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Mahayana vs Hinayana

To: talk.religion.buddhism
From: (John Neatrour)
Subject: Re: Mahayana vs Hinayana
Date: 13 Jan 1996 06:07:19 GMT

In article <>,
Larry Cooper  wrote:
>Rick  wrote:
>>>Larry Cooper  wrote:
>>>>As one whose Buddhist knowledge and ideas are still very much in 
>>>>the formative stages, I'm a bit confused and concerned about the
>>>>descriptions of "Hinayana" traditions which I've read in "Mahayana"
>>>>texts.  Note:  I am aware that some consider "Hinayana" a 
>>>>perjorative term and I am using it here because that's what the 
>>>>texts I'm referring to use.
>>Larry, I think another word for 'hinayana' is 'theravada', though I
>>don't know what theravada means. Maybe it's a more 'spiritually
>>correct' (like PC) word, sort of like "negro" and "african-american".
>>I dunno. 
>I don't speak/read Sanskrit, but I understand that Mahayana means
>"great vehicle" while Hinayana means "small vehicle."  The terms were
>coined by the Mahayanists who used them to contrast  Mahayana Buddhism
>which is a large vehicle which takes everyone to the other side
>(Buddhahood) with Hinayana which is a small vehicle which serves only
>to take a select few to enlightenment.  

it is true that the emphasis in Mahayana is characterized as 
enlightenment for everyone while Hinayana is characterized by 
individual practice. but these need not be mutually exclusive!
especially not in considering having a practice, both aspects
are present.

there probably was some ancient difficulty that became unbridgeable
which led to the adoption of Hinayana as a sectarian and pejorative
term. do we need to keep using it in that sense? it _does_ make sense
to use it as a critique of a too self absorbed practice though.

>Theravada, on the other hand
>was coined by members of that tradition to describe themselves and
>translates to something like "Religion of the Elders", indicating that
>theirs is the practice as handed down by the Buddhas direct disciples.

note that as you have defined Theravada, it _too_ is pejorative to non
Theravadins. it implies that they are not practicing something handed
down from the Buddhas direct disciples. i don't think this is acceptable
either. Mahayana may be more liberal, but there is a chain of ordination
reaching back to the Buddha that i don't think you wish to disparage.

although the outward forms are rather different and preliminaries may also
differ, it would be very hard to find a substantial difference in the practice
of vipassana, Mahamudra, Dzogs Chen, and zazen (without koans).


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