Impermanence and Death

February 16, 2015 Death Awareness

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karin_valhamImpermanence and Death
Extended Lam-Rim Outlines
Begginer’s Meditation Guide

compiled by Venerable Karin Valham

“This day is a special day,
It is yours.
Yesterday slipped away
It cannot be filled with more meaning.
About tomorrow nothing is known.
But this day, today, is yours,
Make use of it.
Today you can make someone happy.
Today you can help another.
This day is a special day,
It is yours.”   Indian poem


The Disadvantages of Not Remembering Death at All Times

  1. You will not remember the Dharma
  2. Even though you remember it you will postpone the practice.
  3. You may try to practice but your Dharma practice will not be pure.
  4. You will lose your determination to practice Dharma and will eventually drop it altogether.
  5. You will continue creating negative actions and become unsuitable for liberation.
  6. At the time of death you will feel intense regret at having wasted your precious opportunity.


The Advantages of Remembering Death at All Times

  1. Your Dharma practice becomes very pure.
  2. Your Dharma actions become powerful and effective.
  3. Beneficial in the beginning of one’s Dharma practice.
  4. Beneficial in the middle of one’s Dharma practice.
  5. Beneficial at the end of one’s Dharma practice.
    (no.3-5, in order to avoid the thought of the eight worldly concerns.)
  6. In the hour of death you will go with satisfaction, for you know you have spent your life meaningfully.

Meditate like this
Read the points of the disadvantages etc. then contemplate why and how. Do the same with the advantages etc. Then make a conclusion remembering Milarepa’s words:

“In horror of death I took to the mountains – again and again I meditated on the uncertainty of the hour of death. Capturing the fortress of the deathless, unending nature of mind, now all fear of death is over and done.”

The Nine-Point Death Meditation
Contemplate each of these points:

Death is certain
No power in the universe can stop death

  • Every person born will have to die, also great bodhisattvas and yogis, even Buddha.
  • In 100 years from now nearly everyone alive today will be dead.
  • We cannot run away from death, there is nowhere we can escape to.
  • Even if we are very wealthy, we cannot bribe death.
  • Even if we are very strong and powerful, we cannot defeat death.
  • Even if we have miraculous powers and clairvoyance, we cannot evade death.


One cannot add time to life, one gets closer to death every minute.

  • With each moment of our life that passes, we come closer to death.
  • From the time of birth onwards, we are racing towards death.
  • With each breath we take, we come closer to death.
  • Even when we are asleep or distracted, we come closer to death.


While still alive free time to practice Dharma is extremely limited before one has to die.

  • If we live for 75 years, one third is spent sleeping. The rest is spent working, eating, quarreling, shopping, travelling, watching television, etc.. Very little time is spent actually practising the Dharma.
  • When we are young we put off our Dharma practice till later. When we are middle-aged we are too distracted by other things. When we are old we look back with regret that we didn’t practice.


Generate the resolution: knowing that I shall have to die, I must resolve to practice Dharma while I am still alive.

The time of death is uncertain
The life-span in out time and realm is uncertain

  • Age is no guarantee; children often die before their parents.
  • Heath is no guarantee; a healthy person can die before a sick one.
  • Future plans are no guarantee; we can die before we complete our work.


The things that kill us are many, the things that keep us alive are few.

  • External conditions like accidents, natural catastrophies etc.
  • Internal conditions like illness etc.
  • Even those things that normally sustain life can become the conditions for death; food, house, and medicine.


In general the body is extremely fragile

  • Since huge trees, forests, and even mountains and planets get destroyed, no wonder our frail bodies will not last long.


Generate the resolution: knowing that I could die at any time, I must stop sacrificing my life to worldly concerns and immediately practice Dharma from today on.


Only Dharma helps at the time of death
No money or possessions help us.

  • Naked and empty-handed we leave this life.
  • A king and a beggar experience death in a similar way.


Friends and family cannot help.

  • Near and dear ones often give rise to attachment and pain.
  • No one can share our experience of death.
  • Death is experienced by ourselves alone.


Not even our own body can help us at that time.

  • Our body which we pampered and cared for so much is helpless.


Generate the resolution: Finally, since nothing else can help me, I must devote myself fully to pure Dharma practice.

When the doctor give me up,
When rituals no longer work,
When friends have given up hope for my life,
When anything I do is futile,
May I be blessed to remember
My guru’s instructions.
The Panchen Lama

Due to this merits may I quickly attain buddhahood and lead all living beings, without exceptions, into that enlightened state.


Meditation on the Death Process

The four elements earth, water, fire and air cease functioning from the grosser to the more subtle at the same time as the five aggregates absorb. In connection with this certain outer and inner signs manifest, explained as the eight signs of dissolution.

When you meditate on the death process, in order to make the experience real for you, like a rehearsal of your own death, you may imagine a scenario in which you have suddenly come face to face with death. For example you may be in a hospital-bed, surrounded by doctors and nurses, maybe some friend or relative anxiously watching your face and clutching your hand. You are on your back in the bed staring up onto the ceiling wondering what’s next.

1. The Earth Element Dissolves

  • When the earth element  loses its power, the body becomes very thin, limbs loose and you feel as if the body is sinking under the earth.
  • When the aggregate of form absorbs, the limbs become smaller, the body becomes weak and powerless, the luster of the body diminishes and all one’s strength is consumed.
  • When the basic mirror-like wisdom dissolves, the sight becomes unclear and dark.
  • Eye sense: one cannot open or close one’s eyes.
  • Internal signs: appearance of mirages.

2. The Water Element Dissolves

  • When the water element looses its power, saliva, sweat, urine, blood etc. dry greatly.
  • When the aggregate of feelings absorb, the body consciousness can no longer experience the three types of feelings that accompany sense consciousnesses.
  • When the basic wisdom of equality (our ordinary consciousness mindful of pleasure, pain and neutral feelings as feelings) dissolve, one is no longer mindful of the feelings accompanying the mental consciousness.
  • Ear sense: one no longer hears external or internal sounds.
  • Internal signs: appearance of smoke.

3. The Fire Element Dissolves

  • When the fire element loses its power, one cannot digest food or drink.
  • When the aggregate of discrimination absorbs, one is no longer mindful of affairs of close persons.
  • When the basic wisdom of analysis dissolves, one can no longer remember the names of close persons.
  • Nose sense: inhalation weak, exhalation strong and lengthy and one cannot smell.
  • Internal signs: appearance of fireflies or sparks within smoke.

4. The Wind Element Dissolves

  • When the wind element loses its power, the ten winds move to the heart and the inhalation and exhalation ceases.
  • When the aggregate of compositional factors absorbs, one cannot perform physical actions and one cannot experience smoothness or roughness.
  • When the basic wisdom of achieving activities dissolves, one no longer is mindful or external worldly activities, purposes etc.
  • Tongue sense: tongue becomes thick and short and the root of the tongue becomes blue.
  • Internal sign: appearance of a sputtering candle-light about to go out.

5. The Fifth to the Eight Signs of Dissolution:

When the aggregates of consciousness absorbs, the eight conceptions dissolve.

  • Cause of appearance: winds in the right and left channels above the heart enter the central channel at the top of the head.
  • Internal sign: clear vacuity filled with white light.

6. The Mind of White Appearance Dissolves

  • Cause of appearance: winds in right and left channel below heart enter central channel at base of spine.
  • Internal sign: very clear vacuity filled with red light.

7. The Mind of Red Increase Dissolves

  • Cause of appearance: upper and lower winds gather at heart and then the winds enter the drop at the heart.
  • Internal sign: at first, vacuity filled with thick darkness; then, as if swooning into unconsciousness.

8. The Mind of Black Near Attainment Dissolves

  • Cause of appearance: all winds dissolve into the very subtle life-bearing wind in the indestructible drop at the heart.
  • Internal sign: very clear vacuity, the mind of clear light of death.


Focus on this clear light for as long as you can.

When the clear light of death ceases, the consciousness passes back through the stages of dissolution in reverse order.
As soon as this reverse process begins, the person is reborn into an intermediate state. (Tib. bar-do) between lives, with a subtle body that can go anywhere, through mountains etc., to find a place of rebirth. Or the person revives into the old body, a so-called near-death experience.
A lifetime in the intermediate state can last from a moment to seven days, depending on whether or not a suitable birthplace is found. If one is not found, the being undergoes a ‘small death’, experiencing the eight signs of death as laid out above, but very briefly. He or she the again experiences the eight signs of the reverse process and is reborn in a second intermediate state. This can happen for a total of seven rebirths in the intermediate state, making forty-nine days, during which time a place of rebirth is necessarily found.



Leaving all I must depart alone.
But through not having understood this,
I committed various kinds of evil
For the sake of my friends and foes.

My foes will become nothing.
My friends will become nothing.
I too will become nothing.
Likewise all will become nothing.

Just like a dream experience,
Whatever things I enjoy
Will become a memory.
Whatever has passed will not be seen again.

Even within this brief life
Many friends and foes have passed,
But whatever unbearable evil I committed for them
Remains ahead of me.



Due to this merits may I quickly attain buddhahood and lead all living beings, without exceptions, into that enlightened state.

May the supreme jewel bodhicitta that has not arisen, arise and grow; and may that which has arisen not diminish, but increase more and more.

Just as the brave Manjushri and Samantabhadra, too, realized things as they are, I, too, dedicate all these merits in the best way, that I may follow their perfect example.

I dedicate all these roots of virtue with the dedication praised as the best by the victorious ones thus gone of the three times, so I might perform good works.

I dedicate whatever virtues I have ever collected for the benefit of the teachings and all sentient beings, and in particular, for the essential teachings of perfect, pure Losang Dragpa to shine forever.


Disclaimer: Use of the information and data is to bring awareness of death and dying. Spirare does not own the information or profit from its use. Used with permission of Venerable Karin Valham Chapter 6 ‘Impermanence and Death’ Extended Lam-Rim Outlines Begginer’s Meditation Guide

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