Buddhism in Five Minutes - Elizabeth J. Harris

Buddhism in Five Minutes - Elizabeth J. Harris

40. What is the ‘Hīnayāna’?

Buddhism in Five Minutes - Elizabeth J. Harris

Elizabeth J. Harris [+-]
University of Birmingham
Elizabeth Harris is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow within the Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham, UK. Before this, she was an Associate Professor at Liverpool Hope University. She specializes in Buddhist Studies and inter-faith studies, and has published widely in both disciplines. Her publications include: What Buddhists Believe (Oneworld, 1998): Theravada Buddhism and the British Encounter: Religious, missionary and colonial experience in nineteenth century Sri Lanka (Routledge, 2006): Buddhism for a Violent World: A Christian Reflection (Epworth, 2010/now published by SCM).


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.

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Harris, Elizabeth. 40. What is the ‘Hīnayāna’?. Buddhism in Five Minutes. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 199-201 Nov 2021. ISBN 9781800500907. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=40779. Date accessed: 23 Oct 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.40779. Nov 2021

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