Classical Indian Philosophy Hinayana and Mahayana for Competitive Exams

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Classical Indian Philosophy Hinayana & Mahayana

Complete Video at - Hinayana and Mahayana School of Buddhism: Classical Indian Philosophy (Philosophy)


  • In course of time, as the followers of Buddhism increased in number, they were divided into different schools.
  • The ethical religious movement called Buddhism gave birth to about thirty schools, not counting the minor ones.
  • The most important division of Buddhism on religious principles was the two schools, namely, Hinayana and Mahayana.

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Hinayana and Mahayana
Theravada & Mahayana
  • Hinayana flourished in the South and it has a stronghold presence in Ceylon, Burma and Siam.
  • Their literature is vast and is written in the Pali dialect.
  • It is claimed to be more orthodox and faithful towards the teachings of Buddha.
  • On the other hand, Mahayana flourished mostly in the North and has a stronghold presence in Tibet, China and Japan.
  • Their vast literature is written in the Tibetan, Chinese and Sanskrit dialect.
  • In comparison with Hinayana, Mahayana is less orthodox and rigid in nature.
  • It is considered to be more progressive, and self-less.

Hinayana School of Buddhism

  • Hinayana as the name suggests, hina means small and Yana means vehicle, so, it means the small vehicle.
  • It shares the same ideology of Jainism on the concept of God. Like Jainism, Hinayana does not believe in God. Instead, Karma takes the place of God.
  • Relying on the words of Buddha, Hinayana accepts that, “Be a light unto thyself.”
  • As a result, Hinayana emphasises on the concept of Nirvana or liberation for and by the individual self itself.
  • The goal of Hinayana school is the state of AR hat-hood or the state of the ideal state who obtains personal Nirvana- the extinction of all misery and suffering.
  • Hence, the idea of liberation or Nirvana in Hinayana is said to be negative in nature and also egoistic.

Schools of Hinayana Buddhism

Schools of Hinayana Buddhism
  • The oldest school of Hinayana is Sthaviravada or Theravada or the Doctrine of the Elders.
  • Its Sanskrit counterpart which is more philosophical in nature is known as Srivastava or the doctrine which maintains the existence of all things, physical as well as mental.
  • Gradually form Srivastava or Vaibhasika branched off another school of Hinayana called the Sautantrika which is more critical in nature.

In short, the following points are most important to remember in reference to Hinayana school of Buddhism;

  • Another name for Hinayana is Theravada
  • Hinayana means the “small vehicle”
  • Two of the most important schools under Hinayana are- Sautantrika and Vaibhasika or Sarvastivada.
  • Hinayana believes in individual liberation or individual Nibbana or Nirvana
  • It is more orthodox and rigid in nature than Mahayana
  • Hinayana believes in the theory of Karma.
  • It does not accept the concept of God
  • It flourished in Ceylon, Siam and Burma
  • The state of liberation in Hinayana is called AR hat-hood.
  • AR hat is the one who has attained Nirvana
  • Nirvana is understood in a negative manner. It means cessation of misery.

Mahayana School of Buddhism

  • The Mahayana school of Buddhism, as the name suggests is called maha or big and Yana or vehicle, the Great Vehicle or the Big Ship.
  • According to the literature, it is called a big ship because it can accommodate a large number of people and can safely take them to the shore (Nirvana) from the troubled waters of the ocean (life which is full of misery and suffering) .
  • The idea of liberation in Mahayana is not negative and egoistic in nature like Hinayana.
  • Mahayana believes that Nirvana is not a negative cessation of misery, rather, it is a positive state of bliss.
  • it՚s ideal saint is Bodhisattva.
  • Bodhisattva is the one which defers his own Nirvana or salvation in-order to help or provide aid to all the other still suffering in samsara.
  • So, Bodhisattva works for the salvation of others.
  • Mahayana believes that Buddha avers, “let all the sins and miseries of the world fall upon my shoulders, so that all the beings may get liberated from them.”
  • According to Mahayana, Buddha is worshipped as a God.
  • Buddha is transformed into God and is worshipped as a transcendental reality and is believed to possess the power of re-incarnation or avatars.
  • Hence, Mahayana՚s greatness as a school lies in their spirit of self-less service of humanity, its accommodating spirit and its missionary zeal.
  • As a result, it is regarded as a progressive and a dynamic religion of Buddhism.

Schools of Mahayana Buddhism

  • The two most important schools of Mahayana Buddhism are Madhyamika or Sunyavada school and Vijayawada or Yogacara school
Schools of Mahayana Buddhism

In short, the following points are most important to remember in reference to Mahayana school of Buddhism;

  • Mahayana means the Big Vehicle or the Big Ship
  • It believes in God; they treat Buddha as a God.
  • They believe that Nirvana is a positive state of Bliss
  • The ideal saint accepted is called Bodhisattva
  • Bodhisattva works for the salvation of all the other beings
  • Yogacara and Madhyamika are the two important schools of Mahayana
  • Another name for Yogacara school is Vijayawada
  • Another name for Madhyamika school is Sunyavada
  • It is more progressive, less rigid, less orthodox in nature
  • It is highly regarded for its self-less service towards humanity


1. Buddha is worshipped as God in which of the following;

A. Hinayana

B. Mahayana

C. Both A and B

D. Early Buddhism

Answer: B

2. Select the code of true statements in reference to Mahayana Buddhism

1. Buddha is worshipped as God

2. Their goal is to attain the state of arhat-hood

3. It is less rigid and orthodox than Hinayana

4. Vijayawada and Vaibhasika are their two famous schools


A. All of them are true

B. All except 4 are true

C. Only 1 and 3 are true

D. Only 1,2 and 3 are true

Answer: C

3 … school flourished mainly in the South- in countries such as Ceylon, Burma and Siam

A. Hinayana

B. Mahayana

C. Early Buddhism

D. None of these

Answer: A

4. The idea of liberation is considered to be negative and egoistic in

A. Hinayana

B. Mahayana

C. Both A and B

D. Neither of the these

Answer: A

5. Match the two sets;

Set I (Name)

a. Hinayana

b. Mahayana

Set II

  1. Is regarded for its self-less service towards humanity
  2. Believes in the theory of Karma
  3. Nirvana is a state of positive bliss
  4. Nirvana means cessation of misery

Code: abwab

A. 2143

B. 2134

C. 1234

D. 1243

Answer: B