Thank You

I wanted to take time today to thank everyone who reads The Endless Further. I really appreciate your interest in this blog. In addition, I appreciate the kind words some you have had to say about my efforts here in recent months. I never intended to set the blogging world on fire. Nor am I obsessed with amassing a large readership. At the same time, it is nice to know that some people read the blog on a regular basis and get something out of it.

I came down with a rather nasty cold after publishing my last post in which I somewhat satirically criticized some traditional Buddhist beliefs. Talk about karmic retribution. I guess that’ll learn me, huh?

I’ve been racking my brain for the last day and a half trying to think of something to write about this week, but not much seems to be working up there, so I thought it would be perfect opportunity to just say thanks to everyone for reading my blog.



I’m going down the road on the Hellbound Train
Take a long look lady ’cause you won’t see me again

– Savoy Brown, “Hellbound Train”

Coming soon to a theater near you, a new documentary “Hellbound?”: “Does hell exist? If so, who ends up there, and why? Featuring an eclectic group of authors, theologians, pastors, social commentators and musicians, “Hellbound?” is a provocative, feature-length documentary that will ensure you never look at hell the same way again!”

From what I understand, this film, written and directed by Kevin Miller, focuses exclusively on Christian perceptions of Hades, that fiery realm of eternal damnation. But, as we know, nearly every religious philosophy conceives some form of hell. Buddhism is no exception.

Naraka is the Sanskrit word, in Pali, Niraya, and it is karma, the fruit of one’s own actions that can land you in an undesirable hellish realm, not punishment from some divine being as in the Abrahamic religions.

13th Century Japanese representation of Avici Hell

Buddhism describes a number of different kinds of hell, grouped into “hot” hells and “cold” hells. My personal favorite is Avici, the hell of incessant suffering. To my mind, this is worse than eternal suffering, which is just for all time. Avici is ceaseless, without interruption,  relentless – it’s incessant! And probably eternal, too. What could be worse?

I like to think most rational people recognize that Hell as a physical place is a myth. Many Christians I’ve met, however, seem a bit illogical on the subject. They don’t believe in a being called Satan, yet they cling to the idea of God. They have doubts about a physical realm of Hell, but they’re sure about Heaven. I don’t get why one is more tenable than the other. But since I’m not a Christian, I don’t worry about it too much.

But in regards to Buddhism, I am concerned. You see, apparently it’s not just karma that can cause you to wind up in a hell. Some Buddhists believe that if you reject or have doubts about any of the things stated in the “scriptural” texts of Buddhism, the Pali suttas or the Mahayana sutras, guess what happens? Yep, you go to hell.

These texts contain an awful lot of mythological nonsense, though. For instance, in the early suttas the Buddha is often portrayed as an omniscient being, and like Superman, he has powers and abilities far beyond those of normal men, such as the power to walk through walls and mountains, walk on water, teleport great numbers of people across rivers, travel through space like a bird, etc. However, I don’t think he is faster than a speeding bullet. In any case, according to some folks if you harbor doubts about the omniscience or the powers of the Buddha, it’s off to Avici you go.

That’s why I’m concerned, because I don’t believe any of that. But, it’s true, they insist. It’s stated in the suttas! Yeah, well, many things are stated in the suutas, and some of the statements are conflicting, and as I said, much of it clearly mythological, and as I’ve also said, as have many others, they are not historical documents, they are religious texts, and there’s a big difference. As see it, the sort of thinking that if it’s stated in these sutras, it must be true, is not much different from that old nursery rhyme, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” My feeling is that modern Buddhists should aspire to a more mature point of view. Religious fundamentalism has no place in 21st Century Buddhism.

And here’s something to chew on: Frank Schaeffer, a New York Times bestselling author, wrote this in a blog post about the “Hellbound” film  on yesterday,

Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge. And according to brain chemistry studies, taking revenge and nurturing resentment is a major source of life-destroying stress.”

Ironically, those who believe in hell may already be there.

That doesn’t alleviate my concern, though. As Hamlet said to Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So, who knows? Maybe there really are hells you can be reborn into, and since I’m never going to buy into a lot of mystical malarkey, at some point I might be headed to one. At least, I’ll be in good company. After all, some of my favorite people were commended to hell, you know, for mocking the Lord or engaging in a lifestyle not exactly what you would call puritanical. Maybe I’ll get to meet Robert Johnson, the blues guy who met the Devil at the crossroads and sold his soul to become a great musician. That might be cool. Maybe not so cool if we were in one of those hot hells, but you know what I mean . . .

One of the few people currently residing in Hell who has his own US postage stamp.

I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail . . .
And the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail

– Robert Johnson, “Hellhound on My Trail”



Endeavour’s Final Flight Over Hollywood (Video)

I didn’t ever have an opportunity to see a space shuttle lift off into space or land right at Edwards Air Force Base. Until they changed the flight path, I use to hear the sonic booms when it flew over downtown, and once at about 4am I watched a shuttle come in from space and fly over my building on its way to Edwards, but that was like a very large and bright star traveling at an extremely fast rate of speed.

I certainly wanted to watch and document with my camera today’s historic last flight of the Endeavour as it flew over the Los Angeles area. Unfortunately, it was hazy out, so the fly-over of City Hall was hard to catch, and I can’t see a darn thing in this digital camera’s viewfinder when I am outdoors because of the glare, and as a result the footage of the Griffith Park Observatory was just a lot of empty sky.

This, however, turned out okay. It’s a bit shaky (I tried to correct it with YouTube’s new Fix-it feature but that just made things worse), and very short, but I added some original music to make the clip a tad more interesting.

And straight from a roof in beautiful Hollywood, USA, here it is:


Buddhism: Beyond Religion

A recent message on the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page has gotten some attention. It reads,

All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.

Well, religion has never been adequate, and Buddhism was never intended to be a religion. Buddha was not a religious figure. He wasn’t a god, a miracle worker, a faith healer, nor was he a prophet like Isaiah or Muhammad, or a law-bringer in the way Moses was – he was a meditation teacher, an itinerant philosopher. The spiritual tradition he belonged to, the sramanas, was not a religious movement, it was outside of religion, and it seems the Buddha was critical of the established religion of his day, with its reliance on ritual, incantations, and prophecies, and he rejected the authority of the priests.

The Buddha’s message was not religious, either. Buddha-dharma says, everyone has problems, and if you want to learn how to deal with your problems more effectively and perhaps even overcome the sufferings your problems bring, then once or twice a day, sit down, be still, and calm your mind. That’s not a particularly religious message. It’s a very practical message. After all, what is the best thing to do when we have a problem? Rush out willy-nilly, higgly-piggly, and try to affect a solution? No, it’s best to sit down, think the problem through, calmly, maybe analyze the causes for the problem, and then work out a solution. It’s the same principal in Buddha-dharma, only we are dealing with deeper levels of the mind.

Buddha was not concerned about the existence of gods, or speculation about how the world was made. He was concerned only with the question of how to solve human problems, how to relieve suffering.

The Buddha asked his followers not to worship him. He actually forbade them from revering his relics. That’s why for several centuries no representations of the Buddha were used, only images of a footprint, an empty seat, the Wheel of Dharma, a Bodhi leaf, and so on. But humans being what they are just couldn’t help themselves . . .

As I see it, Buddha-dharma begins with the premise that religion is not adequate. Buddhism has always been beyond religion.

You are not, O Bhikkhus, to learn–to teach–the low arts of divination, spells, omens, astrology, sacrifices to gods, witchcraft, and quackery.”

– Vinaya Pitaka, S.B.E, Vol. XX

“Let him not use Atharva Vedic spells, nor things foretell from dreams or signs or stars; let not my follower predict from cries, cure barrenness nor practice quackery.”

– Sutta Nipata, IV., 14

“So, Ananda, you must be your own lamps, be your own refuges. Take refuge in nothing outside yourselves. Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for refuge to anything besides yourselves.”

– Mahaparinibbana Sutta, Digha Nikaya 16


Men and Morals

A survey by released the Pew Forum in July found that eight in 10 voters were either “comfortable” with Mitt Romney being a Mormon or simply didn’t care. Although Google reported a spike in interest in August, probably due to the convention, Romney’s faith remains pretty much a non-issue for most voters. That’s good on one hand, because religion should not be a political issue. On the other hand, well, you have to admit that Mormonism is a little kooky.

Most Mormons belong to the Church of Latter Day Saints, a movement based on a “sacred text” called “The Book of Mormon,” which has apparently inspired a hit musical. Here’s how one historian has described it, the original book, that is:

[A] pretended history of ancient America it tells how the lost ten tribes of Israel migrated to this continent and perpetrated a series of Kisheneff [1. I assume this is a reference to “The Ghost of Kisheneff,” a poem by Henry Tudor.] massacres upon one another, until they dwindled down to a mere remnant, the ignoble red man. The discovery of this thrilling document is attributed to an illiterate young farmer, Joseph Smith, Junior, the founder of Mormonism.”

That was written by a man named Woodbridge Riley (no relation as far as I know) in September 1904. Riley is little known today, but during his time he was a well-respected scholar who, in addition to teaching at John Hopkins and Vassar universities, lectured at the Sorbonne for a year.

I. Woodbridge Riley

Isaac Woodbridge Riley, the son of a Presbyterian Minister was born in May of 1869. He received a bachelor’s degree at Yale, a masters degree in 1898, and in 1902 he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy. Mormonism was a subject of particular interest to Riley. His master’s thesis was “The Metaphysics of Mormonism,” and it formed the basis of his Doctor’s dissertation. In 1902, he revised his dissertation and published it as The Founder of Mormonism: A Psychological Study of Joseph Smith. According to the Vassar College Encyclopedia, the book “drew criticism from the Mormon Church, foreshadowing the kinds of attack that Riley’s unapologetic and often satiric scholarship would receive for the rest of his life.”

You get a hit of that satirical side in his reference above to “this thrilling document.” It’s true, people named Riley do tend to be smart-asses, at least in my family.

NY Times – Sept. 20, 1902

Joseph Smith drew some fire, as well. The New York Times Saturday Review of Books ran a piece on Riley’s book in which John White Chadwick wrote of Smith, “His egotism was so colossal that he could write without compunction, ‘I know more than all the world put together,’ and declare God to be his ‘right-hand man.’ ” I guess Smith eventually overcame his illiteracy.

Woodbridge Riley did not limit his scholarship to Mormonism. As the Vassar Encyclopedia notes, “Throughout his career, Riley was always interested in the development of philosophic thought; most of his work analyzed philosophic or religious movements in Italy or America. “

I first became aware of Riley some years ago. While browsing in a used bookstore, I ran across a volume entitled, Men and Morals. Needless to say, the author’s last name is what attracted my attention.

Men and Morals is subtitled “The Story of Ethics.” The Bookman, in December 1929, described it as follows:

It is a thorough, well-organized, unobscured account of the great moral codes of the past—in early and later Greece, in the Orient, in Europe under the domination of the Church and after the Renaissance. Professor Riley interprets and evaluates the Platonic and Aristotelian, the Stoic and Epicurean codes; he examines critically the morals of the Church Fathers, of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza; he expounds the systems of Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume; the idealism of Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; the pragmatism of William James and Dewey. Men and Morals is a book for him who reads that he may think.”

As for my principal area of interest, Eastern philosophy, or what Riley called “the Asiatic Systems,” in Men and Morals, he covered only Buddhism and Confucianism. He wrote in the style of his time, which seems so archaic to us now, but it doesn’t suffer from overuse of Biblical language that was typical of scholars writing about Eastern philosophy in that day. In the section on Buddhism, he focuses his attention on rebirth, karma, and the doctrine of no-self, and I think he got it as right as he possibly could:

Here, the founder Gautama, in protest against popular thought, was opposing the Brahmanic view of the soul as an airy something, a survival of the old animist belief in the ghostly self which leaves the body not only in dreams but in death and after the dissolution of the body passes into another body – that of some beast if this life has been evil, that of some noble, or hero, or saint if this life has been good. According to this view the soul, as Atman, or breath, is imperishable; the body may moulder in the grave, but the soul goes marching on. To this popular, this primitive, belief the master objected, and in its place substituted a view which left the primitive view so far behind as to approach the most subtle modern speculations on the meaning of the self. Put in the language of the Twentieth Century, the self is not a substance, however attenuated, but a stream of consciousness; all that actually exists is a series of states of consciousness . . .”

In discussing the fetter of doubt (vicikiccha), it seems he understood the point that Nirvana is not the “extinction of individual existence” but something else:

But here twenty-five hundred years ago the Buddhists . . . reached the paradoxical conclusion that the worst doubt was not to doubt the existence of the self. This, then, was the second fetter to Gautama – to doubt the truth of the impermanence of the self . . .

In the quiet hour, freed from all disturbing emotions, the saint may attain that sense of tranquility which is described as a state of victory over the world and over birth and death, a state of inward peace that can never be shaken, of a joy that can never be ruffled. This is the condition of Nirvana . . .”

James Whitcomb Riley/Chester A. Riley

Woodbridge Riley died in September of 1933 at the age of sixty-four. You will find little biographical information about him on the Internet. That’s too bad, because I am aware of only three noteworthy persons who bear this surname – your humble blogger, moi, of course; James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier Poet; and Chester A. Riley, whose name during the 1940s and 50s was synonymous with the expression “Life of Riley” and who coined the immortal catchphrase, “What a revoltin’ development this is!” I can only hope that my post today in some way helps add Woodbridge Riley’s name to that rather paltry pantheon.

Oh yeah, there’s also that Riley who has something to do with basketball . . .