The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
|Articles by alphabetic order|
Buddhist Skandhas, Hindu Koshas, Chakras, Heavens and Enlightenment
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As regards the five skandhas, we can think of them as summarizing all the possible experiences of the mental continuum. There are five different types of things we can experience – forms, sensations, conceptions, processes, and consciousness itself. On the road of spiritual cultivation, you must learn to detach from the control of the skandhas by ceasing to identify with them. By refusing to be ruled by them, by detaching from them, this purifies them. Chi and consciousness are linked, so upon purifying each of the skandhas you are actually purifying a certain type of chi whose energies predominate with the influences or functions of what the skandha represents.
When one breaks through the conception skandha, it is equivalent to “seeing the Tao,” or “seeing the clear light” mentioned in Esoteric Buddhism, realizing non-ego as explained by Hinduism, achieving the selflessness of [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], seeing Truth or emptiness as described by Zen, the “shen transforming into emptiness” of Taoism, entering the Bodhisattva bhumis of the Mahayana path, opening up the heart chakra in tantra, Vajrayana and the Esoetric school, and many other correspondences mentioned by the world’s spiritual traditions.
You can cultivate the various samadhi without ever opening up the heart chakra but once you truly open up the heart chakra, then you achieve the stage of initial enlightenment or awakening we call “seeing the Tao.” As the Zen school says, if you don’t achieve this stage of practice, then all your prior cultivation work really accounts for nothing. This is what starts the Stage of True Cultivation Practice, or true cultivation path. Zen starts from this stage of seeing Truth, and then progresses on to the stages of cultivating realization and carrying out vows. So true Zen practice only really starts at a very high stage of spiritual attainment. It doesn’t start at samadhi, but at realizaing non-ego.
After opening up the heart chakra by letting go of thoughts and breaking through the skandha of conception, one can begin to cultivate the illusory bodies of Esoteric Buddhism, and the Sambhogakaya or Reward body. When the heart chakra opens, all the inner chi channels can start emptying themselves of a level of dirty chi that has collected and solidified over aeons. Buddha did not want people to get attached to this tantric explanation, so he simply called the process the “transformation of the five elements” since during this time you will see the dirty chi of the body exude out of the channels (through the portal of the third eye, throat chakra, heart chakra, bottom of the feet, through the toes, and so forth).
The physical body and chi body are truly transforming, so it is entirely a process of the purification of the five elements. However, the entire process occurs because of mind cultivation. It cannot occur without letting go, so Shakyamuni Buddha described the process in terms of mind to emphasize the mental aspect of practice without which none of this is possible. This was a brilliant teaching method, because as history has shown, otherwise practitioners tend to become attached to any descriptions of chi and chakras and channels and inner form, and thus inhibit their further cultivation progress because they cling to the cultivation of these as the path rather than recognizing it is all Mind-Only. When you cultivate form, you tend to get stuck to form. By emphasizing the cultivation of emptiness and wisdom, and letting form trasnfrom naturally, you tend to climb far higher on the spiritual trail.
As the dirty chi of the five elements pours out of the chi channels (the earth chi has the consistency of sand as it pours out the channels, the fire chi colors any other chi with a distinctive red [or brownish] color, the water chi is liquidy but when mixed with the earth element chi takes on the consistency of plastic, paste, vomit or apple sauce, etc.), one can also then unravel the coatings of dirty chi that actually entirely wrap or coat the chakras and inner chi body system. It is as if the entire chi channel and chakra system were wrapped with a coating of wax or plastic, and thus warping their actual shape. As the obstructions within the inner channels are removed, this outer wrapping can also be peeled away. But since the outer wrapping is tightly tied around the inner chi channel system, the unwrapping is more accurately described as an unwinding, unbinding or untying process. As the outer wrappings are removed, with each complete set of unwrappings a truer and more perfect shape of the underlying chi channels and chakra system is revealed. A psychic who thinks they know what chakras look like never sees their real shape because they never see people who have broken through the skandhas.
If take a plastic figurine and keeping dipping it in hot wax, over time it will become so coated with layers of wax that its original shape cannot be distinguished anymore. When someone therefore looks at the chakras of an ordinary meditator, what they think is the shape of the chakras is far different than their true shape after all these layers of chi have been stripped away. Thus, the original shape of the chakras is only revealed after all this dirty chi is stripped away from within the channels and from around them, revealing a structure of chi channels and chakras that looks progressively more beautiful and fully developed each time one progresses through a skandha. One needs to pull off at least three coatings of this chi before they can free themselves from each of the conception, volition and consciousness skandhas. There are a total of 3 x 3, or nine unwindings, before one is through it all, which is why Manjushri told the Zen monk Wu Cho “Previous to, 3 x3.” He also said, “Afterwards, 3 x 3,” but we won’t go into these higher stages of purifying the pure illusory body.
When one cultivates the volitions skandha, they will encounter the source of life and understand the meaning of yin and yang, or Shakti and Shiva, which they will see crackling around the surface of the cosmic birth egg of the sambhogakaya that had first formed from the heart chakra. It looks like an egg, but is a bit flattish at the top, and an esoteric body forms within. In the western alchemy schools and in Taoism, this outside differentiation of the true yin and yang forces, which you see for the first time, is called discriminating between yin and yang.
It is easy to become misled as one passes through this skandha, because in one’s imagination you will also see also sorts of images regarding the sources of creation and destruction in the world or universe, which are ceaseless processes that turn and turn and turn. The volitions skandha is forever involved in processes of ceaseless transformation, and at this level you can begin to understand the chi aspects of creation and destruction on a personal, worldy, and universal level. Thoughts arise and disappear and will ever continue to do so. The key is never to cling to what arises.
At this stage, the chi of the root chakra will seem as if enclosed in a crystal dome, and when this odd shaped dome pops off the wavering nature of this life force chi wavering across the mouth of the root chakra will be revealed for the first time. When one first passes through the conception skandha and opens up the root chakra at that level of practice, the pumping of the root chakra chi that is unleashed will cause the famous “Zen sickness.” When one cultivates through the volitions skandha and unplugs the root chakra at this layer of inner chi body, they will experience the Zen sickness again but at a more refined level of chi, and the same thing will happen again when they unplug the root chakra at the level of chi purification corresponding to clearing out the chi routes for the inner chi layers of the consciousness skandha. If you read any of the poetry written when an individual is at this stage, its rhythm and cadence will help open up your channels and transform your ether body, too. This is one of the reasons Buddha, Milarepa, and many Hindu sages often spoke in verse or “songs.”
Upon breaking through the consciousness skandha, one can reach a state of nonproduction, attain direct perception, and merge into the pristine crystal clarity of the original nature. It’s like there is no inside or outside, and two clarities merge into one another. Is this final stage of clarity permanent? We can only say after doing all this work that you have made a good dent in your cultivation by purifying the inner chi bodies and thus laid a good foundation for cultivation attainment. But to consider oneself enlightened is a mistake indeed. Much more work is to be done. Much more. You’ve only really started. At best you have purified your body somewhat and made it easier to cultivate your mind and behavior.
At this stage, you must continue cultivating now that the five elements have been somewhat purified, your inner chi body has been somewhat purified, and the layers of chi that enwrap its original structure have been stripped away. In fact, with each level of stripping you are unraveling the chi binding the most original etheric forms of the chakras, and while it seems you are unwrapping the crown chakra at each stage, you have not really freed that particular chakra from all the bindings until you really succeed past the consciousness skandha. This is a supreme teaching and supreme event of which little is known except to successful practitioners.
This is an extremely high level secret, including the fact that freeing the crown chakra from the layers of consciousness chi will cause a definite reaction in the environment. Each time you pull off these layers of chi you are disturbing the chi in the local environment, collapsing the castles and denizens of ghosts and demons. In the Surangama Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha explained this, which is why they sometimes arise to oppose you. When you break through the consciousness skandha you will even feel a small earthquake in the entire chi of the surrounding area, but when you really pull the crown chakra out of these chi layers, which will happen much later, you will produce a gigantic response in the human world. This type of event is extremely rare, and it is because such individuals who have won their freedom can become cultural and cultivation leaders of mankind that such a ripple effect is felt that shakes the world. If a fish jumps out of a lake the surface of the water is broken to create ripples, and as you break free of the chi layers that form the world, the pulling to freedom creates reverberations in the world as well.
While this process of breaking through the three upper skandhas, or “three gates,” can take a short period of time, to complete the cleansing of the chi channels after one breaks through the five skandhas requires a much longer period. That’s why you go into retreat to cultivate the samadhi and the Tao. It is especially difficult to open the chi channels to bottom of the feet when going through this process. One is thereafter more mentally empty after all this unwinding, but old habits still arise and thoughts still arise. They’re just easier to mentally see so that a cultivator aimed at purification can better police themselves at changing their own behavior. The Buddha Samantabhadra said that the cutting off of old errors and the progression of gong-fu at this stage takes time and cannot be done away with all at once. The gong-fu proceeds step-by-step as it matures. What one has to do at this time is continue to cultivate the Tao and the various samadhi to lay a yet firmer foundation, and for this the Anapanasati Sutra is the top, top method used by the greatest Zen masters, a secret rarely shared. Breathing methods and prajna watching cultivation are key.
To break through these last three skandhas are what is known as the “three gates of Zen.” During this time, the Esoteric school says that one is actually purifying the illusory body, and in tantric parlance one is emptying out the chi channels and unwrapping the inner chi body of the layers of dirty chi wrapped around it, as if it were bound or tied to a covering. They describe the process as like untying a knot, though you could also describe the unwrapping of these outer chi layers as an unbinding or unwinding.
Not only will you be cultivating your inner chi body, but by progressing through the three higher skandhas you will also be cultivating the sambhogakaya, known as the Enjoyment Body or Reward Body. Upon breaking through the conception skandha you will see the chakra within this body that corresponds to the Desire Realm. It is royal blue in color with petals that are like a white wall because to Desire Realm inhabitants the color white is their concept of purity. It is upon reaching this stage that you attain the Bodhisattva bhumis and understand how the third is no different than the seventh, and the sixth is no different than the second, and so forth. To break the solidified chi resting in the base of this chakra requires a tremendous feat of will because of your Buddha vows, and without great vows of compassion and merit it is impossible to cultivate through this. Only great Buddha vows can break this chi within the chakra base, and the other enlightened beings will gather round to watch you and hear your vows when you attempt this. This is why I always tell people to imagine what they would wqnt to be able to do for the universe if they had miraculous powers like a Buddha, and endless time to devote themselves sin compassionate ways for living beings. What you decide to do is entirely up to you.
Upon breaking through the volitions skandha you can discern a smaller royal blue chakra that corresponds to the Form Realm. Its petalled wall is also royal blue, the same color as its base, because to Form Realm inhabitants, who abide within samadhi dhyana, their concept of emptiness is also like samadhi (a thought form) as well. Breaking through the consciousness skandha, the smaller Formless Realm chakra appears whose color is a bit grayish blue, the gray having a tinge of red or brown because of a subtle hate for existence that runs through the mentality of Formless Realm inhabitants. The wall (petals) here are transparent and clear because to Formless Realm beings, transparency is their concept of emptiness.
While this elucidates somewhat upon the tantric purification process of the Vajrayana or Esoteric school, in most cases the Esoteric school only explains all the processes we’ve covered by referring to the purification of the impure and then pure “illusory body.” The methods are considered secret and only available to someone who undergoes an empowerment or initiation, but even then the information you just read is never revealed. So this is the first time the descriptions of the various sambhogakaya chakras, as well as the different unbindings and unwrappings of the inner chi body, have been given. Not only are the descriptions freely offered, but you now have instructions on how the various cultivation school teachings, together with the skandha system and Vajrayana tantra are linked together. And in a bit you’ll see how they link to yet other teachings to reveal facts that have never been taught previously.
The samadhi you can cultivate at these levels of chi purification and chakra opening are much higher than the same samadhi you can cultivate without opening up the heart chakra and progressing through these purifications even though the first, second, third or fourth dhyana will reach the same heavens. And thus the Esoteric school claims that its four levels of the merging of emptiness and bliss, corresponding to each of the four dhyana, is different than the regular four dhyana. In effect they are the same, in effect they are different.
You can say this is true, and you can say this is not true. To be sure, an Orthodox, rather than Esoteric (Vajrayana or tantric) practitioner can also achieve these unwindings, so the same stages can be attained via either route. The same high stages of samadhi can be attained. You just need to know the method and teachings and put in the work. Furthermore, the esoteric and orthodox school dhyana will reach to the same heavens. Nevertheless, each of the four dhyana has a higher, lower and middle level of proficiency in attainment. It is more likely that one who undergoes the purification of the chi channels and chakras at this level, unknown to those who never open up the heart chakra to give them access to purifying the three upper skandhas, will achieve the highest levels of the samadhi attainments. That’s the meaning of the Esoteric school boasting that its samadhi are higher than those of the other cultivation schools. This boasting is not always true.
What is also important to note is that many practitioners who break through to see the Tao leave the world after this feat, and don’t stay to complete this tantric unwinding of the chakras in order to cultivate the sambhogakaya. They don’t stay in this world to finish transforming their physical bodies. However, you must do this, and cultivate all three Buddha (“emligthenment”) bodies (dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya), if you want to complete the path to complete and perfect enlightenment. Since Shakyamuni’s time, perhaps a half dozen or so individuals have fully completed the whole sequence perfectly. Rememebr that “Buddha” does not mean “Buddhism,” it is just a highly respectful term that means someone who has become enlightened.
Another big secret that no one has ever revealed before is that the five skandhas actually correspond to the five koshas of the Hindu Upanishads which form the basis of Advaita Vedanta teachings. Here’s how that works.
The Annamaya kosha, translated as the food sheath or matter sheath, refers to our coarse physical body, or sthula sharira that we all see and feel. This roughly corresponds to aspects of the form skandha of matter and appearances. Our physical body grows because of food, and is the result of the progressive development of jing, spoken of in Taoism, which thereby links that school’s explanations as well. To progress on the cultivation path we must meditate by detaching from our body so that jing can transform into chi and our chi channels can begin to open. Even the most rudimentary cultivation of the crude chi of the physical nature can result in budding psychic phenomena, as described by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Surangama Sutra. As you work through the form skandha, many such phenomena were denoted by Buddha.
The Pranayama kosha, or energy or prana sheath, corresponds to our inner chi body. This is the subtle body of Hinduism called the suksmah shariria. This kosha is named after the word “prana,” which is the Indian word for chi. Another phrase is “vital breath,” and of course breathing methods are some of the easiest ways to cultivate our chi and attain samadhi. Upon freeing oneself from being tied to our inner chi body, you can start to develop superpowers such as astral travel and also the higher thought born body described by Buddhism. It all comes from disidentifying from the body as the self, whether we’re talking about a material physical body or an etheric body made of chi. Thus we have the correspondence to the sensation skandha, though it is often difficult to precisely separate the differences between cultivating through the form and sensation skandhas. This is why they are usually lumped together.
The Manomaya kosha, or mind sheath, roughly corresponds to the conception skandha. This sheath deals with our ability to discern and analyze sense data with discriminative thought, which is the functioning of the sixth consciousness. This is why we say that only by emptying the sixth consciousness can you see the Tao, which means breaking through the conception skandha to reach a stage of clear light and non-ego. This is the same as Taoism’s saying that “shen transforms into emptiness.” You can only free yourself from this sheath by detaching from coarse discriminative thoughts and emotions. Hence we have just linked the stages and measuring systems of three cultivation schools once again – Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism.
In terms of Vajrayana, to free yourself from the manomaya kosha, or conception skandha, you must open up the heart chakra to attain initial enlightenment and enter the Bodhisattva bhumis, otherwise you will always be bound to the senses and the thought of being a body or self. This requires a degree of letting go of thoughts, feelings, perceptions and conceptions much higher than previously required for freeing oneself from the form and sensation skandhas.
The Vigyanamaya kosha, or fourth sheath corresponding to the ego and intellect, in Buddhism corresponds to the volition skandha. This skandha is greatly involved with the seventh consciousness, which is fixated on the concept of the ego and functions as our intellect. This is why Vedanta calls it the sheath of ego and intellect, or gnosis, which are the province of the seventh consciousness. The seventh consciousness is considered the organ of thinking and intellect, so the match is perfect.
This sheath corresponds to an even more refined layer of chi that deals with ceaseless processes that are always born and then die, which is why Buddha emphasized the aspects of creation and destruction for this skandha. Coarse discriminative thoughts have been dealt with when one passes through the conception skandha, but subtle currents of thought are always ceaselessly arising. These fine thoughts are evry hard to cultivate away, or empty out. Habit energies, judgments of liking and disliking, predispositions due to underlying chi currents within this etheric sheath, and random wandering thoughts and so forth are all involved with the level of chi purification corresponding to this skandha. Working through this is really a stage of true cultivation practice, as Zen says.
The Anandamayi kosha, or fifth sheath of bliss, corresponds to the consciousness skandha because in Hinduism, the final target of realization is called sat-chit-ananda or being-consciousness-bliss. Hinduism identifies pure consciousness with bliss. In the Vedic schools, masters equated the cultivation of pure consciousness as the state of ultimate bliss. In the Vedic schools before Shakyamuni, this level of attainment was identified as “unity with Brahman.” It was the attainment of a pure, desireless, never changing Self which you attained by cultivating the purity of consciousness.
However, Shakyamuni Buddha refused to take pure consciousness as the final Self, but used prajna cultivation to detach even from consciousness, which he called the alaya. He thereby surmounted the Three Realms, freeing himself from birth and death. The stage of enlightenment goes beyond consciousness, and this is the nirvana of Buddhism. In the Nirvana Sutra, it is this formless state of attainment beyond the skandhas that he identified with true “self, permanence, purity and bliss.” It is a nirvana without remainder beyond the realm of consciousness, and thus beyond the Vedic levels of the sat-chit-ananda that correspond to unity with Brahman. This is attaining the Tathagatagarbha, or womb matrix of Buddhahood. You cultivate it through prajna wisdom and by refusing to take Brahman, or consciousness as the final, ultimate self. You don’t attach to it, and thus can become free of it.
To reach this stage of attainment you must cultivate prajna wisdom, which is where Buddhism differs from all the other spiritual schools before and after it. By cultivating the prajna wisdom of direct knowing without attachment, you can quickly pass over the five skandhas completely to get the Tao, but then you must return to the task of cultivating the body, which means passing through these stages, if you want to finish the whole story and cultivate the sambhogakaya and then nirmanakaya bodies. The ability to project countless nirmanakaya emanation bodies can only be achieved after you open up the crown chakra to its fullest extent, which is extremely hard to do. The cultivation of the sambhogakaya begins when the heart chakra opens, for out of the heart chakra arises a great cosmic egg made of refined chi within which the sambhogakaya is born. But as to the crown chakra, it is difficult, difficult, oh so difficult to really open it and all the other chakras on the head that only open in the province of full enlightenment.
By design, Shakyamuni Buddha purposely chose not to explain this entire process in terms of tantric chakra and chi achievements because of a brilliant decision that eliminated any basis for clinging. Yet this is all perfectly explained within the Surangama Sutra without any need to discuss chakras or chi bodies or anything other than the “purification of the five elements.”
The teachings within the Surangama Sutra shed light upon the five koshas system of Vedanta, which gives very little actual cultivation guidance at all, and explains in detail the stages of freeing oneself from these five sheaths. These two schools are not the only ones to identify these cultivation barriers. In the school of Kashmir Shaivism, the idea of the skandhas or koshas is enveloped in the five kalas, roughly translated as “worlds” or “planes” that represent the descent or emanation of pure consciousness (cit) into matter, and this also gives no insight into how to cultivate through the kalas. The idea, however, is similar to those within the kabbalah, which calls these layers of condensation a “thickening of the light.”
In Kashmir Shaivism, the lowest plane is the nivritti kala representing gross physical existence, i.e. the form skandha. Next comes the pratishta kala representing the various psychic and subtle planes of chi that form the base of physical existence. Hence the sensation skandha. The vidya, or “knowledge” kala, corresponds to the conception skandha. Beyond that is the shanta kala, meaning a peace between Shakti and Shiva in manifestation, or the volition skandha. Lastly, the shantita kala, or “beyond even peace” stage of pure consciousness. Each of these kalas contains a number of sub-planes or levels.
In Chinese Taoism, all these processes are simply summarized as the stage of breaking free of emptiness to return to the Tao, while in Chinese astrology the skandha system is are symbolized through the five elements: wind (volitions skandha that’s constantly moving), water (sensation skandha), earth (form skandha), fire (conception skandha) and metal, also known as the space element (consciousness skandha). So even Taoism has the teachings on skandhas but in a very watered down fashion. There’s nothing within Taoism that can help you understand the particulars of these stages of cultivation other than to let go and ignore them.
In the western schools the descriptions of these stages are far less prevalent except for Taoist-like references to the five elements or planets and their spheres. This is what you would typically find in the Persian schools and western alchemy. There are also definitely mystery teachings on the unfolding of consciousness into creation, which pose “emanation” as a form of self-limitation or concentration of consciousness, but the specifics on the roadmap of “the return” and what is experienced along the way also cannot compare to what is available from Eastern schools. If you have read a lot of these types of books, you can realize I just revealed a tremendous number of secrets that explain various mystery school teachings on the “descent into matter” and how they came by some of these teachings.
The various Eastern meditation schools have not been tied down by rigid dogmas as in the west ([[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], Islam and Judaism) that prevented discussions of such things, but free of censorship have had time to work out explanations based on the actual experiences. We should not be interested in creating new dogma ourselves, but simply in finding out how to become free and treading a cultivation path to do so. A cultivation path that is designed in such a way as to teach the way out through cultivation is much better than one that just provides explanation of what is.
This doesn’t mean that western cultivators never achieved these stages. It just means that in the West we have not inherited descriptions that match the excellence of the Eastern schools. If you try to find guidance for the skandhas in the Old Testament, New Testament, Koran or anywhere similar, you just won’t find anything as significant or as helpful. You will often find descriptions of some cultivator’s ascent through the lower heavens due to their budding cultivation attainments, such as Jacob’s ladder, Ezekiel’s ascent in the Bible or Mohammed’s ascent in the Koran, but descriptions of the heavenly realms cannot seriously help you with your cultivation and usually lead to speculation and mystical musings. Usually these descriptions of an “ascent” are limited to seven heavens, corresponding to the seven major chakras of the body. That’s all they really represent.
Plenty of religions offer such descriptions, and furthermore the heavenly realms mentioned within western religions and Jewish,Christian and Persian mysticism don’t even proceed very far. Most don’t even go past the heavens of the first dhyana, which leaves out the higher three form dhyana, the four formless absoprtions and the nirvana with remainder! This in itself, plus the fact that the number of heavens is usually limited to seven, tips you off that a school is very low and only talking about budding samadhi attainments because there are far more heavens than that, and when we speak of Buddhahood we speak of ten major chakras rather than the standard seven, for several extra chakras in the head only appear upon complete enlightenment. Naturally we are ignoring the countelss smaller chakras in the body organs, fingers, toes and so forth throughout the body.
In some traditions, such as Chinese Taoism, the Big Dipper is even used as a focus of cultivation because it contains seven stars, and thus each one can be matched to a chakra. Furthermore, its general shape reminds one of the chi channels in the body. This explains a big secret as well for this particular cultivation technique of visualizing the Big Dipper.
The Jewish merkavah mystics, based on the “chariot wheels” (chakras) described by Ezekiel, developed their own symbolism into the menorah, a seven branched candelabrum used in the Temple in Jerusalem. [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]] has its seven churches mentioned in Revelations, and so on it goes. Every cultivation school takes the basic fact of the seven chakras and wraps it with its own culture; Jewish cultivation technology becomes identified with Jewish law and scripture, Chinese technology becomes culturally encoded with a Chinese or Taoist framework, and the same process universally happens for Vedic, western alchemical and other cultivation schools. It has to be so, otherwise the path of cultivation cannot reach the people and penetrate into the culture. Don’t become confused by this fact, or end up thinking one school or another is thus supreme.
Having knowledge of heavenly realms and celestial spheres is not very useful and also very different than knowledge of the skandhas and how to return to the original source. Anyone who cultivates sufficiently, regardless of their religion, will open up their seven chakras as a prerequisite to the path. That’s a basic foundation for cultivating the Tao, but it isn’t the Tao. It’s only a foundation. They’ll also go through the skandhas, if they proceed far enough, and discover these layers of solidified chi just as have the practitioners of these many separate spiritual streams. It’s not something denominational, though it’s true that certain schools describe this and some don’t. In fact, most practitioners remain at the stage of samadhi attainments without cultivating prajna wisdom or opening up the heart chakra so as to be able to pass through the skandhas. Past cultivation battles between practitioners within competing schools were often held to see who proceeded furthest in their cultivation.
The descent of consciousness into matter, so-to-speak, and then the experiences perceived in freeing oneself from the layers of solidified chi, constitute a non-denominational struggle that produces common experiences just as outlined by Shakyamuni Buddha. The fact that chi and consciousness are linked, and therefore that different types of chi are responsible for different types of experiences in the mental continuum, and that some of these chi types are found in predominant layers is quite scientific. How to get free of the influence of these various energies is to stop grabbing and holding on to consciousness, which can leap you out of the system entirely. That’s the cultivation of prajna wisdom. You never hold onto whatever arises but just let go and observe, letting the mind ever remain free while it gives birth. Prajan is hard to cultivate, but prajna cultivation IS the way. Cultivating the chakras is not he way but cultivating prajna trasncendental wisdom is the way.
An alternative path of some schools is to insist on cultivating chi, chakras and channels and physical body, as done in tantra and Taoism, but most people fail along this route because of the clinging. This is what you typically see in the schools of Taoism, Tibetan Buddhism, yoga, tantra and kabbalah wherein practitioners cultivate by concentrating on form. As my own teacher often said time and again, these practitioners are the real catastrophes of cultivation, always clinging to their chi, the chakras, the channels and other etheric structures. They never break free for life time after life time because they develop a strong habit of clinging to form in their concentrations. They are the real catastrophes of the spiritual path. By concentrating on these things too much they forget what they are doing; they break a cardinal rule of cultivation by believing consciousness resides in the body when it is non-dual, non-local.
This is why in Orthodox Buddhism one is advised to cultivate prajna wisdom and then after seeing the dharmakaya, to then continue cultivating the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya bodies. The skandha system explains this. Therefore all things considered, the skandha system is a better means to help you achieve cultivation progress. If you truly want to understand the skandha system, while many schools offer insights the best starting point for further study is the Surangama sutra, followed by the Upanishads and Kashmir Shaivism.