The 6 'higher powers', or supernormal knowledge's, consist of 5 mundane (lokiya) powers attainable through the utmost perfection in mental concentration (samādhi, q.v.) and one supermundane (lokuttara) power attainable through penetrating insight (vipassanā), i.e. extinction of all cankers (āsavakkhaya; s. āsava), in other words, realization of Arahatship or Holiness.
(1) magical powers (iddhi-vidha),
(2) divine ear (dibba-sota),
(3) penetration of the minds of others (ceto-pariya-ñāna),
(4) remembrance of former existences (pubbe-nivāsānussati),
(5) divine eye (dibba-cakkhu),
(6) extinction of all cankers (āsavakkhaya).
The stereotype text met with in all the 4 Sutta-collections (e.g. D.34; M.4, M.6, M.77; A.III.99; A.V.23; S.15.9 and Pug.271, Pug.239) is as follows:
(1) "Now, O Bhikkhus, the monk enjoys the various magical powers (iddhi-vidha), such as being one he becomes manifold, and having become manifold he again becomes one. He appears and disappears. Without being obstructed he passes through walls and mountains, just as if through the air. In the earth he dives and rises up again, just as if in the water. He walks on water without sinking, just as if on the earth. Cross-legged he floats through the air, just like a winged bird. With his hand he touches the sun and moon, these so mighty ones, so powerful ones. Even up to the Brahma-world he has mastery over his body.
(2) "With the divine ear (dibba-sota) he hears sounds both heavenly and human, far and near.
(3) "He knows the minds of other beings (parassa ceto-pariya-ñāna), of other persons, by penetrating them with his own mind. He knows the greedy mind as greedy and the not-greedy one as not greedy; knows the hating mind as hating and the not-hating one as not hating; knows the deluded mind as deluded and the not-deluded one as not deluded; knows the shrunken mind and the distracted one, the developed mind and the undeveloped one, the surpassable mind and the unsurpassable one, the concentrated mind and the unconcentrated one, the freed mind and the unfreed one.
(4) "He remembers manifold former existences (pubbe-nivāsānussati), such as one birth, two, three, four and five births .... hundred thousand births; remembers many formations and dissolutions of worlds: 'There I was, such name I had .... and vanishing from there I entered into existence somewhere else .... and vanishing from there I again reappeared here.' Thus he remembers, always together with the marks and peculiarities, many a former existence .
(5) ''With the divine eye (dibba-cakkhu = yathā-kammūpaga-ñāna or cutūpapāta-ñāna), the pure one, he sees beings vanishing and reappearing, low and noble ones, beautiful and ugly ones, sees how beings are reappearing according to their deeds (s. karma): 'These beings, indeed, followed evil ways in bodily actions, words and thoughts, insulted the noble ones, held evil views, and according to their evil views they acted. At the dissolution of their body, after death, they have appeared in lower worlds, in painful states of existence, in the world of suffering, in hell. Those other beings, however, are endowed with good action .... have appeared in happy state of existence, in a heavenly world.
(6) "Through the extinction of all cankers (āsavakkhaya) even in this very life he enters into the possession of deliverance of mind, deliverance through wisdom, after having himself understood and realized it.''
4-6 appear frequently under the name of the 'threefold (higher) knowledge' (te-vijjā). They are, however, not a necessary condition for the attainment of sainthood (arahatta), i.e. of the sixth abhiññā.
Vis.M. XI-XIII gives a detailed explanation of the 5 mundane higher powers, together with the method of attaining them.
In connection with the 4 kinds of progress (s. patipadā), abhiññā means the 'comprehension' achieved on attainment of the paths and fruitions.