.  The story of Jesus’ temptation and the story of his crucifixion have been “mashed-up”—as the current saying goes—into Lent and Holy Week.

There is no comparable mash-up in Buddhism.  Many Buddhist traditions do celebrate the death of the Buddha on Parinirvana Day, the day when it is said the Buddha achieved complete enlightenment or awakening on the death of his physical body at age 80 or so.  This practice is not universal, however.

Some Theravada Buddhist traditions observe something similar to Lent in the form of a period called “Vassa,” often

16th century master illuminator Simon Bening's depiction of the devil approaching Jesus with a stone to be turned into bread, via Wikipedia.

16th century master illuminator Simon Bening’s depiction of the devil approaching Jesus with a stone to be turned into bread, via Wikipedia.

glossed as “Buddhist Lent.”

Vassa occurs during the rainy (monsoon) season.  In ancient times—prior to the establishment of temples and monasteries—the mendicant monks would cease their traveling and settle in a forest grove or the home of a patron for the three month period.

This custom predated Buddhism, but the Buddhists embraced the idea.  Monks spent this time in more intensive meditation, and lay supporters would sometimes renounce routine practices, such as eating meat, drinking or smoking.

Just as Lent is not celebrated by all Christians, Vassa is not universally celebrated by all Buddhists.  Both Lent and Vassa, however, are characterized by solemnity, introspection and self-denial.

5 Responses to “Buddhist Lent?”

  1. JoAnne Silvia

    JoAnne Silvia

    It’s wonderful how many similarities there are among religions. I enjoyed reading this article and learning more about the life of Buddha. I love the parallels and finding common ground.
    I’ve never heard the saying, “mashed up” in reference to Jesus’ temptation, crucifixion, Lent and Holy Week. I’m baffled by it, as this has not been my experience. Is it referring to how Christian liturgical seasons are organized on the church calendar?
    When I think of the life and stories of Jesus, I think about Mary and Joseph, the birth of their son, his early years, the temptation during his time in the wilderness and (most importantly to me) his revolutionary teachings that ultimately led to his crucifixion…. and then he’s spotted walking around for a while, saying his goodbyes, before he moves on to a higher level to be with God. I see these as separate yet connected parts of the story. I’ve never felt like anything was mashed up. I’ve felt like it’s one part flowing into the next. For me, Holy Week feels like a transition from Lent into Easter. In my experience, having been involved in this process over the past couple of decades, it has a nice flow to it.

  2. Steve Lee

    Steve Lee

    I suppose “mashed up” is just geekspeak. I take it to mean “the combination of several things that might not ordinarily be combined.” Mashing up implies a conscious effort, it seems to me, to construct something. I don’t know the history, but I suspect the Lenten Season-Holy Week flow (as you describe it) was something consciously created.

    I chose to use the phrased “mashed up” to get at that created, concocted quality, not as something that is naturally occurring. Created, concocted, and “mashed up” are all terms that could apply to beauty and flow of the season.

    Sometimes we just go with the flow, and other times it’s interesting to think about how the flow came to be.

    Catholic Culture explains the Holy Week Mashup: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=1059

  3. JoAnne Silvia
  4. Bupp

    We renamed the WOD suicide�Mandy estimated 20 minutes�we all completed inside less..WOO HOO!

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    Nonetheless, the posts are very brief for starters.
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