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"This Body Will Be A Corpse" --- Please Remind Me

"Get Away" -- Icelandair 
"Cash In on your Ride In" -- Chase Bank
"This Poster Will Make You Happier Than Any Other on the Train" - The School of Practical Philosophy
"Strikingly Long Lashes Like Never Before" - Beautenizer Mascara

These are the messages of four ads I encountered on a single subway ride in manhattan yesterday.

Our culture is full of these kinds of messages. The kind that promise a future experience more fulfilling than the present one. There is a perpetually elusive meadow of flowers and happiness just over the next horizon, or off the next subway stop. We are constantly being promised full, eternal completion through longer eyelashes, a new bank account or a trip to Iceland.

As a meditator and practitioner of mindfulness I have been doing my best to support a lifestyle that is rooted in the present moment. I've learned through my own experience that holding out for something better in the future, or holding on to a pleasant memory from the past doesn't seem to do myself or anyone else much good.

Practicing mindfulness in every moment is a very difficult thing to do. I'm constantly forgetting the be present. In sitting meditation, I practice coming back to the feeling of my body breathing as a way to strengthen my mindfulness "muscles". I've also set up little visual reminders in my house -- an inspiring quote near my bed reminding me to "be grateful", an image of the buddha, an inner and outer role model, near my meditation cushion, and a poster in my living room that reads "Arte Para Todos" (Art for everyone) to remind me that my creative pursuits are not for the sake of ego gratification. Knowing that I am a product of my environment as much as I am a steward of it, these reminders are a way for me come back to the present and relate with reality as it is currently unfolding.

A few months ago friend, teacher and IDP Founder Ethan Nichtern mentioned to me an idea he had for a shirt that would simply say "This Body Will Be A Corpse" across the front. In dealing with misleading advertisements everyday, and seeing the ways that our culture often runs on the fuel of false promises, this t-shirt seemed a refreshing change to me -- something I could really support.

Within Buddhist Philosophy there a teaching called the "Four Reminders", which students are encouraged to contemplate on a daily or weekly basis to remain centered in the basic truths of reality. "This Body Will Be A Corpse" is a version of the reminder of impermanence -- that all phenomena, including our own bodies are subject to change.

If we are serious about taking on the work of creating a compassionate and mindful culture, we need to consider the environment that makes it up. What are we saying with our body language everyday? What kind of dynamic is created by a shirt that says Everyone is Out to Get You on it? Beyond chuckles and gimmicks there is a real communication taking place in every aspect of our lives -- right down to the way our shoes are tied.

We have the opportunity to create the culture to support our awakening. We also have the opportunity to indulge in our fantasies about a perpetual youth or a future that will never arrive. There are no guarantees in life, we cannot be saved by being beautiful, young, famous or rich.  I need your help to remind me of this -- because I get stuck.

Wearing a "This Body Will Be a Corpse" shirts is one way to bring a reminder of reality into our lives, but the means of doing so are unlimited.

What are some of the other creative ways we can put an end to our delusional cultural habits?

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Our culture is full of these

Our culture is full of these kinds of messages. The kind that promise a future experience more fulfilling than the present one. There is a perpetually elusive meadow of flowers and happiness just over the next horizon, or off the next subway stop. We are constantly being promised full, eternal completion through longer eyelashes, a new bank account or a trip to Iceland.

Blog Commenting Service

Rawness and wisdom

This t shirt have Hinayana raw style.
Very direct and effective.

I like more the vajrayana wisdom style.
Like for example, H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche.

"Look at this T-shirt.
Then look at your mind.
Look at the one who is looking.
If you see this, you are the excellent one."


little rituals

It sounds like the advertisements you encounter are great reminders for you. just keep questioning yourself about your reaction. in the immortal words of fugazi, never mind what they're selling/it's what you're buying.
I'm a huge fan of reminders. I've  said the thicht nhat hahn saying we just read in the intro class every morning for the last four years, first thing: waking up, I smile (and I smile). 24 brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully present in each moment and to look at the world with eyes of compassion.
I stay fully present for about 10 seconds, then start thinking about what has to get done at work and what to wear. then I have another ritual that includes the 4 reminders and the refuge and bodhisattva vows. and I'm facebook friends with lots of famour buddhist teachers, so I get tiny bits to contemplate every time I check my page.
I am the girl with the lotus tattoo (I often forget to sign in), and I want to get my bodhisattva name on my inner wrist, but I have to stop taking one of my medications for a couple weeks to do that so it hasn't happened. for now, I wear a ring on my right hand to remind me of my bodhisattva vow..
I love reminders, little rituals that wake me up.
I don't get how the shirt fits in though. given the design, to me, it seems outer-directed and aggressive. I'd love to hear more about your view -- what you think when you put it on.
I'm wearing a shirt right now that has "this body will be a corpse" written in sharpie on the inside hem. it's a reminder to me.

I love that people here are so mindful.

-- matt: great questions.

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 supremely theoretical (no personal attacks intended to anyone, but it's all about what might happen if you wear one).

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.

I love the conversations we have at IDP!

Keep the critiques coming :)

Love to all.

Great Conversation

There has been a great thoughtful conversation about this shirt in the past two days.  I'm especially impressed at the level of discourse happening over at the other post about this shirt.   

A few thoughts have arisen based on these conversations and I thought I'd offer a bit of a reflection of the comments.

1) Context - I think the shirt on its own doesn't need to be viewed as a "teaching", which is how it has been referenced in a few of the comments.  I think the skillful or unskillful use of the slogan will be dependent on the context of where and how it is worn.   The same is true for whether or not it will come across as "preachy" or "a teaching".   One commenter mentioned it would be unskillful if worn to a funeral, which I agree with.   But walking around a party in Williamsburg or SoHo, where bodies and youth tend to be overglorified might have an entirely different effect.    


2) Cultural Dialogue - There seems to be multiple levels on which this shirt's message is communicating.   Within the dharma community the concern is over "skillful means" and "teaching", but our culture doesn't usually operate through those two lenses for experience.   As one commenter mentioned, they had been away from NYC for six days and returned to notice an ad on a taxi cab that said "your day is about to get much better...".    To most folks in the city, this message is not about teaching or skillfulness, but it's about how their day is going to unfold.   With that message buzzing around on the top of taxi cabs, people's days' will unfold with the thought of it "Getting Better" likely leading to disappointment.    Injecting a statement about reality, rather than an empty promise, into the cultural subconscious seems to be a slightly different issue than that of  "skillful teachings", because we are talking most simply about the environment that people are experiencing right now -- not as a part of a path or series of practices.   Without the cultural background of Buddhism, the tee shirt has a very topical message, and I think it will mostly be interpreted outside of Buddhist communities as topical.



Yay patrick. :) And, yay for IDP for being bold and unafraid to offer a different message.

My experience is that confronting this truth and moving through the anxiety and pain of it is a path to living so much more fully, compassionately and fearlessly.

I love how this t-shirt has provoked so much conversation, inside and outside of the IDP community, because death in our culture is something that we have a strong tendency to not look at, yet fear of it unconsciously drives many of our choices each day. We can support each other more while facing its truth if we can talk about it openly.

I was away from NYC for six days and the first taxi cab I saw upon returning had the advertisement on top from Macy's or Bloomingdale's or Saks, can't remember which one, and it said "your day is about to get much better..." Ha! Really!? It made me laugh outloud and simultaneously feel profound sadness. It's appauling that this clever marketing is designed to speak to the part of us that is so unhappy and to offer clothing, jewelry, etc. as the answer. It's indicative of a systemic illness and I want to help offer a different cure. Facing the reality of our body's impermanence is part of it.

With love.

tattoos make great reminders

I have a lotus flower on my ankle as a mark of refuge.


agreed. as the author of the other post about this shirt, and someone who has a death-awareness related tattoo (one that usually only i might see), i shouldnt have overlooked mentioning that. thanks for doing so.

this body will be a corpse

tomorrow will never come come, and if it does, remember that "anicca" still rules the day.

the idea of marketing a philosophy in this manner, however positive, strikes me as more of the same. a good message using a poor medium is pollution.


Would some context have made this less controversial? I find the full verse:

But death is real,
Comes without warning.
This body
Will be a corpse.

... almost comforting; whereas the last lines alone are shocking and sensationalist. Especially the "Comes without warning" line seems to remove any expectation that I should do anything other than accept it -- which /may/ help lessen the impact on those who are grieving, while still making the point about impermanence. Perhaps a back-and-front shirt design next time?

Also, you missed one of the best recent subway adds -- the audio book company's "escape from any situation." Acknowledging that everyone must be miserable on the subway, they offer to remove you from the present moment.


Eth talks about slogans and advertising techniques now and then. You'd lost people with that long of a read (even though it's not that long of a read).

I saw Audible's "escape from any situation" advert this morning. Awesome! More like they put you into a NEW present moment (they're all present moments).

Actually that's something I think about a lot. Why is an escaped "present moment" any less valuable than a non-escaped present moment? Is a present moment obliterated by alcohol any less present than one sitting on a cushion thinking about dinner? Or is a W.O.W. present moment different than L.A.R.P'ing?

But I digress.

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