Omens of Death in Tibetan Buddhism


There can be 2 reasons for a death –

  1. Whether our time is expiring
  2. Or some worldly conditions bring us to death.

When the time of a lifetime is expiring – nothing can be done: death is inevitable.

However if some worldly conditions threaten our lives, we can try methods as a medicine or special religious ceremonies to suspend a death for a while.

There are several sacred scriptures that precisely describe certain external, internal and secret signs pointing to the time of an approaching death.

Firstly, because the body is constituted from 5 elements, space, wind, fire, water and earth, when the process of the death is beginning, balance between the elements becomes very disproportionate. And when it happens, no medicine can help anymore.

Some omens are easier to discover on a certain days of the lunar calendar:

For instance, ordinary when we lightly press on our closed eyes, we have a feeling of colour and light. If it doesn’t happen on the 1st lunar day, it is an omen the death is near.

Also, usually we have very fine vibrations of sound or resonance in the ears, if it is not heard; it is another omen of the approaching death.

A number of similar omens are known.

Those were the external omens.

The inner omens are found in the person’s dreams: Usually we cannot trust to the dreams, but omens of death are quite hard to ignore:

Sometimes the person is seeing bad dreams again and again, shortly before the wake-up.

For example, night after night he can see himself wearing dark clothes and going somewhere down.

Sometimes they see they are meeting a wild animal and riding it down the hill; or they get to some dark place, where everything turns black.

Such dreams use to predict a death.

Also, if someone gets very sick and he often sees the sunset and moon-set in the sky – it could be a sign he will die.

Instead, if a healthy person sees such dreams, it could be a sign a health of his Lineage Lama or close teacher is endangered.

The secret omens about the death are noticeable changes in a person’s character:

For example a good and gentle person can become very agitated and angry, and doesn’t help a good care or preaching.

When a Buddhist is seeing those omens, he understands, the death is near.

If he or she has not reached the liberation in the course of this life, they should now concentrate all their attention to a religious practice, because their time is expiring and they should be well prepared before a death.

If they will practice accordingly, they have a very good chance to reach the Liberation during the time of death.

In general the bodies of all beings are primary formed out of 5 primordial elements:

The forces of 5 elements are developing and an embryo is getting a form. From a small ball slowly are developing a head, hands, etc.

After the birth 5 elements continue to support us.

And the reason why a physical body at the end is destroyed is that forces of the 5 elements vanish. When the powers of elements vanish, a body is dying and start to decompose.

5 Prāṇas – 5 Winds

There are 5 basic Prāṇas or Winds in the body, and also centres or chakras, where those Winds move. At the time of death Prāṇas start to disintegrate each after another. This process is accompanied by certain external, internal and secret experiences.

One of the basic 5 winds is called always existing. When it doesn’t function properly, a person loses the ability to digest a food. During that period he can only drink liquids.

Warmth is leaving hands and legs and a body becomes cold, until finally some warmth is preserving only in a heart.

Even the hands and legs may become cold; the one is not dead until his heart preserves warmth. When a heart cool down – a life is finished.

Disappearance of life supporting wind makes a mind unclear and confused:

When a wind of life is starting to leave, a person start to perceive different hallucinations; he is disquieted and scared. He feels a maximal level of discomfort.

Something similar may happen also in ordinary life, when an excessive wind enters the thin channels (nādi) in a human’s heart. Tibetan doctors call it ning lung or a wind of heart. It makes people nervous and scary.

When the down moving wind starts to disappear, the work of ordinary automatic functions, as a control over natural needs may become disintegrated. A person doesn’t control it anymore and it can be very unpleasant.

When upcoming wind, one of the 5 Prāṇas, disappears, a person cannot ingest any food or drink. It becomes very problematic to ingest any liquid and he doesn’t have enough an air.

When a person is close to a death, the breath becomes very irregular and shallow: The out breathes are very long, while to breath in becomes very difficult. It develops as a very short breath, suffocation.

When the filling wind disappears, which gives strength to the muscles to move, the body of a man becomes immovable like a corpse, even he is not dead yet. He cannot move even a hand but later a finger. The body may become completely paralyzed.

Dysfunction of chakras and nādis starts from the navel centre. After that the disappearance of the life-supporting wind leads to the dissolving of earth element into the element of water.

The Life-supporting wind is a wind that creates a physical energy of the body. Disappearance of it leads to disintegration of elements; and it is accompanied with external, internal and secret omens.

The external sign is a loss of physical power. Body becomes very heavy and cannot move anymore. Neck cannot hold up a head. Skin losses its colour and brightness.

A face becomes inexpressive. Spots appear on the tooth. Nostrils fell in and a face seems empty. Eyes, otherwise bright, become dull.

Inner omens tell about the state of mind of the dying:

The consciousness becomes more unclear and foggy; the heaviness of the mind is expressing itself:

Considering it is due to physical conditions he may ask to others: Please, take off my blanket! Unbutton my shirt! Lift me up a bit! He feels like he sinks into earth.

In other words, the dying one becomes weaker and feels a great anxiety. His voice is changing and is difficult to speak. Eyes are losing a focus and rolls away discovering the whites.

Now people practicing Buddhism are expecting secret signs – visions like smoke, mirages, etc.- and follow the carefully. Ordinary people even don’t notice them.

The next is disintegrating a heart chakra. It happens when the element of water disappears in the element of fire. External signs to this are dryness in the mouth and a dry tongue.

Ordinary when we hang out our tongue, we can see its tip, but a dying person can’t see it.

Or when we raise a hand to the face we can see a part of our elbow, but when a person is dying, he can’t see it anymore. It means the death is very near.

Inner omens are that a person is very confused and sees different visions:

A man sometimes recognizes others around, than loses his mind and don’t understand what is going on around. He feels – I am still alive – but next moment everything becomes unclear and foggy.

Different hallucinations appear accordingly to a person’s character:

evil people may see dangerous visions and they will feel scared, but people practicing (with a better karma and clearer mind) can experience great visions.

In this moment it is clearly manifesting how good he has been practicing the training of the mind during his life.