You have to reflect on death because it arouses the mind, warning it to not be heedless. Death is something we must frequently recollect, for if we don’t we will just go about occupying ourselves happily throughout our days and nights, letting time drift by as days turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years, allowing our thoughts to proliferate about ‘at the end of the year…’ or ‘at the start of next year…’ without ever giving any consideration at all to death.
Contemplating death brings our awareness back to the present moment. We will realize that the future is uncertain, so there is no need to be too worried or concerned about it. If we need to make plans of any kind, that’s fine. But once any plans for the future have been made, we return to establishing our mindfulness in the present, because it is right here in the present moment that the causes which determine our future originate. Hence we have to live skilfully in the present moment.
We mostly like to think about the future and forget to reflect that our lives are uncertain. This being so, we become careless and unconcerned, allowing our days to pass by in vain. And it is this laxness that causes us not to put effort into the practice of sitting meditation.
Each of us should try asking ourselves: ‘Have I developed wholesome, virtuous qualities to the utmost of my ability throughout my entire life or not?’ or ‘If I were to die right now, would my heart be prepared for this?’ or ‘Does my heart possess sufficient merit to be born into a heavenly realm or not?’ or ‘Have I developed the spiritual perfections (pāramī) sufficiently or not?’ If we realize this isn’t yet so, we should take up the practice of contemplating on death so as not to be heedless.
We should frequently think to ourselves: ‘I could die any time soon’.
This reflection by Ajahn Dtun is from the book, Sacred Equation, (pdf) pp.1-2.