Ven. Buddhadasa's explaining by pictures may be form interest:
There is a story here which one should know before studying the picture. A man who is fleeing from five thieves reaches a river where he discovers a floating corpse; he jumpes onto if and crosses the river. Here instead of thieves, five birds have been drawn in the right hand corner and these also represent the five heaps (khandha
) or aggregates: material quality (rupa
), feeling (vedana
), memory (sanna
), volition (sankhara
) and consciousness (vinnanna
). All of these are characterized by grasping (upadana
) and are complete analysis of one’s self.
The rotting corpse, used to cross the river, is none other than one’s loathsome and disagreeable body. (One should not suppose that the body in Buddhist Teaching is to be despised, nor are the consequences of doing so (self-torture) ever found in Buddhist Teachings. However, the true nature of the body has to be seen with insight - as it really is and not as one wishes it might be since everyone knows, when they think about it, that it is naturally subject to old age, disease and death.) The corpse however, is still useful in reaching the further shore of Nibbana
. The monks, and the laypeople holding lotus blossoms are those who have realized the truth and recognized the danger of the five heaps which constitute a “person” and are no longer attached to them.