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  The 12 Nidānas:  
Mind & Body
Six Sense Bases
Old Age & Death

Jarāmaraa is Sanskrit and Pāli for "old age" (jarā)[1] and "death" (maraṇa).[2] In Buddhism, jaramarana refers to the inevitable end-of-life suffering of all beings prior to their rebirth in the cycle of saṃsāra.



Aspect of suffering

The goal of Buddhism is liberation from suffering (dukkha). The Buddha's prescription for achieving this liberation can be found in his Four Noble Truths (dukkhasacca). In his First Noble Truth, he describes what is meant by "suffering" using the following formula found repeatedly in the Buddhist scriptures:

"The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha), monks, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering..., death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering — in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering."[3]

Elsewhere in the canon the Buddha further elaborates:

"And what is aging? Whatever aging, decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, weakening of the faculties of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called aging.
"And what is death? Whatever deceasing, passing away, breaking up, disappearance, dying, death, completion of time, break up of the aggregates, casting off of the body, interruption in the life faculty of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called death."[4]

Conditioning and escape

Jarāmaraa is the last of the Twelve Nidānas (see graphic, upper-right), directly conditioned by birth (jāti), meaning that all who are born are destined to age and die. In the Buddhist Pali Canon's "Subjects for Contemplation Discourse" (Upajjhatthana Sutta, AN 5.57), the Buddha enjoins followers to reflect often on the following:

I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging....
I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness....
I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death....[5]

In the Pali Canon, aging and death affect all beings, including gods, humans, animals and those born in a hell realm.[6] Only beings who achieve enlightenment (bodhi) in this lifetime escape rebirth in this cycle of birth-and-death (sasāra).[7]

Late in his life, the Buddha expresses disgust with aging and death in the Jarā Sutta:

I spit on you, old age —
old age that makes for ugliness.
The bodily image, so charming,
is trampled by old age.
Even those who live to a hundred
are headed — all — to an end in death,
which spares no one,
which tramples all.[8]

Echoing the Jarā Sutta's verse, the closing couplet of the Soā Sutta records the words of a newly enlightened bhikkhuni, celebrating her transcendence of sasāra:

I spit on old age.
There is now no further becoming.[9]

See also


  1. ^ See Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 279, entry for "Jarā," retrieved 19 Nov 2008 from "U. Chicago" at More than simply "old age," the PED provides the additional meanings of "decay, decrepitude"; and, these additional translations are reflected in the Buddha's reputed words in the Jarā Sutta (below). However, for the sake of semantic conciseness, the compound term jarā-maraa is here represented as "old age and death."
  2. ^ See Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 524, entry for "Maraa," retrieved 19 Nov 2008 from "U. Chicago" at The PED further contextualizes maraa with "death, as ending this (visible) existence, physical death...." That is, in Buddhism, maraa does not refer to death of the conscious process or the end of the associated suffering.
  3. ^ Boldface added. This formula can be found, for instance, in the Buddha's first discourse, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Piyadassi, 1999), as well as in his famed Mahasatipatthana Sutta (Thanissaro, 2000). (Note that the former sutta also includes the phrase "... sickness is suffering ..." which has been elided from the quote used in this article to reflect the common text between the two identified discourses.)
  4. ^ See, for instance, SN 12.2 (Thanissaro, 1997a) and DN 22 (Thanissaro, 2000).
  5. ^ AN 5.57 (trans. Thanissaro, 1997b). Elided from this text is the recurring phrase: "... one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained"
  6. ^ In other words, a significant distinction between Buddhist and Judeo-Christian-Muslim cosmologies is that, in Buddhism, even gods and hell-born beings age and die in their respective realms and are destined to be reborn, possibly in another realm (whether hell, earth, heaven, etc.).
  7. ^ In the Upanisā Sutta (SN 12.23; e.g., trans., Walshe, 1985), the Buddha describes a set of conditions that leads one from birth to enlightenment. In this "transcendental" sequence that leads out of sasāra, birth leads to suffering (dukkha) – instead of aging-and-death – which in turn leads to faith (saddha), which Bhikkhu Bodhi describes as "essentially an attitude of trust and commitment directed to ultimate emancipation" (Bodhi, 1980).
  8. ^ SN 48.41 (trans., Thanissaro, 1998a).
  9. ^ Thig 5.8 (trans., Thanissaro, 1998b). For this nun (bhikkhuni), "there now no further becoming" (Pali: natthi dāni punabbhavo) because she has become enlightened.


Preceded by
Twelve Nidānas
Succeeded by


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