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Namo Budhaya.

In the Mindfulness of Death sutta Buddha says the following:

When this was said, the Buddha said to those mendicants: “The mendicants who develop mindfulness of death by wishing to live for a day and night … or to live for a day … or to live for half a day … or to live as long as it takes to eat a meal of alms-food … or to live as long as it takes to eat half a meal of alms-food … or to live as long as it takes to chew and swallow four or five mouthfuls … These are called mendicants who live negligently. They slackly develop mindfulness of death for the ending of defilements.

But the mendicants who develop mindfulness of death by wishing to live as long as it takes to chew and swallow a single mouthful … or to live as long as it takes to breathe out after breathing in, or to breathe in after breathing out … These are called mendicants who live diligently. They keenly develop mindfulness of death for the ending of defilements.

Buddha corrects wrong way to mindfulness of death. But as far as I see , a person who wishes to live as long as it takes to chew and swallo a single mouthful , is same as a person who wishes to live as long as as it takes to chew and swallow ....The translator of the text failed to point out the difference between the mendicant's way of mindfulness of death and Buddha's way of mindfulness of death. I will thankful if someone could explain this sutta in its true essence.

My question is :How should one be mindful of death?

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Oh, this is easy. This one I was taught many many times. Here is how it goes:

Regular untrained people live their life as if they will live forever. They 1) worry about small unimportant stuff, get offended, or scared, or enraged at things that are not really important. And 2) they waste days, months and years of life waiting for better life.

However, 1) Everyone dies, sooner or later. Even the Buddha had to die. First, our parents will die. Then our friends of same age will start dying. Then the day will come when our breathing will stop and we will die too. Every day we get a day closer to death. Every time we celebrate our birthday, that's one less year we have left to live. The time seems to go slowly, but if you look back you realize it did not take you that long to reach your current age. Similarly, one day you will look back and realize you have spent all of your time.

Also 2) Death comes without a warning. The other day my friend (a doctor) called me and said his patient died in a car accident. He had a big house, 3 children and a housewife. As he was coming home from work, a truck made a mistake shifting lanes, and pushed his car off the road. We have no idea how we'll die. We hope we'll die from old age, in our bed, surrounded by grandchildren - but there is no guarantee it will be that nice. People die from all kinds of causes: from accidents, to disease, to terrorism, to allergic reactions, to poisonous snakes or insects, to plane crashes, to sudden heart attacks, to cancer.

So 3) We should stop expecting we'll live much longer. There is absolutely no guarantee that we will live to see the next summer, or next Christmas, or our next birthday. In fact, we should get into habit thinking that any day could be our last day on Earth. When we go to work, we should expect that we may not come back. When we go to bed, we should expect that we may not wake up.

Therefore 4) We should not live a lukewarm life. We should live our life as if this was our last day. This pertains both to our Dharma practice, but also to our attitude to life in general. We should perform every act, every conversation as if this was our last battle on earth.

And 5) If we feel like we worry about something too much, we should compare this problem with death. If the problem is worse than death, then we are allowed to worry. But if the problem is not as bad as death, then we should sober up and stop worrying too much.

Mindfulness of death gives us a useful perspective in which truly important things matter and non-important things are seen correctly as unimportant. It also gives us strength to act with courage and not live lukewarm life. So no matter how you look at it, it is a very useful perspective to cultivate. And the way you cultivate it is by thinking about it, meditating on it, until you feel it, until it is with you at all times - judging all of your action and inaction. Then the death becomes your solemn friend: "You don't have that long left. Use it wisely"

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In the Lamrim, there is what is known as the nine fold contemplation on death. This has three main points and each of the three has three sub points. I will list and try to explain them:

The main points are:
1. Contemplating death’s certainty.
2. Contemplating the uncertainty of the time of death.
3. Contemplating that at the time of death nothing but the dharma will be of any use.

The first has three parts:
* It is certain that the Lord of Death will come and that nothing whatsoever can turn him back.
* Life span cannot be extended and it shortens unceasingly.
* Dying without having had the time to practise the teaching while alive.

As part of this first set of contemplation we should understand that there is nobody around us who has lived for ever. Average lifespan maybe increasing due to better healthcare but immortality is still nowhere in the scientific horizon. Moreover there is a concept of your karmic lifespan, this cannot be extended and death can come in many ways, Old-age, illness, accidents or wars can bring us death.

The second, contemplating the uncertainty of the time of death, has three parts:
* In this world in general and in the degenerate age in particular life span is uncertain.
* Time of death is uncertain as the causes of death are many and those sustaining life few.
* Time of death is uncertain also as bodies are very fragile.

The second contemplation is about the time of death. I could pass away by the end of this sentence or may be not. There is no telling. In fact we are constantly moving towards death from the moment of our conception.

The third, contemplating that at the time of death nothing but the dharma will be of any use, has three parts:
Contemplating that
* Wealth is useless.
* Friends and relatives will be useless.
* And even your body will be useless.

Finally we should understand that our understanding of dharma and the Karma that we accumulate is the only thing that will help us during the time of our death.

This according to the Lamrim is the primary way to contemplate on death. And it will provide us with the primary motivation to practice the dharma.

Death itself is the grossest manifestation of Impermanence. This should be followed with contemplation on subtle Impermanence and how things arise and pass away from moment to moment.

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