Six limits

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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 (Skt. Ṣaṭkoṭi; Tib. མཐའ་དྲུག, ta druk, Wyl. mtha' drug) 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.

The six limits are:

  1. provisional meaning (དྲང་དོན་ཅན་ཡིན་པ་, drang don can yin pa)
  2. definitive meaning (དྲང་དོན་ཅན་མིན་པ, drang don can min pa)
  3. indirect (དགོངས་པ་ཅན་ཡིན་པ་, dgongs pa can yin pa)
  4. not indirect (དགོངས་པ་ཅན་མིན་པ་, dgongs pa can min pa)
  5. literally true (སྒྲ་ཇི་བཞིན་ཅན་ཡིན་པ་, sgra ji bzhin can yin pa)
  6. not literally true (སྒྲ་ཇི་བཞིན་ཅན་མིན་པ, sgra ji bzhin can min pa)

Alternative Translations

  • Six parameters (Thurman)

Further Reading

  • 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, and notes by Jokyab Rinpoche based on Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo's oral teachings. The Appendix one come from Jokyab's notes. 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

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