“As to 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 as long as it takes to eat 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 as to 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.
So you should train like this: ‘We will live diligently. We will keenly develop mindfulness of death for the ending of defilements.’ That’s how you should train.”
Does this mean
Death should be kept in mind at all times 24/7 (as in actual thoughts of death with every single breath). Which sounds rather laborious…
When you recollect death, you should relate to it as something imminent
You should live with death in mind (ie not act from the assumption that you have time, thus allowing yourself the unfortunate luxury of heedlessness)
All of the above
None of the above
If anyone could offer clarification, it would be greatly appreciated
There are many things to be mindful of, and I don’t think it would really be possible to reflect on death 24/7, as well as being mindful of the body, feelings, the mind, lovingkindness, compassion, rejoicing, and as well as being absorbed in jhana, reflecting on one’s ethical actions, and so on.
The sutta doesn’t suggest reflecting continuously on death. It just says that when you reflect on it, this is a fruitful practice (assuming it’s done in the right way).
AN 6.20, which Paul quotes above, also doesn’t suggest reflecting on death 24/7. It suggests reflecting on death “as night passes by and day draws close.”
One practice for observing impermanence is to observe experiences ending. So as you swallow, you can observe the act of swallowing coming to an end. As you breathe, you can observe the end of a breath. This helps remind us that all things end, including our lives. Something like that may be indicated by AN 6.19, or it may be a reflection more along the lines of “this may be the last time I swallow (or breathe).”
I have no attainments or special insights and defer to anyone more qualified who may answer this question later.
I believe it is 3. Sati does not mean “thinking about” it means something more like “remember”. A mundane example of mindfulness is when you “mind your manners” - you can’t possibly be verbally thinking “don’t curse, don’t interrupt, use people’s preferred form of address, say please and thank you…” when composing your next utterance. But you know that sometimes you have these principles in mind, and sometimes you don’t, and you misbehave by body or speech because of it.
Similarly, sometimes you have the context of death’s imminence in mind, and act by body, speech, and mind appropriate to that context, and sometimes you don’t. When maranasati is fully developed, the context of death’s imminence is always present in your mind. You are never deluded about being guaranteed more life. You’re not thinking “I could die now, now, now, now…” all the time necessarily, you just know that, and so the thought, “I will certainly be alive in forty years, I can put off practice for now” never occurs to you.
That being said, how do you actually establish that mindfulness of death? It may involve a lot of saying, “I could die now, now, now…” to yourself.
But an Ariya has a lot of maranasati, metta, kayasati, etc not in that they are constantly thinking 3+ thoughts at once reminding them of these things, but rather that they have sufficiently weakened moha so that they are not constantly creating mental blocks to ignore and misunderstand them.
A skillful means could also be a symbolic representation (see Memento mori - Wikipedia)
In some monasteries I visited for example they have a skeleton, which serves as a visual cue (if one is mindful).