The mind likes to keep itself - remember that cover by Johnny Cash 'if I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way´?
I think that's worth bringing to this debate.
Hinayana, as we have heard, can be used as a description of an attitude of wanting to keep oneself, of practicing nothing but ritual, of small minded religiosity without actual realisation. Of selfishness and practicing with the desire to gain something temporal. Using Buddhism to avoid Dharma, perhaps. That's one use people make of the word, not always a negative one.
Another use is to denigrate those of another tradition. Except no one is interested truly in denigrating anyone; those who use the word for the Theravada aren't interested in attacking the Theravada itself - they don't even know what it is, nor care enough to find out. No, they're doing it for the self, to aggrandise their path and therefore them. The poor man's vehicle is merely a shadow to throw the Great Vehicle in sharp relief. I am I am I am...
So it's offensive, yes, but if we get offended, hurt by this, then maybe we are also using the word, the issue, to avoid the path. Because it's not about us, it's about the person using the word, it's self, his or her useless but cherished crutch. So are we are playing the part of the righteously indignant? Is it our crutch too, our Great, Most Wonderful and Holier-Than-Thine Vehicle? Maybe not; only you and I can know what this issue is to us. I think that's what we need to ask ourselves, though.
As a sidenote, I came to my understanding of Buddhism, heavily influenced by Theravada and Zen, in many ways BECAUSE of the word Hinayana. I read hundreds of these introductions to Buddhism, these Mahayana texts, and I found a great deal of wisdom there, but there were also things that didn't sit well with me. The attacks on x vehicle and assertions that y vehicle was the best, the highest, most luminous etc etc, made me think 'someone here is missing the point´. They seemed to contradict the words of the Buddha, and contradict Buddhist practice. Theravada and Zen have less of this, in my admittedly limited experience.
The idea that there is a further path beyond Buddhahood also, seemed so very monkey-minded, so caught up with achievements and accolades, of hierarchies and who can swing highest from the tree of enlightenment. For me, it was difficult to understand how Buddhists, like those of other religions, are so keen on compartmentalising their ideas, learning deep wisdom and yet at the same time keeping a store of idiocy and egotism at hand to cling to. But I guess that's why we practice, because we aren't perfect, because life is painfully sharp and this kind of madness seems like a shield against its arrows. Years ago I spent a long time asking myself 'but what if this isn't the best Buddhism, what if Mahayana is the best and I'm settling for second best? A mustard seed's worth...!'.
The mind plays these tricks, and many others. Practice is better than self, better than anything the monkey dreams of.
And no, one shouldn't really use the word 'Hinayana' to describe the Theravada. It's idiotic.
Not twice, not three times, not once,
the wheel is turning.