he 8 'stages of mastery', ...
the 8 'stages of mastery', are powers to be obtained by means of the kasina-exercises (s. kasina). In the Com. to M.77, where a^yatana is explained by 'means' (ka^rana) it is said: "The abhibha^yatana through their counteracting may master (suppress) the adverse states, and by means of higher knowledge they may master the objects of mind." They are means for transcending the sensuous sphere.
The stereotype text often met with in the Suttas (e.g. D.11, D.33; M.77; A.VIII.65; A.X.29) is as follows:
(1) "Perceiving (blue..., red..., yellow..., white) forms on one's own body, one sees forms externally small ones, beautiful or ugly; and in mastering these one understands: 'I know, I understand.' This is the first stage of mastery.
(2) "Perceiving forms on one's own body, one sees forms externally, large ones .... This is the second stage of mastery.
(3) "Not perceiving forms on one's own body, one sees forms externally, small ones .... This is the third stage of mastery.
(4) "Not perceiving forms on one's own body, one sees forms externally, large ones .... This is the fourth stage of mastery.
(5) "Not perceiving forms on one's own body, one sees forms externally, blue forms, forms of blue colour, blue appearance, blue lustre, and mastering these one understands: 'I know, I understand. This is the fifth stage of mastery."
(6-8) The same is repeated with yellow, red and white forms.
As preparatory kasina-object for the 1st and 2nd exercise one should choose on one's own body a small or a large spot, beautiful or ugly, and thereon one should concentrate one's full undivided attention, so that this object after a while reappears as mental reflex or image (nimitta, q.v.) and, as it were, as something external. Such an exercise, though appearing quite mechanical, if properly carried out will bring about a high degree of mental concentration and entrance into the 4 absorptions (jha^na, q.v.). In the 3rd and 4th exercises the monk by an external kasina-object gains the mental reflexes and absorptions. As objects of the remaining exercises, perfectly clear and radiant colours should be chosen, flowers, cloth, etc.
A kasina-object of small size is said to be suitable for a mentally unsteady nature, one of a large size for a dull nature, a beautiful object for an angry nature, an ugly one for a lustful nature.
In Vis.M. V it is said: "By means of the earth-kasina one succeeds in reaching the stage of mastery with regard to small and large objects .... By means of the blue-kasina one succeeds in causing blue forms to appear, in producing darkness, in reaching the stage of mastery with regard to beautiful and ugly colours, in reaching 'deliverance through the beautiful', etc." (cf. vimokkha II, 3). The same is also said with regard to the other colour kasinas.