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The Four Reminders – Reflection on Death

This is the second of the four mind-turning reflections. According to the Buddhist way of thinking, death, far from being a subject to be shunned and avoided, is the key that unlocks the seeming mystery of life. It is by understanding death that we understand life; for death is part of the process of life in the larger sense. In another sense, life and death are two ends of the same process and if you understand one end of the process, you also understand the other end. Hence, by understanding the purpose of death we also understand the purpose of life. You can read more about why Buddhists reflect on death here.

Reflection on Death

One day I will die.

I cannot avoid it. It comes to everyone, and it will come to me.
Everyone who has lived in the past has aged and died, and those living now are ageing and will die too.

Think of the millions of people who have lived in the past. Where are they now?
I see myself ageing. Day by day, year by year my body grow older, as I can clearly see.

The causes of life are unstable and impermanent, and when they run out my death will come.

I will have to face death and meet it, the end of my life.
I am life a fish caught in a net.
I am like a prisoner condemned to execution.
I am like an animal in a slaughterhouse.
In my fantasies I am exempted from the general truth of death.
But that is a delusion, and death will come to me, even me, as well.
The time of my death is uncertain.
Even if I live a full span, that is just a few decades.
But death could come at any moment — in a few years, or a few weeks, or even today.

There are many causes of death in addition to old age: illness, accident, disaster and violence.

Every day people die in these ways, all of them having expected to live longer.
Therefore death is a presence that should be borne in mind.

My plans should always be provisional; I should not put things off, and live free from regrets and obligations.

Everyone I know will die as well.

One by one we will be taken by death.

All my friends, all my family, everyone I know, everyone I love, everyone who loves me.

In a hundred years we will all be gone.

To face death I will need courage, forbearance, contentment and a clear conscience.

I need to be free of regrets, and that means using my time wisely.

All that will matter at the time of death is spiritual practice.

What will matter is what I have become in myself, the qualities of my mind, and the sense of having lived a worthwhile life through helping others.

So I should live with awareness of the inevitability of death and of its imminence.

And I must make good use of my time through practising the Dharma.

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