Reflections on Death
Buddhist Hospices & HIV/AIDS

Articles on Death & Dying

by Ven. Dr. Sri Dhammananda

Contemplation on Death

Why should we think about death? Why should we contemplate it? Not only did the Buddha encourage us to speak about death, he also encouraged us to contemplate it and reflect on it regularly. That which is born will die. The mind and body which arise at the time of conception develop, grow and mature. In other words, they follow the process of aging. We call it growing up at first, then growing old, but it is just a single process of maturing, developing, and evolving ultimately towards inevitable death.

Today, according to a world record, about 200,000 people die, on average, every day. Apparently about 70 million people die every year.

We are not used to contemplate death or come to terms with it. What we usually do is to avoid it and live as if we were never going to die. As long as there is fear of death, life itself is not being lived to its fullest and at its best. So one of the very fundamental reasons for contemplating death, for making this reality fully conscious, is that of overcoming fear. The contemplation of death is not for making us depressed or morbid; it is rather for the purpose of helping to free ourselves from fear. The second reason is that contemplation of death will change the way we live and our attitudes towards life. The values that we have in life will change quite drastically once we stop living as if we are going to live forever, and we will start living in a quite different way.

The third reason is to develop the ability to approach and face death in the right and peaceful way. The contemplation of death has three-fold benefits:

  • relieving fear – bringing a new quality to our lives,
  • enabling us to live our lives with higher values;
  • enabling us to die in dignity;
    and, enables us to live a good life and die a good death. What else do we need?

The contemplation on the following factors are encouraged in Buddhism: – I am of the nature to age, I have not gone beyond aging; – I am of the nature to sicken, I have not gone beyond sickness; – I am subjected to my own kamma and I am not free from karmic effects; – I am of the nature to die, I have not gone beyond dying; and – All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will change, will become otherwise, will become separated from me.

When we contemplate this reality with a peaceful mind and bring it into consciousness, it has a powerful effect in overcoming the fear of old age, sickness, death and separation. It is not for making us morbid, rather it is for freeing ourselves from fear. That is why we contemplate death; it is not that we are eagerly looking forward to dying, but that we want to live and die without fear.