The tantric teachings have meanings on many levels, so to unlock the accurate meaning of a tantra we must follow a series of methods which are known as the six limits and four modes. These ten approaches taken all together will bring out the perfect, accurate meaning of the tantra.
The six limits apply to how we understand the text as a whole and the four modes relate directly to the interpretation of each word and line.
Four modes (Skt. caturvidha; Wyl. tshul bzhi) are:
- literal (or morphemic) (tshig gi tshul)
- general (spyi'i tshul)
- hidden (sbas pa'i tshul)
- ultimate (mthar thug gi tshul)
- Four programs of interpretation (Thurman)
- Four styles (Matthew Kapstein)
- (Khenpo Palden Sherab & Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal)
- word meaning
- Robert Thurman. 'Vajra Hermeneutics' in Donald S. Lopez (ed.), Buddhist Hermeneutics. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993
- Appendix 1. The Six Limits & Four Modes pp.161-166 in The Light of Wisdom Volume 1. Root text by Padmasambhava and commentary by Jamgön Kongtrül the Great. Published by Shambhala Publications ISBN 0-87773-566-2
- Khenpo Palden Sherab & Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal, Tara's Enlightened Activity: an oral commentary on the Twenty-one Praises to Tara. Pages 35-37. ISBN 9781559392877