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Hīnayāna (हीनयान) is a Sanskrit and Pāli term literally meaning: "the low vehicle", "the inferior vehicle", or "the deficient vehicle".

The term appeared around the 1st or 2nd century CE. Its use in scholarly publications is controversial.[1] There are differing views on the use and meaning of the term, both among scholars and within Buddhism. The legitimacy of using the term Hinayana to refer to the early Buddhist schools is disputed while use of "Hinayana" to refer to the contemporary Theravada is seen as pejorative.[2]

In the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese languages, the term means small vehicle (小 meaning "small", 乘 meaning "vehicle"), and in the Tibetan (theg chung) and Mongolian (Baga Holgon) terms for Hinayana also mean "small" or "lesser" vehicle.[3].

Contents

Etymology

The word Hīnayāna is formed of hīna (हीन)[4]: "low", "inferior", "deficient", "defective;" and yāna (यान)[5]: "vehicle", where "vehicle" means "a way of going to enlightenment". The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary (1921-25) defines hīna in even stronger terms, with a semantic field that includes "poor, miserable; vile, base, abject, contemptible," and "despicable."

In brief

"Hīnayāna" has been used by both past and present Mahayanists as a name to refer variously to one or more doctrines, traditions, practitioners or thoughts that are generally concerned with the achievement of Nirvana as a Sāvakabuddha ('Arahant') or a Pratyeka-Buddha, as opposed to the achievement of liberation as a Samyaksambuddha, wherein the Samyaksambuddha (according to Mahayana lore) is deemed to operate from a basis of vowing to effect the spiritual liberation of all beings and creatures from the suffering of samsara (not just himself or a small number of others). Hīnayāna is sometimes said to be corresponding solely to the Early Buddhist Schools, and not to the current Theravada school, while sometimes it is held to be also cognate with the modern Theravada tradition. Many hold that the term was coined to be purposely pejorative, while others do not.

Scholar Isabelle Onians asserts that although "the Mahāyāna . . . very occasionally referred contemptuously to earlier Buddhism as the Hinayāna, the Inferior Way," "the preponderance of this name in the secondary literature is far out of proportion to occurrences in the Indian texts." She notes that the term Śrāvakayāna was "the more politically correct and much more usual" term used by Mahāyānists.[6] Jonathan Silk has argued that the term "Hinayana" was used to refer to whomever one wanted to criticize on any given occasion, and did not refer to any definite grouping of Buddhists.[7]

  • Hīnayāna as doctrine would (from a Mahāyāna perspective) include the Sutras taught by Buddha that admonish the practitioner to follow the śrāvaka path--i.e., all non-Mahāyāna sutras. In such teachings there is no emphasis on pledging to emancipate the totality of sentient beings from the pain and bondage of samsara - the focus is more on practice for individual liberation. In the early Sutra Pitika as preserved in the Pali Canon and the Āgamas, "śrāvaka" just translates as "follower" or "disciple": any disciple of Buddha would be a śrāvaka[8]. There is thus no mention of a "śrāvakayāna" as "śrāvaka" refers to all disciples, not to a limited class of disciples. Although Paccekabuddhas are mentioned in the Jataka tales, the Buddha never admonishes his disciples to strive to become Paccekabuddhas--they are, in fact, beings who realize Buddhahood without reference to the teachings of other Buddhas.
  • Hīnayāna as practitioner would be an individual of any school (including Mahayana) who practices to eliminate suffering according to basic Buddhist teachings; if successful, he is called an Arahant. (Similarly, a follower of a bodhisattva path in any school would be Mahayana in this sense.) As a follower of what Mahayana terms "Hinayana", he or she will not strive to become a Buddha, nor will he or she take the Mahayana Bodhisattva-vow of pledging to come back into samsara countless times in the future in order to liberate all other sentient beings from suffering. Also, the 'Pratyeka-Buddha' is regarded by Mahayana as being Hinayanist. Mahayana only considers the ideal of a Samyaksambuddha 'Great'; the other enlightened ideals are considered by Mahayana orthodoxy to be (depending on the translation) either 'inferior' or 'low'.

Within Buddhism the differing interpretations of Hīnayāna have consequences that are sometimes quite far-reaching. It is primarily the interpretation of Hīnayāna as a tradition that has led to the most concern, especially as many people have seen the term as a slur against Pre-sectarian Buddhism, Theravada and the other Early Buddhist schools (the Nikaya Buddhism–schools).

Origins of Hīnayāna: Vehicles and Paths

It appears that the distinction between vehicles and paths arises in early Mahayana sutras, such as the Lotus Sutra, where it is stated that there is one path - the path to Nirvana -, but there are different vehicles. The vehicles are described (by Mahayana) as representing the fruit of the two types of Buddha found in the Pali Canon, plus the path of the Arahants.

For instance, in Chapter three of the Lotus Sutra, there is a parable of a father promising three carts to lure sons out of a burning building, where the goat-cart represents the Sravaka-vehicle; the deer-cart, Pratyeka-Buddhahood; and the bullock-cart, Samyaksambuddha-hood. According to early Mahayana (as found in the Lotus sutra), it is the vehicles that are taught as a method for journeying on the path to enlightenment. It is here that we can see the basis for term being used to indicate differences of doctrine. The Lotus Sutra declares that the bullock-cart is "supremely restful", implying that the goat-cart and the deer-cart are inferior to the bullock-cart. This is where we begin to see the terminological origins for the term Hīnayāna: The Sravakayana and the Pratyekabuddhayana as vehicles inferior to the superior bullock-cart of the Mahayana.

The Dharmakshema Mahaparinirvana Sutra also speaks of the inferior nature of the Hinayana when compared to the higher level of the Mahayana. In that sutra the Buddha states:

"Noble son, there are also two groups of people within this great congregation: those who seek the Inferior Way (hīnayāna) and those who seek the Great Way (mahāyāna). In past days I turned the lesser Wheel of the Dharma for the Śrāvakas, but now here in Kuśinagara I turn the great Wheel of the Dharma for Bodhisattvas."

The term first appeared in the Mahayana Prajñāpāramitā literature. Possibly the earliest instance appears in the Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines (Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra), believed by scholars to have been composed some time between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE. Chapter 11 ("Mara's Deeds") depicts a conversation between Buddha and the arhat Subhuti, wherein Buddha admonishes those Bodhisattvas who disavow this sutra in favor of certain unnamed Buddhist sutras. In the following passage, the term hinayana is translated as "inferior vehicle" (emphasis added). "Subhuti, do these Bodhisattvas appear to be very intelligent who, having obtained and met with the irreversible, the great vehicle, and then again abandon this, turn away from this, and prefer an inferior vehicle [...] this is seen as being done to these Bodhisattvas by Mara."

Substitute terms for Hinayana

Mahāyāna Buddhists sometimes refer to all forms of non-Mahāyāna Buddhism, past and present, including the Theravāda school, as members of the Hīnayāna grouping. This term, which literally means "the inferior vehicle", tends to relate to those Buddhists who were deemed by Mahayanists to have rather narrow aspirations: instead of vowing (as the Mahayanists ideally did) to strive for the liberation both of themselves and all other sentient beings from samsara, the "Hinayanists" were viewed as being excessively concerned with their own individual release into Nirvana. The term, "Hinayana", is now widely regarded as derogatory and inaccurate (at least in reference to the Theravada, but also to the other, already non-existent, schools).

In the Mahayana tradition, the label Hinayana is attributed to the Buddha himself (e.g. in the Lotus Sutra). As it is a polemical term and represents a specifically Mahayana point of view, other terms have been suggested to describe those Buddhist schools that did not adopt the Mahayana sutras. As noted above, in India Hinayana was not the predominant term used in Mahayana texts for early Buddhist schools, Sravakayana being much more commonly used (with the former used only rarely). Among the terms that have been used as substitutes for "Hīnayāna" are the following:

  • Śrāvakayāna Buddhism – The term most often historically used Mahāyāna texts to refer to early Buddhist schools. This term refers to the "śrāvakas," meaning disciples, followers, or hearers. They who followed the Buddha and sought solely to eliminate suffering, thus culminating in Arahantship. This term originates (like the term Hinayana) from within Mahāyāna Buddhism, and thus faces some of the same objections as "Hīnayāna", though it is less obviously derogatory. Śrāvakayāna can also refer to a tendency or intention found in an individual; this is, one might be a member of a Mahāyāna school, but be personally following a Śrāvakayāna path. Śrāvakayāna is also contrasted with the term "Bodhisattvayāna".
  • Early Buddhist schools – This term properly covers all the schools that existed before the emergence of the Mahāyāna. The arising of the Mahayana school of Buddhism (1st / 2nd century CE) went together with the adoption of new (previously not-existing[9]) sutras, and introduced new (or emphasized old but not very central) philosophies such as the Bodhisattva and having the intention of liberating all sentient beings. Since this constituted a serious break with the previous traditions and customs that the earlier schools had in common, the Mahayana is seen as a 'reformist' or revolutionary movement, and not included in any lists of the early schools. Thus, there is a large correlation between the earlier schools and the label 'Hinayana'. Also the Mahayana itself never groups itself with the previously existing schools. Some of the later 'early schools' might have arisen (meaning: split off) from another, older, early school, and might have come into existence at about the same time as the Mahayana. However, these schools kept to the larger framework and attitude of the earlier schools.
  • Eighteen Schools (or Twenty Schools) – This term is historically oriented, based on the lists of the various Early Buddhist schools. However, the list itself is numerically inexact since the exact number and the names of the schools differ between the various lists. These were the schools that the emerging Mahayana-movement was familiar with because they were existing at that time. Subsequently, these eighteen schools split up further into a larger number, and the Hinayana label could have also been applied to those later split-offs. Also, the Mahayana writer Bhavya (Bhavaviveka) says in the Tarkajvala that Mahayana is oncluded in the eighteen schools.
  • Southern Buddhism – This frequently used geographical designation is appropriately applied to the Theravāda, whose centers in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia are located south of the centers of Mahayana (China, Tibet, Japan). In its early period, however, there was significant overlap between the geographical regions of Mahayana and the early schools.
  • Nikāya Buddhism – This recently invented term was intended to cover the same ground as Hīnayāna, referring to the nikāyas or "schools" into which Buddhism was split by the beginning of the Common Era. It could also be interpreted as "Buddhism as taught in the Nikāyas", the five primary divisions of the Tipiṭaka, although this second usage of the term is only used among the Theravāda—other schools used the term Āgamas— so if used in the latter sense "Nikaya Buddhism" would be a misnomer when applied to non-Theravāda early schools such as the Sarvastivada and Sammitiya.[10][11]
  • Theravāda – This term properly refers to only one school among many non-Mahāyāna schools that once existed, many of which espoused philosophical notions contrary to those of the Theravādins. It would be altogether inaccurate to refer to such Buddhists as the Sarvāstivādins as Theravādins. Some scholars, such as Dr. Walpola Rahula, have pointed out that there was small contact between early Mahāyānists and Theravādins, and have suggested that the term "Hīnayāna" was never intended to include the Theravāda. Judging by the content of Mahāyāna polemic, it seems certain that other sects of northern India were the primary targets of the "Hīnayāna" critique.
  • Conservative Buddhism[12]
  • Mainstream Buddhism: this term might be considered derogatory by Mahayanists, as it seems to suggest they are fringe (when in fact they are the majority)
  • Sectarian Buddhism[13]
  • Non-Mahayana Buddhism

Hīnayāna as a pejorative

There remains an open and active debate regarding the issue of whether Hīnayāna was coined to be pejorative or merely classificatory. The arguments for the term as being pejorative largely depends upon the etymological roots of the prefix 'Hīna': Hīna- is defined as such: "inferior, less, low, base, mean, incomplete, deficient, wanting and so on." Since the meaning of 'hina' covers both a pejorative and non-pejorative meaning, it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion. The term could have been chosen because it provided both meanings.

Those who assert the idea of Hinayana as a pejorative logically also are among those who subscribe the idea of an early (historical) Mahayana schism, and who believe that there was a history of polemics (see also the book of kathavatthu) between the early Mahayana and other early Buddhist schools. An argument used by those who consider Hinayana to be pejorative is based on the fact that if the term was to mean only 'Small or Lesser vehicle', then the term chosen would have been, "Culla" or in Sanskrit "Ksulla-ksudra" giving us Ksudrayana - though 'ksudra' has also had a history of being used in a somewhat pejorative manner.

Those who assert that the term was coined in a merely classificatory manner (denying the historical Mahayana schism and a history of polemics) believe that the usage of 'hīna-' as a prefix represents those "inferior": inferior because they do not lead to the attainment of full Buddhahood (samyaksambuddha).

We can find Mahayana Sutras and traditions which repeatedly admonish the trainee Bodhisattva not to criticise any of the Buddhist schools. The mere fact that there is such a strong admonishment against criticising the Hinayana indicates that it was either a common attitude, or that there was a degree of defensiveness within Mahayana regarding this issue. By the 3rd Century CE, in the ethics chapter of Asanga's Bodhisattvabhumi, we find an explicit injunction not to criticise or reject the Hīnayāna texts or traditions, where Trainee Bodhisattvas are instructed not to "disparage the Hīnayāna, or over-encourage others to learn Mahayana". Candragomin wrote a very influential twenty verse summary of Asanga's Ethics, written or summarised as a set of vows to be taken by a trainee Bodhisattve. The 15th Verse (derived from Asanga's chapter on ethics) cites "rejecting the Sravakayana" as a root downfall. Candragomin's vows were adopted by the Indo-Tibetan Mahayana tradition via Atisha, and are still used today by the Gelugpa and Kagyupa schools.

Quotes from Mahayana Sutras

In the early centuries CE, the Mahayana tradition was making efforts not to criticize or condemn the Hīnayāna vehicles:

Lotus Sutra (Ch.14):

"A bodhisattva [...] does not hold other Buddhists in contempt, not even those who follow the Hinayana path, nor does he cause them to have doubts or regrets by criticizing their way of practice or making discouraging remarks."

However, the Buddha also emphasises that the Bodhisattva should only preach the Mahāyāna in response to queries, not the Hinayana:

"If there are objections or queries, one is not to answer them by resort to the Dharma of the Lesser Vehicle [Hinayana], but one is to explain only in terms of the Greater Vehicle [Mahayana], causing persons to gain knowledge of all modes" (Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, tr. by Leon Hurvitz, Columbia UP, 1976, pp. 213-214).

The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra, the foundational Mahāyāna Yogācāra text, contains praise for both śrāvakas and bodhisattvas its introductory chapter. The relevant section on śrāvakas is reproduced below.

"[The Buddha] was accompanied by an immeasurable multitude of great word-hearers (śrāvakas), all of whom were docile sons of the Buddha. Their thinking was well liberated. Their understanding was well liberated. Their discipline was well purified, and they had set their aim upon joy in doctrine (Dharma). They had heard much, and retained and accumulated what they had heard. They thought good thoughts, spoke good words, and did good deeds. Their wisdom was swift, quick, incisive, salvific, penetrating, great, expansive, unequaled. Having perfected that wisdom gem, they were endowed with the three knowledges of remembering former lives, of the divine eye, and of the destruction of contaminants. They had attained the happiness of the highest state in the present world. They dwelled in the field of pure merit. Their deportment was tranquil and in no way imperfect. The perfection of their great patience and gentleness was without decrease. Already good, they revered and practiced the holy teachings of the Tathāgata."[14]

However, should be noted that the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra does draw distinctions between the various accomplishments of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas, and fully enlightened buddhas. This distinction is again drawn in the Yogācārabhūmi Śāstra, an encyclopedic and definitive Yogācāra text, which has divisions for the respective stages of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas.

Hīnayāna and Theravāda

Most western scholars regard the Theravada school to be one of the Hinayana schools referred to in Mahayana literature, or regard Hinayana as a synonym for Theravada.[15][16][17][18][19] These scholars understand the term to refer to schools of Buddhism that did not accept the teachings of the Mahayana Sutras as authentic teachings of the Buddha[16][18]. At the same time, scholars have objected to the prejorative connotation of the term Hinayana and some scholars do not use it for any school.[20]

Some Theravada Buddhists have opposed the identification of Theravada with Hinayana. As Walpola Rahula noted in his Gems of Buddhist Wisdom:

We must not confuse Hīnayāna with Theravāda because the terms are not synonymous. Theravāda Buddhism went to Sri Lanka during the 3rd Century B.C. when there was no Mahāyāna at all. Hīnayāna sects developed in India and had an existence independent from the form of Buddhism existing in Sri Lanka. Today there is no Hīnayāna sect in existence anywhere in the world. Therefore, in 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists inaugurated in Colombo unanimously decided that the term Hīnayana should be dropped when referring to Buddhism existing today in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, etc. This is the brief history of Theravāda, Mahayāna and Hīnayāna.

The Theravada school remained a presence on the Indian mainland long after its establishment in Sri Lanka, however. In addition, since the time of Rahula's writing considerable evidence has emerged indicating that Theravadins and Mahayanists interacted extensively in Sri Lanka throughout the first millennium CE, so any suggestion that there was no contact between the two would be incorrect.[21]

Nonetheless, Mahayanists were primarily in philosophical dialectic with the Vaibhāśika-Sarvāstivāda, which had by far the most "comprehensive edifice of doctrinal systematics" of the nikaya schools.[22] With this in mind it is sometimes argued that the Theravada would not have been considered a "Hinayana" school by Mahayanists because unlike the now-extinct Sarvastivada school, the primary object of Mahayana criticism, the Theravada school does not claim the existence of independent dharmas; in this it maintains the attitude of early Buddhism.[23][24][25] Some contemporary Theravadin figures have thus indicated a sympathetic stance toward the Mahayana philosophy found in the Heart Sutra and the Fundamental Stanzas on the Middle Way.[26][27]

The Mahayanists were bothered by the substantialist thought of the Sarvastivadins and Sautrantikas, and in emphasizing the doctrine of emptiness, Kalupahana holds that they endeavored to preserve the early teaching.[28] The Theravadins too refuted the Sarvastivadins and Sautrantikas (and other schools) on the grounds that their theories were in conflict with the non-substantialism of the canon. The Theravada arguments are preserved in the Kathavatthu.[29]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The supposed Mahayana-Hinayana dichotomy is so prevalent in Buddhist literature that it has yet fully to loosen its hold over scholarly representations of the religion. - p. 840, MacMillan Library Reference Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004
  2. ^ Hinayana is a designation that has no clearly identifiable external referent - p. 840, MacMillan Library Reference Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, however, unequivocally equates the term Hinayana with "Theravada" (Oxford, 1993, Vol. 1, p. 1,235)
  3. ^ It is also certain that Buddhist groups and individuals in China (including Tibet), Korea, Vietnam, and Japan have in the past, as in the very recent present, identified themselves as Mahayana Buddhists, even if the polemical or value claim embedded in that term was only dimly felt, if at all., Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 492
  4. ^ "Sanskrit Dictionary for Spoken Sanskrit". http://www.spokensanskrit.de/index.php?tinput=hiina&direction=SE&script=DI&link=yes. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  5. ^ "Sanskrit Dictionary for Spoken Sanskrit". http://www.spokensanskrit.de/index.php?script=DI&tinput=yaana&country_ID=&trans=Translate&direction=AU. Retrieved 2009-04-15. 
  6. ^ Isabelle Onians, "Tantric Buddhist Apologetics, or Antinomianism as a Norm," D.Phil. dissertation, Oxford, Trinity Term 2001 pg 72
  7. ^ Jonathan A Silk. What, if anything, is Mahayana Buddhism? Numen 49:4 (2002):335-405. Article reprinted in Williams, Buddhism, Vol III, Routledge, 2005
  8. ^ The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary
  9. ^ The Mahayana movement claims to have been founded by the Buddha himself. The consensus of the evidence, however, is that it originated in South India in the 1st century CE – Indian Buddhism, AK Warder, 3rd edition, 1999, p. 335.
  10. ^ "Sutta Pitaka" Encyclopedia Britannica[1]
  11. ^ "What the Buddha really taught:The Pali Nikāyas and Chinese Āgamas" by Bhikkhu Sujato [2]
  12. ^ See, for example: [3]
  13. ^ See, for example: [4]
  14. ^ John P. Keenan, The Scripture on the Explication of the Underlying Meaning. Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2000, page 8.
  15. ^ [5]
  16. ^ a b Gombrich, Richard Francis. 1988. Theravāda Buddhism. P.83
  17. ^ Collins, Steven. 1990. Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravāda Buddhism. P.21
  18. ^ a b Gellner, David N. 2005. Rebuilding Buddhism. P.14
  19. ^ Swearer, Donald. 2006. Theravada Buddhist Societies. In: Mark Juergensmeyer (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions. P.83
  20. ^ MacMillan Reference Library of Buddhism, 2004, page 328
  21. ^ Buddha in the Crown Avalokiteśvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka by John Clifford Holt. Oxford University Press: 1991. ISBN 0-19-506418-6 pgs 62-67
  22. ^ ""one does not find anywhere else a body of doctrine as organized or as complete as theirs" . . ."Indeed, no other competing schools have ever come close to building up such a comprehensive edifice of doctrinal systematics as the Vaibhāśika." The Sautrantika theory of seeds (bija ) revisited: With special reference to the ideological continuity between Vasubandhu's theory of seeds and its Srilata/Darstantika precedents by Park, Changhwan, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, 2007 pg 2
  23. ^ Frank J. Hoffman and Deegalle Mahinda, Pāli Buddhism. Routledge Press 1996, page 192.
  24. ^ Richard King, Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Edinburgh University Press, 1999, page 86.
  25. ^ Nyanaponika, Nyaponika Thera, Nyanaponika, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Abhidhamma Studies: Buddhist Explorations of Consciousness and Time. Wisdom Publications, 1998, page 42.
  26. ^ Donald S. Lopez and Dge-ʼdun-chos-ʼphel, The Madman's Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendun Chopel. University of Chicago Press 2006, page 24.
  27. ^ Gil Fronsdal, in Tricycle, posted online on November 8, 2007. [6]
  28. ^ David Kalupahana, Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass, 2006, page 6.
  29. ^ David Kalupahana, Mulamadhyamakakarika of Nagarjuna. Motilal Banarsidass, 2006, page 24.

Bibliography

  • Romila Thapar, Early India from the Origins to AD 1300 Penguin, 2001
  • Tsongkhapa, The great treatise on the stages of the path to enlightenment, Snowlion, 2000
  • Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism, Routledge, 1989
  • Andrew Skilton, Concise history of Buddhism. Windhorse, 1999
  • Donald Lopez, "The H Word", Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Fall 1995, pp84-85
  • R. S. Cohen, "Discontented Categories: Hinayana and Mahayana in Indian History", Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 63(1):1-25, 1995
  • Ryukan Kimura, A Historical Study of the Terms Hinayana and Mahayana and the Origin of Mahayana Buddhism, Indological Book Corp., 1978

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