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Around the 6th. century AD, within the Mahayana tradition the tantras or tantric texts emerged. Based firmly on the Hinayana and Mahayana tradition, the actual philosophy differs only slightly from the Mahayana, but the practices can be quite different.
Prior to engaging in tantric practices, a proper understanding of the Hinayana and Mahayana philosophy is considered essential. Only then should one obtain initiation or permission from a qualified tantric master to do a specific tantric practice.
Tantric practices are psychologically very profound techniques to quickly achieve Buddhahood. This is considered important, not for oneself, but because as a Buddha one has the best achievable qualities to help others. The motivation is: 'the faster I can achieve Buddhahood, the sooner I can be of maximum benefit to others'.
Depending on the class of tantra, extra vows may need to be taken on top of the Refuge and Bodhisattva vows. Also, specific commitments may be required like doing a specific retreat, daily recitation of mantras or a daily meditation practice. (For more details see the page on Tantra.)
In the 8th. century, the Mahayana and Tantrayana (or Vajrayana) traditions of (North) Indian Buddhism were introduced into Tibet. In fact, only in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia a virtually complete set of tantric teachings was preserved. The Tibetan tradition can also be found in the Himalayan range of Ladakh (Northwest India), Sikkhim (Northeast India) and Nepal, and in Mongolia (which is virtually identical to the Tibetan tradition). In China and countries like Korea and Japan, remnants of Vajrayana can be found.
The term Sutrayana is used within the Mahayana to indicate the non-tantric Mahayana teachings.