The 8 spheres of mastery are rather obscure in early Buddhist texts. The suttas and sutras never really explain them. The best we get is SN 35.96, which references sense restraint. This seems to be what they are about, since they talk of mastery over different āyatana specifically for knowing and understanding lust. Venerable Buddhaghosa, following the Theravādin commentaries, explains them in terms of the Kasiṇa. Whilst I can understand how this conclusion was reached, it seems a little forces to me. In comparison the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Śāstra explains them in terms of the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma, where it is said they are practices on foulness and Jhāna. I think this is somewhat closer to what was originally intended. For them too however when it comes to the colours, they are interpreted in terms of the colour Kasiṇa. In reading some of the Jain’s literature, I wonder if there is a different interpretation. In the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra it talks of “Leśyā”. Leśyā are different types of kammic substances which interact with the soul and “colour” it, so that people the behave in different ways. They are explained as follows
I shall deliver in due order the Lecture on Leśyā; hear the nature of the six Leśyās (produced by) Karman. (1) Hear 1. the names, 2. colours, 3. tastes, 4. smells, 5. touches, 6. degrees, 7. character, 8. variety, 9. duration, 10. result, and 11. life of the Leśyās. (2)
They are named in the following order: black, blue, grey, red, yellow, and white. (3)
The black Leśyā has the colour of a rain-cloud, a buffalo’s horn, (the fruit of) Riṣṭaka, or the eye of the wagtail. (4)
The blue Leśyā has the colour of the blue Aśoka, the tail of the Casha, or of lapis lazuli. (5)
The grey Leśyā has the colour of the flower of Atasī, the feathers of the Kokila, or the collar of pigeons. (6)
The red Leśyā has the colour of vermilion, the rising sun, or the bill of a parrot. (7)
The yellow Leśyā has the colour of orpiment, turmeric, or the flowers of Śaṇa and Asana. (8)
The white Leśyā has the colour of a conch-shell, the aṅka-stone, Kunda-flowers, flowing milk, silver, or a necklace of pearls. (9)
The following is from wikipedia, but I think it sums up the Jain view quite well
The ancient Jain text Uttarādhyayana-sūtra speaks of six main categories of leśyā represented by six colours – black (krishna), blue (neel), grey (kapot), red (tejo), yellow (padma) and white (shukla). Uttarādhyayana-sūtra describes the mental disposition of persons having black and white leśyās:
Black lesya (krishna leshya) represents the lowest kind of state of mind. A person in this state of mind shows no compassion or mercy. People are afraid of them as these kinds of people are often violent. They also carry jealousy and animosity within themselves. A man who acts on the impulse of the five sins, does not possess the three guptis, has not ceased to injure the six (kinds of living beings), commits cruel acts, is wicked and violent, is afraid of no consequences, is mischievous and does not subdue his senses – a man of such habits develops the black leśyā.
— Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, 34.21:22
People in blue lesya (neel leshya) are proud, haughty, and lazy. They are unreliable and other people avoid their company. They are cheaters, cowards, and hypocrites. These people also avoid all things religious. A man of the following qualities: envy, anger, want of self-control, ignorance, deceit, want of modesty, greed, hatred, wickedness, carelessness, love of enjoyment; a man who pursues pleasures and does not abstain from sinful undertakings, who is wicked and violent – a man of such habits develops the blue leśyā.
— Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, 34.23:24
Someone in grey lesya (kapot lesya) always remains sad and gloomy. They find faults in others and are vindictive. They boast about themselves, become excited over small matters, and lack mental balance. A man who is dishonest in words and acts, who is base, not upright, a dissembler and deceiver 3, a heretic, a vile man, a talker of hurtful and sinful things, a thief, and full of jealousy – a man of such habits develops the grey leśyā.
— Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, 34.25:26
People in red lesya (tejo leshya) are very careful about their actions and can discriminate between good and evil. They know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. They are kind, benevolent, religious, and lead a harmonious life. A man who is humble, steadfast, free from deceit and inquisitiveness, well disciplined, restrained, attentive to his study and duties, who loves the Law and keeps it, who is afraid of forbidden things and strives after the highest good–a man of such habits develops the red leśyā.
— Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, 34.27:28
A person with yellow lesya (padma leshya) is kind and benevolent and forgives everyone, even their enemies. They observe some austerities (mahavrata) and are vigilant in keeping their vows till their last breath. They remain unaffected by joys and sorrows. A man who has but little anger, pride, deceit, and greed, whose mind is at ease, who controls himself, who is attentive to his study and duties, who speaks but little, is calm, and subdues his senses–a man of such habits develops the yellow leśyā.
— Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, 34.29:30
Shukla (“white”) leshya has two different levels. This state of mind refers to someone who strictly observe the principles of Jainism. They are trustworthy, treat every soul as if it were their own, and do not have any ill feelings even for their enemies. They remain calm even if someone abuses them. Passing in this state of mind allows a being to be reborn as a human being or an angel. People who have perfected this state of mind will become pure and will have escaped the cycle of life and death once they have died. A man who abstains from constant thinking about his misery and about sinful deeds, but engages in meditation on the law and truth only, whose mind is at ease, who controls himself, who practises the samitis and guptis, whether he be still subject to passion or free from passion, is calm, and subdues his senses–a man of such habits develops the white leśyā.
— Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, 34.31:32
Now not all of these colours match what we find the in the abhibhāyatana suttas/sutras, and naturally the Buddha wouldn’t have agreed with the metaphysics here. However, could it possibly be the case that the Buddha had this idea in mind when he taught the abhibhāyatana? If we take this to be the overcoming of lust and ill-will in general
One percipient of forms internally sees forms externally, limited, beautiful or ugly. Having overcome them, he is percipient thus: ‘I know, I see.’ (2) One percipient of forms internally sees forms externally, measureless, beautiful or ugly. Having overcome them, he is percipient thus: ‘I know, I see.’ (3) One not percipient of forms internally sees forms externally, limited, beautiful or ugly. Having overcome them, he is percipient thus: ‘I know, I see.’ (4) One not percipient of forms internally sees forms externally, measureless, beautiful or ugly. Having overcome them, he is percipient thus: ‘I know, I see.’
Then could this be the overcoming of lust and ill-will towards different personality types?
(5) One not percipient of forms internally sees forms externally, blue ones, blue in color, with a blue hue, with a blue tint … (6) … yellow ones, yellow in color, with a yellow hue, with a yellow tint … (7) … red ones, red in color, with a red hue, with a red tint … (8) … white ones, white in color, with a white hue, with a white tint. Having overcome them, he is percipient thus: ‘I know, I see.’ For direct knowledge of lust, these eight things are to be developed.”
All thoughts and comments welcome.