Sleeping Next to My Coffin: Representations of the Body in Theravada Buddhism


  • Elizabeth J. Harris Liverpool Hope University



Theravada Buddhism, the body, impermanence, death


Therav?da Buddhism can be stereotyped as having a negative view of the body. This paper argues that this stereotype is a distortion. Recognizing that representations of the body in Therav?da text and tradition are plural, the paper draws on the Sutta Pi?aka of the P?li texts and the Visuddhimagga, together with interviews with lay Buddhists in Sri Lanka, to argue that an internally consistent and meaningful picture can be reached, suitable particularly to those teaching Buddhism, if these representations are categorised under three headings and differentiated according to function: the body as problem (to be seen and transcended); the body as teacher (to be observed and learnt from); the liberated body (to be developed). It also examines two realizations that accompany the development of a liberated body: realizing purity of body in meditation; realizing compassion. It concludes that compassion for self all embodied beings is the most truly Therav?da Buddhist response to embodiment, not pride or fear, disgust or repression.

Author Biography

Elizabeth J. Harris, Liverpool Hope University

Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, Department and Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies, specializing in Buddhist Studies


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How to Cite

Harris, E. J. (2012). Sleeping Next to My Coffin: Representations of the Body in Theravada Buddhism. Buddhist Studies Review, 29(1), 105-120.