Are there any references in the Pali canon to the experience of death and what one can expect? I looked for a similar question and couldn't find one, so apologies if this is redundant.


2 Answers 2


Death perspective from the Abhidhamma point of view:


  1. "Death is the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon." By death is meant the extinction of psychic life (jīvitindriya), heat (usma = tejodhātu), and consciousness (viññāna), of one individual in a particular existence. Death is not the complete annihilation of a being. Death in one place means birth in another place, just as, in conventional terms, the rising of the sun in one place means the setting of the sun in another place.

  2. What are commonly understood to be natural deaths due to old age may be classed under this category.

To each of the various planes of existence is naturally assigned a definite age-limit, irrespective of the potential energy of the Reproductive Kamma that has yet to run. One must, however, succumb to death when the maximum age-limit is reached. It may also be said that if the Reproductive Kamma is extremely powerful, the Karmic energy rematerializes itself on the same plane, or on some higher plane as in the case of the devas.

  1. As a rule the thought, volition, or desire, which was extremely strong during lifetime becomes predominant at the moment of death, and conditions the subsequent birth. In this last thought-moment is present a special potentiality. When the potential energy of this Reproductive Kamma is exhausted, the organic activities of the material form, in which is corporealized the life-force, cease even before the approach of old age.

  2. If a person is born at a time when the age-limit is 80 years, and he dies at 80 owing to the exhaustion of the potential force of his Reproductive Kamma, his death is due to the simultaneous expiration of both age and Kamma.

  3. There are powerful actions which suddenly cut off the force of the Reproductive Kamma, even before the expiration of the life-term. A more powerful opposing force, for instance, can check the path of a flying arrow and bring it down to the ground. Similarly, a very powerful Kammic force of the past is capable of nullifying the potential energy of the dying reproductive (janaka) thought-moment, and thus destroy the life of a being. The death of Devadatta was due to an upacchedaka kamma which he committed during his lifetime.

The first three types of death are collectively called kālamarana (timely death), and the last one is known as akālamarana (untimely death).

An oil lamp, for instance, may be extinguished owing to any of the following four causes, namely, the exhaustion of the wick, the exhaustion of oil, simultaneous exhaustion of both wick and oil, and some extraneous cause like the gust of a wind. Death of a person may similarly be caused by any of the aforesaid four ways.

  1. As a person is about to die, a good or bad action may present itself before his mind's eye. It may be either a meritorious or a demeritorious Weighty action (garuka kamma), such as jhānas (ecstasies), or parricide etc. They are so powerful that they totally eclipse all other actions, and appear very vividly before the mental eye. If there is no Weighty action, he may take for his object of the dying thought a Kamma done or remembered immediately before death (āsanna kamma).

If it is a past action, strictly speaking, it is the good or bad thought experienced at the moment of performing the action, that recurs at the death-moment.

  1. Kamma nimitta is any sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which was obtained at the time of the commission of the Kamma, such as knives in the case of a butcher, patients in the case of a physician, flowers in the case of a devotee, etc.

  2. By gati nimitta is meant some sign of the place where he is to take birth, an event which invariably happens to dying persons. When these indications of the future birth occur, and if they are bad, they can be turned into good. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying person, so that his good thoughts may now act as the Proximate Kamma and counteract the influence of the Reproductive Kamma which would otherwise affect his subsequent birth.

These symbols of one's destiny may be hellish fires, forests, mountainous regions, mother's womb, celestial mansions, etc.

The Kamma is presented to the mind-door. Kamma nimitta may be presented to any of the six doors according to circumstances. Gati nimitta, being always a physical sight, is presented to the mind-door as a dream.

  1. Taking one of the aforesaid objects, a thought-process runs its course even if the death be an instantaneous one. It is said that even the fly which is crushed by a hammer on the anvil also experiences such a thought-process before it actually dies.

So if we practice jhanas (ecstasies), which is a weighty action (garuka kamma), we are destined to have that as the death nimitta, and reborn in the Brahma realm, unless other garuka kamma nimmitta intervenes.


I do not know of any references to the Pali Canon.

But i can point you to a great video dhamma talk by Ven. Yuttadhammo. Its called "Preparing for Death". I think this video will give you some knowledge about death from a buddhist perspective.

In here Ven. Yuttadhammo talks about the concept of death and how to prepare for it. I will not say much more about it since its much better explained in the video.

  • 1
    Thank you Lanka. I was actually watching this which was what prompted me to ask. So I agree, it is a great dhamma talk!
    – Ryan
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 9:52
  • Welcome. I found another video on Death. This is by Ajahn Brahmali. I havent seen it yet though: youtube.com/watch?v=Q_1bTSNpDb4
    – user2424
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 10:03
  • Here is another great video by Ven. Yuttadhammo called "Nature of Reality (Death, Rebirth and Reincarnation): youtube.com/watch?v=XClIR19eufc
    – user2424
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 10:05
  • @Update. I just finished the dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahmali and its a really good one with several death-references to suttas in the samyutta- and anguttara nikaya. I definitely recommend this talk.
    – user2424
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 13:31

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