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Book: Buddhism in Five Minutes

Chapter: 40. What is the ‘Hīnayāna’?

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.40779


The term “Hinayana” has been used in three broad ways, one of which can be seen as a misrepresentation that has caused hurt to Theravada Buddhists. The term literally means lesser or lower (hina) vehicle or way (yāna). It was first used by Mahayana Buddhists to denote the early Buddhist schools that they were breaking away from. They used it together with the term śrāvakayāna, or vehicle of the hearers/listeners. It is found, for instance, in some ancient Chinese sources. In this setting, the term expressed the conviction of Mahayana Buddhists that their ways of seeing the Buddhist path and its goal were superior to the early schools of those who “heard” the Buddha’s teaching and became enlightened as arhats.

Chapter Contributors

  • Elizabeth Harris ( - elizabethharris) 'University of Birmingham'