Hinayana

 


Hinayana Buddhism
[小乗仏教] ( Shōjō-bukkyō): One of the two major streams of Buddhism, the other being Mahayana. Teachings that aim at attaining the state of arhat. After Shakyamuni Buddha’s death, the Buddhist Order experienced several schisms and eventually split into eighteen or twenty schools. The monks of these schools were concerned with preserving the Buddha’s teachings as they understood them, and devoted themselves to doctrinal studies. As a result, they produced abhidharma works, or doctrinal treatises and commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings. Over time, however, they tended toward reclusiveness, while placing greater emphasis on asceticism and doctrinal analysis. Around the end of the first century b.c.e. or the beginning of the first century c.e., a new Buddhist movement began to emerge among those who were dissatisfied with what they perceived as the sterile academicism and rigidity of the existing schools. Feeling it was important to model their behavior after that of the Buddha himself, they advocated bodhisattva practice, or practice to benefit others, and engaged themselves in instructing laypersons while practicing among them. These practitioners called themselves bodhisattvas and their teachings Mahayana (Great Vehicle), indicating that their teaching was the vehicle to transport a great many people to enlightenment. In contrast, they referred to the earlier schools as Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle), implying that these teachings could only address a selected few and could not lead to the ultimate goal of enlightenment. The designation Hinayana was derogatory, and these schools naturally did not apply the name to themselves. The Sanskrit hīna means lesser, and yāna, vehicle or teaching. Mahayana Buddhists regarded Hinayana teachings as the way of voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones who seek their own emancipation from delusion and suffering yet lack practice to benefit others. They held that Hinayana teachings were inferior to Mahayana teachings, which set forth the way of bodhisattvas who strive to attain enlightenment for themselves and help others achieve it as well.

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