Talking about death is still very much taboo in Western society. However, the fear of death and mortality gives many people anxiety, especially following a tragedy. In many cases, it's the fear of the unknown that scares us and keeps us from facing the inevitable.
Meditation on death helps us meet these fears and anxieties. "Maranasati," or "death awareness," is a Buddhist practice of meditating on your mortality.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Does It Mean to Meditate on Death?
- Are There Any Benefits to Meditating on Death?
- Steps for Learning How to Meditate on Death
- Free Guided Death Meditations to Try
Contemplating death isn't associated with morbidity or dwelling on the negative aspects of dying. With death meditation, you can learn to reduce your suffering by focusing on ways to show gratitude.
When maranasati or death awareness practice is done correctly, it helps stabilize your fears and emotions and brings a calming peace to your thoughts regarding death and dying. Meditation on death enables you to come to terms with life and death and brings your overall thoughts into balance.
What Does It Mean to Meditate on Death?
When you meditate on death, it means that you’re seeking to find the truth regarding life and death, learning to accept that everything that lives must die, and creating a more calming and peaceful environment in which you ease your fears. Meditation on death is one of the oldest practices in any of the forms of Buddhism, forcing you to contemplate death while you’re still healthy and very much alive.
A typical meditation on death takes you through three stages:
- The inevitability of death
- The uncertainty of the time of death
- Acknowledgment that only insight into reality can help you at the time of death
We all know that everyone has to die, and our life span is decreasing continuously. Death meditation takes you through these truths and helps you to acknowledge them individually until we start accepting them as the only possibilities to life and death.
With these fundamental truths established in your mind, death meditation can lead you to contemplate that human life expectancy is uncertain, that there are many causes of death, and that the human body is fragile and was born to die.
These basic facts may sound morbid, but they can be helpful when repeated. The reality is that the more time you spend focusing on these truths, the quicker you can understand that human lifespan is limited, and we are all going to die.
Are There Any Benefits to Meditating on Death?
There are certain benefits to death meditation, with death awareness being one of the most beneficial. Meditating on death is to become more aware of your mortality and the cycle of life and death. The focus is more so on living rather than dying. As a result, morbidity is less of an emphasis. The more you sit and contemplate your death, the more aware you become of how fleeting life is.
Some of the more apparent benefits attached to death meditation are as follows.
1. Life becomes clearer
When you contemplate your death, your life experiences, hopes, and dreams will eventually surface. You’ll learn what’s most important to you both in life and in the end. Your priorities may shift as your life’s purpose becomes more apparent.
As you contemplate your life and death, your dreams and aspirations also surface. The things you failed to accomplish up to this point will also become known. Death meditation helps you better understand how to map out the rest of your life to fit the new narrative that’s emerging.
2. Death liberates you
When forced to consult your death, you'll stop wondering what the experience will be like, and you'll start living the rest of your life in a more fulfilling way. Knowing and understanding that everything that lives must eventually die is very liberating. With this knowledge, you've freed yourself from any of your fears and anxieties, and you’ll discover your passions so that you're free to pursue them.
Contemplating your mortality is an exercise in courage where you allow yourself the freedom to strip yourself of anything that's been holding you back from living your most authentic life.
3. You discover urgency
With the end in mind, you’ll soon discover a clearer sense of where you’re headed and where you want to be. When time is a limited commodity, you’ll start feeling the urgency of the end getting nearer the older you get.
You may begin to put into action many of the plans you made when you were younger yet failed to make a move on them. Your visions, goals, hopes, and dreams all start coming together once you start living as if you’re dying.
4. Things become more joyful
When you know something you love isn't going to last forever, you tend to cherish it more than ever. The enjoyment of it exponentially increases when you know that the joy it brings you is only for a minimal time. When things are transient, the pleasure you derive from them increases, knowing that it can all go away at a moment's notice or without warning.
Knowing that life is short helps your relationships strengthen and your love for people to increase. You start living like there's no tomorrow. Death-awareness makes you hyper-aware of how fleeting, short, and precious life can be.
5. You have more gratitude
The knowledge and possibility of death make you more grateful for the life that you have. The awareness of death is a motivating force that increases your chances of acting with more compassion, tolerance, and empathy towards others.
Mortality teaches you to have more profound gratitude for life and an appreciation for the joy and pleasures around you. Being aware of your mortality also helps you keep your priorities straight. You may find that you spend less time doing things that you don't want to do or that don't bring you joy, focusing on a deeper connection with the activities and people you love.
Steps for Learning How to Meditate on Death
There isn’t just one correct way of learning how to become more death aware, but the Buddhist tradition of meditating, or reflecting on what it means to die, is an excellent place to start. The Buddhist tradition of sitting and contemplating death and dying is an ancient practice that predates modern Western meditation techniques.
The following steps should get you started on learning to live a life filled with more self-awareness.
1. Be mindful of death
Facing mortality and being mindful of death can mean acknowledging that life doesn't last forever and that at any given moment, we can die.
According to Buddhist belief, if you're not aware that we'll all one day die, you've failed at mastering living life to the fullest. Death contemplation isn’t for the sake of being afraid of it, but rather to appreciate life.
2. Think of what’s important to you
The purpose of death meditation is to inspire you to enter into an energetic living practice as if your life is coming to an end because it is.
Allow yourself the opportunity to think about what’s important to you in this lifetime and more worthwhile for you to spend your time on. It helps you prioritize the things you do according to what brings you joy, happiness, and fulfillment.
3. Understand that death is not the end
The fear of death for many people is that when we die, that’s all there is to life. So they live the life they have, remaining afraid of dying and of letting go.
When you do a death meditation, you open your thinking to beyond what you know to be true, and you start seeing a clearer picture that death is nothing to be afraid of, and it’s only the natural progression from living.
4. Energy is transformed at death
Meditating and contemplating death reveals that the notion of death cannot readily apply to our untrained idea of what death means. We’re all made up of energy which transforms at death. There’s a continuation of that energy transforming from one thing to the next. But death doesn’t mean that you suddenly become nothing. This understanding is a part of the scientific perspective that energy transforms and continues after death.
5. Release your fears of dying
Reading books about grief and loss helps you come to terms with the concept of death and dying. When you read stories of how others survived a tragedy, you gain a different perspective on death. The more you learn through reading, the easier it is to release the old ways you've been conditioned to think about death.
Free Guided Death Meditations to Try
There are many resources available to you both online and in-person that'll help you with meditating on death. You can try several different types of meditations until you find the one that is right for you. The following are some of our recommended resources to try.
This YouTube channel provides free non-religious information, education, and information for anyone wanting to learn about Buddhist meditation, philosophies, and principles. The link below is for a free guided death meditation.
Try this: Guided Meditation - Death & Impermanence
2. The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Robert Thurman, Ph.D., a professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, teaches, writes, and speaks on Tibetan Buddhism. In his book, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, he translates the dying process in detail according to Buddhist beliefs and practices.
He details the Buddhist high-levels of understanding regarding death that brings them peace when facing the end of life.
3. Advice on Dying
This book, Advice on Dying, written by the 14th Dalai Lama, focuses on different types of grief and stages of death, rebirth, and gaining freedom from the cycle of life and death, and cultivating an awareness of death and learning to live a life free of the fear and anxiety that holds us back from living a life of freedom and fulfillment.
Releasing Death Anxiety Through Meditation
Although Buddhism offers numerous ways to help you release death anxiety, it's not the only way to achieve a calmer mindset about death.
You can read books, learn how to keep a gratitude journal, meditate, and connect with others to discuss your differing ideas on death and dying openly. You can accomplish a more enlightened state of mind through meditation, education, and experimentation alike.