Do you find Hinayana offensive?

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A Medic
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Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by A Medic »

I was posting on anouther forum and I used the term Hinayana. Some one said that it was a offensive term to use. I did not mean it as that. I had thought that Hinayana was a branch of Buddhism like Mahayana. Also I thought that Theravada was a branch of Hinayana much in the same way Zen or Tibetan is a branch of Mahayana. I remeber being told that Thereavada was the only surviving school of Hinayana. Am I correct in this understanding or have I been mislead?

So is Hinayana a negative or even insulting term to use? Is there a proper us of it? Should I not use it at all? What is the meaning of Hinayana to followers of Theravada?

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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by Ben »

Hi A Medic

A few years ago Rev Eijo from e-sangha reported that after his research into the etymology and use of the term 'Hinayana', he concluded that it was always used as a derogatory expression.
You just need to be mindful that many Theravadins consider the use of the term 'hinayana' or 'hinayanist' as descriptors for their path or themselves insulting or ignorant.
There is a place to use 'hinayana', one such place is a scholarly article or discussion on the term itself and its origins.
Kind regards

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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala »

Check out the meaning of Hina in the PTS dictionary.
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by Dan74 »

To put this sad terminology to rest and to restore balance I propose to rename Mahayana Yauvanavada, the Way of the Youth, as opposed to the Way of the Elders.

No one today (or at least not many) would dispute that Mahayana is a later school (ie younger) and although the new name doesn't quite roll off the tongue it's bound to have strong appeal. We just need a rapper to take it on!

GO YAUVANAVADA!!! :guns:

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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by Kare »

Yes, Hinayana is a word with a derogatory meaning. Anyone who understands Pali and/or Sanskrit will find it offensive.

See a more detailed study of this question here: http://www.lienet.no/hinayan1.htm

The word Hinayana is an echo of an old debate. It should have been put to rest a long time ago.
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by Zack »

I find it discouraging.
I am of nature to decay, I have not gone beyond decay.
I am of the nature to be diseased, I have not gone beyond disease.
I am of the nature to die, I have not done beyond death.
All that is mine, dear and delightful, will change and vanish.
I am the owner of my kamma, heir to my kamma, born of my kamma, related to
my kamma, abide supported by my kamma. Whatever kamma I shall do,
whether good or evil, of that I shall be the heir.
Thus we should frequently recollect.
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by pink_trike »

No, I don't find it to be offensive. I find it to be a fitting name . The term just refers to the teachings (yana = vehicle, theory) that point out that materiality is inferior, low; poor, miserable; vile, base, abject, contemptible, despicable (Hina). The primary focus is to look directly at the narrow material-obsessed perspective that keeps us snared in baseness and reactive abjectivity. It is the pointing out of Hina.

Mahayana just refers to the teachings (yana) that point out that all living beings are in the same inclusive, large boat (Maha). Compassion is the primary focus to make this point about the mind's potential for either separateness (smallness, contractedness) vs. inclusivity (largeness,expansiveness). It is the pointing out of Maha.

Vajrayana just refers to the teachings (yana) that point out the potential strengths (Vajra) the mind is naturally capable of. The primary focus is on the mind's innate ability to "cut through" delusion. (Vajra = adamantine or diamond, which are extremely hard substances that can cut through anything). It is the pointing out of Vajra.

- The teachings that a material perspective is low and and miserable.
- The teachings of inclusivity as an antidote to the effects that arise from the delusion of separateness.
- The teachings that the mind has the innate potential to precisely cut through delusion.

There is nothing "high" or "low" in this naming convention...it's about different vehicles that lead to the same thing. Compare it to entering a house...some may use the front door, some may use the garage door, some may use the patio door. All entrances serve the exact same purpose and lead into the body of the house. In the same way, all three yanas lead directly to the same ultimate experience, and all three are found in each other, but in different degrees of primary focus. Hina, Maha, and Vajra are just three skillful tools.

Any tantrums we may have about "high" or "low" in relationship to these three skillful tools are born from the craving ego that is either wallowing in grandiosity or feeling insecure (which are just two sides of the same deluded coin). This hungry/fearful pettiness is fertile soil for sectarianism and arises out of an incomplete understanding (or a contrived self-serving ignorance) of the precise meaning/application of these three terms. Unfortunately, it is a small number of immature teachers and monks in all three of these traditions who haven't yet risen above their need to feel grandiose or insecure that perpetuate this rubbish, along with archaic Western secular scholarly mistranslations. Humans always find something to fight about, always searching for ways to confirm imagined differences rather than bringing common ground to the foreground of vision.
Last edited by pink_trike on Sun Nov 15, 2009 8:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by tiltbillings »

pink_trike wrote:No, I don't find it to be offensive. I find it to be a fitting name . The term just refers to the teachings (yana = vehicle, theory) that point out that materiality is inferior, low; poor, miserable; vile, base, abject, contemptible, despicable (Hina). The primary focus is to look directly at the narrow material-obsessed perspective that keeps us snared in baseness and reactive abjectivity. It is the pointing out of Hina.
When used totally within the Mahayana to refer to motivation, it has it place. When applied outside the Mahayana to the Theravada or anyother school, it is sectarian naming calling at its worst.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by pink_trike »

tiltbillings wrote:
pink_trike wrote:No, I don't find it to be offensive. I find it to be a fitting name . The term just refers to the teachings (yana = vehicle, theory) that point out that materiality is inferior, low; poor, miserable; vile, base, abject, contemptible, despicable (Hina). The primary focus is to look directly at the narrow material-obsessed perspective that keeps us snared in baseness and reactive abjectivity. It is the pointing out of Hina.
When used totally within the Mahayana to refer to motivation, it has it place. When applied outside the Mahayana to the Theravada or anyother school, it sectariam at its naming calling worst.
That's a garden of weeds that some old school Theravada practitioners love to cultivate, but nothing worthwhile can grow from it.

What do you gain from stirring that pot?
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by tiltbillings »

pink_trike wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
pink_trike wrote:No, I don't find it to be offensive. I find it to be a fitting name . The term just refers to the teachings (yana = vehicle, theory) that point out that materiality is inferior, low; poor, miserable; vile, base, abject, contemptible, despicable (Hina). The primary focus is to look directly at the narrow material-obsessed perspective that keeps us snared in baseness and reactive abjectivity. It is the pointing out of Hina.
When used totally within the Mahayana to refer to motivation, it has it place. When applied outside the Mahayana to the Theravada or anyother school, it sectariam at its naming calling worst.
That's a garden of weeds that some old school Theravada practitioners love to cultivate, but nothing worthwhile can grow from it.
Except that we find, all too often, Mahayanists referring to the Theravada as being hinayana and characterizing the Theravada by the Mahayana polemics that go with the word. Theravadins are not doing this to themselves. Some Mahayana teachers who do not buy into calling the Theravada hinayana feel compelled to comment on this problem:
Reginald Ray, INDESTRUCTABLE TRUTH, pgs 238-9, 240 wrote: Each school, whether classified as Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana, has practitioners at all levels of understanding. For example, one can be a member of a Hinayana school yet have a Vajrayana level of maturation, or follow a Vajrayana school with a Mahayana level of understanding. And, as Ringu Tulku points out, one can even belong to a Mahayana school and not be practicing Buddhism at all! Trungpa Rinpoche once expressed the view that within the Theravadin Tradition over the course of its history, there were undoubtedly realized people who reflected a Mahayana and even a Vajrayana orientation. He also commented that within historical Theravada there were probably realized siddhas (the Tantric Buddhist enlightened ideal).

This somewhat complex way of talking about schools and practitioners makes a simple but important point. The school or sect that a person belongs to does not really tell us about his or her level of understanding, maturation, or attainment. A practitioner is to be evaluated strictly according to the degree of humility, insight, and compassion. A Vajrayana practitioner who thinks that he or she is automatically at a higher level than a Theravadin completely misunderstands the matter. . . .

In fact, as we shall see presently, "Hinayana" refers to a critical but strictly limited set of views, practices, and results. The pre-Mahayana historical traditions such as the Theravada are far richer, more complex, and more profound than the definition of "Hinayana" would allow. ...The tern "Hinayana" is thus a stereotype that is useful in talking about a particular stage on the Tibetan Buddhist path, but it is really not appropriate to assume that the Tibetan definition of Hinayana identifies a venerable living tradition as the Theravada or any other historical school."
Now, are you and I saying anything different here than this?
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by Cittasanto »

Depends how it is used,but for the most part it is used in a derogatory, or could be percieved in a, derogatory way, just as lamanism or lamanist could be seen as a derogatory term for Tibetan Buddhism if used to describe that branch.
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

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tiltbillings wrote: Except that we find, all too often, Mahayanists referring to the Theravada as being hinayana and characterizing the Theravada by the Mahayana polemics that go with the word. Theravadins are not doing this to themselves. Some Mahayana teachers who do not buy into calling the Theravada hinayana feel compelled to comment on this problem:
Reginald Ray, INDESTRUCTABLE TRUTH, pgs 238-9, 240 wrote: Each school, whether classified as Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana, has practitioners at all levels of understanding. For example, one can be a member of a Hinayana school yet have a Vajrayana level of maturation, or follow a Vajrayana school with a Mahayana level of understanding. And, as Ringu Tulku points out, one can even belong to a Mahayana school and not be practicing Buddhism at all! Trungpa Rinpoche once expressed the view that within the Theravadin Tradition over the course of its history, there were undoubtedly realized people who reflected a Mahayana and even a Vajrayana orientation. He also commented that within historical Theravada there were probably realized siddhas (the Tantric Buddhist enlightened ideal).

This somewhat complex way of talking about schools and practitioners makes a simple but important point. The school or sect that a person belongs to does not really tell us about his or her level of understanding, maturation, or attainment. A practitioner is to be evaluated strictly according to the degree of humility, insight, and compassion. A Vajrayana practitioner who thinks that he or she is automatically at a higher level than a Theravadin completely misunderstands the matter. . . .

In fact, as we shall see presently, "Hinayana" refers to a critical but strictly limited set of views, practices, and results. The pre-Mahayana historical traditions such as the Theravada are far richer, more complex, and more profound than the definition of "Hinayana" would allow. ...The tern "Hinayana" is thus a stereotype that is useful in talking about a particular stage on the Tibetan Buddhist path, but it is really not appropriate to assume that the Tibetan definition of Hinayana identifies a venerable living tradition as the Theravada or any other historical school."
Now, are you and I saying anything different here than this?
Having studied/practiced and accepted teachings in all three traditions for 3 decades (ten in just Theravada, 20 in all three vehicles) its my experience that it is a small group of aging Theravada practitioners that love to beat this bush, based on the anger/resentment exhibited by some early traditional teachers who brought this sectarian poison to the West. The younger students who pick up this from the older students always seem to be the ones who clutch at a "theravada" identity like a heroin junky clings to fixes, and who rail against those other "heathens" out of the desperation of insecurity - sort of like how newbies to AA often loudly condemn other approaches to the cessation of drinking. Most Theravada practitioners tend to roll their eyes when this subject comes up.

I've never heard a Maha or Vajra teacher use the term in a belittling manner, - all of them when encountering a student with such a view would set them straight in a fat hurry. The only places I've witnessed this pot being stirred is in the presence of a few senior Theravada practitioners, and in one case by an elderly traditional Theravada teacher who rightfully could be described as a sectarian fundamentalist.

A student once used the term in a derogatory manner when asking Trungpa a question and Trungpa interrupted, firing back "your mind is hinayana" with that shattering silent cannonball energy he was capable of, reducing the student to a pile of cold cinders.

Most ghosts "out there" have their origin "in here".
Last edited by pink_trike on Mon Nov 16, 2009 2:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by Kare »

pink_trike wrote:
I've never heard a Maha or Vajra teacher use the term in a belittling manner, -
Is the "manner" really important? If someone should call your way of practice "the despicable way", "the lousy practice", or something in that vein in plain English - would you call that right speech?

Now, if you don't understand English, you would probably not react to these words. But you understand the language, you understand the meaning of the words, and no matter how "unbelittling manner" they might be said, you would not deem this right speech.

So if you know Pali or Sanskrit, you would react to the word "hinayana", and see that no matter in what way it might be said - the word in itself carries a very unpleasant meaning. You may call someone "a bloody idiot" with a friendly smile on your face, and maybe come away with it, but don't count on succeeding every time you try this. Hurtful words will easily hurt, and if we try to practice right speech, we'd be wiser not to use hurtful words, not matter what language.
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

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Kare wrote:
pink_trike wrote:
I've never heard a Maha or Vajra teacher use the term in a belittling manner, -
So if you know Pali or Sanskrit, you would react to the word "hinayana", and see that no matter in what way it might be said - the word in itself carries a very unpleasant meaning.
Hinayana means "the teachings are about hina".

It does not mean "the teachings are hina", which is an incorrect translation, to the best of my knowledge.

There's a big difference there.
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Re: Do you find Hinayana offensive?

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings,
pink_trike wrote:Mahayana just refers to the teachings (yana) that point out that all living beings are in the same inclusive, large boat (Maha). Compassion is the primary focus to make this point about the mind's potential for either separateness (smallness, contractedness) vs. inclusivity (largeness,expansiveness). It is the pointing out of Maha.
I don't know if it's the wording, but this sounds disturbingly like some variety of macro-soul theory.

From my perspective, there is samsaric existence/becoming which is conditioned, and there is nibbana which is unconditioned.

All these notions of 'separateness' and 'inclusivity' seems like tangential mana to me, which infer some "thing" which could be separate, or included which respect to some other "thing".

To that extent, the only thing I find "offensive" about the term hinayana, is that people think the Buddha taught in an incomplete way. I think this represents a misunderstanding of the subtleties of the Buddhadhamma and incurs an unjustified pidgeon-holing of the suttas as 'provisional'. They're not provisional at all - they're direct and to the point, especially those teachings 'connected with emptiness'.

The Buddha is cool 8-)

Nirodha is cool.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
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