[念死 Mindfulness of Death] 修行的第一关 The first gateway of practice

As I get older, I encounter more deaths around me - especially that in my family and my circle of friends.

Whereas previously I would lament and be sad and even make effort to dispel and avoid thinking about it, I am now beginning to see the positive in contemplating death.

Taken from Master Ri-Chang’s daily discourse (snippets from his Lamrim Commentary), his wise words are good reminders to me on how one can cope with impermanence.

The series on this topic can be found here:

I guess most Buddhists understand the concept of impermanence. However, what is a good way to keep this at the top of our mind such that it motivates us not to make the 千年计划, and focus on our own spiritual cultivation?

We tend to drift back into our daily routines after a while… :sob:

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We can take a leaf from the Bhutanese in their practice of contemplating death :muscle:

When I read news such as this, it reminds me that impermanence is all around us and that it can strike at any moment.:

Contemplate about death for 5x a day… Wow. I guess that is forcing us to be ready for the moment we cease to exist.

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Yes, I agree we have to look at the positivity of the natural phenomenon - impermanence. I guess besides mindful of the fact that death can hit us any time, it’s also a reminder that we do what we can, when we can, with what we can without being overly focused on the results. If we were to know that the current breath that we draw in now would be our last, how will we treasure the present moment to do the best we can for ourselves and for the people around us?

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This is a good morning ritual by HH which we can adopt in our daily contemplation.

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My takeaway from Venerable’s talk is that Mindfulness of Death is not meant to be a frightening thing nor a pessimistic approach.
it is one that can drive us in our practice, thus it is a positive thing, an optimistic thinking
…that we have the chance to change while we are alive using the practice of Dharma.

The purpose of practicing “Mindfulness of Death” is to remind us that our current life does not last forever, and since as Buddhist we believe in rebirth, then we need to prepare ourselves for our next life and beyond.

This is like how we do financial planning. If we think about our old age and life after retirement when we have no income, we got to prepare for that by starting a savings plan now. If we do not think about our future, our old age, we will just spend all our money, and thus suffer the consequences in our old age.

Mindfulness of Death motivates us to do even longer term planning, beyond old age, death and into our future lives. Add the element of “impermanence” to it, and it will motivate us to start our preparations immediately without delay.

Perhaps for a start, whenever we do or review our retirement and financial planning, we should also think about “death and future life planning”.

I personally find it useful to ask myself whenever I am doing spiritual practice or attending class “Why am I doing this?”. My answer usually will lead me to “Mindfulness of death” and life after death.

Without thinking about death and beyond, sometimes it is really difficult to want to come for Dharma class or do spiritual practice when we are occupied by our daily routines and immediate concerns.

So thinking about death is especially useful when I find myself wanting to give up spiritual practice for some immediate short term enjoyment. Because if you really think about it, all the possessions and enjoyment of this life doesn’t prepare us at all for our future lives. The only tangible preparation is spiritual practice which sometimes may require us to give up some short-term enjoyment and benefits for longer term happiness.

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I think most of us will not wish to think about what happens if we or our loved one get into a medical situation - like being admitted to hospital in an emergency case or needing to be warded in ICU (Intensive Care Unit).

But with the practice of “Mindfulness of Death” and impermanence in mind, it can be a good thing to prepare for such eventualities.

This video series by Channelnewsasia can help in that:
Doctors of the children’s ICU: A rare peek inside their world

There are 5 episodes and I have watched the first episode.
Seeing how the patients and their family members cope with their brush with death is a sobering experience.
Also, a good chance to rejoice at the care and dedication of the doctors and nurses in the hospitals!

We are probably aware of the Chinese saying: 五福临门 and may have just used it when wishing people in the Chinese New Year just passed.

I remember 如得法师 bringing this saying up in one of his discourses:

Venerable mentioned the 5 blessings and that a good death was of much importance to the Chinese.

Curious, I went to Google what 五福临门 meant.

Roughly translated as Longevity, Wealth, Peace, Good Morals & A Good Final Stage Of Life

‘长寿’是命不夭折而且福寿绵长 > Longevity

‘富贵’是钱财富足而且地位尊贵。> Wealth

‘康宁’是身体健康而且心灵安宁。> Peace

‘好德’是生性仁善而且宽厚宁静。> Good Morals


Point of all this for me…that our forebears had death pretty much in mind so much that they consider it as one of the blessings. :muscle:

I got to read about a person’s experience with cancer from Mothership:

The article has since been removed out of respect for the family. However, from the link, you can still access her blog posts.

Which led me thinking…whether we really do need to be near our end (either from sickness or age) before we can be genuinely mindful of death and thus driven to use our remaining time purposefully.

My 班长 mentioned this practice of 四道人生 that one can apply when one is near death.

Reference: http://www.commonhealth.com.tw/blog/blogTopic.action?nid=1543

四道人生 > 道謝、道愛、道歉、道別
The four components will be (1) give thanks; (2) give love; (3) apologise; and (4) say farewell

I find it encapsulates when one can do before we move on to the next life.

Master Ri-Chang mentioned this in his Lamrim Commentary Track 75b:


My interpretation:
With “Mindfulness of death” firmly established, we can start observing our train of thoughts and work on being in control of our next thought.
Then, when death comes, it will be the same situation - death being the next thought after life.
This is what we should be practising.

A piece of advice from His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

Look at death as part of life, sooner or later it will come.
Now what’s important is while we are alive, our daily life should be meaningful.
Meaningful means, if possible, help others.
If not, at least restrain in harming others


This quote from the article is useful to me:

“A good death, ultimately, is about living well, right till the very end.”

And to do is to accept death as part of life - the sooner the better.

I think the awareness of death is important. However, instead of waiting for death, we could be making better use of our remaining time - helping others, contemplating, preparing…

Death affects all, whether the normal man on the street or celebrities.

I like his quotes:

“For me, that just made things a lot clearer,” he added."Look! I don’t have time. Life is too short to worry and worry what people think about you and say about you.

“I think it’s important for all of us to try our best, to be able to look ahead, to try not to dwell too much in the past,” he added.

Here is wishing his family all the best.


I came across this article:

Although it comes from a secular approach, I think it is still useful as a reference in our practice.

sharing another article that I find gives a peek into one’s mental state when one is certain that death is coming:

I like this quote from the author:

What makes us change is when something is taken away from us that we feel entitled to. Our bodies are rented. This day is rented. Nothing will stay. And if we live from a mindset of “I am entitled to this,” “I deserve this,” at some point we get stuck trying to hold onto something that is not ours, that is no longer there, and have to change.

It feels to me quite aligned to Buddhist principles.