Marana Sati, Mindfulness of Death

So we are going to explore ways in which marana-sati mindfulness of death can be a support and can shift our relationship to our mortality. Working with mortality not against it can be profoundly transformative. We come to our mortality as a gift not as an opponent.

Firstly - one gift of marana-sati is that it aligns life with our values. Many of us today suffer from a misalignment problem. What your real preferences or values actually are and how you end up spending your precious time.

We may say one thing to ourselves about what we really value, but end up spending time in ways that contradict who we feel we really are at our deepest level. The answer it seems is to find a real solution through being aware of the scarcity of time – how brief life actually is.  It does not lie with making endless New Year resolutions which are rarely lived up to, for long. One needs a constant reminder of impermanence and scarcity of time.

Another gift is that mindfulness of death will support us to live without fear of death for our own sake.

And thirdly maranasati helps us live without fear of death for our loved one’s sake.

I don’t know if you have been present with somebody who is in the process of dying, or when they die. but if we are afraid of death it is sometimes difficult to be fully intimately present to what is unfolding and support that person with compassion and loving kindness.

Mindfulness of death sharpens our lived experience moment to moment. Remembering this could be my last breath.

It can awaken us in life through practicing not clinging, reminding ourselves of impermanence, the fleeting transitoriness of life. Nothing is truly ours – we are just passing through.

It is a gift in preparing us to die fearlessly as a gift to ourselves; to prepare to die consciously at the moment of death. We die in peace with open acceptance.

And we die fearlessly as a gift to our loved ones not to die with fear.

We can awaken into the deathless, which we touched on earlier, fully letting go into the deathless can be a liberating moment.

Marana-sati can also nurture gratitude and appreciation for this human life – the wonder of being alive and the miracle that the book of your life was written at all, so there is little room for complaint – life is short so make it a good story.

On The Broken Cup

The Thai teacher Ajahn Chah spoke of the broken cup – here is a quotation:

You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns….but when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over, and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, “Of Course.”When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

This notion of fragility is connected with the beautiful Japanese aesthetic called wabi sabi. It developed during 16th century and celebrated the beauty of imperfection. It avowed voluntary simplicity, rejected extravagance or artificiality, and striving after perfection.

The gold seams appear in a cup that has been repaired. When a bowl or cup, often ceramic, became old and cracked or broken it was greatly prized – not thrown away for a shining new one. So cracks were mended with a gold seam, so the cracks showed even more as evidence of its age, and its years of use.

It came to birth as a denial of the Chinese ideal of a relentless pursuit of perfection. And it might have something to teach us amidst a world characterized by a relentless pursuit of technological perfection and control. We live in a world where nature is plundered for our convenience, a world governed by our perception of ourselves as separate individuals who are endlessly perfectible, who live in an artificial world of concrete objects in very bright light, a world that in many ways epitomizes a wholesale denial of death, mortality and decay, of change and transiency, where beauty is essentially imperfect since it ages and is transient.

A bittersweet pathos suffuses the aesthetic notion of wabi sabi which celebrates imperfection, and finds beauty in the flaws of things, things unfinished, chipped, worn away, abraded, not only things but people too: our scars, our bruises, our wrinkles, imperfections and flaws. It is a rebellion against the false expectations of being perfect, of aspiring to a cosmetic beauty that hides from imperfection and mortality. It restores to us the right to make mistakes, to honour error, for by error we are humbled and unlearn our misguided actions. It says flaws, or imperfections, can be beautiful because beauty is not an intrinsic feature but a moment of poetry and grace.

So wabi sabi embraces change, impermanence: it is based on simplicity, humility, restraint, naturalness, joy and melancholy, it challenges us to unlearn our conditioned views of beauty and to rediscover the intimate beauty to be found in the smallest details of nature’s artistry.

The Nine Contemplations of Atisha

Translated by Joan Halifax

The nine contemplations that follow offer a way to explore the inevitability of death and what is important to us in the light of our mortality.

The practice asks us to question what we are doing in our life at this very moment and to see what is important for us to do, in order to prepare for death.

The contemplations come from Atisha, an eleventh-century Tibetan Buddhist scholar, who systematized the method for generating an enlightened mind.

Meditation: The Nine Contemplations

The Practice: find a comfortable place to sit. Make sure that your body is relaxed and calm. If you want to, close your eyes. Let your mind settle. Bring your attention to your breath. There are nine contemplations that remind us about the nature of life and death. Please consider them deeply.

1. All of us will die sooner or later

Even though it may be difficult for you to realize that someday you will die, there is no question that you will be met by death sooner or later. there is no way around it. No one can prevent death; death is the outcome of birth. It is inevitable.

Not a single sentient being—no matter how spiritually evolved, powerful, wealthy, or motivated—has escaped death. The Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad did not escape death, nor will you and I. All the gifts of your life—education, wealth, status, strength, fame, gender, friends, and family—will make no difference at the moment of death. In fact, many of these circumstances can make dying harder because we hang on to them. Death lends a sense of profound equality to us all.

Look at your life. What are you doing right now that will help you die? Please consider this, and observe your response to this question. then remind yourself, death is inevitable, I, too, will die.” Repeat this statement to yourself. On the inbreath, death is inevitable.” On the outbreath, “I, too, will die.” When the mind wanders away from this contemplation of the inevitability of death, call it back. Do not lose the opportunity to realize that you cannot avoid your death. You might resist by drifting in thought or turning to fantasy. Bring your attention back to this contemplation—that you will die, that each being precious to you will die, that each person and each creature now on earth will die.

Watch what the mind may do to escape this very simple fact. Death is inevitable. Can you face this truth? Can you feel it in your body, your blood, your bones; can you know it in your breath? The inevitability of death pervades every cell in your body. Please do not forget this. Death is inevitable;

This is the first contemplation.

2. Your life span is decreasing continuously

Your life span lessens every moment that you live. There is the moment of your birth, and then the time of your death. Life flows for better or worse between these two points of change. Your movement toward death never stops. Every breath you take in and give out brings you closer to this destination that we call death. Every word that you speak, every thought that you have brings you nearer to death. Every step that you take brings you closer to your so-called final resting place.

As you consider that your life span and that of all living beings is ever decreasing, notice what comes up in your mind. If the mind attempts to divert you, call yourself back to this truth that your life is limited. Recognize this. See it clearly. Perhaps appreciate what you have now, and that there may be no tomorrow.

In light of your life’s ever decreasing span, what are you doing with this precious life now to live life fully and to support a sane and gentle death? Do you appreciate this life? What are you doing to help others? What will give your life meaning and the lives of others meaning in the light of life’s briefness? Please ask yourself these questions as you remember that your life grows shorter each second.

This is the second contemplation.

3. Death will come whether you are prepared or not

Life is short, and most of us will meet our death without having strengthened our awareness of our true nature. How much time do you now spend training, strengthening, and stabilizing your mind? When death comes, do you think that you can negotiate with it for more time?

Someone once said that we have 1,300,000 thoughts every day. How many of these thoughts are you even aware of? How many of these thoughts are about liberation from suffering and death? How often do you remember that, indeed, death will come? How often do you turn your mind toward the commitment to prepare for death? Death is merciless. It has no discrimination. Up until the time it comes, if we are wise, we will be mindful of death.

Please ask yourself: how do you spend your time? what really is important for you to do with this precious human life? We spend so much time eating, drinking, grooming, playing, working, sleeping. We conduct business, make and spend money, and tend our relationships. when we are dying, we might wonder, "what have I done with my life?"

Most of us are doing so little to prepare ourselves for death. This contemplation, reminding us that death will come whether we are prepared or not, encourages us to take care of life now and prepare for death.

In light of the truth of your ever-decreasing life span, how do you want to spend your time, your energy, your resources? is there a way that you can truly benefit others and yourself? What kind of practice will strengthen your mind? What can you do to wake up in this life? Is your capacity to give attention to the mind and body in this moment adequate to meet the challenge of dying and death?

You can ready yourself right now. Watch your mind. Does it avoid facing the fact that death will come regardless of whether you are prepared for it? Before going on this journey, please make the best arrangements possible. Prepare yourself for going to this destination that we call death. Consider the third contemplation that death will come whether or not we are prepared.

This is the third contemplation.

4. Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Think of the many beings who died this day. How many of them really thought they were going to die today? There is an essential uncertainty about the time of your death. Do you really think that you know? Death can come at any moment. You could die this afternoon; you could die tomorrow morning; you could die on your way to work. You could die in your sleep. Most of us try to avoid the sense that death can come at any time, but the timing of death is unknown to all of us.

Can we live each day as if it were our last? Can we listen to one another, relate to one another, as if there is no tomorrow? Are you ready to die? Abide in the cycle of your inbreath and outbreath, remembering that death can come at any moment. You do not know how long this life span will be.

This is the fourth contemplation.

5. Death has many causes

There are so many ways to die. The causes of death are infinite. You can die because of a storm or an accident; You can die of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, old age, and so forth. You can die of fear or a broken heart. Even if you have been diagnosed with a so-called terminal illness, it may not be the cause of your death.

Watch what your mind does when you contemplate the truth that death can come through so many doors. Do you try to avoid this thought, or are you able to consider the possibilities? There are many conditions that bring death, and the forces that sustain life are few. All life ends in death, one way or another.

Consider this fifth contemplation that death has many causes.

6. Your body is fragile and vulnerable

When you are young, you may feel as if you will live forever. Growing older, seeing other people die, you may know differently. Life hangs by a breath.

Breathe in. After this next exhalation, consider the possibility that you might not be able to inhale. When the wind has gone from your nostrils and the breath no longer enters your body, then your life span has ended, and you will die.

Look deeply at the truth of this. Say to yourself, “this life is so fragile and is completely dependent on my breath. Breathing in, my life depends on this inhalation. Breathing out, my life depends on this exhalation.” Can you allow yourself to really know that your life is hanging by a breath? Inhalation, “my life depends on this in-breath.” Exhalation, “my life depends on this out-breath.”

The beating of your heart, the activity of your brain gives life to your life. A heart attack or a stroke can bring you down in an instant. An accident, a moment of violence, a mistake can bring your life to a surprising and rapid end.

Consider how vulnerable this body is. What does your mind do when you remember this? Does knowing how vulnerable and fragile you are turn your mind toward living? Does it deepen your experience?

The sixth contemplation is a reminder to consider this human body. your life is literally hanging by a breath.

7. Your loved ones cannot keep you from death

It is only natural to turn to friends and family at the time of your dying. However, the people whom you love cannot keep death from you, and these strong attachments may produce sorrow and clinging, which make dying more difficult. Your loved ones are essentially helpless and powerless in the face of your dying. No matter how kind and adept your friends might be, ultimately they cannot prevent your death. There is nothing they can do for you at the moment of your death. Death will simply prevail.

Look at this deeply. Since your friends will not be able to stop death from taking you, ask yourself, what really is going to help at the moment of your death? Your loved ones cannot keep you from death.

This is the seventh contemplation.

8. At the moment of your death, your material resources are of no use to you

Imagine yourself on your deathbed. You are growing weaker and more frail by the moment. You have spent your entire life earning money, accumulating material possessions. You have a beautiful house, a nice car, jewelry, and fine clothes. On the threshold of death, what good are these things to you?

Every single penny, every single item must be left behind. Houses, bank accounts, art objects, fine wines, beautiful clothing, expensive jewelry—all the comforts that you worked so hard for—you have to leave behind. They will be utterly useless to you when you are on the threshold of death. In some sense they are worse than useless. They are impediments to fully surrendering to death. In order to die in peace, you will have to let go of everything. In considering this, can you see yourself clinging to these things that make up part of your story and identity?

Consider that all your cherished objects, all your money, will be in some way or another redistributed at the time of your death. everything that you have accumulated over so many years will be given away to friends and relatives. Some of it may end up in a thrift store or a junk pile. You can take nothing with you.

Now ask yourself, "what is a sound investment to make in this life?" What will be really important at the moment of my death? Material possessions will not help.

On the inbreath consider this. On the outbreath know what it is to release the breath and attachment to all that you possess.

This is the eighth contemplation; that your material resources will be of no use to you at the moment of your death.

9. Your own body cannot help you at the time of your death

You have spent so much time working on your body—feeding it, watering it, exercising it, dressing and undressing it, beautifying it, enjoying and not enjoying it. You may spend hours just thinking about your body, viewing it in a mirror, evaluating its appearance, trying to make it look younger and more beautiful. Then what happens? It dies on you anyway.

Since your conception and birth, this body has been your constant companion, sometimes a friend, sometimes an enemy. You have experienced so much pain in it and so much pleasure. you treasure it. you despise it. And at the moment of death, you lose it.

This is not to say that you should neglect this body. You should take care of it. Although you are not your body, the care you give your body may make a difference in your practice and your relationships.

At this moment can you feel your dependence on your body, your attachment to your body? Can you see how holding on to your body at the time of your dying might torment you?

Imagine what it might be like just before you die. You realize suddenly that you are losing your money, your friends, your loved ones, your status, your job. and at the moment of your death, in an instant, you will also lose your body. Consider this.

Abiding in the inbreath, abiding in the outbreath, remember that even your body cannot help you at the time of death. Can you understand how others may feel who are facing their deaths? Why there is so much fear, so much clinging to life, such anger in anticipation of giving up life? Can you feel compassion for yourself and for others?

What is really important for you in light of this truth that we cannot hold on to this body when we die?

What can you do to prepare yourself to face your death and to skillfully help others face theirs? What can you do to prepare?

What can you do to strengthen your awareness and your capacity to surrender to death?

What can you do to make it more possible to really be present for yourself or another who is facing the loss of everything at the moment of death?

The ninth contemplation reminds us that our body will be of no use to us at the moment of our death.

These are the nine contemplations: death is inevitable. Our life span is decreasing continuously. Death will come regardless of whether we are prepared for it. Human life expectancy is uncertain. Death has many causes. The human body is fragile and vulnerable. Our friends cannot keep us from death. Our material resources cannot help us at the moment of death. And our own body cannot help us at the time of death.

Consider these truths



No people are uninteresting.
Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

Nothing in them in not particular,
and planet is dissimilar from planet.

And if a man lived in obscurity
making his friends in that obscurity
obscurity is not uninteresting.

To each his world is private
and in that world one excellent minute.

and in that world one tragic minute
these are private.

In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight
It goes with him.

There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery
whose fate is to survive.

But what has gone is also not nothing:
by the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.

Whom we knew as faulty, the earth's creatures
of whom, essentially, what did we know?

Brother of a brother? Friend of friends?
Lover of lover?

We who knew our fathers
in everything, in nothing.

They perish. They cannot be brought back.
The secret worlds are not regenerated.

And every time again and again
I make my lament against destruction.


Yevgeny Yevtushenko