How to Practice Mindfulness of Death Meditation

While there are certainly more meditations out there that are harder to do, this one is one of the hardest to do well, even for experienced meditators. This meditation, in fact, is more or less insight focused, since it can't be developed very far by means of concentration or be much use for relaxation, but the scope of benefits are vast. Indeed what seems such a grim and depressing meditation has such a beautiful and enlivening aspect that a wise practitioner will examine and put into fruition. Can you master this complex technique?


  1. Image titled Practice Mindfulness of Death Meditation Step 1
    Choose a quiet, peaceful place to meditate and a comfortable posture. The Do Mindful Meditation pages looks at the four postures in a little more detail, but any of the four will do for this subject. This meditation shouldn't be attempted by those in distress, in an unbalanced frame of mind, or those inclined to fantasy and should have a firm grounding of mindfulness.
    • Before starting, the practitioner should recognize that the focus of the meditation is totally objective and scientific, not personalized. Where (eg) loving kindness or goodwill is focused specifically towards individuals and people in mind, this one is not.
    • As with other meditations sincerity is essential, but the practice of virtue is also highly important in this meditation.
  2. Image titled Practice Mindfulness of Death Meditation Step 2
    Firstly consider the many ways this meditation can go astray. Just like many other meditations, this one seldom stays on target and the mind wanders about in a whole scope of ways. The problem is a complicated duality in the mind, part of the mind wants to look into the subject of death, another part wants not only deny it but to stay as far away from the subject as possible. Some examples of many to avoid thinking about are:
    1. The death of yourself in terms of fantasy such as how you'd imagine your funeral, who you would see and what you would like to say to them.
    2. How you will die as it provokes fear and anxiety.
    3. How other people that you love will die, since it will make you sad or anxious
    4. How others will die that you don't like because it will make you feel glad for all the wrong reasons.
    5. Where you and others will go after death. This often causes the most problems as the mind starts to become anxious, or is more likely to become prone to fantasy.
    6. Falling into melancholia, or other emotions such as regret, fear, anger, worry etc. Crudely speaking, if the practitioner feels sad or angry (etc), it is a very clear sign they are not doing it right and so will need to start again.
  3. Image titled Practice Mindfulness of Death Meditation Step 3
    Relax the tension and spend another few moments practicing awareness to become perfectly aware of what is going on in the mind. If it is still unsettled it is best to relax and focus on some aspect such as the breath a bit further, or to move to a different meditation practice, such as mindfulness. Meditation of death can be very depression. Once you feel that you are relaxed, stable and aware start to consider one of all of the following suggestions, keeping consistent awareness in check.
    1. Consider the event of death as having the appearance of an assassin. No matter when or where you are, you won't escape this appointment.
    2. Consider the indifference of the end of life. No matter how successful you are in your ventures, or how much you plan, beg or negotiate there is nothing that can prevent it.
    3. Expand you scope and compare to all peoples. The famous and wealthy, those who do good things, those who are very strong mentally or physically, had perfect health (etc), those with power, technology (etc), were sages, saints, prophets or wise people. None could prevent death. It's not a matter of ability, or attainments or personal status.
    4. Consider how the body is composite and an ecosystem. Your body is host to bacteria in the gut, viruses, parasites, skin flora etc. Likewise composite in the biological sense of blood, flesh etc. These things can keep you alive (in the normal sense) or make you fatally ill if any part becomes infected.
    5. Observe the conditional nature of life. You need food & water, sleep, air, light, the right temperatures (etc), you need the organs and muscles to be able to breath, pump blood, digest food etc. You need the ability to get food and know safety and danger etc. Can you live without them?
    6. Evaluate it can be natural or unnatural. Death may occur in our sleep, or we may be involved in an accident or other event. It can be at our choosing, or without our choosing.
    7. Consider its unpredictability. We will never really know how long life is, when the time comes, how or where. There's no way to properly define how and when with 100% certainty.
    8. Think about the shortness of life. A long life is 90 to 100 years, few live beyond that or even make it that far. Days soon become weeks, months, years etc.
    9. Look at the shortness of the moment. We are only here now, the past is gone and the future isn't here yet. Tomorrow (technically) never comes, there's only the "now", which doesn't stop because people die.
    10. Measure these against you own experiences of people you know that have died. Also expand to understanding that death happens constantly, everywhere on earth something or someone, somewhere is dying right now.
    • This section is about recognizing that everyone experiences a struggle against death at some point or often in their lives either out of fear, despair, anger and other concerns. Nobody wants death when they live happy lives, but it is important to reflect there are many people who do not live happy lives and become either embittered by unhappiness, or experience so much pain they wish to end their lives. Regardless of our own levels of happiness and aspirations, it comes to us all. Regardless of who we are and what wonderful things we may attain, it too will come to us eventually. The fight against it, as well as the feelings about death and what comes afterwards causes so much distress, sorrow and anger in the world and ourselves. The practitioner should question the wisdom of extreme emotions when we may die in a few seconds, days, months, years or decades. The things we cannot predict may be jut around the corner.
  4. Image titled Practice Mindfulness of Death Meditation Step 4
    Start to develop ways of accepting the fact by measuring against your own experiences. Have there been times that death has caused you fear or stress? The important aspect to investigate is that did the wanting to know, wanting to prevent or change already occurred deaths (etc) cause you misery? Ultimately what leads us back every time to the four noble truths is the wanting of things to be, or not to be. The question for the practitioner then to investigate, is does the stress, fear, anger (etc) abate, when that desire is released?
  5. Image titled Practice Mindfulness of Death Meditation Step 5
    Start now to practice ways of improving the well being of your life. While the facts of life may cause of sorrow and despair, it still doesn't need to be so. Some ways of many to improve your happiness and well being are listed as follows, but the practitioner should reflect again that without sincerity, it will be virtually impossible to come to terms and transcend the issues.
    1. Practice virtue. The innocent really do have nothing to fear.
    2. Practice investigative understanding. The wise likewise have nothing to fear as they know that we can hasten illness, unhappiness and injury by living carelessly.
    3. Practice appreciation. When we are unhappy with what we have, by valuing the many things that touch our hearts we balance out the dissatisfaction and we can build appreciation to make it of greater value.
    4. Practice goodwill or loving kindness. Not just to others but ourselves when we fell angry about how we cannot prevent death, or that there isn't someone we can turn to to do it for us.
    5. Practice equanimity. This pulls us back into balance when we run off into fits of emotion. Equanimity is the great balancer.
    6. Practice compassion. Compassion finally reminds us that all beings are in the same boat, bound to the same wheel of life. Only when we understand how we are bound to it will we ever be free of it.


  • The other advantages is a practitioner loses greed and becomes more calm, happy and compassionate, but also more sensible, for they know rushing around madly just does nothing.
  • Like mindfulness of the body, it's a tool to use for those who are afraid, anxious and squeamish. Those who practice it regularly and examine the facts will lose the fear because the inevitable isn't a shock anymore.

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Categories: Breathing and Meditation | Buddhist Meditation