On Buddha's Teachings on the Mindfulness of Death

Sharing Among the Kalyanamitras II

Everything is impermanent, marked by birth, aging, death, joy, sorrow, pain, grief and despair. Everything is in the process of becoming and dying. Mindfulness of Death is reflection on the inevitability of death, that life is impermanent, How to practice meditation and cultivate mindfulness of death? By way of the three roots, nine reasons, and three decisions, according to Buddha's teachings, as given in the table below.

Satipatthana Sutta describes decomposition of a dead body in vividly graphic forms, 'a corpse...bloated, livid, oozing matter...a fleshless skeleton smeared with blood, held together with sinews...disconnected bones scattered in all directions, …..' In each visualization, the monk is required to compare his own body, both internally and externally, with that of a decaying corpse and to acknowledge that the same awaits him too!

Mindfulness of Death (I) in Anguttara Nikaya: The Discourse Collection in Numerical Order (An Anthology) Part III: Book Eight to Eleven
Once the Blessed One addressed the monks as follows,
"Mindfulness of death, monks, if cultivated and frequently practiced, brings great fruit, great benefit; it merges in the Deathless, ends in the Deathless. Therefore, monks, you should cultivate mindfulness of death."

How to cultivate and meditate on the subject of death: Maranasati'mindfulness of death
Practising Maranasati helps alert us to the preciousness of being alive and to treasure it by living life well and meaningfully. If we practice mindfulness of death, we will then be more aware of death and develop a sense of urgency in life that prompts us to do good while we can in the time we have before the end comes. We should recall,
"We surely are going to die someday, death is certain, there is no time for wasting… be ever mindful of death while we are alive that death comes atany time, whether in youth or old age."

We should chant the words, "maranam, maranam or death, death". This will serve to remind us that we must certainly die someday.
Death is all-powerful. We can never know what diseases or Karma will bring us, nor can we know the time we will die. So the Buddha regularly exhorted, "make haste in doing good"
Practising meditation is a good activity. So do not wait to do good since life is impermanent.

Thus contemplating death, the restless mind will become calm and will be disillusioned with false thoughts and ideas about life and death. In order to get the best results from being mindful of death, it is advised that the following three factors be considered:

1. Maintain mindfulness during recollections of death (keeping the mind fully alert);
2. Have a sense of urgency about death and its inevitability;
3. have a clear understanding (nana) that one is sure to die.

A true story from my own experience of near-death:

When I was eight years old, I was so sick with hemorrhagic fever that I was admitted, operated on and treated in ICU. After being anaesthetized but before the operation, I remembered the advice of my mother to chant the mantra:

"Daughter, you have to memorize the mantra; recite Bud-Dho and call up the image of the Buddha; don't forget to chant every moment that you are conscious."

I chanted. During the operation, I remembered that I was recollecting the Buddha by chanting the mantra "Bud-Dho". Did my spirit leave my body? I knew only that I stood in front of the operations room. I saw three or four persons led by a big man who was their leader, all of them looked so haggard and drawn. I wanted to know where they were going. I walked behind and followed them. The big man looked at me and commanded as he pointed to the operations room,
"Kid, my book doesn't have your name. Don't follow me! You have to go back"

I believed him and I returned and stood in front of the operations room. And then, I was unconscious. I didn't know how long had I lost my consciousness?
Then, I heard my mother spoke with someone. Her voice seemed worried about me. And then, I regained my consciousness, I survived. I am alive.
From this experience, I learned that life is uncertain because you cannot know the time of death; you know that you will die, death is certain, but one cannot know the day of one's death. However, at the moment of death, one would not have time enough for spiritual practice; cultivating mindfulness of death while we are alive is very important.