Mahayana is optional

“First must preliminaries be having”

Mahayana is not an essential prerequisite for Vajrayana.

For some readers trained in Tibetan Buddhism this statement will sound warning bells. Nearly all Vajrayana teachers say that Mahayana practice—particularly cultivation of compassion, bodhicitta (“enlightenment-mind”)1—is a necessary, non-negotiable preliminary in order to stay safe practicing Tantra. Without a “base in Mahayana,”2 Tantric practice is dangerous. It risks egotistical, manic power trips, controlling, dominant behavior, explosive experiences of uncontrolled energy, psychological problems associated with delusions of grandiosity and psychic control, and a lack of personal accountability.

Mahayana (especially the cultivation of bodhicitta and good karma) formed the morality of Tibet. The Tibetan monastic system was at the heart of politics and society. Sutric Buddhism, which is Mahayana in this context, inculcated foundational social norms in Tibet, for children, families, and the whole of society. Developing Mahayana view was an essential prerequisite for Vajrayana, as the only available moral system. The approach to Vajrayana now taught in the West developed within this institutional context. Teachers and students have left unquestioned the assumption that Mahayana is indispensable.

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