So there is a lot of teaching out there focuses on meditating on death. A lot of it talks about living life as if it was your last day, week, month... in that this way, you don't take life for granted and it wakes you up instead of just passing time...

These same teachings talk about how life should be lived in reality and not in your mind.

My question is... isn't "pretending" it is your last "day", "week", "month"... itself a construction of the mind? Doesn't that distort reality? Is that really the "correct" thing to be practicing?

  • Mr. Jason this should solve your question, in regard of what the Buddha taught: Maranassati Sutta: Mindfulness of Death
    – user11235
    Jan 3, 2016 at 6:08

5 Answers 5


The "meditating on death" sounds like it's meant to be a meditation on impermanence, and on the unattractiveness of the body (i.e. an antidote to lust); as well as on the "just seeing" and so on that may be an antithesis to a excessive mental fabrication.

But there may be another aspect to it (beware this is something I've been thinking about myself, and is not a thought that I've been reading or hearing about from others, so don't take this as an authoritative answer) which is 'real' in a different way: which is to do with how you handle time.

If you consider not time but money for example, if you borrow money then that's a burden. "How will I pay the money back? I owe the money, I spent the money, how can I accumulate more money (more than I need) to pay back what I owe?" If someone says to me, "Would you like to...?", or, "Can you...?", if I have a debt then maybe I'm meant to say, "Sorry, I owe a lot of money and instead of doing that good thing you suggested I have to work to try to pay it back." In any case that doesn't seem like sukkha.

According to this one of the questions they ask someone who wants to be ordained is, "Are you free from debt?"

I think something similar happens with time: if I accumulate a time debt, if I have a lot of things to do, which I haven't done and which I need to do, which I owe to someone, then maybe that's not conducive to being free (in the "liberation" sense of enlightenment), it means that you're unable to do what you want or should.

So I think that it may (at least for house-holders) be (not a mind-construction or reality-distortion but) a sīla practice, which ties into the notion that a result of virtue is the lack of remorse. I think a consequence of "living each day as if it's your last" might be that you have done (and continue to do) everything that you need to.

It might fit into the notion of karma too, somehow: if you go around saying, "Sure I'll (promise to) do this, that, and the other..."

I'm not sure if you are even answering the question, but it doesn't matter.

To try to even answer the question, then, the "last day" doctrine or something a bit like it might be traditional in Zen -- see Three Days More.

I was watching this video recently which I think is introductory Zen (if you don't have time for all of it, try up to 10 minutes from time 29:00 onward).

Or see also the subsection titled "Yes, I Speak Zen" in A Still Forest Pool which ends, "Perhaps the Zen student glimpsed that the heart of vipassana is no different from the heart of Zen."

IOW I'm guessing that the point of "live this as your last day" is meant to be the opposite of "pretending" -- for example, the intention isn't, "pretend that now is tomorrow and that you are dead" -- instead maybe the intention is, "tomorrow is not now."

  • wow, I like your answer. I'm not sure if you are even answering the question, but it doesn't matter. I like your time and money debt concept. Thanks for sharing.
    – jason
    Jan 1, 2016 at 12:35

There is no pretending. It is the fact that you are not sure if this is the last period or not hence what needs to be done in case you die.

No one can plan the time of death and many die unexpectedly. This is what you have to look at. So consider each breath your last as there is a chance that it is very well your last breath hence establish your self in mindfullness.

  • I'm not sure if agree with that... yeah the fact is that you don't know... but if you expect every day is your last day... then chances are you will be wrong for a long time before you are right... so the "reality" is that... yes there is a chance you will die, but the odds are that you don't... it's very different from.. "ok, you will be executed in a week"... it is reality to just say you don't know so you assume you will?
    – jason
    Jan 1, 2016 at 11:52
  • It is a means to develop urgency on what you do. If it is your last day you will settle your what needs doing without postponement than actually being correct or not. Jan 1, 2016 at 13:06
  • If you think it is the last breath on each breath you will try your best to be mindful of the breath as if you miss it it can your last chance to win your liberation. Jan 1, 2016 at 13:08

If a teaching seems contradictory it is probably because teachers of Dharma utilize both conceptual and ultimate realities at the same time and this can appear very confusing if the student doesn't understand the dance between conceptual reality and ultimate reality.

The purpose of conceptually reflecting on death is to increase motivation so we can practice seeing reality as it is by way of mindfulness of what we are individually aware of in the present moment.


It's a metaphor, another one of these is "you should strive as if you had your head on fire". Doesn't mean we have to pretend there's fire on our head! We often procrastinate meditation and/or reading, as if we had endless time - which we don't.


It is not pretending, like Suminda said.

One way to very truly understand this is to enumerate the number of X you have.

You have X amount of breaths in your current life-body-mind.

You have X amount of times you will be able to visit Buddhism SE in your current life-body-mind.

You have X number of smiles you will give to another person in your current life-body-mind.

You have X number of meditation sessions you will be able to practice in your current life-body-mind.


Patiently enumerate it.

It is not false to realize that life is not permanent.

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