All objects, including one’s life, people, and possessions are impermanent. They all change, degenerate, perish and cease to exist.
If we do not realize the impermanence of things we live a life of hallucinations and dreams thinking things will be with us all the time, and we live forever.
Our life is as evanescent as dew on the tip of a blade of grass, and nothing can stop death–no more than anyone can stop the lengthening shadows cast by the setting sun.
What is death according to Buddhism
From the Buddhist point of view, coming to terms with death is part of making our life worthwhile and meaningful.
Death and life are not separate and opposed, but as giving rise to each other. They coexist in a complementary fashion. We do need to conquer death but rather we should try to come accepting it and familiarize ourselves (and every single living being) with the sense of mortality and impermanence.
The Buddhist view is that everything is impermanent, and so death and life are inseparably bound up with each other. Therefore the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice incorporates an acceptance of death and a cultivation of an attitude that does not reject it as something ugly and menacing that steals our life away, and thus something to be pushed aside and ignored.
Death is universal and not an occurrence that selectively targets certain individuals; it affects each and every one of us. While everyone encounters it, the Buddhist tradition underscores the significance of addressing this fear. Although reflecting on death through meditation or contemplation might initially be challenging, engaging in this practice is more beneficial than avoiding it. This is because the fear of death consistently lingers beneath the surface of everything.
Death awareness practice can bring us into balance. In the Dhammapada, it is said that people would never fight or argue if they fully realized they were going to die. As we contemplate death, we can also learn compassion for our enemies.
Everything is Impermanent
Even the cells of our bodies are constantly being born and dying. All of us are inexorably moving toward physical death in every moment. Since every created thing is impermanent, everything we see, hear, touch, taste, love, despise, or desire is in the process of dying. There is nothing to hold onto, so anyone who tries to find happiness among transient created things is doomed to disappointment.
Every moment should be viewed as infinitely precious, and we should make the utmost effort to use our time to the best advantage. We avoid acknowledging it. We deny its existence. We avert our eyes from its presence. We shield little children from its observation and dodge their questions about it. We speak of it only in hushed tones. We consider it horrible, ugly, and grotesque.
We fear death because we love life, perhaps a little too much, and often look only at its favored side.
Meditation on Death
There are two common meditation techniques related to accepting death and being at peace with all the things that are happening in the world around you: Meditation on Impermanence and 9-point Meditation on Death.
Meditation on Impermanence
The goal of this meditation is to understand that all the things around us (and inside us) are constantly changing. When we cling to the idea of impermanence, it becomes easier to deal with life’s challenges because we fully understand that everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever. When death occurs, it might still be a very fearful experience, but with practice, we can aim to maintain that sense of awareness.
How to practice meditation on Impermanence
- Sit in a comfortable position, eyes slightly open. Try to meditate everyday at the same time, preferably the same place as well.
- Spend some time letting your mind settle down in the present moment. Let go of thoughts of the past or the future. Make the decision to keep your mind focused on the meditation-topic for the duration of the meditation session.
- Begin the meditation by observing your breathing, and slowly become aware of the impermanence of your breathing. Each breath is different from the one that came before it, and is different from the one that comes after it. You are breathing in different air with each breath, and your body is changing with each breath: there are different sensations around the nose and inside the nostrils; your lungs expand and contract, your abdomen rises and falls. So in each moment, with each breath, there is change, flux and flow.
- Then think about other changes that are taking place in your body in each moment. Be aware of the movement that is going on each moment: the beating of your heart, the flow of your blood and the energy of your nerve-impulses. On a more subtle level, cells are being born, moving about, dying and disintegrating.
- Then turn your attention to your mind. It too is composed of many parts— thoughts, perceptions, feelings, memories, images— following one after the other, ceaselessly. Don’t cling to anything that you see in your mind, don’t judge or make comments—just observe, and try to get a sense of the impermanent, ever-changing nature of your mind.
- While you are meditating, if at any point you experience a clear, strong feeling of the every-changing nature of things, stop the thinking or analyzing process, and hold your attention firmly on this feeling. Concentrate on it for as long as possible, without thinking of anything else or letting your mind be distracted. When the feeling fades or your attention starts to wander, again return to analyzing the impermanent nature of things.
- Dedicate the positive energy from doing the meditation that all beings will find perfect happiness and freedom from all suffering.
By contemplating and accepting death, we will appreciate life even more.
This meditation points to the possibility of being at ease with and accepting the fact of constant change, while at the same time making the most sensible and selfless use of the present moment.
No matter how much we struggle to attain and retain something we deeply desire, we will ultimately lose it. This truth of impermanence alters our perspective and brings us greater happiness. It enables us to value the life we currently possess—moment by moment. It aids us in comprehending that each day is a blessing.
The Nine-Point Meditation on Death
The purpose of this meditation is not to make you frightened. Being afraid of death alone is not helpful. What is helpful is to fear dying with a negative state of mind and imprints from negative actions you have performed in your life.
Reflect upon each point while seated in a meditation posture, with your eyes closed and your body relaxed.
1️⃣ Everyone has to die.
To cultivate an experience of death’s inevitability, bring to mind people from the past: famous rulers and writers, musicians, philosophers, saints, scientists, criminals, and ordinary individuals. These people were once alive—they worked, thought, and wrote; they loved and fought, enjoyed life and suffered. Eventually, they died. Can you think of an example of someone who was born on this earth but did not die? There are several billion people on the planet right now, but a hundred years from now, all these people—with the exception of a few who are currently very young—will be gone.
2️⃣ Your lifespan is continuously decreasing.
Time never stands still—it continually passes. Focus your awareness for a while on the experience of this uninterrupted flow of time that carries you towards the end of your life.
3️⃣ The amount of time you have for spiritual practice is very limited.
You should start today, now. Calculate how you spend your time: In an average day, how many hours do you sleep? How many hours do you work? How much time do you spend preparing food, eating, and socializing? How much time do you spend feeling depressed, frustrated, bored, angry, resentful, jealous, lazy, or critical? And how much time do you spend consciously trying to improve your state of mind or engaging in beneficial activities, such as helping others, spiritual study, or meditation? Is it enough?
4️⃣ Human life expectancy is uncertain.
Life can end at any point: at birth, in childhood, in adolescence, at any age. Feeling convinced that death could happen at any moment is challenging. We tend to feel secure because we have survived so far. However, thousands of people die every day, and few of them expected it. Cultivate a strong feeling of the complete uncertainty of your own time of death; there is no guarantee that you have a long life ahead.
5️⃣ There are many causes of death.
Recall cases of people you know or have heard about who have died, and contemplate how they died.
6️⃣ The human body is very fragile.
Consider this. Recall instances when you have hurt or injured your body, and realize how easily it could happen again. Through meditating on these next three points, we will develop the determination to begin practicing the spiritual path right now, as the future is uncertain.
7️⃣ Your loved ones cannot help.
The only things that will truly benefit us at the time of death are positive states of mind such as faith, non-attachment, calm acceptance of the changes taking place, loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and wisdom. When we die, we go alone—no one, not even our closest, dearest loved one, can accompany us.
8️⃣ Your possessions and enjoyments cannot help.
Your mind will likely consider your possessions and property, which occupy much of your time during your life and provide pleasure and satisfaction. However, can any of these things bring you comfort and peace at the time of death?
9️⃣ Your own body cannot help.
By meditating on the final three points, we should realize the importance of reducing our attachment to things in this life, such as family, friends, possessions, and our body.
We should also understand the significance of taking care of our mind, as it is the only thing that will continue to the next life.
“Taking care of the mind” means working on decreasing negative states of mind such as anger and attachment, and cultivating positive qualities like faith, loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and wisdom.
Conclude the meditation with the optimistic thought that you possess the potential to make your life meaningful, beneficial, and positive. By doing so, you will be able to face death with peace of mind.
How to Help a Person Who Is Nearing Death
There is a story told of a woman who brought her dead child to Buddha and begged him to bring her child back to life. Buddha asked the woman to bring a mustard seed from a house where no one had ever died. Only then would he grant her wish. Of course, she could not find a household untouched by the pain of death, and she was then struck by the universality of dying.
It is more important to Buddhists to care for the lives of the people all around them than to prolong or extend life when death is unavoidable.
Death is a natural process
Those final moments serve as a springboard for Buddhists into the next life. Some individuals may choose to lie on their right side, emulating the posture of the Reclining Buddha to better contemplate the Buddha and his passing. Having an image of the Buddha close by can also provide comfort and foster positive and peaceful thoughts.
Family and friends should reassure the person of the good deeds they have done and the positive karma they have accumulated. Throughout their lifetime, an individual accumulates karmic forces that activate upon death, determining the auspiciousness of their next life.
Those present during the person’s last hours can also engage in good deeds or make donations in the dying person’s name, sharing the merits with them.
If you are a practicing Buddhist, you can radiate loving-kindness to the person who is dying to help alleviate their suffering and boost their confidence.
Maintain calmness; avoid weeping or openly grieving in the presence of the dying person. You need not ignore or deny your grief; just compose yourself as you assist your loved one in facing death with serenity.
When our final day arrives, we should accept it and not perceive it as something strange. There is no other way.
If possible, Buddhist practitioners should use their time now to prepare for their next lives. Bodhichitta practices and specific tantric practices are beneficial for this purpose.
According to tantric teachings, at the time of death, there’s the eight-stage dissolution of the elements – the grosser levels of the body’s elements dissolve, followed by the dissolution of the more subtle levels. Tantric practitioners need to incorporate this into their daily meditation.
Death is inevitable, as the cause of death is not illness or an accident, but birth itself.
Powerful Buddhist Mantras to Recite for a More Fortunate Rebirth
“Reciting mantras or names of the Buddhas, names of the lamas can also be recited at the time of dying. We have lots of trainings on concentrating our mind say, on Buddha Amitabha or Chenrezig, or your own lama, or a great master.”
“Reciting mantras or names of the Buddhas, names of the lamas can also be recited at the time of dying. We have lots of training on concentrating our mind say, on Buddha Amitabha or Chenrezig, or your own lama, or a great master.”
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
By offering prayers, mantras, and other practices at this time, it helps to comfort and guide the deceased through their passing, through the post-death state, into a state of greater peace and clarity.
Amitabha (his name means infinite radiance) is an archetypal Buddha who is supremely important in Far Eastern Buddhism. He represents love and compassion, and he is pictured as being the rich, warm color of the setting sun.
The Amitabha Mantra is also known as the Rebirth Mantra.
Om Ami Deva Hrih
Medicine Buddha Mantra
The Medicine Buddha, originating from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is a healing deity. Various cultures incorporate healing deities or rituals, and the Medicine Buddha holds a significant place as a practice for addressing physical, mental, and emotional ailments. Its potency increases further when practiced collectively, with participants directing their focus toward loved ones or individuals in need of healing.
TADYATHA / OM BHAISHAJYE BHAISHAJYE MAHA BHAISHAJYE [BHAISHAJYE] RAJA SAMUDGATE SVAHA
Mantra of Chenrezig – Bodhisattva of Compassion
Chenrezig, also recognized as Avalokitesvara, referred to as “One who gazes with unwavering eyes,” stands as the most esteemed among all Bodhisattvas, encompassing the compassion of every Buddha. This deity attentively hears the pleas of all sentient beings during moments of adversity and hardship.
OM MANI PADME HUM
NAMO RATNA TRAYAYA / NAMA ARYA JÑANA SAGARA / VAIROCHANA VYUHA RAJAYA / TATHAGATAYA / ARHATE SAMYAK SAMBUDDHAYA / NAMA SARVA TATHAGATABHYA / ARHATEBHYA / SAMYAK SAM BUDDHEBHYA/ NAMA ARYA AVALOKITESHVARAYA / BODHI SATTVAYA / MAHA SATTVAYA MAHA KARUNI KAYA / TADYATHA / OM DARA DARA / DIRI DIRI / DURU DURU / ITTI VATE / CHALE CHALE / PRACHALE PRACHALE / KUSUME KUSUME VARE / ILI MILI CHITI JVALA APANAYE SVAHA
You can also practice Maranasati (Pali Cannon) – mindfulness of death. Maranasati is a Buddhist meditation of keeping in mind that death can happen at any time. We shouldn’t waste any time, and start practicing Dharma right now.
10 Must-Read Books About Death
Death is a part of our lives. Every sentient being is changing and decaying every moment. Death is coming closer and closer from the moment we are born.
To help you to understand what death is and how not to be scared of it, Buddha Land prepared a list of 10 books with links that will help you along the way:
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
In this classic scripture of Tibetan Buddhism—traditionally read aloud to the dying to help them attain liberation—death and rebirth are seen as a process that provides an opportunity to recognize the true nature of the mind. This translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead emphasizes the practical advice that the book offers to the living. The insightful commentary by Chögyam Trungpa, written in clear, concise language, explains what the text teaches us about human psychology. This book will be of interest to people concerned with death and dying, as well as those who seek greater spiritual understanding in everyday life.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
A newly revised and updated 25th Anniversary edition of the internationally bestselling spiritual classic, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by Sogyal Rinpoche, is the ultimate introduction to Tibetan Buddhist wisdom. An enlightening, inspiring, and comforting manual for life and death that the New York Times calls, “The Tibetan equivalent of [Dante’s] The Divine Comedy,” this is the essential work that moved Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions, to proclaim, “I have encountered no book on the interplay of life and death that is more comprehensive, practical, and wise.”
Making Friends with Death
In Making Friends with Death, Buddhist teacher Judith Lief, who’s drawn her inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, shows us that through the powerful combination of contemplation of death and mindfulness practice, we can change how we relate to death, enhance our appreciation of everyday life, and use our developing acceptance of our own vulnerability as a basis for opening to others. She also offers a series of guidelines to help us reconnect with dying persons, whether they are friends or family, clients or patients.
No Death, No Fear
With hard-won wisdom and refreshing insight, Thich Nhat Hanh confronts a subject that has been contemplated by Buddhist monks and nuns for twenty-five-hundred years— and a question that has been pondered by almost anyone who has ever lived: What is death?
In No Death, No Fear, the acclaimed teacher and poet examines our concepts of death, fear, and the very nature of existence. Through Zen parables, guided meditations, and personal stories, he explodes traditional myths of how we live and die. Thich Nhat Hanh shows us a way to live a life unfettered by fear.
Japanese Death Poems
“A wonderful introduction the Japanese tradition of jisei, this volume is crammed with exquisite, spontaneous verse and pithy, often hilarious, descriptions of the eccentric and committed monastics who wrote the poems.” —Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
Although the consciousness of death is, in most cultures, very much a part of life, this is perhaps nowhere more true than in Japan, where the approach of death has given rise to a centuries-old tradition of writing jisei, or the “death poem.” Such a poem is often written in the very last moments of the poet’s life.
Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death
A Buddhist teacher draws from her years of experience in caring for the dying to provide inspiring lessons on how to face death with courage and compassion.
The Buddhist approach to death can be of great benefit to people of all backgrounds—as has been demonstrated by Joan Halifax’s decades of work with the dying and their caregivers. A Zen priest and a world-renowned pioneer in the care of the dying, Halifax has helped countless people face death with courage and trained caregivers in compassionate end-of-life care.
Leaning into Sharp Points: Practical Guidance and Nurturing Support for Caregivers
Whether you’re coping with a loved one who has received a terminal diagnosis, has a long-term illness or disability, or suffers with dementia, caregiving is challenging and crucial. Those who face this responsibility, whether occasionally or 24/7, are brushing up against life’s sharpest point. In this book, Stan Goldberg offers an honest, caring, and comprehensive guide to those on this journey. Everyone wants to “do the right thing,” and this book provides the often-elusive how-to — from bedside etiquette to advice on initiating difficult conversations, caring for oneself while caring for another, navigating rapid changes in your loved one’s condition, and even offering “permission” for them to die. Goldberg’s stories demonstrate how to address the most difficult topics and will facilitate more open and useful communication and caregiving.
Death and Art of Dying in Tibetan Buddhism
Milarepa, the prince of yogis used to sing: “The fear of death has led me to the snowcapped mountains. On the uncertainty of the moment of my death, I have meditated Thus I have reached the immortal stronghold of true essence My fear has vanished into the distance.”
Later, the great Sufi poet, Jalal Od-Din Rumi was to say: “Our death is our wedding with eternity.”
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Graced with opening words by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, the Penguin Deluxe Edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead is “immaculately rendered in English both graceful and precise.” Translated with the close support of leading contemporary masters and hailed as “a tremendous accomplishment,” this book faithfully presents the insights and intentions of the original work. It includes one of the most detailed and compelling descriptions of the after-death state in world literature, practices that can transform our experience of daily life, guidance on helping those who are dying, and an inspirational perspective on coping with bereavement.
Bardo Teachings: The Way Of Death And Rebirth
Bardo Teachings gives readers a precise and vivid description of the way of death and rebirth. It contains a wealth of heretofore untranslated material on the Tibetan presentation of the process of dying, the nature of the intermediate state after death, and the process of taking rebirth.
This modest but carefully produced book presents the essence of the Tibetan Book of the Dead in a digestible form.