Mantranaya is can be translated as "path (naya) of mantras". This term originates from the early (pre-Vajrayana) period of tantric Buddhism in India, where it was paired with paramitanaya ("path of the paramitas").
In this context (in which tantric Buddhist was considered part of the Mahayana school), Mahayana practitioners were said to have a choice between two practice paths:
- the path of mantras (mantranaya)
- the path of the paramitas (paramitanaya)
Paul Williams states:
- The value of mantranaya was considered to be its particular efficacy in aiding the bodhisattvas compassionate activity... The label of mantranaya indicates the use of mantras was perceived to be the distinctive and distinguishing feature of trantric practice.
Williams notes that pre-Vajrayana tantric Buddhism in India saw itself as part of the Mahayana.
These two paths are also referred to as:
- tantra vehicle (tantra-yana)
- paramita vehicle (paramita-yana)
These other terms might have evolved at a later date.
- Paul Williams, Buddhist Thought (Routlege: 2000), p. 196
- Paul Williams, Buddhist Thought (Routlege: 200), p. 196