I asked this question on the main site a few days ago. I'm concerned that Hinayana isn't the right term to be using with it's negative overtones. THelper has been kind enough to provide some alternatives.

So my question is - should we be using the term Hinayana on the site? If not could we/should we agree on an acceptable and accurate alternative that we will use? Also would we edit and correct Hinayana when we see it used on the site?

  • Of the traditions that were labeled Hinayana, do traditions other than Theravada exist today?
    – Robin111
    Jul 26 '14 at 11:15
  • Just thinking it might make sense to use a term such as Early Buddhism for historical questions and Theravada for present day practice questions; unless there are other traditions outside of Theravada still in existence today.
    – Robin111
    Jul 26 '14 at 11:35
  • @Robin111 really good point. Not sure so I have asked the question on the main site buddhism.stackexchange.com/q/2336/157 Jul 26 '14 at 11:43
  • The answers to the above question and also buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1260/… are very helpful to understanding correct usage of Hinayana. I like catpnosis' suggestion of replacing it when it's used incorrectly. Maybe with a short comment to explain why it's been changed?
    – Robin111
    Jul 27 '14 at 10:28
  • if you look at the answers, there are quite distinctive differences: 1) it represents the ones seeing mahayana as not-real Buddhism 2) it represents a clinging to literal interpretation and is the first step in the hina-maha-Vijayanagar hierarchy 3) it's a derogatory term to Theravada. Will we use the one with the highest votes (1) as way the "canon" definition?
    – DirkM
    Jul 28 '14 at 11:52
  • It is completely mistaken to call Hinayana "Early Buddhism". That would imply that the Mahāsāṃghikas were not "early"? The roots of Mahayana Buddhism are as early as the roots of Theravada Buddhism.
    – Methexis
    Aug 2 '14 at 12:46

Term hinayana is from sutras. So, from mahayanistic point of view it's word of Buddha. Who we are to disregard it?

But term hinayana have it's context. It is not as widely applicable as it's used contemporary, which is unfortunate.

So, probably, what is truly called hinayana in appropriate sutras and sastras—we should leave that use as correct. But if used as blind synonym for 'early schools' or 'Theravada'—in that case why not replace.

  • Good answer. The idea that we have to censor or redact Mahayana sutras because they are perceived as somehow "politically incorrect" by modern standards is a bit silly. "Hinayana" simply means small vehicle, and this isn't derogatory, at all. Since it's a much more demanding path to say, Pure Land, and requires amazing discipline, concentration, and training, with its goal of arahantship it's quite logical to call it "smaller"; not smaller in worth but smaller in scope because it embraces less people. The Mahayana way is more universal and embraces even spiritual idiots like me.
    – Methexis
    Aug 2 '14 at 12:39

As I was just explaining in a comment to one of my answers, the term "Hinayana" is widely used by Tibetan Buddhism teachers to refer to basic/elementary/foundational (and because of this often simplified) aspects of Buddha-Dharma. If you'd go to their lectures, you'd hear this notion of Hinayana-understanding vs. Mahayana-understanding discussed in almost every other lecture. Amongst tens of books written by the teacher I consider my Root Guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a recently published 3-volume set has its first book, of 680 pages, dedicated to Hinayana, with this word used on almost every page.

Again, to emphasize, "Hinayana" is not used to refer to Theravada at all. Rather, it is used in two senses: one, to refer to a primitive interpretation of Buddha-Dharma (by a member of any school, and of any standing, but usually a beginner, or a "senior junior") and two, to refer to the first phase of Buddhist upbringing, during which the student is introduced to the most basic discipline and doctrines, that serve as the foundation for subsequent education & practice.

Imagine two teachers discussing their students with each other: "I have 3 Hinayana-level students, 2 Mahayana-level, and 1 Mahamudra" or "This guy is stuck at Hinayana level. Perhaps I should try Kriyayogatantra."

Whoever thinks the term is derogatory misses the point. The term is indeed used to refer to "primitive" or "elementary" level of Dharma. But we don't consider "elementary education" a derogatory term, do we? Or perhaps, in countries where Parliament comes in two houses, we don't consider The Lower House of Parliament a derogatory term? And when the rental cars come in three classes: economy, business and luxury -- we do not insist that the use of the term "economy" should be discouraged because it hurts the feelings of lower-income people etc.

The term "Hinayana" is an important term, used by thousands of gurus over thousands of years to teach their students a very important point: that Dharma, like any other non-trivial area of human activity goes far beyond simple logic, and requires depth, sensitivity, ability to compromise, to go beyond black-and-white view of the world, to juggle multiple contradicting needs, to understand different perspectives, and in general to not get stuck at the level of mechanical application of formulaic if-then-else rules.

  • This is a good explanation of how the term Hinayana is understood in Tibetan Buddhism. I think our concern is when people with little understanding simply use it incorrectly because they believe it is synonymous with early Buddhism or Theravada. Does it make sense to edit incorrect use of the term and maybe leave a comment with a link back to this explanation?
    – Robin111
    Jul 30 '14 at 12:34

I believe the term Fundamental Vehicle is a good substitute for Hinayana and provides a suitable counterpart to the Great Vehicle or Mahayana.

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