About Mahayana and Hinayana


The terms Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle or Modest Vehicle) and Mahayana (Greater Vehicle or Vast Vehicle) originated in The Prajnaparamita Sutras (The Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness, The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras). They are a rather derogatory pair of words, aggrandizing Mahayana and putting down Hinayana.


Hinayana encompasses eighteen schools. The most important for our purposes are Sarvastivada and Theravada. Theravada is the one extant today in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Sarvastivada was widespread in Northern India when the Tibetans started to travel there and Buddhism began to be transplanted to Tibet.


There were two main divisions of Sarvastivada based on philosophical differences: Vaibhashika and Sautrantika. Hinayana tenet systems studied at the Indian monastic universities such as Nalanda, and later by the Tibetan Mahayanists, are from these two schools. The lineage of monastic vows followed in Tibet is from another Sarvastivada subdivision, Mulasarvastivada.


Hinayana The other names of Hinayana are:

Deficient Vehicle, Abandoned Vehicle or Defective Vehicle. It believes in the original teaching of Buddha or Doctrine of Elders. Does not believe in Idol worship and tries to attain individual salvation through self discipline and meditation. Ultimate aim of Hinayana is thus nirvana. Stharvivada or Thervada is a Hinayana sect. Asoka Patronized Hinayana. Pali, the language of masses was used by the Hinayana scholars.

Mahayana Mahayana or “great vehicle” believes in the heavenliness of Buddha and Idol worship of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas embodying Buddha Nature.

 

It spread from India to various countries including China and South East Asian nations. Zen, Pure Land, Tiantai, and Nichiren, Shingon and Tibetan Buddhism are traditions of Mahayana. Mahayana believed in universal liberation from suffering for all beings (hence the “Great Vehicle”). Ultimate aim of Mahayana is “spiritual upliftment”. It allows salvation to be alternatively obtained through the grace of the Amitābha Buddha by having faith and devoting oneself to mindfulness of the Buddha. It believes in Mantras. Language of Mahayana was predominantly Sanskrit.
 

Similarity between Hinayana versus Mahayana Both adopt one and the same Vinaya, and they have in common the prohibitions of the five offenses, and also the practice of the Four Noble Truths.


The terms Hinayana (theg-dman, lesser vehicle, modest vehicle) and Mahayana (theg-chen, greater vehicle, vast vehicle) appeared first in the Prajnaparamita Sutras (Sher-phyin mdo, Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness, Perfection of Wisdom Sutras) in approximately the second century of the modern era. These sutras were among the earliest Mahayana texts and they used the two terms to assert that the scope and depth of their teachings far exceeded those of the preceding Buddhist schools. Although the two terms carry sectarian connotations and appear exclusively in Mahayana texts, it is difficult to find adequate "politically correct" substitutes. "Hinayana" has become a collective term for eighteen Buddhist schools, only one of which is currently extant, Theravada. "Mahayana" similarly spans several schools. When the Indo-Tibetan tradition studies and discusses Hinayana systems of philosophical tenets, their reference is Vaibhashaka and Sautrantaka, which are Sarvastivada, another of the eighteen schools. Since some of the Hinayana schools appeared later than Mahayana, we cannot call Hinayana "Early Buddhism" or "Original Buddhism" and Mahayana "Later Buddhism." Theravada is currently found in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

Dharmagupta, another of the eighteen Hinayana schools, spread to Central Asia and China. The Chinese monastic tradition follows the Dharmagupta version of the monastic rules of discipline (Skt.vinaya). Moreover, Mahayana spread to Indonesia, although it no longer survives there. Thus, calling Hinayana "Southern Buddhism" and Mahayana "Northern Buddhism" is also inadequate. Both the Hinayana and Mahayana schools outline paths for shravakas (listeners to Buddha's teachings) and pratyekabuddhas (self-realizers) to reach the purified state of anarhat (liberated being), and for bodhisattvas to reach Buddhahood. Therefore, it is confusing to call Hinayana "Shravakayana" and Mahayana "Bodhisattvayana." Consequently, although Theravada practitioners may find the terms Hinayana and Mahayana offensive, we shall reluctantly use them to refer to the classification of Buddhist schools, in face of the inaccuracy of the above-mentioned politically more correct terms.

Hinayana encompasses eighteen schools. The most important for our purposes are Sarvastivada and Theravada. Theravada is the one extant today in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Sarvastivada was widespread in Northern India when the Tibetans started to travel there and Buddhism began to be transplanted to Tibet. There were two main divisions of Sarvastivada based on philosophical differences: Vaibhashika and Sautrantika. Hinayanatenet systems studied at the Indian monastic universities such as Nalanda, and later by the Tibetan Mahayanists, are from these two schools. The lineage of monastic vows followed in Tibet is from another Sarvastivada subdivision, Mulasarvastivada.