Deathbed practice

In my practice, I’ve cobbled together an understanding of the Dhamma from different sources and experiences. And it seems to me that all of our study, practice, and training comes down to one moment: our deathbeds.

I have observed a number of folks on their deathbeds and are currently on death watch for my wife’s brother. In addition I’ve raised two children and have read the near death experiences of others. From my deathbed experiences, I’ve learned that there is a period when we are between “worlds” so to speak. There is a summing up, often visions of deceased loved ones (my grandmother saw my dead father and uncle quit clearly on her deathbed). And having raised two children, it is clear that we are hardwired at birth with unique personalities that stay with us our entire lives.

From that I’ve come to believe that Dependant Co-arising, on a macro level, is describing the process from Deathbed to Rebirth. So it seems natural to me that our deathbeds are the most important time in our lives, to either escape completely, or be reborn in a favorable place.

And yet, I find little literature on the actual dying process. Do buddhists reject pain meds on their deathbeds (as I plan on doing) to insure they are clear headed when the time comes? How do we deal with regret and past karma so that it does not hinder our progress post death? What exactly are we to do and how exactly are we to practice when our time comes? And how to we deal with post death experiences?

Any thoughts or suttas that deal with the topic of dying would be welcome.

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Great questions! Since it’s such a sensitive topic and many people have differences in pain, anxiety tolerance etc, I’m a bit hesitant to give my two cents about the biological ( vis a vis pain and meds) and psychological aspects of dying process ( I don’t know!)

But I found this selection that may answer some of your questions

Ajahn Brahm has talked extensively about this topic so I recommend this link as a starting point.

This forum has many topics on the subject as well, I would search using some key word like ‘ dying process’, ‘ deathbed contemplation’ etc

As a starting point for you, I found these very useful…



Not to sound dramatic, but we are always on our deathbeds.

AN 3.39 comes to mind. These three intoxications give the impression that there is a qualitative and quantitative entitlement to this life. There isn’t. Death can be a close as the next in-breath as we find described in AN 6.19. Many references to practicing mindfulness of death in that suttas (some described as negligent), but the two foremost:

“But mendicant, how do you develop it?”

“In this case, sir, I think: ‘Oh, if I’d only live as long as it takes to chew and swallow a single mouthful, I’d focus on the Buddha’s instructions and I could really achieve a lot.’ That’s how I develop mindfulness of death.”

Another mendicant said to the Buddha, “Sir, I too develop mindfulness of death.”

“But mendicant, how do you develop it?”

“In this case, sir, I think: ‘Oh, if I’d only live as long as it takes to breathe out after breathing in, or to breathe in after breathing out, I’d focus on the Buddha’s instructions and I could really achieve a lot.’ That’s how I develop mindfulness of death.” - AN 6.19

We are always in death’s pocket. Sure, we can get really comfortable there. Get a job there. Buy a house there. Get rich there. Have children there. Enjoy pleasures of the senses there. But none ever removes the nature of death. Only when it is understood to be that close, and that certain, will there arise the dispassion to burn up defilements. Still does not remove the body from the nature of breaking up, but that state is the deathless for the arahant.

I recall you describing intense and unwelcome dispassion in regards to losing interest in music at some point and that it terrified you. The overwhelming nature of death is found close to that certainty of loss. That seems to be what is left when the body breaks.

“Fearless” always hits hard.

Also, starting with AN 5.211 is a series of suttas about unwholesome behavior that leads to feeling lost when you die.


According to math, given countably infinite lives wandering samsara, there are as many days on which we die as there are days of being alive…


Look at the Visuddhimagga’s section on dependent origination, particularly it’s section on consciousness.

Your post reminded me of the stats from the Araka sutta, very much relevant to the topic of death:

These days it’d be right to say: ‘Life as a human is short, brief, and fleeting, full of suffering and distress. Think about this and wake up! Do what’s good and lead the spiritual life, for no-one born can escape death.’ For these days a long life is a hundred years or a little more. Living for a hundred years, there are just three hundred seasons, a hundred each of the winter, summer, and rains. Living for three hundred seasons, there are just twelve hundred months, four hundred in each of the winter, summer, and rains. Living for twelve hundred months, there are just twenty-four hundred fortnights, eight hundred in each of the winter, summer, and rains. Living for 2,400 fortnights, there are just 36,000 days, 12,000 in each of the summer, winter, and rains. Living for 36,000 days, you just eat 72,000 meals, 24,000 in each of the summer, winter, and rains, including when you’re suckling at the breast, and when you’re prevented from eating.

Things that prevent you from eating include anger, pain, sickness, sabbath, or being unable to get food. So mendicants, for a human being with a hundred years life span I have counted the life span, the limit of the life span, the seasons, the years, the months, the fortnights, the nights, the days, the meals, and the things that prevent them from eating. Out of compassion, I’ve done what a teacher should do who wants what’s best for their disciples. Here are these roots of trees, and here are these empty huts. Practice absorption, mendicants! Don’t be negligent! Don’t regret it later! This is my instruction to you.” - AN 7.74