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Death and Buddhism

Death awaits all of us. But if we learn to acknowledge and embrace impermanence, we’ll be much better off when the time comes.

The literature on death and dying has been growing considerably, and people are actually talking about it more and more, while handling the practical fact less and less.


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


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.

Life without death is impossible, and vice versa, and 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.

The Buddhist view is that everything is impermanent, and so death and life are inseparably bound up with each other, at all times in fact, even while we live, as the aging process itself is viewed as a part of the dying process.

Death is all-pervasive and not something that happens, sometimes, to particular people, but it happens to every one of us. Everybody experiences it, but an important difference in the Buddhist tradition is the emphasis on working with that fear. While meditation or contemplation on death can be very confronting initially, we will be far better off for doing it than not, precisely because the fear of death is always there, underlying everything.


Death awareness practice can bring us into balance. In the Dhammapada, another great teaching of the Buddha, 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.


Meditation on Impermanence

Remember of the impermanence of everything (any everyone) and try to meditate on it. If we know what’s going on, it is likely to be far less confrontational. If we have felt impermanence, then tragedies are easier to deal with because we fully grasp that all is impermanent and nothing lasts forever. When death occurs, it may still be a very fearful experience, but we may be able to maintain that sense of awareness.

Sit in a comfortable position, eyes slightly open. (Try to meditate everyday at the same time, preferably the same place as well).

Contemplate each of these points:

  • Death is certain

  • No power in the universe can stop death

  • Every person born will have to die, also great Bodhisattvas, yogis and Buddhas

  • In 100 years from now nearly everyone alive today will be dead

  • We cannot run away from death, there is nowhere we can escape to

  • Even if we are very wealthy, we cannot bribe death

  • Even if we are very strong and powerful, we cannot defeat death

  • Even if we have miraculous powers and clairvoyance, we cannot evade death

  • One gets closer to death every minute

  • With each moment of our life that passes, we come closer to death

  • From the time of our birth onwards, we are racing towards death

  • With each breath we take, we come closer to death

While still alive free time to practice good will, compassion and good deeds is extremely limited. If we live for 75 years, one third is spent sleeping. The rest is spent working, eating, quarreling, shopping, traveling, watching tv, etc.

When we are really young we out off our Dharma practice till later. When we are middle-aged we are too distracted by other things. When we are old we look back with regret that we didn’t practice and didn’t do good things.

So don’t waste your time!

We should learn to celebrate life for its reality. We will then appreciate its message of being in a constant process of renewal and regeneration without holding back, like everything and with everything, including the mountains, stars, and even the universe itself undergoing continual change and renewal.

This 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.

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, and so anyone who tries to find happiness among transient created things is doomed to disappointment.

Every moment should be viewed as being infinitely precious, and we should make the utmost effort to use our time to the best advantage.


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