Karma & Rebirth

On this page I will link to my essays on various topics related to the Buddhist afterlife. This will include the subjects of karma and rebirth.

Subheadings: Afterlife Generally | Karma & Rebirth | The Interim Realm | Vitalism


Afterlife Generally

Yama and Hell. (13 Mar 2015) History of the myth of Yama and development of the idea of hell in India (with possible connections to Iran and Zoroastrianism). 
Rebirth in the Ṛgveda. (27 Feb 2015) Joanna Jurewicz's discovery of a reference to rebirth in the Ṛgveda and its implications for Buddhist history. 
Harvey's Early Buddhist 'Life Principle' or 'spirit'. (13 Feb 2015). In his 1995 book The Selfless Mind, Peter Harvey argues that early Buddhists believed in a jīva or spirit. I examine this Vitalist claim and find it rests on a doubtful method of reading the texts. 
There is No Life After Death, Sorry. (16 Jan 2015). Recapitulation of an argument by physicist Sean Carroll invoking the second law of thermodynamics to show that an afterlife is not possible under the laws of physics.
Origin of the Idea of the Soul. (11 November 2011) Reviewing Thomas Metzinger's ideas on how out-of-body experiences (and similar) led to ontological dualism and the idea of a soul.
A Taxonomy of Afterlife Beliefs. (17 June 2011) An outline of a way of categorising afterlife beliefs based on the destination after death, rather than by religion. Highlights similarities and differences.
Rebirth Eschatologies. (15 October 2010) Overview of rebirth based on Imagining Karma by Gananath Obeyesekere.

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Karma & Rebirth

The Citta Bottleneck (1 Jul 2016). The Doctrine of Momentariness axiom that cittas can only occur one at a time cannot account for experience or phenomena.
Karma and Rebirth: The Basics. (6 May 2016). A brief account of the minimal common features of all karma and rebirth theories, along with an outline of disputed features and problems.
In Conversation about Karma and Rebirth (6 Nov 2015) Some notes on my interview on the Imperfect Buddha Podcast.
Supernatural Monitors and the Buddha (11 Sep 2015) Relating ideas from evolutionary psychology of religion to Buddhism. Draws particularly on Robin Dunbar and Ara Norenzayan. 
Why Are Karma and Rebirth (Still) Plausible (for Many People)? Part II. (21 Aug 2015) Part II moves on to the idea of minimally counter-intuitive concepts and more specifics on how the agent detection and theory of mind modules make disembodied consciousness seem plausible.
Why Are Karma and Rebirth (Still) Plausible (for Many People)? Part I.(14 Aug 2015). Two part essay applying insights from Justin L. Barrett's book Why Would Anyone Believe in God. Part I looks at the idea of reflective and non-reflective beliefs.
Alternate Karma Theory? (12 Jun 2015) An exposition karma from the Karajakāya Sutta (AN 10.219; v.299-301)... "The gist of the story is that by dwelling in the fully developed brahmavihāras a practitioner may become a once returner. That one who practises the brahmavihāras will not be touched by disappointment (dukkha). And that karma all ripens in this life, it does not follow on. It is this last part which is the most interesting."
Critiquing Buddhist Karma (22 May 2015) A summary and exploration of Griffiths, Paul J. (1982) Notes Towards a Critique of Buddhist Karma Theory. Religious Studies 18: 277-291
Sarvāstivāda Approach to the Problem of Action at a Temporal Distance. (02 May 2014)
Will the Dalai Lama Reincarnate? (10 Apr 2015). The wealth and power associated with the office of Dalai Lama is such that without a reincarnation a serious crisis would ensue as contenders sought to fill the power vacuum and control the wealth and property associated with the office - including that in Tibet and elsewhere.
Further Problems in Karma Theory: Continuity and Discontinuity. (27 Mar 2015). "on face value sañña-vedayita-nirodha constitutes a discontinuity. And in bridging that conceptual discontinuity, Buddhists seem to be trapped in one or both of two fallacies: they end up creating a continuity with eternalist overtones; or the solution is not internally consistent."
The Logic of Karma (16 Jan 2015). Logical proof that theories of karma, as formulated in various Buddhist texts, are not valid because they either break axioms on which karma itself is based, or they break the deeper axioms of anātman or pratītyasamutpāda. Simplistic models do not scale up. 
Note: The problem of Action at a Temporal Distance is briefly that karma demands effects from conditions that have ceased to exist, while pratītya-samutpāda forbids this. 
Action at a Temporal Distance in the Theravāda. (22 August 2014)
Thinking Like a Buddhist about Karma & Rebirth. (18 April 2014) Critiquing popular views about karma & rebirth.
Experience and Free Will in Early Buddhism. (04 April 2014) Karma not responsible for everything; niyāmas as an attempt to understand unseen processes in terms of seen: seeds and seasons.
Unresolvable Plurality in Buddhist Metaphysics. (17 Jan 2014). An exploration of the problem of the moral force of karma in the absence of personal continuity.
Does Karma Break the Rules? (17 May 2013) My first attempt at an outline of the problem of Action at a Temporal Difference.
How Buddhist Rebirth Changes Over Time. (15 June 2012) Some early history of the idea of rebirth.
Rebirth & Buddhist Fundamentalism. (04 May 2012) Critique of an apologetic for rebirth published by bhikkhu Thanissaro. Critical of arguments from scripture.
Ātman, Ego, and Rebirth. (06 April 2012) Translation and discussion of Yavakalāpi Sutta S 34.248 "Therefore, even if you do believe in rebirth, there is no advantage in thinking about it or talking about it, and considerable disadvantage in doing so..."
Rebirth is Neither Plausible nor Salient. (27 January 2012) Culmination of a process of thinking about rebirth and the supernatural. Argues that belief in rebirth is not necessary for the practice of Buddhism.
Rebirth and the Scientific Method. (01 October 2010) Retort to the claim by some to study reincarnation scientifically. Outline of the kind of evidence for rebirth that would be convincing.
Is Karma responsible for Everything? (23 January 2009) Debunking a particular reading of the Vāseṭṭha Sutta which implies that karma is the cause of everything we experience (pubbekata-hetu-diṭṭhi).

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The Interim Realm

Gandharva and the Buddhist Afterlife. Part II. (9 Jan 2015) A critical examination of the gandharva as being-in-waiting in Buddhist sources. 
Gandharva and the Buddhist Afterlife. Part I. (2 Jan 2015) An exploration of Brahmanical sources for possible predecessors to the Buddhist gandharva. Finds parallels of minor deity, but no sign of a role in conception or rebirth - thus this is a Buddhist innovation. 
Manomayakāya: Mahāyāna Sources. (19 Dec 2014) explores some of the more popular Mahāyāna sutras and some Yogācāra śāstra texts. 
Manomaya Kāya: Other Early Texts. (12 December 2014) use of manomaya kāya in some of the non-Pali early Buddhist texts. A fault line becomes apparent around antarābhava
Manomaya Kāya: Pali Texts. (5 December 2014) Manomaya kāya: primarily a group of devas, but also a kind of body (analogous to a deva) magically created in fourth jhāna. Not ontologically different from caturmahābhūta kāya
Manomaya: Background to Mind-Made Bodies. (28 November 2014) How the word manomaya is used in Vedic and Pali. Largely a description of devas in Pali. 
Arguments For and Against Antarābhava. (14 November 2014) Buddhist metaphysics is bifurcated. On one hand Theravādin metaphysics of karma refuse an antarābhava and fall apart if there is on (which doesn't stop Theravādins believing). Other schools, especially Sarvāstivādins and their successors, including Vasubandhu, demand an antarābhava to account for rebirth. 
The Antarabhava or Interim State as a Vitalist Concept. (11 July 2014)
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Vitalism

Why Artificial Intelligences Will Never Be Like Us and Aliens Will Be Just Like Us. (27 June 2014)
Spiritual III: Demesnes of Power. (20 June 2014) The politics of Vitalist approaches to religion.
Spiritual II: Frames. (13 June 2014) The language of "spiritual" and how it frames the discussion about religion and the afterlife in Vitalist terms.
Spiritual I: The Life's Breath (06 June 2014) Origins of the word "spirit" in ancient Vitalist conceptions of what life is and what constitutes a living thing.
Crossing the Line Between Death and Life (30 May 2014)
Vitalism: The Philosophy That Wouldn't Die (23 May 2014) Introduction to relevant aspects of Vitalist thought.

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