5 Spiritual Bodies are Yours - The Real Esoteric School and the Five Koshas
Most people know very little about the details of Esoteric Buddhism. Their only familiarity with this spiritual path is knowing that Tibetan Buddhism and Shingon exist, which are its two branches, but they don’t know what they entail. Let me explain what Esoteric Buddhism is about is in a very short and simple way. What I will introduce is probably new to most people, so the information will probably surprise you, yet this is the real Esoteric school whose teachings are normally hidden from the public.
Nearly every Buddhist has read the Diamond Sutra, and knows that within it Shakyamuni Buddha and Subhuti are discussing various topics. At one point Buddha asks Subhuti how many eyes he has, and the conversation leads to the fact that Buddha has human eyes, deva eyes, wisdom eyes, dharma eyes and Buddha eyes.
These eyes belong to different bodies that a Buddha simultaneously lives in. The meaning of the conversation is that a person who is fully enlightened actually has attained five bodies they can use due to their cultivation work. If you have attained the enlightenment of the fourth dhyana, you have only attained four bodies, each of which is composed of a more purified, rarified substance than our physical flesh. That is why you cannot see these higher bodies. Having four bodies is the stage of an Arhat or Celestial immortal in Taoism. A completely enlightened Buddha, however, is a Great Golden Arhat and has attained five bodies. Each body has different powers because it resides on a different plane. The fifth body is the “perfect sambhogakaya” and is said to be composed of Primordial (Early) Heavenly Qi. In Buddhist teachings this is the highest body you can attain.
The fact that you can generate these bodies is also mentioned in Taoism, which says that due to cultivation your Jing transforms into Qi, Qi into Shen, Shen into Emptiness and you have to let go of this Emptiness to reach the Tao. In other words, out of your physical body made of Jing you can create a body double composed of Qi, which is the subtle body enjoyed by devas.
Next, devas who cultivate can generate an invisible body made of Shen out of their Qi body, which is the Mental, Mantra or Causal body. This happens when they “break through the sensation skandha.” When from this body they do further cultivation work they can generate the next higher body made of Later Heavenly Qi, which is the body of enlightened Arhats. This is also called a Universal body, Wisdom body, Dharma body, Supra-Causal body or clear light body. This is the stage of emptiness in Taoism.
The next level of attainment is a body composed out of Primordial Heavenly Qi, which belongs to a completely enlightened Buddha. Therefore it is called a Buddha body. The purpose of Buddhism is to help you cultivate these bodies, for they live a long time and free you from rebirth in the lower planes of existence. By cultivating these bodies you free yourself from suffering.
Do you want to know what the five koshas (sheaths) of Hinduism are - the annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, and anandamaya koshas? They are these five bodies!
The Esoteric school talks in terms of body attainments instead of just mental attainments of no thought, emptiness, no self, formlessness and so on. It says you cannot just cultivate emptiness or you will never attain the sambhogakaya. It says that you must also cultivate your Qi, which is your life force, and then you can start to produce these bodies. Therefore the Esoteric school of Buddhism focuses on yoga practice, nei-gong practices, and other Qi practices to cultivate your Qi while aiming for the subtle body attainment, and after that attainment you can receive further teachings. Most all religions speak about this, but the teachings are usually hidden.
For instance, the Tamil Siddha and Nath Yoga traditions in India talk about a cultivation sequence that starts with a physical body and then proceeds to a purified Qi body, body of Vibrations, Wisdom Light body and then Body of Immanence. These are the same five bodies. The Sufis of Islam talk about us having a Gross body, Subtle body, Mental body, Universal body and Shiva-Atma or Paramatma body. Vedanta talks about five koshas or sheiths that are the same five bodies. For Confucianism, Mencius explained these five bodies saying that there are the Faith, Beauty, Grandness, Sage and then Divineness stages of spiritual attainment. These correspond to the first, second, third and fourth dhyana attainments along with Perfect and Complete Enlightenment. So even Confucianism recognizes the five stages of spiritual achievement!
When Buddhism also talks about your physical actions, verbal actions (speech), mental actions, willful resolutions, and then subtle knowledge or sublime wisdom it is also referring to the Physical body, Subtle body, Causal body, Supra-Causal body and perfect sambhogakaya. I could show the five bodies in at least a dozen more spiritual paths and religions including Christianity and Judaism, but this is esoteric information that is normally secret to the public.
As a human being you can only see one body of an enlightened master when he sits with you teaching, but a fully enlightened master actually has four additional separate bodies that are independently doing different activities in the world or other planes. That’s why sometimes they don’t seem to fully be there when they are talking to you. Once you attain a higher body you start identifying with that body and take it to be your main living vehicle. However, normally you maintain your lower body and this is the one that everyone on a lower plane normally sees without knowing about your higher accomplishments.
The path of Esoteric Buddhism focuses on cultivating these body attainments through difficult Yoga practices that arouse the kundalini fire (Yang Qi) within you. This burns out all the impurities in the human body so that a deva body, made of subtle Qi, can emerge from your physical body. When the subtle body emerges from the physical body, which is called a “yin shen” in Taoism, this is called “breaking free of the form skandha” in Buddhism since you leave the cage of the physical body. Now you have two bodies, and have attained the first dhyana stage of the Srotapanna (Stream entrant) in Buddhism. In Taoism you have become an “Earth Immortal.” If you cultivate your Qi body to a higher stage of purity you become a Sakadagam, which is the second dhyana attainment of Buddhism.
If you continue your yoga purification processes for a subtle body made of Qi, it becomes purified and then out of it can be generated a Mental body, which Hindus call a Causal body. It is also called a Mantra body or body of Vibrations. This is the body attainment of someone who attains the third dhyana, and in Buddhism they are called an Anagamin who has “broken free of the sensation skandha.” In Taoism this is the “Spirit Immortal.”
If the intensified yoga practices are continued, then from within this body can be generated a yet higher transcendental body of the Arhat, and the person is now enlightened because they “broken free of the conception skandha.” This is the fourth dhyana attainment, or nirvana with remainder. It is the “Celestial Immortal” stage within Taoism. The human who attains this stage now has four bodies that they can simultaneously use to perform deeds in the world – a human body, subtle body made of Qi, Causal body made of Shen, and enlightenment body made of Later Heavenly Qi.
If he continues working hard the individual can generate yet another body out of their enlightenment body only this one is composed of Primordial (Early) heavenly Qi. This is the full sambhogakaya body talked about within Buddhism.
Buddhism also has a yardstick for attainment that it calls the “bhumis.” There are ten Bodhisattva bhumis in Buddhism but few people know that the first two bhumis refer to the subtle body attainment and stage of the Srotapanna.
The third and fourth bhumi refer to the second stage of Arhats, the Sakadagam, who still has a subtle body made of Qi, but the Qi is more refined than that of the Srotapanna. This is the stage of the second dhyana accomplishment.
The fifth and sixth bhumis refer to the Anagamin, who has attained a Causal, Mental or Mantra body and can cultivate the third dhyana and samadhi of infinite space. They work hard at cultivating mental emptiness, which is described as a clear mind that is empty like space yet allows thoughts to arise within it.
The seventh and eight bhumis refer to an Arhat, who is considered enlightened but with a remainder. Therefore they are not completely enlightened. Because they have broken through the conception skandha they can cultivate the fourth dhyana and the samadhi of infinite consciousness and samadhi of infinite nothingness.
The fully enlightened Buddha is ranked at the ninth or tenth bhumis and has attained a perfect sambhogakaya composed of Primordial Heavenly Qi.
Once the kundalini is truly initiated within your body due to cultivation practices, it takes twelve years to generate the subtle deva body made of Qi. Very few people can do this without an enlightened master. It requires lots of cultivation effort such as meditation, mantra practice, visualization efforts (such as the white skeleton visualization), pranayama breath retention exercises, nei-gong exercises, Yoga stretching or martial arts, charity and virtue, and other cultivation efforts. Once you have attained that invisible spirit body that can leave your physical body at will then devas, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are supposed to teach you further instructions.
Without going into more details, such as what it is like to have multiple bodies (this is explained a little bit in the Surangama Sutra), that is the Esoteric school in a nutshell. Buddhism normally emphasizes that you cultivate consciousness to a state of purity but the Esoteric school of Buddhism puts an even stronger emphasis on cultivating your Qi, or physical body, so that you can achieve these attainments. Most of this information is considered secret, and most of the information I have just written about will seem new to ardent Buddhists, but this is the truth of the path. This is the gist of Esoteric Buddhism.
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