The mind at the dying moment and rebirth

Dear Ajahn,

I have just read on Facebook a post about a person’s mind at the dying moment seemingly written by a monk. Is it an accurate description? Does it in fact come from a sutta?

With great respect,




When a person is about to die the bhavanga is interrupted, vibrates for one moment and passes away. The interruption is caused by an object which presents itself to the mind-door. As a result of this a mind-door-adverting citta arises. This is followed by five javana thought moments which are weak, lack reproductive power, and serve only to determine the nature of rebirth consciousness. The javanas may or may not be followed by two registering thought moments (tadaalambana). After this comes the death consciousness (cuti citta), which is identical in constitution and object to the bhavanga citta. The cuti citta merely serves the function of signaling the end of life. It is important to appreciate the difference between the cuti citta and the javanas that precede it. The cuti citta is the end of the bhavanga flow of an existence and does not determine the nature of rebirth. The javanas that occur just before the cuti citta arises form a kammic process and determine the nature of the rebirth consciousness.

The object that presents itself to the mind-door just before death is determined by kamma on a priority basis as follows:

  1. Some weighty action performed earlier by the dying person. This may be meritorious such as a jhaanic ecstasy, or it may be demeritorious, some heinous crime. Either of these would be so powerful as to eclipse all other kammas in determining rebirth. This is called garuka kamma.

  2. If there is no such weighty action, what has been done habitually — either good or bad — will ripen. This is called aacinna kamma.

  3. If habitual kamma does not ripen what is called death-proximate kamma fructifies. In this case the thought that was experienced at the time of a good or bad action in the recent past recurs at the time of death. This is referred to as aasanna kamma.

  4. If the first three are lacking, some stored up kamma from the past will ripen. This is called katatta kamma.
    Dependent on one of the above mentioned four types of kamma, the object that presents itself to the mind-door could be one of three kinds:

The act (kamma) itself, especially if it was a weighty one.

Some sign of the act (kammanimitta); for example, a butcher may see a knife, a hunter may see a gun or the slain animal, a pious devotee may see flowers at a shrine or the giving of alms to a monk.

A sign of the place where the dying person will be reborn (gati nimitta), a vision of heaven, hell, etc.

This brief account of what will happen to us at death should impress on us the urgency of avoiding all evil acts by deed, word or thought and of performing wholesome meritorious acts. If we do not do so now, we cannot do so at the moment of death, which may come quite unexpectedly. As the Dhammapada states in verses 288 and 289:

There are no sons for one’s protection,
Neither father nor even kinsmen;
For one who is overcome by death
No protection is to be found among kinsmen.

Realizing this fact,
Let the virtuous and wise person
Swiftly clear the way
That to nibbaana leads.
— Dhp 288

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam.

Bhante Bodhidatta
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Just to give you a short reply until one of the Bhantes gives you a more accurate one:
As far as I gather it’s pretty much a concept from the Abhidhamma. I don’t remember if it’s in the Visuddhimagga already but for sure I read it in the Abhidhammata Sangaha from around the 11th century. At least in this precise technical analysis I am quite sure you can’t find it in the suttas…

Dear Gabriel,

Thank you so much for your reply.

Ajahn Brahmali has responded to this question in another thread. It was my fault – I was too slow. :slight_smile:

With metta,