Last thoughts before death

Hi all.

I am convinced that the last moments before death determine your rebirth and many Ajahn’s confirm this. I’m also just reading Dr Nandamala’s book on the topic of kamma, death and rebirth.

Does anyone here has any thoughts / input to this topic?

Thank you :blush:


This idea is common, but not at all supported by EBTs. Ajahn @Brahmali has often refuted this idea. I can’t seem to find an article where he says this, but if you listen to his talks on death, you’ll surely come across his response to this.



At the deathbed, there is a fierce battle among all accumlated good/bad karmas to decide which will produce patisadhi citta (rebirth function).

According to teachings in our local language, the order of karmic influence for next destination is as follows:-

  1. garu karma (weighty karma)

  2. near-death karma (immediate)

  3. regular habitual karma

  4. minor karma in cases like accidental death

Some differ in opinions on No.2 and No.3 which goes first but all agree on No.1 and No.4.

Examples of garu karma include attaining sotapana, worshiping/donating to an Arahat, achieving jhana levels, killing own parents etc.

I don’t know Pali words for near-death karma and regular habitual karma.

I will update if I can find the references.

Thanks and regards

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Yes, Ajahn Brahmali is a GREAT teacher.
What do you believe (if you don’t mind me asking)? :slightly_smiling_face:

I just started reading the mentioned book but I think it is similar with what you are writing.
Ayukkhaya = exhaustion of lifespan
Kammakkhaya = death on expiry of Kamma (Kamma has weakened)
Ubhayakkhaya = expiry of Kamma and lifespan (ubhaya meaning both)
Upacchedaka = death from destructive Kamma (i.e. death in accident)

This is just a short overview and I hope I wrote all the pali words right :pray:

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Oh, by the way, I found it: How does kamma ripen when you die?

Here Ajahn Brahmali addresses the influence of last thoughts (the third type of kamma in the article he’s repsonding to).

I am putting my eggs in whatever basket (pun intended) is believed to be the word of the Buddha through linguistic and historical analysis. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: So if one of the foremost experts like Ajahn Brahmali says that the suttas don’t give grounds for a certain belief, and I can see that by looking at the suttas myself; then that’s what I’ll go with. It makes sense to me that the kamma accumulated over a lifetime would have far more effect that one measly thought before death. So really, someone who has been a good person for many years should have nothing to worry about.


When there is little support for an idea in the most trustworthy texts, and support for its opposite, it doesn’t make sense to fall back on personal belief.

Of course the notion has some degree of “truthyness.” But we all know that this is not a good basis for judgement.


I find the concept of a ‘last thought before death’ quite a difficult thing.

Firstly, when is the point of death? I’ve seen quite a few people and animals die and it only seemed really tangible on one occasion, and even then it took at least a full second for it to happen - plenty of time for lots of thoughts to have arisen during that process in my experience. From a sciencey point of view, the point of death has changed a couple of times in my lifetime - first it was stopped breathing, then stopped heart, now it’s brain dead. And brain death has different definitions in different countries.

Secondly, experientially, my thoughts seem to do things like: bubble up, half form, sink away before I can grasp them, then another thought might overlap as it forms. So while there are gaps between fully formed thoughts to some extent, I’m not sure when I would call a thought a thought, and when I would call it something like an embryonic thought.

What I mean is that the processes of both death and thoughts are quite messy, and I’d be surprised if they lined up to always give us a clear ‘last thought before death’. But I might be misunderstanding what is meant.


That topic can be found in 24 Conditional Relations (Patthana), the last seventh volume of Abhidhama- Kamma condition (kamma paccayo).
I was referring to Myanmar translation.

Thanks and regards,

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There was quite a bit of helpful discussion of this idea in this thread Dying at home vs dying at the hospital .

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Your answer really gave me food for thought. Thank you! :slightly_smiling_face:

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Great! Thank you. This is a really interesting discussion, with lots of good points and references and very helpful for me :pray:

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It doesn’t even matter it is true or false - the problem is that there is no plausible way to dictate what thought should arise at a moment. It is purely kammic driven vision.

Hi @Alex70 Ajahn Brahm tells a story about a businessman who made long term arrangements so that his last thought before dying would be about the Dhamma. Thus he could concentrate on doing his best to build up a flourishing business. To this end he named his three children Sila, Samadhi and Panya (Morality, Deep Meditation and Wisdom).

On his death bed he had his wife and his three children at his bedside and all was going well for a good death but, looking around the room he thought to himself “I’ve got my wife here with me, I’ve got Sila, Samadhi and Panya with me”. He was happy that all was going to plan. Then the thought hit him, “if they are all here, who’s minding the store?” and died with that thought in mind. :scream:

I think the story illustrates the point that karma is a result of our actions and inclinations over the whole of our life\lives and determines the trajectory of our rebirths.

So … what to do?

To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind—this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
(Dhammapada verse 183)



I have heard it is like a raffle. The more tickets you buy, the better the odds. Therefore there is the weight of the kamma (how many tickets are bought at a time) and how frequent tickets are bought. The tickets placed on top (last to be placed) can be more easily selected. However, powerful kamma can arise and change that. It is difficult to say which kamma will get selected for patisandhi rebirth consciousness.

Habitual kamma is quite powerful. Pay attention to your mind before you go to bed. What type of thoughts does your mind naturally fall into? You can read the Pa-Auk books to see an explanation and also Sayalay Susila’s abhidhamma book, “Unwravelling the mysteries of the mind through abhidhamma”

Outside of the abhidhamma and commentary, there is little or nothing which describes the rebirth process other than how rare it is to be human. If anyone sees any Suttanta quotes, I would be interested.


I found some suttas dealing with death in SC.
SN55.21 onwards: