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Denis Wallez
«Intentions do matter.»
«Intentions do matter.»


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Do I know where I will be next, given the sun-setting of g+?

Many people with large followings are currently providing lists of links (to various social media and platforms) to whoever would like to continue following them, elsewhere… If I knew where I'll be next, I'd do the same, but I don't know that.
So, I guess, the best I can offer for now is for people to register their email for the newsletter of at Right now, is going through major changes, and the newsletter is in fact inactive… but it'll be used —in due time— to let people know where I am and what I offer (in relation to #Buddhism, #Dharma, #ethics …).

For those wanting to follow the progress on migrating the "Buddhism and Meditation", "Buddhism Q&A" and "Buddhist Art" g+ communities (cf., please subscribe to

For the time being, on social media, I'll answer questions in "Buddhism Q&A" on FB ( and sometimes in "Western Buddhism" on FB (even if I'm in disagreement with some of the moderation there… enough to regularly consider leaving this group!). [EDIT: never again in "Western Buddhism", as admins allow bullshit answers but delete pointed, specific answers on a whim —and no, I'm not talking only about my own answers here.]
Having 'owned' "Buddhism and Meditation" and "Buddhism Q&A" here for several years, I'll be happy to finally let go of the burden of ownership ('me', 'myself' and 'mine'?). I'll thus be able to refocus on teaching, on sharing the Dhamma, on supporting people, rather than moderating spammers and other untrained, undisciplined, antagonistic people happily insulting others behind their screens.
And yes, I have serious ethical concerns w.r.t. using FB… so no, there's no warranty I'll stay there. But for now I have not yet identified another platform (which would allow long forms and serious conversations in a reasonably constructive way, would refrain from becoming sectarian / tradition-specific, would not turn into forums 'organised' primarily by the law of the loudest or by "whoever disagrees with me will be banned" admins…)

Anything else, for now, will mostly be limited to 'direct' students, people who contact me directly by email / hangout / messenger and with who I work one-on-one. This is my preferred way of working, as it yields the deepest (and fastest) progress.

#Buddhism #Dharma
image: parcel-gilt wood figure of a Bodhisattva (Tibet, 18th century)
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(10/12) True buddha/bodhisattva

(intro to the series at
Question 10, and its answer provided by the spam:
If “buddha-hood” is actually achievable in this life, how are we to know we are talking to a true “buddha” or “boddisatva”?

If there are those in our midst who have actually achieved this level of enlightenment, how are we to identify them? Why should we trust their own proclamations of “buddha-hood”? How will we recognize them or even distinguish them from non-Buddhist people who display all the attributes consistent with “buddha-hood”?

In a sort of circular logic, showing that the spammer is already short of 'ammunition' against Buddhism, he now basically reverts to his 1/12 question on Truth ( I guess his problem is that he only imagines that 'truth' implies a superior authority deciding what's true or not, or a superior being creating stuff so that what agrees with said creation is true and what doesn't isn't: a narrow-minded approach is self-limiting and prevents understanding other spiritual traditions!

Let's start with the most important: humility is important in all paths and all disciplines, you cannot learn much if you're convinced you're already ô sooo good and ô soooo knowledgeable, bla bla… Humility is all the more key, of course, on a path insisting on letting go the illusion of a soul, of some inherent self, to which qualities could be attached!
If you're not yet spiritually autonomous (which means at the attainment of stream-entry in Buddhism), then stop being so arrogant that you imagine you somehow need a 'true' buddha or a 'true' great bodhisattva as a teacher, no less! That's a ridiculous ask, similar to starting primary school but asserting that your teacher ought to be a Nobel prize winner…

"How are we to identify them?"

Tough luck: you won't be given a list of nice, neat criteria taking away your responsibility to enquire, to find out, to make choices. No…

In fact, there's a sutta in which a wanderer wishes to meet the Buddha but has to stop somewhere for the night. As it happens, the Buddha comes to spend the night at the same place, but the wanderer does not recognise the Buddha!!! — Dhatu-vibhanga sutta (MN 140)
Similarly, right after his awakening, the Buddha went back to teach to the ascetics he had previously associated with, but upon seeing him come, they first decide to reject him for having abandoned his ascetic practices.

You have to avoid rushing toward a teacher just because (s)he has shiny credentials.
If the teacher seems perfect, you're just blinding yourself!

You need to study the teacher (dropping requirements of unrealistic perfection, and having the humility of acknowledging that when you make judgement calls, they might be erroneous…) and pick one wisely (someone you can trust enough, but also someone who challenges your views… if it's for confirmation bias only, you won't learn anything!).
« "It's through living together that a person's virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through dealing with a person that his purity may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through adversity that a person's endurance may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning.
It's through discussion that a person's discernment may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who is not discerning. » — Thana sutta (AN 4.192)

You need to keep your eyes open: a teacher appropriate for a while might not remain so forever! Because you evolve, and because (s)he evolves…
But you also need to refrain from rushing on your way out, just because it becomes challenging! You aim for a challenging but not an abusive relationship. That's tricky to find, and you ought to take your responsibilities in creating and maintaining it.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, some expedient means and pedagogical tricks are at times "unconventional" (to say the least) and so they're meant to stay "secret": the student is meant not to speak of what happens to others… And if the student is not capable of keeping it secret, then (s)he shouldn't ask to follow the vajrayana path. This is often misunderstood though (possibly due to the teacher abusing the student and then misleading the student, to try to protect oneself from fair consequences): it's not really a secret, it's just that the means used can easily be misunderstood when described out of context (and without the rationale / explanations of the teacher supposedly accompanying such an approach) to others.

The Milindapañha (a later text) from the Theravada tradition mentions 25 qualities for a teacher: « He must always and without fail keep guard over his pupil. He must let him know what to cultivate, and what to avoid; about what he should be earnest, and what he may neglect. He must instruct him as to sleep, and as to keeping himself in health, and as to what food he may take, and what reject. He should teach him discrimination (in food), and share with him all that is put, as alms, into his own bowl. He should encourage him, saying: “Be not afraid. You will gain advantage (from what is here taught you).” He should advise him as to the people whose company he should keep, and as to the villages and Vihāras he should frequent. He should never indulge in (foolish) talk with him. When he sees any defect in him he should easily pardon it. He should be zealous, he should teach nothing partially, keep nothing secret, and hold nothing back. He should look upon him in his heart as a son, saying to himself: “I have begotten him in learning.” He should strive to bring him forward, saying to himself: “How can I keep him from going back?” He should determine in himself to make him strong in knowledge, saying to himself: “I will make him mighty.” He should love him, never desert him in necessity, never neglect him in anything he ought to do for him, always befriend him—so far as he can rightly do so —when he does wrong. »

Teachers need alms (to cover food, clothes, a roof, and medicine… aka. the "four requisites") but they're not "merchants of the temple" or "sellers of the Dharma"… it's a fine line to walk, challenging many assumptions of the students (who easily use the line "the Dharma should be free" to de facto perpetuate their own stinginess and avarice and refrain from practising)! It's a matter of personal opinion, but I would add that any teacher who "milks the reputation" of their own teachers, pretending to have inherited high qualities just because their own teacher had some, is likely to be a 'seller'. Teachers who rely on some establishment to bring students in, or a pretense of secret teachings (which are not truly secret, cf. above), is also milking the previous generation of teachers.

See also,,, and

"Why should we trust their own proclamations of 'buddha-hood'?"

You shouldn't! Trust is earned. But you might start observing them, and see if it appears likely they could teach you a thing or two, and if that's the case, then ask for permission to study under them… then follow the instructions instead of closing down quickly by assuming you know (yourself) better!
« don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. » — kalama sutta (AN 3.65)
See also

The key is to enquire, reflect and study whatever the teacher says. If it 'works', then it's likely it's (at least temporarily) a useful teacher. Otherwise, no (at least not for your individual present circumstances…).
Examples are given, e.g. « How is truth discovered? Here a bhikkhu lives near some village or town. Then a householder or his son goes to him in order to test him in three kinds of ideas, in ideas provocative of greed, of hate, and of delusion, wondering "Are there in this venerable one any such ideas, whereby his mind being obsessed he might not knowing, say 'I know,' unseeing, say 'I see,' or to get others to do likewise, which would be long for their harm and suffering?" While thus testing him he comes to find that there are no such ideas in him, and he finds that "The bodily and verbal behavior of that venerable one are not those of one affected by lust or hate or delusion. But the True Idea that this venerable one teaches is profound, hard to see and discover; yet it is the most peaceful and superior of all, out of reach of logical ratiocination, subtle, for the wise to experience; such a True Idea cannot be taught by one affected by lust or hate or delusion." » — Canki sutta (MN 95)

And if you study the Dharma, and follow the eightfold path (incl. virtue, not just meditation from time to time), then you should be able to know if a teacher teaches in accordance with the Dharma or not!
The Dharma is what counts, ultimately, not the teacher… and upon dying, the Buddha did not appoint a successor (too bad for the crappy 'lineage' logical fallacy of Zen schools): he told students to rely on the Dharma, on the teachings!
Any teacher is only here to help understanding the Dharma, maybe pointing out which sutra or commentary to read in priority when a student struggles with a particular point; a teacher is an enabler, a facilitator, but not the star!

"How will we recognize them or even distinguish them from non-Buddhist people who display all the attributes consistent with 'buddha-hood'?"

This is a stupid question, showing how the spammer makes assumptions about legitimacy coming from some external god: if someone displays all the attributes consistent with 'buddha-hood', then (s)he is a buddha!
Being a buddha doesn't require excluding other buddhas, claiming "I'm the one" (or even "I'm among the ones"). It doesn't require a direct connection to some god either. It doesn't require miracles. It only requires seeing reality as it is.
If someone behaves like a buddha, consistently, not just to show off, then (s)he is a buddha… even if (s)he never heard the Dharma: the notion is so clear that there's a specific label for it, pacekka-buddha (or pratyekabuddha in Sanskrit)!

#Buddhism #Dharma
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(9/12) Value of self-effort
— if buddhas and bodhisattvas exist to help others

(intro to the series at
Question 9, and its answer provided by the spam:
If “buddhas” and “boddisatvas” exist to help others in achieving “nirvana” what is the true value of “self-effort”?

If, as a Buddhist, I rely on the help of a “buddha” or “boddisatva” how can my assisted work be accredited to me as Karma (or even as true obedience to the Eight Fold Path)? Doesn’t assistance negate the self-effort required to establish Karma in the first place?

I previously mentioned that the question 5/12 (on being conscious of attaining nirvana) was probably the most sensible, and pointing to a difficult point of the teaching… This question 9/12 might be the second best. And it might take us through some history of Buddhist traditions!
And, as for previous 'questions', I'll pass the orthographic mistakes showing the spammer never researched seriously his own questions.

Early Buddhism much insisted on self-effort. Even if a teacher guides you to the threshold of spiritually beneficial deeds, you're still the one who can and has to walk through the door! No one can do the work for you, others can only spare you from reinventing the wheel through trial and error. At the conventional level, you're the sole responsible for your karma.

A few centuries later though, through famines and plagues, several Buddhist places had gone through tremendous difficulties in relation to practicing, so some teachers had promoted 'easier' practices, teachings adapted to difficult times (with few resources —incl. time— to spare), teachings to maintain hope that some minimal practice might still allow some form of spiritual progress.
Hence comes the notion of the "three Ages of the Dharma" and notably of the Latter Days of the Dharma, also known as the Degenerate Age, when teachings are supposed to be perverted, teachers are supposed to be primarily seeking personal benefits, etc. and therefore 'true' practice is near impossible.

Such a view on the Latter Days of the Dharma has probably proven helpful in some specific temporary circumstances, to keep some hope, to avoid depression, not to see oneself as a 'bad person' solely because circumstances do not let oneself continue practicing like in the previously better conditions…
But when the view is maintained (as the basis for a school or another) after the hard times ended, after things improved, then it generally becomes just a classical "no true Scotsman" logical fallacy —declaring without the tiniest element of proof that what's left to us is no longer 'true' Buddhism!
Unfortunately, ignorant masses love such fallacies… as they give them an excuse for minimal practices (over exerting serious efforts toward Liberation), they allow to see oneself as 'Buddhist' and 'spiritual' and 'a good person' while actually perpetuating the status quo and not pushing toward much change, much reform, much relinquishing of samsara.

Japan can be a harsh country, and the "Latter Days of the Dharma" doctrine (aka. mappo there) has had much influence in Japanese Buddhism.
In particular, it became the basis for new Pure Land schools, Jōdo-shū, Jōdo Shinshū, Yūzū-nembutsu-shū and Ji-shū. It also is at the core of the esoteric Nichiren school. And competition / dialogue with other schools (e.g. Zen traditions) spread the influence of the doctrine. [cf.]
But the doctrine could previously be found in China, in Tibet, and even in India. It's not purely Japanese.

Among the Japanese schools specifically based on this doctrine, Jōdo Shin Buddhism stands out as a revolution in the thinking: while Jōdo advocated for a mix of "self-effort" (in repeating the nembustu in order to think of the Pure Land of Amitabha at the time of death, in order to be reborn there) and "other-effort" (since ultimately Amitabha is then the one offering a better place —and teachings— for us to finally be able to practice seriously), the Jōdo Shin variant (by the very important teacher Shinran) advocated counting purely on "other-effort", claiming that "self-effort" was purely illusory in the Latter Days of the Dharma and that we should simply entrust ourselves in the care of compassionate Amitabha (whose compassion does not depend on our faith or efforts anyway!).
These were serious pedagogical evolutions compared to earlier versions of "Pure Land" doctrines (cf. and Moreover, even Amitabha was initially not considered as accepting just anyone in his Pure Land: to enter his Pure Land, according to the sutra at the basis of these schools, some conditions had to be respected, and some exceptions (preventing entry) were listed. So even the "Great Vow"of Amitabha had to be re-interpreted (cf. Personally I marvel at the creativity of Shinran, and the depth of some of his insights, to support people in difficult times (but I cannot consider that most people who interact with me live in similar times, this would appear to me as a doctrinal projection… except for a few people, actually experiencing tremendous personal difficulties!)

The funny bit is that Buddhism, even when it seems to rely on "other-effort" for Liberation from samsara, then quickly reverts to some form of "self-effort".
If e.g. Avalokiteśvara (the bodhisattva of Compassion) was to intervene to help us (based on our ignorant wish to be taken care of, at times of difficulty), then this would mean this realm, this world, is his Pure Land… which, in turn, would assert that this realm, this world, is the best place for us to “practice” the eightfold path, and in particular the “compassionate" dimension of it, under the guidance and opportunities created by Avalokiteśvara !
And suddenly, it’s no longer about us being taken care of, but about us letting go of selfishness, taking care of others, wisely engaging with causality in order of reduce the suffering for all sentient beings, etc! We're back to "self-effort", only this times we have role-models to follow!
The wish to "be taken care of" is to be tapped into, in order to understand / to realise what all other beings around us want: being taken care of… or, at the very least, not having to fear us, not having to suffer because of us, being free from our ignorance and selfishness! Thus the wish to "be taken care of" leads to e.g. taking Buddhist vows to protect others, meditating to 'connect' with the bodhisattvas, or treating better those around us.

In fact, reliance on other-power can be used in Buddhism by a teacher to counteract inappropriate grasping of self-power by a student: entrusting in the care of another might help fighting conceit and self-importance []. This can be helpful when spiritual autonomy and self-effort again lead to a belief in a separate self, or a superiority complex.
An anecdote from Jodo Shin Buddhism might illustrate the point differently:
« In fact, the true act of dāna pāramitā involves giving up what we cherish the most —ultimately our ego self. I know a Dharma-school teacher who encourages the practice of dāna in children by setting an example. Once he took the students to give fruits to the homeless. In doing so, he purchased the most expensive fruits at the grocery store. When one mother complained that the homeless did not deserve such extravagance, he explained two important things about true giving. First, it requires some sacrifice on the part of the giver. To give away something that one doesn't need is not dāna. Second, the act must not be condescending but must show respect to the one who receives the gift. In fact, one is grateful to the recipient who makes the act of giving possible. »

There's not as much contradiction between Avalokiteśvara the Carer (or other buddhas and bodhisattvas) and the Buddha’s message on personal responsibility and autonomy, as the spammer naïvely believes (
Either you're already at a point where you accept personal responsibility and strive for autonomy, or you need baby steps first and role models or inspirations to follow. Ultimately, your Liberation remains your responsibility though, because no one can let go, for you, of what you grasp! The grasper of defilements is the one who has to ungrasp. The chaser for "more of this, less of that, another" and the clinger to "me, myself, mine" are the ones who have to cease chasing and clinging.

Hopefully, it is understood that even if you benefit from guidance, from inspiration, from role models, from worthy examples, then you're nonetheless the one doing the volitional deed of following these and therefore the one karmically benefitting.
There'd be no sense whatsoever in claiming that reinventing the wheel is necessary to benefit: it matters little why you behave well and stop trashing the world with your selfishness, what karmically matters is that you willingly do so! [which is also what offers a possibility for higher rebirth to ignorant beings]
If you're concerned with spiritual development, in particular to a high level, it's smart to leverage best whatever help you can get!
And yes, if you do completely reinvent the wheel, autonomously, without any help, any model, any inspiration, then you end up being a buddha yourself… and it's very meritorious but it's not necessary.

#Buddhism #Dharma
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(8/12) Growing population

(intro to the series at
Question 8, and its answer provided by the spam:
If all of us are re-incarnations of prior human beings, how do we account for the growing population? Where do “new” humans come from?

Reincarnation implies all of us were here before, in a prior life. But if humans can only be reincarnated from prior humans, how is it the global population is growing? If humans can be reincarnated from other animals, does this mean the total animal population on earth has always been constant?

Oh look, more logical fallacies on reincarnation… 1/ without even understanding Buddhism teaches rebirth, not reincarnation, 2/ without even looking into other religions which do teach reincarnation and how they easily dispatch of such criticism, and 3/ with double standards, as they of course don't seem to have any problem with souls in their religion, rising out of nowhere, or with packing so many of them (dead) in other realms (heaven or hell), without running out of real estate…

On reincarnation vs. rebirth, I won't repeat 6/12 ( and 7/12 ( of this series.

« But if humans can only be reincarnated from prior humans, how is it the global population is growing? »
Yeah, congratulations! Except Buddhism never states that humans can only be reincarnated from prior humans! Oops?! Once again the misrepresentating and misleading of a "straw man" logical fallacy?
On the contrary, Buddhism teaches that there's inter-dependence between the various realms (and they therefore constitute "one world" instead of separate worlds, which is why karma brings an appearance of justice, cf. 4/12 ( of this series).
Many suttas mention rebirth from one realm to another, and "higher rebirth" can even be seen as the goal of many Buddhists (who don't feel they can practice hard enough to 'get' serious spiritual attainments in this life, but do hope to be able to do the minimum in this life for a next life to give them such opportunities!). There are, in fact, entire collections of texts counting rebirth from the human realm to either heavenly or hellish realms: the vimanavatthu and petavatthu are included in the Theravada's Khuddaka Nikaya.
Similarly, there are stories of animals doing a few good deeds leading them to higher rebirth… Sometimes the merit seems improbable, but is nonetheless considered enough to be given a better life, e.g. a frog happens to die while listening to the Buddha's sermon, and attains the Tavatimsa Deva heavenly realm! Other animals in the stories sacrificed themselves, to help others, hence get better rebirth (it doesn't matter if it's some kind of instinct e.g. to protect one's cubs… what matters is that it is volitional, the animal is conscious of endangering oneself to protect the younger ones)…
Having Dhamma in one's head at the moment of dying is the easiest way to get a higher rebirth, which is understandable if one considers the rebirth mechanism I described in a previous post (the rebirth picks up from where one was… without soul, but grasping a context as mine… and if "me, myself and mine" is grasped as "I'm a listener of the Dharma" then the rebirth gives an opportunity to continue doing so). It is also a belief of some Pure Land schools, notably Jōdo-shū (but not Jōdo Shinshū !), that having Amitabha at the forefront of one's mind at the time of death —helped by perpetual repetition of the nembutsu— ensures one's rebirth in Amitabha 's Pure Land.

So… with "If humans can be reincarnated from other animals, does this mean the total animal population on earth has always been constant?", we get closer to Buddhism's view, closer but not yet right.
Might I note that humans (suddenly becoming a lot more numerous than in the previous centuries) are currently causing the sixth "great extinction" of animals (incl. insects)… but are also probably causing their own future major difficulties with climate change, which would probably re-allow animals to flourish… so stability of the total population isn't as foolish as the spammer would like it to appear.
Anyway… We get closer to Buddhism's view, closer but not yet right… The major assumption of the spammer is that no one is reborn from hells or from heavens, but this is obviously wrong (and explicitly rejected) in Buddhism… so reincarnation would not maintain the total population of "animals + humans", but it could maintain the total population of "beings in hell + guardians of hell + ghosts + animals + humans + angels + minor gods + major gods". And this later view would still be wrong…

Buddhism teaches rebirth, not reincarnation: there's no count to maintain in the first place, there's no accounting of supposed 'souls' to do.
Consciousness arises when conditions supportive for such an arising come together, and consciousness ceases when conditions are not supportive.
To the point that a few sentient beings do reach parinibbana by 'luck'… being freed from rebirth, not thanks to having ceased craving, but simply because the conditions for rebirth are not met, in any realm —that's seen as rare but the possibility is not denied.
And to the point that new beings can indeed appear: in fact, that's the very illusion of the "creator god"! He's the first 'being' appearing, i.e. ignorantly introducing duality and 'entities' in the continuum of inter-dependent processes by unwise discernment… then misappropriating what comes next as his creation! Cf. Brahmajāla Sutta (DN 1) from §40. [And for the avoidance of doubt, Buddhism's view on the universe is closer to the "big bounce" than the "big bang" scientific theory… hence the big bang isn't the beginning, it's the continuation from a previous contraction… so, searching for the beginning (or the end) of the world only leads to infinite regress, not to a 'creator'!]

There's no accounting of supposed 'souls' to do, if there's no soul!

#Buddhism #Dharma
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I just saw someone promote a 'ticket' for the 2020 Presidential election in the USA, after a study reported that a tax plan by one of the members of this potential ticket would almost exclusively benefit the "middle class".
This is a sad moment.

It is sad, because the "middle class" is having a rough patch at the moment, so envy rises but also the sharpness of the mind seeking solutions, and people start —at last!— rebelling against the "trickle-down economy" lie…
It could almost look good… except the lesson has visibly been missed!

The "middle class" will now pretend that the focus should be on them, and convince themselves that it's also beneficial for the poor, because… wealth will "trickle-down" from the middle class to the poor ?

What's visible here is envy, not sounder economics.

What's most urgently needed is a plan to tackle poverty (in its various dimensions: health and environment, education, housing, mobility… all of which affect employability, and therefore the transcendence or the perpetuation of poverty).
You don't pull up society, when helping the top 1%: that stretches the fabric of social cohesion to the tearing point. You don't pull up society by leaving the poorer behind either, condemning the poorer never to reach the middle, recreating the lower-than-the-lowest-caste "untouchables". You pull up a society by pulling those lowest (and such a strategy provides low-hanging fruits by definition: a little help can make a massive difference to the poorest! Relatively speaking, a set amount automatically makes the largest difference when applied to the group with the least).
And sure enough, the political project might be broader than this, and might also help the middle class specifically… but appropriating the "trickle-down" lies of the 1% as the middle class' own lie, and perpetuating a similar "me first" hypocrisy combined with lack of broader, societal project towards those less privileged than oneself, will not do!
Universal income is a relevant proposition; others (either variants or entirely different approaches) might exist; let's look seriously into these!
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When two of my favorite authors on early Buddhism disagree… fireworks!
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(7/12) Evidence of reincarnation

(intro to the series at
Question 7, and its answer provided by the spam:
What real evidence do we have that reincarnation is true?

Why is there not consistent evidence for the notion of reincarnation? On what evidence is this idea based, aside from the writings of Buddha? While we have good philosophical reasons to believe in the existence of the soul, what philosophical reasoning brings us to the conclusion that reincarnation is true?

So the "straw man" logical fallacy continues! I already extensively addressed (in 6/12 of this series, that Buddhism does not teach 'reincarnation', but does teach 'rebirth', and that these are different: reincarnation assumes the preservation of some identity through change, rebirth only sees continuity from one (conventionally true but ultimately illusory) identity to the next…

I must admit that I find it hilarious when believers in Abrahamic religions ask for "real evidence" about reincarnation… given they themselves believe in reincarnation (one reincarnation to go to heaven, hell or purgatory… rather than repeated reincarnations… but nonetheless!) and provide no proof whatsoever susceptible of convincing scientists, atheists or even simply agnostics!
And Buddhism won't provide evidence for reincarnation, given that it rejects reincarnation, it rejects the idea of a permanent identity through change, of a soul! Identity is a bundle of stuff, and each part of it can evolve asynchronously… Each consciousness is an aggregate, not a single stream, and it can manifest itself through many activities, not just one. Consciousness at large is an aggregate on many consciousnesses (i.e. you can see consciously, hear consciously, but also do both at the same time and even enjoy the interaction between the two thanks to a third consciousness! And that's before discussing the 6 consciousnesses of early Buddhism vs. the 8 consciousnesses of later Buddhism).

Buddhism might admit that rebirth takes an appearance of reincarnation sometimes, to the untrained mind unable to see the subtle differences. That's the extent of it!

Yes, there are some schools of Buddhism which speak a lot more of 'reincarnation' than the others: Tibetan schools.
But the local dimension of this phenomenon should be enough to indicate that it's a local adaptation, a pedagogical trick adapted to specific circumstances, rather than 'what Buddhism teaches'. And the tulku system has been criticised, at times by tulkus themselves, for being more of a political / feudal system than a spiritual truth (the question however is more complex than it seems:
Even then, ultimately, Tibetan schools speak of rebirth taking an appearance of reincarnation, and they reject 'real' reincarnation: it's just a figure of speech, simple to follow (more so than the philosophical / psychological view on self-less-ness) when simplicity is valuable (e.g. to teach basic ethics / virtue).

"On what evidence is this idea based, aside from the writings of Buddha?"
"what philosophical reasoning brings us to the conclusion that reincarnation is true?"

Actually, rebirth and reincarnation are the basis of most Indian spiritual traditions, from Sikhism to Hinduism, via Buddhism and Jainism… so there's a lot "aside" Buddhism… and asking for philosophical reasoning is simply the logical fallacy of a call to ignorance ("I don't understand/know about this, so it's not true"): just go read, instead of basking in your ignorance!

Reasoning on rebirth has been provided in the 6/12 previous post of this series (op.cit.), and it's primarily a mental mechanism (of appropriation of the inherited environment and values and ideas which one is born into, as being "my environment, my values, my ideas" i.e. "my world"). The "karmic continuation" series was also pointed to, in that 6/12 post.

For a philosophical enquiry on reincarnation, I'll let the reader enquire into the other Indian religions, since reincarnation isn't rebirth and I teach about Buddhism! But let's be clear Indian philosophers are not just sheep: they don't agree —in between different religions!— for the sake of agreeing. Their evidence might be seen as 'anecdotal' or 'historical', yet they agree on it and have enough cases to continue agreeing on it…

But we can try to avoid the local / cultural nature of this… and point to scientific research actually! Scientific research which does provide much stronger evidence for rebirth / reincarnation than for the existence of the Abrahamic God!
The first scientific research of significant magnitude on the topic was led by Ian Pretyman Stevenson (1918–2007). He has written 300 papers and 14 books on reincarnation, including Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (1966) and European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (2003).
Further research has been conducted by Jim B. Tucker (who worked several years with Ian Stevenson), who notably wrote Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives (2005). Contrarily to Ian Stevenson who focused on Asian children, Jim Tucker has mostly focused on American children.
It has to be admitted that, for now, causal mechanisms are not well understood or described, there exists conjectures but no clear answer yet —reductionism might not explain rebirth / reincarnation, but science cannot be limited to reductionism (!
But that's simply not where the research is at: for now, the research is focused on accumulating proofs that there exists a mechanism, that it's not a mere illusion / story-telling. Once this is established, then and only then can the mechanism itself be analysed.
Many cases in the books cited above do offer compelling hints that there exists a mechanism (without any other explanation found (yet), which would respect Occam's razor criterion of being simpler than the assumption of 'actual' reincarnation).

For the avoidance of doubt, as per 6/12 (, I don't think the spammer's statement "while we have good philosophical reasons to believe in the existence of the soul" is true… and I've not seen any "real evidence" that it is, so the spammer fails his own test ;-)
I can see why it's convenient to believe in a soul, in order to separate oneself from the world, from the flesh and from anything we're not proud of (and can thus pretend not to have anything to do with), but selfish convenience isn't evidence. It can be selfishly convenient to lie, that doesn't make it a truth.

#Buddhism #Dharma
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(6/12) Reincarnation without soul

(intro to the series at
Question 6, and its answer provided by the spam:
If there is no transcendent “self” or “soul”, how do we transcend this life in order for reincarnation to be possible?

If reincarnation is true, it makes sense something of our true identity would move from one life to the next. What is this “something” if not a soul? Who (or what) moves on from this life to the next?

Oh well! Buddhism does not teach "reincarnation", but "rebirth"… and there exist two different words, because they're not the same notion!
I could just stop here, couldn't I? This is a typical "straw man" logical fallacy, misrepresenting a position in order to attack it more easily…

Or let's be kinder, and review how rebirth differs from reincarnation…

Hopefully, the answer (cf. for 5/12 in the series will provide most of the necessary requisite on consciousness, and therefore doesn't need to be repeated.

"If reincarnation is true, it makes sense something of our true identity would move from one life to the next" ?
Sure, but this is Hinduism then! There's a soul (atman) and the soul transmigrates from body to body, keeping some 'true' identity: basically bodies are like clothes, that you can change without affecting one's core. But that's not what Buddhism teaches!

There's no soul in Buddhism! There's a conventionally real but ultimately illusory self…

Such a self is found neither in the body, nor in the perceptions, nor in the feelings (like/dislike), nor in the mental fabrications (opinions, beliefs, views, preferences, habits, certainties…), nor in the consciousness. All of these aggregates are causally dependent on other 'external' phenomena, and cannot be the ground for a 'fixed' identity.
And such a self is not found separate from the 5 'aggregates' listed, either!
Instead, it's a combination of what an ignorant mind graps as either 'mine' or 'myself'. But such a mind is ignorant because it places arbitrary limits on mine vs. others', limits which don't sustain proper examination!

And most importantly, such a 'self' arises as an idea, a mental object for a consciousness. If the consciousness stops its activity of 'naming' / 'labeling' / 'separating foreground from background' (cf. post 5/12 in this series), if it attains nirvana, then in that moment of cessation there's no 'self' left, and yet there still are the five aggregates (in Theravada doctrine, we'd talk of "nirvana with (karmic) residue": sa-upādisesa-nibbāna in Pali or sopadhiśeṣa-nirvāṇa in Sanskrit).

One way to understand rebirth might be to consider what happens over deep sleep (but it could just as well be during an intense moment of concentration, or an orgasm…). The higher level of 'consciousness' falls away, in that moment, you're not concerned with your past from several years ago, or even with your name! And yet, your entire situation (environment / context / circumstances / conditions) allows you to pick these elements of identity back up, in the future. You don't need to keep repeating your name in your head not to forget it, the information is 'stored' in the whole situation (encoded in your brain, but also on identity papers, and in the brain of people who know you…).
But you cannot assume your name is inherent, or your past (your CV) is. In case of accident (stroke, shock to the head…), you might forget it all. In case of neurodegenerative disease, you might not only forget it all but be unable of even being reminded of it!
You may also realise that nobody calls you by your supposed name; maybe locals simply cannot pronounce 'it' right, after you relocated. Or you may find that no one agrees with you on your past either (e.g. maybe you see yourself as a victim, 'forced' into something, so your ego can avoid the burden of responsibility for a 'bad' deed… while others just see you as a guilty perpetrator, and would therefore contest whatever you see as your identity! And their experience is as legitimate as yours, and they're many while you're alone).

So… long story short, you have a conventional 'self', and you attach a narrative (of a past, of an identity, of who you are) to this illusory 'self' to try to make it more substantial, more real, stronger.
And yet it all fails. You pretend you keep a fixed identity through change of body, through change of ideas and opinions and values, through change of preferences, through coma, lapses in judgement, moments of absence! As a believer in one of the Abrahamic religions or in Hinduism , you pretend you keep a fixed identity through death even!
You pretend all this, but there's nothing you can show for it! Identity is powerless at explaining the past or predicting the future. To use scientific vocabulary, it's unfalsifiable (which you might think is great, but is actually weak: it cannot be proven or disproven, because it has no explanatory or predictive power to show. It's as useful and 'real' as unicorns or Father Christmas: it's a story, a narrative, it might cheaply reassure a childish mind —or a mind burdened by existential anguish— but it fundamentally is just a useless mental fabrication).

Your sense of self perpetually re-arises though a mind ignorantly grasping a situation as 'mine' ('ignorantly', as in the mind embodies a tendency according to which it ought to know who/what it is, it ought to define itself, it ought to label itself, it ought to discern and separate itself from other phenomena).
And, sure enough, there's an apparent continuity for such a 'self'… because all intertwined processes defining the situation, continuously unfolds, and the easiest (thus the likiest) narrative to grasp (as 'your' identity) is the one which was just 'imprinted' in, and was just shaping, reality in the previous moment!
The untrained mind has a tendency to lazily pick up what's easiest to grasp in order to to define itself (and create a representation, a 'self', as a result). This is a key aspect of 'ignorance' (leading to unsatisfactoriness; 'ignorance' as Buddhism defines it, not some lack of knowledge about some facts): the untrained mind experiences anguish and anxiety when it doesn't know, it seeks a reassurance of control through predictability, and first and foremost it seeks a reassurance of knowing "how I should act" (and thus "who I am").
The untrained mind thus prefers creating a narrative about who we are, from whatever disparate elements it can pick up, and then cling to this narrative in order to pretend 'knowing', than facing the unknown and the responsibility of having to figure out the most appropriate and wisest response from moment to moment.
And yet this is just pretending: people regularly 'betray' their supposed core values (when they're too inconvenient), people regularly "don't recognise themselves" in behaviours they've embodied but are not proud of and therefore seek to disown, people cannot predict which thought they'll have next… They don't know themselves, and this is logical: there's no inherent, fixed identity! There's some causal continuity, and a mere appearance of identity through that continuity, but there's no firm ground for this appearance: the situation evolves, the sense of identity evolves, therefore what the identity supposedly points to evolves as well.

OK, and to conclude about the notion of 'self' in Buddhism, then let's make clear that although the self is ultimately an illusion, it is nonetheless conventionally real.
What could 'real' mean thus?
As long as you believe the illusion to be more real than it actually is, this belief itself will seriously bias your judgement, your response to whatever comes into your perception, your preferences, etc. Thus the illusion has consequences in acts (acts in body, in speech, in mind). In this sense, the illusion is real, even if its object is not!
It's just like a lie: if you believe a lie which was told to you, then probably your thoughts, your feelings, your words, your acts will (in good faith, and willingly) be different from what they would be if you didn't believe the lie. The lie didn't change reality directly (so it's an illusion), but it may affect how things will unfold from there (and thus shape the reality to come): it ultimately unreal but conventionally real, and conventions do affect decisions (i.e. conventions act as causes), which in turn have consequences.

So, after revisiting how Buddhism sees the 'self', i.e. as an appearance, possibly giving rise to a convention, a name, a story attached (although the story will evolve… by addition and suppression… and by rewriting, reframing and reinterpretating), rather than as tied to some inherent 'identity' (which cannot be found and has no explanatory or predictive power), now let's look at rebirth.

If you define yourself by whatever you just picked up from the situation as 'yours', then nothing prevents another stream of consciousness (arising from the interplay of phenomena) from defining itself as 'you'.

True, such a simultaneous 'arising' is unlikely to occur in your face… partly because both these 'you' would immediately believe that identity is unique and would immediately reject any other 'you' as an impostor, as not-you!
Neither of 'you' would believe you're the same, but that's because you're both trying to stay internally consistent with the lie that you have a separate 'you', which is inherently 'yours' (cannot be grasped by another), etc.
You're basically denying how this 'you' comes to be in the first place, how it codependently arises by grasping phenomena, discerning apparent 'entities' within a continuum of interdependent processes, and trying to appropriate some discerned elements as 'me' and to dismiss the rest as 'not me'.

When you die though, by definition, you won't be there anymore to contest any claim by another 'you' arising next… who would, just like you did until then, simply grasp at the situation, discern apparent 'entities' within a continuum of interdependent processes, and appropriate some discerned elements as 'me' and to dismiss the rest as 'not me'.
At the time of death, for a moment, there's no "exclusion" mechanism between various streams of consciousness, competing to define —and thus reassure— themselves (as existing as sentient beings 'separate' from others).
Then another 'you' thus arises, from the exact situation/reality you just left (as a result of all your previous contributions, wholesome or not, to the world… and identifying this 'inherited' world as "this is my world, my life"), and from this moment this new 'you' will re-establish some delusional claim of 'identity' and ensure a basic exclusion mechanism (basic, as asylums nonetheless do offer the sight of people believing they're some historical figure or another… thus the intuition of some exclusion mechanism is the way the ego reassures itself, but it's also delusional!).
Rebirth has occurred, and yet no soul needed to travel from an embodiment to the next!

Some people try to reassure themselves at this point, by asserting a nihilistic "well, this future 'me' will not 'really' be me then… so I don't need to live a virtuous life, for his/her benefits… I can ignore rebirth."
That's just a reassurance tainted by a belief that your current 'me' is real and separate.
That's blind to the fact that already you're seeing your existence as 'yours', that you're appropriating the situation you live in as 'your' situation, that you taken things personally… i.e. that you're already appropriating a world as 'yours' even though you're also clear it's been massively shaped prior your birth! You appropriate e.g. 'national' narratives as yours, you appropriate opinions about yourself born from hearing others' opinions about you (possibly by projections on 'your' race, 'your' family…), you appropriate ideas (incl. about how the world 'should' be) which you didn't particularly contribute to shape, etc.
That's also blind to the fact that the future 'me' will totally identify and believe to be 'me'… just like you're currently doing! And so this future 'me' will suffer from a crap world, if this present 'me' creates a crap world (it's irrelevant whether it's a future in this lifetime, or a 'next' one!)… and it's fundamentally a mind believing in the same 'me' as its 'identity', arising moment to moment, from what it grasps as 'me', based on what was left as reality a moment ago!
You'll have the experience of being you, at any point! There's no moment where this stops and becomes another identity… and so rebirth occurs… unless you cease the identification process, unless you stop believing the lie, unless you take a step back and see how the ego arises as an illusion and a form of ignorance seriously biaising the mind's responses (to whatever arises) toward selfish responses, defensiveness, struggles and stress (i.e. the opposite of the "peace" of nirvana).
Rebirth occurs, unless you drop craving and appropriating… notably it occurs unless you drop craving for existence (one of the "ten fetters"). But no, it's not mystical, and it doesn't need a soul to transmigrate. It only needs the usual tendency of the ordinary mind to induce duality, by the unwise discernment of interdependent processes as distinct entities, grasping at fictitious certainties (to reassure itself and pretend things are understood, labelled, put in convenient little boxes, predictable and therefore mostly under control)!

#Buddhism #Dharma
PS: cf. also the "karmic continuation" series (I: capitalism) (II: dualistic views) (III: "the end justifies the means") (IV: arms race) (V: news (Newtown, MA))
[and a follow-up (child marriage)]
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(5/12) Conscious of attaining nirvana

(intro to the series at
Question 5, and its answer provided by the spam:
If achieving “nirvana” means that we will be liberated from the illusion of consciousness, how then will we know (be conscious of) our achieving this “nirvana”? How can we be “conscious” of this, if “consciousness” will no longer exist?

Our existence outside the material, physical world, presumes a conscious existence in which we can “realize” our enlightened condition. How can we be conscious of this if consciousness will no longer exist?

Of all the 12 questions, I guess this one is the most sensible, even if phrased with bias, because it does ask about a difficult point.

First, 'consciousness' in Buddhism is codependently arising: it arises alongside its 'perception', its 'object'. There's no awareness / consciousness without object (possibly reflexive: the awareness of awareness… but this itself is a difficult question in Buddhism —with various answers, depending mostly on whether that's really an awareness of itself in the same moment, or an awareness of what it was the previous moment…).

Second, awareness constantly comes to be then ceases, then another moment of awareness comes to be.
There's a causal continuity… hence an illusion of identity through time, possibly leading to an illusory mental fabrication about having a soul!
The causal continuity arises from the grasping by the awareness of its object as such. The awareness arises with what it grasps as its 'object' (and therefore also what it doesn't take as its object: what it rejects as 'mere background' rather than 'foreground'), and what it grasps as its 'object' is influenced by tendencies, preferences and biases (i.e. by karma) but the effort required to grasp it (according to tendencies and potentials)… and what usually takes the least effort (be it as an object, but also as habits, well-worn tracks, tendencies) is to pick up whatever was just left off, the previous moment!
Hence, the consciousness of an untrained sentient being mostly is "on automatic": in each moment, it just graps what was left from the previous moment… except the context also unfolds and evolves… which leads to: people have an illusion of continuity and of inherent 'being', although they do not actually control what their next thought will be! That's mindlessly following some tracks laid by the mix of unexamined tendencies and of uncontrolled conditions / circumstances… and that's why there's spiritual progress (and why 'concentration' and 'mindfulness' are spokes of the eightfold path) when one has disciplined the mind (e.g. thanks to meditative practices) enough for it not to be any longer a mere victim of circumstances!

The above may seem unrelated to the question, but it's a necessary preamble, because the question assumes pre-existence of a consciousness (with enough of a fixed identity, for it to make sense that the consciousness could see experiences as its 'own' experiences!). The assumption is not inline with what Buddhism teaches.
The question also assumes that a consciousness has to be tied to a specific entity or to a fixed identity, but this isn't necessary: a consciousness requires a supporting 'body', at least one organ of perception (a brain helps, if we're talking of perceiving ideas), but it doesn't require a fixed identity… and indeed the body (which supports the consciousness) evolves, thus conditioning the consciousness differently from moment to moment. [Which explains the 5th precept of Buddhism on not using intoxicants, as they indirectly obscure the mind, through affecting the underlying body!]

The question also makes strong assumptions about what nirvana is, about what the teachings point to. Which again is a difficult question, so that's understandable confusion. And yet… it's both difficult and simple (the Buddha was aware of this: cf.

At this point, I could avoid the nuances and variations that exist between Buddhist traditions… and simply assert that the spammer's question is ill-posed: in nirvana, you 're not aware of it, that's true (in part because 'you' doesn't make sense in that context, nor does 'it' !)… but this doesn't prevent being aware of entering it (upon 'crossing the threshold', just the moment before the cessation of views) and it doesn't prevent being aware of coming out of it (upon grasping a new stimulus —be it a thought, since Buddhism considers 6 senses, not 5, and since the 6th is linked to perceiving ideas).
But this could mislead people, and they'd possibly accept that consciousness / awareness has ceased in nirvana… and the Buddha did not actually assert that!

I'll try to explain this by stating that there's a temporary cessation of some specific activity of consciousness, not of all consciousness: the activity which stops is that which perpetually 'separates' a global continuum of inter-dependent, intertwined 'processes' into separate, distinct, and ultimately illusory, 'entities' (in some contexts, this is referred to as the activity of 'naming' —merely apparent— entities)… Upon attaining nirvana, the mind is thus non-dual, but not blind!
This cessation itself is temporary, but the ability to re-cease it on demand —therefore, when appropriate— is gained permanently.
It matters that cessation is temporary but not the ability to trigger it again (from moment to moment if appropriate): a bodhisattva / buddha can thus re-engage with samsara "whenever (s)he chooses to" —but this happens to also match a non-choice of "when the situation demands it"!— and a bodhisattva / buddha can avoid being trapped in tendencies, can reclaim freedom, at any point through the engagement (just by stopping the 'naming' activity if/when it becomes unhelpful… thus 'resetting' a mental state of being ready to wisely and compassionately intervene afresh, "when the situation demands it")!
Upon returning in samsara (aka. "non-abiding" in nirvana, in Mahayana Buddhism vocabulary), the awakened person might re-use words like "I" —but (s)he sees the shallow conventionality of it and doesn't take it seriously: (s)he does not fall into any entanglement vis-à-vis fame and disrepute (or praise and blame), gain and loss, success and failure, and joy and sorrow [the "eight worldly winds"]. (S)He re-use labels and names, for the sake of being understood by those still lost in believing in firm, distinct entities (SN 1.25).

Nirvana is defined in many ways, but not as a cessation of awareness!

Nirvana is defined as the end of suffering… which might indicate an awareness having another relationship to reality than an untrained awareness —e.g. easily stepping back, seeing the unfolding of life with equanimity (i.e. without qualifying it as pleasant or unpleasant)— rather than no awareness at all.

Nirvana is defined as "seeing phenomena as they are" (which includes seeing the role of the mind in the perception of phenomena, and therefore the responsibility of the mind for the experience. Cf. A key teaching in Seon (Korean Zen) is found in meditating upon the question "what is this?", to get to finally see the mind's role in "this" (among a few other lessons)! Seeing things as they are still calls for seeing, i.e. awareness.

Nirvana is defined as the cessation of greed / lust, hatred / aversion, and ignorance (incl. all cankers and defilements). It's the cessation of the "three fires", or of the "three poisons". There's no contradiction therefore in still having a consciousness, filled with e.g. the four brahmavihara (wise loving-kindness, wise compassion, wise equanimity —not indifference, not blindness—, wise empathetic joy)… That's how Zen defines the "True self" (which is neither a self, nor any sort of stable, inherent identity… oh the joy of vocabulary and pedagogical tricks!), cf.
As a consequence of the cessation of the three fires, Nirvana also equates the cessation of rebirth… which can then be seen as another definition of Nirvana… but the cessation of rebirth is a side-effect really.

Nirvana is defined as peace, with the world at large: upon understanding what causes your experience, you're in a better place to accept it, to shape it, to engage constructively and wisely with it. You don't rush to liking and disliking, then fighting for what you like and against what you dislike. It doesn't mean you're indifferent, but by "not taking things personally", by engaging with reality as it is (rather than some hypothetical "how it should be" —according to who?), you live a life engaged and nonetheless at peace.

Mahayana Buddhism would state this by its (famous and controversial) "nirvana is samsara"… As already mentioned in 2/12 of this series,, "pretty things remain as they are, but the wise remove the desire for them" (SN 1.34) yet pretty things are still perceived… just like the Buddha also perceived its foot injury (SN 1.38). Consciousness doesn't stop upon attaining nirvana, only its 'naming' activity temporarily does.
Thus there can be an experience of non-duality (of oneself and nirvana being one) when attaining nirvana, by which the consciousness knows it has attained nirvana, and the consciousness will be able to state so once coming out of it, back into the 'naming and labeling' mode of existence.

And in fact, it is described many times in the suttas that someone who awakens 'knows' (s)he has attained the goal of holy life!
The question assumes it isn't possible to know so, due to many other misleading assumptions on what consciousness is, and on what nirvana is… but, no, there's no trivial contradiction in Buddhism about that: it's subtle but non-contradictory. Hopefully, the above helps a bit, rather than confuses further, those who seek to see through the subtle… in spite of its own imperfections and shortcuts.

#Buddhism #Dharma #Nirvana
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(4/12) The Karma Judge

(intro to the series at
Question 4, and its answer provided by the spam:
Who is the Karma Judge?

If, as Buddhism teaches, there is no personal God interacting with His creation, who determines whether or not a person has done something to merit either “good” or “bad” Karma? If this decision is made at the end of one’s life, who is actually making the decision? How can an impersonal force “decide” anything? Who is the final judge of Karma, and mustn’t this judge by necessity be a personal being (capable of making a decision)?

OK, in fairness, many people struggle with kamma/karma… Even some Buddhists do!
Every time the Buddhist teachings reached a new place, local distortions first affected the teachings on karma. Sometimes, distortions were later corrected, but not always. Thus, the 'retributive' presentation of karma is still found in Asian countries with strong Buddhist history, e.g. in Japan (a modern example is the discrimination against hibakusha, atomic bomb survivors. Fellow Japanese considered them ineligible for work and marriage: it was assumed the victims somehow “deserved” the trauma of the “unforgettable fire,” so these were surely people with extremely bad karma, a baggage which might bring other calamities to fruition).
And yet, there are minor misunderstandings, nuances… and major misrepresentations! Some misunderstandings tend to associate too strongly karma to individuals, in contradiction with the core doctrine of self-less-ness; some misunderstandings confuse forward-looking teachings promoting ethics with backward-looking excuses not to practice; these are minor and correctable as long as it's still understood that causality doesn't require a 'judge' to unfold! One of the biggest errors, if not The biggest, one can make about karma is demanding a 'judge'.

There's no need for anyone to determine whether or not a person has done something to merit either “good” or “bad” Karma.
First, all intentional acts create karma. Because 'intentional' is sometimes misunderstood as 'conscious', let's precise that this means "all acts biased by a personal agenda"… so there's no need to determine which act will create karma and which won't.
Second, there's no need either to determine which will be "good" and which will be "bad". Funnily, in fact, the very notion of 'good' vs. 'bad' is rejected here by Buddhism, and 'wholesome'/'constructive' vs. 'unwholesome' is preferred. ['constructive' in the sense of supportive of the attainment of nibbana/nirvana, supportive of the cessation of dukkha ].
Any response to a situation is 'wholesome' if it is weakening processes with a tendency to cause suffering down the road; and/or if it is strengthening processes with a tendency to prevent (or weaken) suffering down the road; if it is appropriate to the situation at hand; if it is unbiased by personal preferences, agendas or desires; if it is based on seeing reality as it is, neither through tinted glasses, nor with blind spots… And vice versa.
To know if an act is wholesome or not, understanding dukkha (or 'unsatisfactoriness', or 'suffering'…) is key, which is why understanding dukkha (what it is, how it arises, how it is conditioned, how it ceases…) are the four tasks of the noble one, or why the associated knowledge constitutes the four 'truths' of Buddhism!
What's required here is an understanding of causality, it's not a judgement call and it doesn't require a judge: it requires understanding how the various processes making up a situation will interact and unfold into future experiences by various beings, on a spectrum from very unpleasant to very pleasant. And it takes to consider that no being seeks suffering (even if they often get the unpleasant out of ignorantly, unwisely seeking the pleasant).

How can an impersonal force “decide” anything? Karma is not a force, and it doesn't need to "decide".
Gravity doesn't need to decide on what to apply itself or not, it just affects everything: it might lead to pleasant results (putting the basketball through the net) or to unpleasant results (crashing the plane down). It doesn't make judgements about that. It doesn't 'reward' or 'punish', there's no moral 'value' it considers. It's just a description of observable tendencies. And although we regularly speak of a 'force' in relation to gravity, it isn't really one if you look at it as a consequence of the curvature of spacetime caused by the uneven distribution of mass (which then informs preferential directions or tendencies in spacetime, but isn't "a personal being" grasping with its invisible hands various objects to pull them together…).
In the same way, karma is a description of observable tendencies, in relation to what tends to arise after this-or-that 'intention' has come to be… and also in relation to what cause people to perpetuate intentions, what cause beings to cling to intentions, or what cause the transformation of mere thoughts into full-fledged intentions then acted upon… It's not a force, and there's no entity grabbing sentient beings and pushing them in situation with specific experiences expected from there… it's a description of observable tendencies in relation to intentions.

And frankly, it's sometimes mystifying that people struggle so much with the notion.
Let's assume you don't clean your home. There's no need for a 'judge' or a 'force' for you to end up living in an uncleaned home; there's no cosmic rebalancing either; it's just a direct consequence of prior acts. If you eat unhealthily, you'll most likely end up unhealthy; no need for a judge, it's just a consequence of how various phenomena work, interact, unfold together from moment to moment.
Let's assume you routinely treat others badly. There's no need for a 'judge' or a 'force' for you to end up experiencing their revenge, or at least being little respected, or not receiving help the day you need it, etc; it's just a direct consequence of prior acts (DN 15: feeling ⟹ craving ⟹ seeking ⟹ acquisition / gain ⟹ ascertainment / decision-making ⟹ desire and passion ⟹ attachment ⟹ possessiveness ⟹ stinginess / avarice ⟹ defensiveness / safe-guarding ⟹ various evil, unskillful phenomena (the taking up of sticks and knives; conflicts, quarrels, and disputes; accusations, divisive speech, and lies)).
You lead by example: when you legitimise some unwholesome behaviour (e.g. brutality, or even simply negligence), others might more easily consider it's legitimate to do the same to you… When you delight others with wholesome behaviours, they might indeed be inspired to do the same… You might reap what you sowed, but there's no judge needed: if you plant an apple tree, there's no need for a personal being to decide if you'll get oranges or apples as fruits!

The key point is (intellectually) simple: there's no other world to go to. Even if heavens and hells are part of Buddhist cosmology, they're interdependent with the human realm, they're neither completely separate nor independent. And so, whatever influence (positive or negative, good or bad, wholesome or unwholesome) you have onto the world, will dictate (by causality, without judge) the world you'll have to live in! Simple: no God to take you to heaven and shield you from negative acts, after some judgement balancing good and bad; no God to send you to hell if He dismisses the few good acts drowned by a sea of bad acts. All intentional acts create karma. And [as per episode 3/12 of this series,] it's possible to shape the context in which karma triggered in the past will unfold, thus to affect how karma will be experienced, or even to free oneself from karma!

The difficulty with karma is not intellectual, it's emotional: we naïvely dream of not having to take responsibilities for our mistakes or our poor choices, or we hope for the existence of a God shielding us with His unconditional Love from the consequences of our ignorance, of our selfishness, of our ill-will, of our lapses in moral judgements, of our lack of generosity, etc.
The teachings on karma are emotionally difficult because they reject all these childish hopes, and instead talk about individual responsibility for all our intentional acts.
They're empowering teachings, but they also frighten people by rejecting any easy cop-out or way-out (like an omnipotent God 'forgiving' us, without much reason to do so… just because He loves us sooooooo much that He's become blind?). They're nobody to ask some Grand forgiveness from, some pardon. According to Buddhism, that's simply not how it works. Even if there are gods, in Buddhism, they themselves have to deal with their (mostly wholesome) karma, some of which might lead to unsatisfactoriness (e.g. from witnessing how stupid humans are, even when/after some godly guidance is sent to them… e.g. from witnessing humans turn a guidance on generosity, on community, and on helping the migrants, the poors, and those rejected, into stinginess, the apologia of individual greed and the bigot rejection of others).

#Buddhism #Dharma #karma
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