Yesterday I listened on the radio a very good sermon on “Meditating on Bones” by Luang Pu Sim Putthajaro. Luang Pu Sim was one of the first students of Luang Pu Mun Phurithatto, who was the well known monk in the Northeastern Thailand forest tradition. Luang Pu Sim taught what is called “Itthikang Kradook Samroi Ton” (อัฏฐิกังกระดูกสามร้อยท่อน) in Thai. He asked us to sit in the usual meditation posture and visualize ourselves as nothing more than a skeleton. No skin, no flesh, no internal organs, just bones and skeleton.
He taught us to start by thinking that we are already dead for several years, so right now we are nothing but a heap of bones put together. According to Buddhism, there are three hundred pieces of bones that we need to consider. This is more than what science is saying, because science or modern anatomy does not consider the soft bones, only hard ones. Luang Pu told us to look at ourselves as bones, starting from the skull first. What we take to be our heads, consisting of two eyes, a nose, a mouth, two ears and so forth, are in fact just a skull. We need to meditate on our heads as a skull that is simply put on top of the neck bones. So right now we are carrying this skull around. What we take to be a pretty face, beautiful eyes and so forth, are in fact nothing but a skull. We consider that the skull has nothing as an eye, only two empty sockets. The nose that is long and slender is only an empty slit in front of the skull. The ears are nowhere to be found. Our faces, which we recognize to be a distinguishing feature of who we are, are nothing but the front part of the skull, and since all skulls look alike, the distinguishing face then is all gone.
Then we consider the other bones — neck bones, shoulder blades, ribs, upper and lower vertebrates, upper arm bone, lower arm bones, finger bones, hip bones, knee cap, shin bones, and so on. We need to look at ourselves as nothing other than just bones strung together, like a puppet. We need to stay on this meditation for a while until it becomes absolutely clear to us that we are nothing but bones. Then we consider other people. They are nothing but bones too. So all those humans that we consider to be beautiful or sexy, etc., are just like skeleton puppets moving around comically. Imagine skeletons hung by strings and pulled up and down, jumping around the same ways puppets do. Imagine that this is really what we are. Right now it is this heap of bones that are sitting and doing the meditation. What we taking to be “ourselves” is nothing just these bones. When we walk, it is these bones that walk; when we stand, it is these bones that stand; when we eat, it is these bones that eat. Everywhere we look at our bodies, we find nothing but bones — leg bones, finger bones, toe bones, vertebrates, skull, eye socket, jaw bones, front teeth, molars, shin bones, hip bones, and so on and on.
And when we are out of the meditation session, we still carry the meditation with us. Thus we always look at ourselves here as just a heap of bones. This body that is typing on the keyboard is just bones, and it is finger bones that are doing the typing. The flesh and the skin are all gone — what is there is only bones. Other people are bones too. When other people walk, it is just like a skeleton puppet “walk” by actually being pulled up and down through strings by the puppet master. The sexy body that we crave is just another heap of bones.
So when we keep on doing this meditation, we will be put on a sure path toward true renunciation. What is there to be attached to if there is nothing but bones? It will lead to an understanding of emptiness also, since what we normally take to be individual characters of people are nothing but an illusion. In reality there are just bones. Nothing more or less than these three hundred pieces of bones that we normally take to be a human being.
So next time when you look at yourselves, try to meditation and stay focused on the fact that our physical bodies are nothing but a heap of bones. We are all skeletons, and in fact we are all ghosts! If we are afraid of ghosts, then we should be afraid of ourselves. If we are afraid of death, then we should be afraid of ourselves here right now at this very present moment, because we are already dead as we are just a skeleton consisting of three hundred pieces of bones. These three hundred bones, Luang Pu Sim teaches, belong to nobody. They are just parts of nature and they will come and go according to their own causes and conditions. Meditating on this, we find a way to eliminate all the defilements — greed, anger and delusion — because these delusions arise only because of we do not see the truth that we and all others are nothing but bones. Luang Pu says that due to attachments sometimes we cry, but in fact the bones are crying! Don’t you see how comical and funny this is? The bones are crying! How silly it is! Luang Pu said that what we need to do is to be always mindful of the fact that we are nothing but bones, and don’t let go of this. If we are nothing but bones, where is our “self” that we so cherish?