One topic that confuses me is that of rebirth, and how individuality may relate to it.
I've heard/read that the buddhist concept of rebirth is different than the popular concept of reincarnation, though I haven't found a clear explanation of the difference.
One metaphor that I've seem more than once is that of the flame in a candle, that can be transmitted to another candle, the idea being that of a certain continuity.
However, I think that poses a challenge to the idea of individuality. For instance, a flame may be transmitted to another candle, and still exist simultaneously in the first candle. The equivalent in terms of human life would be some content of the mind of Joe being somehow transmitted to another person (or multiple individuals) while still existing in the mind of Joe (that is, during his lifetime).
Also, a flame can be formed from 2 or more sources, for instance, we might use match and a lighter to light a single candle. Conversely, one candle can transmit its flame to several other candles or objects. In terms of humans, that would be like the contents of the mind, or the karma, of Joe, being transmitted to Peter, Mary and Jeff after Joe's death. In that case, if Joe's karma is a mix of good/bad actions, presumably some of his "heirs" could get a good or bad portion of the karma by sheer luck. Also, we might imagine that the karma, or the contents of the minds of three different people, Peter, Mary and Jeff, combine after their deaths and then "land" on a newborn baby, Joe. In that case, If, say, Jeff was a really bad person, but Mary and Peter were really good, then Joe might receive a good "inheritance", and, in that sense, Jeff's bad karma would have been "diluted" by those of Mary and Peter.
What I'm getting at here is that, the way the candle metaphor is presented, it seems to be incompatible with the idea of individuality.
On the other hand, if we think that the karma of Joe will be transferred to some individual being or entity or person after Joe's death, and that Joe's present conditions are affected by the karma of only a single being in the past (as opposed to being the amalgamation of 2 or more karmas), then in this case individuality is preserved. But in that case, how does the concept of rebirth differs or is incompatible with the popular concepts of reincarnation and soul?
If Joe's karma gets transmitted after his death to Jeff, and after Jeff's death his karma gets transmitted to Mary, etc, isn't that tantamount to the idea of a soul? I think some people might object and say that the soul is like a "thing" that has infinite existence, while in the buddhist view there's a constant change, and constant creation of karma. But, to use another metaphor, wouldn't that be like comparing a tree, from the seed stage to a full grown tree? We might say that the full tree is not really the sapling, and the sapling is not the seed it once was, and that is true in one sense, but in another sense, the tree is still the same "being" as the seed. One seed will not generate 2 or more trees, and 2 or more seeds will not combine to form a single tree. Regardless of the definition of "continuity" that we choose, there's clearly a sense of individuality.
Where does buddhism stand on that?