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Sure, "This Body Will Be a Corpse"... but should I wear a shirt that says so?

Being that I'm a fan of the IDP, and that I write about the intersection of Buddhist ideas, pop-culture, and marketing on my site, The Worst Horse (and for Shambhala SunSpace), I was initially excited to see the IDP's new “This Body Will Soon Be A Corpse” shirt. I almost reflexively whipped out my Visa card. But then I considered what the shirt says – or rather, how it says it – a bit more.

I of course appreciate the "Corpse" shirt's boldness and sentiment; wanting to bring attention to the IDP, I did in fact do a short write-up on my website, and I do have some death awareness practice in my background, so it's not that I'm particulartly squeamish. I also understand that many a great dharma teacher has been unafraid of being "in your face," and know that that could even be considered a Buddhist tradition of sorts.

Maybe I'm showing my age, but: I feel like so many people around me have suffered so much loss... And the shirt's design is so confrontational -- like it's not actually for the wearer but for those who are looking at the wearer – that I fear that wearing it could alienate those for whom the wounds of such loss are still tender.

I think of a dear, youngish friend who unexpectedly lost a series of family members, one by one, over the past couple of years. She suddenly has no kin, and she's constantly working with that giant, almost unimaginable absence. (And admirably so.) I think I would feel ashamed if she came around unexpectedly and saw me wearing that shirt. Likewise, I can't say I would be proud to learn that, say, I'd just met a stranger who had recently lost his child or spouse – and that I was wearing that shirt as I spoke to this person.

I really do get what the shirt's trying to say (I think!), but wonder if that's besides the point. Cool as I might know its actual message to be, I wonder if its wording and presentation make it unskillful: after all, those who see it may or may not be ready for that message. Plus, the shirt seems to me to be saying, (among other things) "Hey: whatever you're thinking about death or loss right now is totally secondary to the fact that death and loss are a teaching."

Ultimately, that may be true, but relatively? I dunno. If confronted by that idea after (for example) a loved one of my own had died, I seriously doubt the shirt's message would be of comfort.

But what do you think? Am I being too sensitive?

(Update: turns out BoingBoing thinks the shirt is worth discussing, too.)

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I think to try to consider what people who may have recently experienced the loss of loved ones through death is overprotective and it is not up to us to determine how people may or may not take the message (we can't control for other people's reactions). I am thinking of a story of the Buddha where a woman whose baby had died came to the Buddha and asked him to bring her baby back to life. He said he'd do it if she found a seed from a house where no one had experienced death. She went to every house in the village and obviously could not find any household that had not experienced death. She realized that she is not alone and that everyone faces sadness and loss through the death of loved ones. The Buddha did not hide the reality of death from her but actually pointed it out to her even more directly and universally than she had known it before. Perhaps the shirt would have a similar effect on people who had recently experienced the death of a loved one- maybe they will think of the people who will lose the wearer of the shirt and feel compassion for their loss and remember that no one is exempt from loss through death. The message, though in essence about the wearer, is ultimately about all humans and not just "the people whom you've lost to death, person reading this shirt." Compassion and not doing harm are important, but to caretake others and engage idiot compassion are not actually beneficial in the long run, either. I think the shirt does more good than harm.


The t-shirt is unnecessary.

Still, without it, what would we blog/comment about?

True, but necessary?

I feel that the obvious message of the shirt IS true, but agree that it may not be the best method of delivery of said message. For all the reasons the author describes, the suffering wearing this shirt could cause isn't worth it. One of those cases where the message is irrefutable, but maybe not something to advertise.

just read this quote by Suzuki Roshi

he said, "As Dogen says, people like what is not true, and they don't like what is true." apropos...

The best

By the time we have figured out the best, kindest, gentlest, most pure, beautiful, kid & grandma friendly manner in which to engage the Earth with our radical politics this body WILL be a corpse.




It sometimes seem we Buddhists are looking for impossible perfection in our expression.

Is there any such thing?

That may be, but I dont

That may be, but I dont consider the choice to wear or not wear this message to be like chasing after "impossible perfection." I know what I'm comfortable with, and I know what I'm gonna do.

Ultimately, it comes down to the individual, and what we do is have dialogues with other individuals to help us decide where we stand.

I totally agree

It is a personal choice. I only take issue with people questioning the choice of OTHERS to wear this shirt. That's not at all what you've done in this critique, which I think makes great points.

I am in full support of people wearing or not wearing this shirt as they see fit.

I am also in full support of those who wear it considering and experimenting carefully with the context in which they wear it.

know your intent

One man denies the truth.
Another denies his own actions.
Both go into the dark
And in the next world suffer
For they offend truth.

Wear the yellow robe
But if you are reckless.
You will fall into darkness....

Dhammapada 22

so wear the T-shirt. But know your intentions. If you mean it not as a reminder to yourself, but as a "fuck you, you're gonna die too" to the world, then it's wrong speech and it's taking you away from the path.

Critique of the Critiques :)

The shirt does not say "You're gonna die."

It says "I'm gonna die." It is a personal statement on the part of the practitioner.

there seems to be a subtle but crucially huge difference to me.

Do you know that the Rubin Museum put out a t-shirt last year that says: "Remember that YOU will die"?

That seems a lot more controversial and in your face, because that's not a statement about the wearer, but the viewer.

Can't we tell the truth about our own bodies on our own bodies?

I don't love being confronted by the nike logo on people's clothing personally - a statement that literally stands for nothing.

What if I find materialism confrontational and offensive (not that I take it personally, but what if I did)?

Also, I find the tone of critiques thus far to be somewhat theoretical (no personal attacks intended to anyone, but it's all about what might or could happen if you wear one, not what has happened).

About 150 of these t-shirts have been sold. Perhaps we should wait to see what people's actual experience is when wearing them?

I agree wholeheartedly with commenters who have said that context (both how you explain the shirt and in whose company you wear it) is REALLY important. I am going to be very careful in which context I wear mine.

However, The context of our actions and statements is ALWAYS important. Not just here.

Our next shirt will be in reference to another of the four reminders - joyful human life. That one's less controversial for sure.

I love the conversations we have at IDP!

Keep the critiques coming :)

Love to all.

In Context

There is no, "in general", each moment is its own and that should be kept in mind with this shirt.

It might be the perfect laze around the house shirt... a reminder to eventually get up and do something or find your way back to your meditation spot. Or also at a gathering of others who understand the statement being made.

In public, where others are not in tune with the statement and won't always see or grasp the point of it, it can offend and in that respect, would be lacking compassion.

The shirt is not offensive, the action (where it is worn, in this case) can be. Selling it is two steps disassociated to the act of wearing it unmindfully and the responsibility lays with the person wearing it to decide its proper use.

An outsider

I often feel that IDP language in public can be a bit aggressive/misinterpretable/etc. The phrase from the main page of the website, "Get connected. Because we already are," has bothered me as an aggressive, judgemental, lousy way to go about working with language and getting a message across. Sort of a "get with it man, you unhip blind jerks, we are, we're cool."

This shirt, however, doesn't have the same feeling. It's honest, blunt, part of the teachings, clear, direct, etc. I don't feel the condescending tone I've felt with other slogans. It's just honesty.

I remember when we were designing the AWAKE poster. There was some push to have it say "WAKE UP" or "AWAKEN" instead which I objected to because they are preachy. They are command. DO THIS. AWAKE is both, ambiguous (not vague), interpretable, but not aggressive/mean.

So, THIS BODY WILL BE A CORPSE is no "FUCK YOU YOU FUCKIN' FUCK" t-shirt, but I think it does a good job of clearly getting a message across that is simply a statement, not a judgemental command or attempt at hip/with-it-ness.

A co-worker saw me wearing the shirt today and said "wow, that's blunt but it's actually not a bad thing, it's kinda nice."

"Get connected. Because we

"Get connected. Because we already are"
i don't know IDP but when i saw that sentence i thought it meant "everbody/everything is already connected, so we should act as if we remembered this."

i think i read an emphasis on the ARE while you read an emphasis on the WE. which would mean that it *is* misinterpretable, cos one or both of us just did.

Buddhist Heretic

I came to this from a blog entry that was asking something like "when does telling the truth become insensitive?" In this case, and at the risk of being heretical, I have to first ask whether this is such a "truth." As Feynman put it in 1964, and as is still true many decades of biological study later:

"It is one of the most remarkable things that in all of the biological sciences there is no clue as to the necessity of death. If you say we want to make perpetual motion, we have discovered enough laws as we studied physics to see that it is either absolutely impossible or else the laws are wrong.  But there is nothing in biology yet found that indicates the inevitability of death.  This suggests to me that it is not at all inevitable, and that it is only a matter of time before the biologists discover what it is that is causing us the trouble and that that terrible universal disease or temporariness of the human's body will be cured."

--Richard P. Feynman, "The Role of Scientific Culture in Modern Society," Galileo Symposium, Italy, 1964.

That said, I certainly find truth and value in the Buddhist concepts of impermanence -- just not their trite expression that "everybody knows" we're all gonna' die.


also a fan of the IDP and also a vote for wow , really unskillful shirt guys. this isn't a teaching opportunity, because a teaching opportunity requires that someone want to learn. this is rubbing death in people's faces. only cool at a buddhist gathering and then it's just an inside joke.

if you want to offer a teaching opportunity that doesn't risk increasing for someone grieving or lonely, try "Ask me about the Buddha" or something like that. this shirt belongs on a rack with "I'm With Stupid" and "Go F**K Yourself".


curious what my husband would think, as he has suffered so much loss recently, and he doesn't hold back on his opinions on things, i ran the t-shirt by him with no leading questions, just: what do you think of it? his 12-year old son was hit by a car and killed 3 years ago, and his father died just the year before that. interestingly, the idea of it being insensitive to those who have had a loss did not even cross his mind. But he just thought it was "silly." Kind of a too-hip, insider intellectualism that would be lost on those not aware of it as "dharma." He thought it had a kind of "either you get it or you don't, you're in or you're out" quality to it. advertising religious teachings on a t-shirt is both annoying and smug, was his take, even if he agreed with the basic premise. he is an atheist himself so anything hinting at religious or spiritual belief on tshirts tends to piss him off. But no, interestingly, he didn't find it insensitive to those with loss.

for myself, i think the practice and teaching around death is one of the most powerful and aspects of the dharma. i'm sure this is true for any religion. For that reason, i think it belittles it to put it on a t-shirt, advertised by sexy bodies with no small hint of irony. (although i feel that it would be fine, and even entertaining, to wear to it an all-buddhist gathering, where everyone understood it.) For me it is just too didactic. I do love skulls on my t-shirts. They say the same thing, but without the cage of words.

agree with curious...

skulls are cool. But, really, I think you summarized my sentiments: hip, inside joke quality of the thing, but okay at a gathering of like-minded individuals. It just seems pushy and annoying. If I were to see that T-shirt at the wrong moment I might think to myself "and not a moment too soon, you insensitive jerk!"

subversive t-shirts

I tend to use my t-shits as reminders...in the button up world I live in currently, it is helpful to have a plithy reminder across my chest. However, it is meant for me and not anyone else. I do think the ID project seems more concerned about projecting themselves onto others. Almost as annoying as the "Jesus Freak" t-shirts everyone was wearing around here with an air of self-importance.

That being said, I do like the t-shirts but maybe the intent of the wearer comes into play.

I agree with the writer.

Yank that shirt off the shelves. It's bad. Bad in many ways.

Whose consequences?

I lost my daughter to suicide not long ago. And as much as I know and have come to understand death *(hospice training, hospice volunteer, assisted with two dear friends died, Buddhist study) I know that in the days, weeks, months following the shock and grief of my daughter's suicide coming into contact with that message so boldly printed across the front of the T-shirt would have been painful.

Someone said wear it if you are willing to accept the consequences. But it's not just the wearer's consequences, are they? I don't think it's within my power to accept the consequences for someone else.

Now, it is true that after a loved one dies there is no way to escape reminders. But I think that coming from someone who professes loving-kindness and skillfull means, it would be particularly painful to recieve that message. (not that only Buddhists would wear it - which brings up a whole other other can of slimy things to consider ;0)

thank you.

i am really so sorry to hear of your loss, Kimberly.

thanks for stepping into this conversation. i think perhaps one of the best ways to have meaningful dialogue about the reality of death is to support and listen to people, like you, who are actually in the thick of it, navigating it, and who are trying to do so with the same qualities that we all are trying to personify and uphold.


Not Anonymous

I am the author of the previous comment Whose consequences? Kimberley McGill

Wear the t-shirt at your own

Wear the t-shirt at your own risk. It obviously makes a statement. Think about the consequences you are willing to accept and wear or not wear accordingly.

Truthfulness, usefulness & timeliness

The Buddha's old maxim about right speech hold true for t-shirts as well as it does for the spoken word. Speech should be not only truthful, but also useful and timely. If someone can't hear what you're going to say, it doesn't necessarily matter if it's true or not. What's interesting is how this manifests with something like a t-shirt - depending on the context, you might not know who you're going to bump into and what they'll think, and whether this is a useful message for them. But again, people have been negotiating this ever since we figured out how to put smiley faces on t-shirts. I'm pretty sure that they'll figure out the "right" way to wear old corpse-y here. :)

I agree with you

I like the sentiment. it's one of the things I recite and think about each morning, and I've thought that having a Livestrong-type bracelet that says that would be a good reminder. I don't use these exact words, and my contemplation asks: my death is certain,, the exact time is unknown; knowing that, what is most important? that always stops me.

but ... I feel like the design of the shirt is meant to confront others rather than to serve as a reminder. the person wearing it isn't the person seeing it. and we never know what that person brings to it. we don't have to structure our lives to be inoffensive, but should we go out of our way to offend? we do have to decide that for ourselves.

I have a friend who likely will be a corpse by the end of the week. I don't need a reminder.

for many many more words about my feelings on the subject, see my journal entry, wearing the dharma on your chest, on the right.

thank you, yes -- i saw your

thank you, yes -- i saw your post and was so sorry to hear about your friend. when you write "i dont need a reminder," you're along the lines of the kind of person i was thinking about here. it's not you who need the reminder, it's US, so that we can attend to the people around us -- living AND dying -- with whatever the compassionate response to them might be.

thank you, again. all best wishes to you, and to your friend.


As someone who has experienced a great deal of bereavement, the idea that seeing a t-shirt could in any way come close to the grief, agony and loss that is experienced is laughable.

People can be very well-meaning in being sensitive, but it can actually be the ego in disguise: 'I don't want to offend with MY tshirt, I'M sensitive, I care, ME ME ME....' In fact, to the bereaved person, they would'nt care about you or your t-shirt, sorry! (unless you wore it to the funeral- now that would be step too far!)


Actually, someone just

Actually, someone just commented on the Shambhala Sun's Facebook page something that (so far as I know) noone's really touched on, though it's related to what you're saying here: she mentioned how the shirt can be useful to her, being that she'd lost two people recently and it was a useful reminder to herself. an interesting point.

good point

thank you.

honestly the more i think about it the clearer it seems. we want to avoid reality. if you look at the shirt for even a moment, you're confronted with reality. but if you're already in a place of bereavement etc. then you're probably already well acquainted with this particular reality.

Luke and Jon: I have to

Luke and Jon: I have to agree, we do want to avoid reality. Wanting to change that is why, personally, is why I've practiced Buddhist meditation and done death awareness practice too. I guess I'm just looking to make sure that as I do that, I'm not potentially causing unhelpful discomfort to others, too. Thanks for weighing in.


Nicely put: it is about reality, after all. The words on the shirt are signifiers of that reality, but bereavement is a visceral experience of it.
I've worn transgressive shirts that have sparked interesting conversations, and I'm sure this one would do the same, but I wouldn't have experienced any additional 'discomfort' on seeing it while grieving.


that's cool, Luke. thanks.

that's cool, Luke. thanks. now, of course, i could add that others i've talked to seem to agree with me, just have some have disagreed... so this, like all things, will really come down to the individual. so it's great to have so many thoughtful individuals taking part in the discussion. thanks again.

Unskillful means

Don't go flaunting the dharma. It will take care of itself.

good point

I'm wearing the shirt right now, but under a cardigan - I was excited to buy it but then felt uncomfortable wearing it in front of my children, concerned about how they might feel. Some really good points brought up here. I'd hate to hurt anyone who's suffered a loss. However it is such a powerful teaching! But maybe not one to force on others. Hmmm.... really worth thinking about.

upon further reflection

Another member of the IDP community pointed out to me that the shirt provides a really valuable entry to an important teaching opportunity. I certainly feel like I have a responsibility in that regard; people can choose not to engage if they wish. I understand the desire to not offend, but one has to balance that with the desire to benefit all beings. Benefiting all beings doesn't necessarily mean not upsetting them.

I'm not sure

that people could chose not to engage. most people, yes. people in a certain state of rawness, not sure they have a choice about shutting off that message.

beings are numberless/I vow to save them -- doesn't mean I have to hit them over the head and drag them to nirvana. not really sure I see how the shirt benefits all beings. I don't think I've ever taken someone's t-shirt as a learning opportunity, so I question its value as a teaching tool.

understood and appreciated. i

understood and appreciated. i guess some of my concern is that, when wearing a shirt emblazoned with such a message, you can't turn its visibility "off." so if this is a teaching (and, i know that, ultimately, it is), shouldn't it be wielded skillfully, as a teacher would wield it, with an eye towards making the teaching available ("visible") only to those for whom seeing it would be beneficial?

...and being that I'm NOT a teacher, how can I be sure to make the right call about when sharing such a heavy teaching is the right thing to do, and when it's not?

anyway -- there are of course a bunch of sides to this story; thanks to you and everyone else for investigating them.


Smug, not snug

Rod, I agree with your comment a thousand percent. I think that an occupational hazard for Buddhists is thinking about how our actions will affect others--no, you're not being too sensitive, you're being appropriately sensitive. Because it's about the other person.... I think we need to not be all smug about our own concepts and beliefs and I find the shirt a bit smug. Just my own take on it....

The shirt is ostentatious.

The shirt is ostentatious.


I would not be inclined to wear this shirt, even though I am familiar with what the slogan contains because of the lack of context for those around me. I can easily understand people thinking it were perhaps a shirt for some Grand Theft Auto type video game or a program like Dexter etc.

No I don't think you are being too sensitive but I think wearing such a shirt in general would be incredibly insensitive.

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