The Five Skandhas
To exist as humans, we comprise the five skandhas or aggregates, and this is how we hold it all together.
Simply put, the five skandhas are:
The body’s sense organs
Sensations of those organs
Recognition of perception
Judgment and memory
Consciousness is the awareness before recognition (perception): consciousness is aware that something is there, and perception determines what it is. We then, through memory, make a judgement on that. We hear a sound and consciousness is alerted. Recognition perceives that it is a car: then we judge whether we like it or not. This happens so quickly that we become lost in a instant. This is how we are imprisoned in the activities of the mind.
Remember: this is the way in which we function as human beings. From the perspective of pure consciousness, the skandhas do not exist, but they hold our temporary, physical form together. We are released from this cycle of existence when we remember our true nature of pure consciousness (as opposed to impure consciousness).
From a spiritual point of view, pure consciousness remains within itself when in meditation. It can be aware of occurrences, but doesn’t follow them. In ordinary life, we don’t become too distracted by these arisings: we pay them just enough attention to deal with what is necessary and beneficial.
In conclusion, it seems that the skandhas are the same as the eight levels of consciousness (five of the senses and three of the mind – perception, judgement and memory).
In the experience of non-meditation, we are free of everything.