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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

What to say instead of Hinayana

Myles Cowherd at the SFZC has brought up the use of the term Hinayana, the small vehicle. That's what Mahayanans who ride the big vehicle have called those who practice in the original tradition. It's not really the original tradition because it's evolved but that's not the point here. The point is what to call those practitioners.

Gil Fronsdal wrote in response to Myles request:

Some of the alternatives are:

Early Buddhism

Nikāya Buddhism - refers to the 18 schools (nikāyas) prior to the rise of the Mahāyana)

Theravada Buddhism - for the entire lineage leading to modern Theravada Buddhism (this leaves out other early lineages)

Pali Buddhism - for the early lineage that led to Theravada Buddhism

Savakayana (Sanskrit: Shravakayana), i.e., the yana of the early disciples of the Buddha; this works well with the ideas of Mahayana and Vajrayana

Myles had sent tthe ZC leadership and Gil this post from Cuke 2014

12-10-14 - Reading through the verbatim and early transcripts of Shunryu Suzuki lectures (available on, just passed the quarter mark. Try to do at least 1% of them a day. Reading slowly. Getting to the end of 67. Making a lot of notes and placing indications in code about where there are mistakes to fix, comments about his history, about America and ZC history, noting important words for an index or to add to Shinshu's index (See Documents), teaching points, key statements, names, etc. One thing I notice is I get a little uncomfortable when he's talking about other sects. I always wonder about what people in these other sects would say about his comments regarding them - like Rinzai, Tendai, Shinshu, or Shingon. He's usually saying that one isn't better than the other and non competitive statements but he'll also make little generalizations that I wonder about. And I squirm a little when he talks about early Buddhism and uses the term Hinayana comparing it to Mahayana. He'd say that Zen is Hinayana practice with Mahayana spirit and make other observations. That's sort of gone out of use as Hinayana means small vehicle and Mahayana the big one and it's strictly a Mahayana term. It reminds me of how I feel if I'm with an older person in Texas who uses the term "colored people." They mean no harm and Suzuki means no slight but I'd suggest don't try it at Spirit Rock or with others practicing in the lineage of the Elders. I'm not sure what term is best to use. Theravada Buddhism is used but they were just one group. There are some suggested substitute terms here in this New World Encyclopedia article on "Hinayana."

I'm still going over the lectures too. So much to do there. - dc