Creedless Creeds: A Buddhist Example

Creeds are a fraught issue for liberal religionists, especially Unitarian-Universalists.  It is interesting to note how a rather different form of religion, which nonetheless has many liberal elements in the North American situation, approaches creeds.  Jodo Shinshu Buddhists are the oldest organized form of Buddhism in America and Canada, based on traditions brought originally by Japanese immigrants.

Here is the Jodo Shinshu Creed from the main service book of the Buddhist Churches of America:

Entrusting the Vow of the Buddha and reciting the Sacred Name, I shall proceed through the journey of life with strength and joy.

Revering the Light of the Buddha, reflecting upon my imperfect self, I shall strive to live a life of gratitude.

Following the Teachings of the Buddha, discerning the Right Path, I shall spread the True Dharma.

Rejoicing in the Compassion of the Buddha, respecting and aiding one another, I shall do my best to work towards the welfare of society.

Usually, we think of creeds as being statements of belief.  But this Buddhist denomination has created a creed which nowhere declares the community’s adherence to dogma.  Rather, in general terms that leave plenty of room for individual interpretation, their creed is about what practices they commit themselves to as followers of the faith.  Is this then actually a creed, no matter what label they have given it?  Could this be a model in some way for other denominations?

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6 Comments

Filed under Buddhism, Liberal Religious History

6 responses to “Creedless Creeds: A Buddhist Example

  1. Actually the Four Noble Truths can be interpreted as a creed according to Western standards, since they involve affirmations about how we interpret reality, what is our construction of experience, and this construction cannot be proven but either believed or disbelieved.

    Likewise Islam only includes one article of faith in the Five Pillars, i.e. that God is one and Muhammad is God’s messenger. The other four Pillars are practices (prayer, charity, fast, and pilgrimage).

  2. Transient and Permanent

    Jaume, I think you’re confusing what I mean by “creed” here. If Buddhists recite the Four Noble Truths and expect people to adhere to them, then that would be a creed. But it is quite unusual for this to happen. Otherwise, they are merely doctrines, not creeds. Islam contains a great many doctrines beyond the Five Pillars; Christians have a great many doctrines beyond the Nicene Creed. A creed is (usually) a binding statement of belief that one submits to as a member of the religious community, typically used in a liturgical setting.

  3. I was curious so I looked up the credo of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. This is not oriented towards the laity however.

    Freezing to death, we do not scheme.
    Starving to death, we do not beg.
    Dying of poverty, we ask for nothing.
    According with conditions, we do not change.
    Not changing, we accord with conditions.
    We adhere firmly to our three great principles.

    We renounce our lives to do the Buddha’s work.
    We take the responsibility to mold our own destinies.
    We rectify our lives as the Sangha’s work.
    Encountering specific matters,
    we understand the principles.
    Understanding the principles,
    we apply them in specific matters.
    We carry on the single pulse of the patriarchs’
    mind-transmission.

  4. Transient and Permanent

    That’s really interesting, James. I am familiar with DRBA but hadn’t ever bothered to look at this creed. Once again, it seems to be interested in practices and actions, not in systematic doctrinal matters. Not that we won’t be able to find some doctrinal Buddhist creeds if we look hard enough, but I’m struck by the widespread approach to creed through praxis rather than dogma.

  5. When you think about a recited creed, the boys at the DRBA boys school every morning sing the Three Refuges and promise not to fight, not to be greedy, not to be self seeking, not to be selfish, not to pursue personal advantage and not to lie. (I believe the nuances between each of the six is clearer in Chinese.)

    This is the core daily liturgy (outside of the meal offering).

    I think http://www.drba.org/about/ideals/ gives more of a sense of stated beliefs.

    When it comes to the Four Noble truths, I always struggle with the disconnect between how the MFC would like me to memorize them versus how they actually function in “my” Buddhist community.

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