Hinayana, Google and The Buddha


a pejorative name given by the followers of Mahayana Buddhism to the more conservative schools of early Buddhism. The tradition died out in India, but it survived in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) as the Theravada school and was taken from there to other regions of Southeast Asia. –Google

The Buddha:

AN8.30:3.2: It’s good that you reflect on these thoughts of a great man:
AN8.30:3.3: ‘This teaching is for those of few wishes, not those of many wishes.
AN8.30:3.4: It’s for the contented, not those who lack contentment.

For the world more is better. For the Buddha less. For the world, apparently “less” is a … pejorative.

SN22.94:1.2: “Mendicants, I don’t argue with the world; it’s the world that argues with me.


Well, then…how could one disagree?

Greater vehicle,
for all the world–together,
let’s get off the bus.


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Hina doesn’t just mean less it generally means inferior.

Edit: However, the term is used in different ways by Mahayanists, not all of them refers to a specific group of people.

One very common way in which it is used is as a level of motivation. This is the way that Atisha uses it for example in his Lamp on the path to Bodhi. This is a standard text on the path in Tibetan Buddhism.

In that sense, hinayana is not referring to a group of Buddhist sects, but to the motivation that seeks awakening solely for oneself, without thinking of others.

A key element of this interpretation is that all groups will have people with this motivation, even “Mahayana” sanghas. It’s a mental factor not a social label.

If used in this sense i think we can all agree this is a lesser motivation.


The Buddha does say that practicing for personal benefit is better than just practicing for others.

AN4.95:2.2: The person who practices to benefit neither themselves nor others is like this, I say.
AN4.95:3.1: The person who practices to benefit others, but not themselves, is better than that.
AN4.95:3.2: The person who practices to benefit themselves, but not others, is better than both of those.
AN4.95:3.3: But the person who practices to benefit both themselves and others is the foremost, best, chief, highest, and finest of the four.

Before his enlightenment, which of these was the Buddha’s practice?
Before his enlightenment, the Buddha did not heed requests to teach others.

I do find it notable to read about “pejorative” in a global source.


Here’s a way the word ‘hīna’ is used in the suttas.
From the Soṇa sutta AN 6.55. The former musician Soṇa is considering bailing on the monastic life and returning to lay life.

Yannūnāhaṃ sikkhaṃ paccakkhāya hīnāyāvattitvā bhoge ca bhuñjeyyaṃ puññāni ca kareyyan’ti?

“Perhaps I should, having given up the training, return to the lower/inferior life, enjoy wealth, and make merit?”


Now that use of Hina- does indeed make sense.

What’s odd is that Buddhist schools would disparage original teachings using the same word. Indeed, I just read this week about three turnings of the wheel of Dhamma. And that article left me a bit puzzled. Why would anybody want more than what the Buddha taught? What’s with all the turnings of the Wheel of Dharma?

So there seems to be a bit of … discomfort. A sense of restless discomfort that prompted the wave of Mahayana, the greater vehicle. Why would there be a perceived need for a greater vehicle? Well, perhaps the lesser vehicle was perceived as not enough. And that would be ironic indeed.



As long as the Path one is on suits oneself, why bother with what suits others?


Here is another famous usage, from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11):

Dve’me, bhikkhave, antā pabbajitena na sevitabbā. Katame dve?
Yo c’āyaṃ kāmesu kāmasukhallikānuyogo – hīno, gammo, pothujjaniko, anariyo, anatthasaṃhito…

“Monks, these two extremes should not be practiced by one who has gone forth. What two?
The pursuit of sensual happiness in sensual pleasures, which is low, vulgar, worldly, ignoble, not connected with benefit…”


Indeed, this is in line with the Mahayanists, who argue that seeking enlightenment both for oneself and for others at the same time is the highest motivation.


I would suggest that it comes from the desire to imitate the Buddha. To follow his example and to be a Buddha just like him.

It’s a noble intention even if you disagree with Mahayana.


If we examine dependent origination, we would arrive the conclusion that once one is enlightened, the world enlightens all together.
There is no one in need of help.


In 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists declared that the term Hīnayāna should not be used when referring to any form of Buddhism existing today. –Wikipedia

Well, until I just today read the above, I would have been quite happy to refer to myself as a happy Hinayana Buddhist with happy Mahayana roots. Apparently by doing so, that would have appalled Buddhists all over. I guess it will be best to just drop all the adjectives.

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I didn’t think the first three were meant to be related to ‘Buddhist’ practice at all. But now you’ve got me wondering? Surely just by following the Buddha’s directions to the far shore, you are practicing for yourself and others by (at the very least) showing a good example and inspiration to others … in an MN34 sort of way, anyway …

Once it happened that a baby calf had just been born. Urged on by its mother’s lowing, even it managed to breast the stream of the Ganges and safely reach the far shore.

I think that maybe as far as the Buddha is concerned, all of us Buddhists are just part of the herd whatever we currently think of ourselves as.

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Well, imagine a situation in which a few people have complete control over what’s considered scripture or not. Then, because those scriptures are so jumbled that it’s difficult to understand their overall system of thought that those caretakers of scripture start writing their own texts to lay it out as they saw it. Abhidharma Buddhism is born.

After a few hundred more years, Abhidharma texts are the main type of scripture the experts read and write, and they get larger and more complicated with each generation. Plus, these experts maintain discriminatory policies like looking down on certain people who aren’t men, basically.

And then, something happened: Someone from a faraway land to the West started teaching people how to write. It was like when the printing press was invented in Europe. Suddenly, everyone could create scripture, copy it, and share it with each other. And the world turned out to be so much larger than the experts knew before, and people started coming from faraway places with texts and new ideas.

Basically, it’s the story of human civilization.


One of the cool features of Discourse is that it show you how many people have clicked the link. Which is why I know I’m the only one who did, and who checked the Pali! :wink:

The word there is not hīna but appa, which means “few in number or small in quantity”.

appicchassāyaṁ dhammo, nāyaṁ dhammo mahicchassa

Hīna on the other hand, means “inferior, lesser”. It has been interpreted in more generous ways by scholars ancient and modern, but there is no doubt this was the intent of the term.

These days, no school ancient or modern is referred to in this way. The modern school is “Theravada”, the ancient early schools as a whole can be called “Savakayana” (i.e. “disciple’s vehicle”).

“Inferior” of course doesn’t mean “bad”, just “not as good”. It’s not as if it’s unusual in religion to think one’s own path as “better” and by implication, others as “inferior”. Perhaps those who coined this phrase were guilty of nothing except honesty.


Some of the original context of the whole Mahayana vs. Hinayana thing is unfortunately lost in time to us. It may have been more closely related to securing patronage, or fending off sectarian rivals, than any real animosity towards one another. But regardless, it seems more relevant for 2nd century India, than anything that is happening in the 21st century today.


I don’t think so, in Indonesia “menghina” means “to insult”, while “penghinaan” means “the insult”, “terhina” or “dihina” here means “to be insulted”, while the sentence “dia hina” literally means “he is low”

So I don’t think the word is associated with good thing at all

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In Malay Language too, so it’s more that Malaysians and Indonesians are more sensitive haha. Hina is used as a rude word, insult, used for referring to people who are immoral, some times on prostitutes. In general, a feeling of great disrespect to call anyone hina to their face.

Anyway, it’s unlikely to change unless this is shown to all Mahayana teaching centres. One reason I suspect they keep on using Hinayana is because of the lack of cultural awareness, not enough woke people in this area amongst the Mahayana Buddhists.

In reddit, there was once a person who was new to r/Buddhism and to reddit who used Hinayana. I engaged with him (or her), saying facts, showing the woke thing; it was very hard for him (or her) to get that the Pali canon doesn’t mean the basic teachings shared with all traditions, but actually is unique to Theravada. Even when I spell things out very clearly and systematically after a lot of back and forth. He quitted reddit after that. So it’s possible for some Mahayana educated people to be so confused and mixed up with terminologies that it’s not easy to open their minds without them feeling like they (and the source of their learnings) are being attacked.


To negate the pejorative sense of “Hinayana”, perhaps we should promote the new term like “Culayana” because the antonym of “maha” is “cula”, not “hina”. :grin:

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Or maybe we could just use sthavira? I know it’s the same thing as thera, but it would seem new and flashy, and maybe help break any association between Hinayana and Theravada.

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Actually, if the Mahayana people are talking historically, it might be more of Sarvastivada. As it’s their Abdhidharma which was the trigger to get the Mahayana to bring the teachings back to the middle path (Madhyamaka).

So Hinayana was not historically used to refer to Theravada. However, those who doesn’t know history, easily transpose the term to Theravada as used to refer to Buddhism of today. And to suggest sthavira is to suggest this back to their history.

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