“It is crucial to be mindful of death – to contemplate that you will not remain long in this life. If you are not aware of death, you will fail to take advantage of this special human life that you have already attained.” – Dalai Lama XIV, Advice on Dying: And Living a Better Life
Ancient Buddhist monks practiced death contemplation. This was a meditation practice of remembering that death is inevitable and it can strike at anytime. It also involved thinking about the fragile nature of the human body and all the stages of corpse decomposition. In short, it involved bringing the awareness of one’s own mortality right into the present moment.
Before diving deeper into spirituality, I ignored the art of death contemplation. I only embraced it after realizing that life is too short and we can die at any moment. Now, I cannot stop practising it because I have noticed its amazing impact.
Contemplating death eradicates worry. When you contemplate death, you’ll realize that physical life is too short and precious to worry about anything. You’ll avoid worrying all the time after realizing that worry prevents you from fully experiencing this short and precious life on the material plane. You’ll stop worrying about many earthly matters because you’ll realize that they will not matter when you die.
Contemplating death will also force you to discard the idea that you’ll only be happy at some point in the future when certain things happen. You’ll realize that the future is not guaranteed, and the only time you are absolutely sure of experiencing happiness is now. Thus, you’ll start focusing on the present moment and how you can make the most out of it.
Death contemplation will make you realize that you are a soul and not a body. You’ll notice that the body is only a physical extension that allows you to fully experience physical life. For this reason, you’ll stop obsessing over your body and you’ll focus on spiritual growth.
To practice death contemplation, imagine your dead body in a coffin. Then imagine it swelling, smelling, decaying and becoming dust. You can also practice death contemplation by visiting cemeteries, thinking about the uncertainty of death, and viewing photos of dead bodies.
Death contemplation will reduce your obsession with your physical appearance by making you realize that you will not be in your body forever. You’ll stop obsessing about your looks and you’ll not let your physical appearance control your life.
Don’t be afraid to contemplate death. Embrace death contemplation, and you’ll find peace because you’ll stop obsessing over earthly matters. Moreover, death contemplation will change how you relate to your loved ones by making you more aware that their life is also short and precious. It will create a sense of urgency and help you notice that existence cannot be postponed. Most importantly, death contemplation will help you internalize the fact that you are a spiritual being having a physical experience for only a short period of time.
“Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful but to appreciate this precious lifetime during which you can perform many important practices.” – Dalai Lama XIV, Advice on Dying: And Living a Better Life