Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 29, No 1 (2012)

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

Elizabeth J. Harris
Issued Date: 13 Jul 2012


Theravāda 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 Theravāda text and tradition are plural, the paper draws on the Sutta Piṭaka of the Pāli 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 Theravāda Buddhist response to embodiment, not pride or fear, disgust or repression.

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DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.v29i1.105


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