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 comp