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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the two major branches of Buddhism, the other one being Mahayana Buddhism. The concept of Hinayana was introduced by the Mahayanists at the beginning of the first millennium A.D., not long after the emergence of Buddhism itself. Hinayana Buddhism comprises a number of schools, including Theravada, Sarvastivada (Vaibhashika), and Sautrantika; at present, however, the adherents of Hinayana Buddhism tend to identify it with the Theravada school, or the “teaching of the elders.” Hinayana Buddhism, as it developed and spread to the southern countries—such as Ceylon, Laos, and Thailand—became firmly established there under the name of Southern Buddhism. Among its basic texts are the Abhidharma-kosa by Vasubandhu and the Tipitaka.

Buddhism preaches individual perfection for the attainment of “deliverance,” or Nirvana; in Hinayana, the moral and intellectual development of the individual was proclaimed to be completely independent of any forces external to man, and particularly divine ones. Hinayana is distinguished by its relatively strict and at the same time negative moral principles. Its ideal is the arhat —the individual who strives unswervingly and above all toward self-perfection and who in effect cares little for the perfection of others. In the philosophical frame of reference, a related aspect of Hinayana is its denial that either the soul or god exist as independent entities and the assertion that dharmas are the only existing essences—dharmas being the specific psychophysical elements of the individual’s life activity, inseparably linked to the surrounding world. Dharmas represent the union of the subjective and the objective, the material and the spiritual, and they are in perpetual motion.

The Hinayanists regard the Buddha as a historical person who differs from others by his incomparably greater perfection but is not endowed with divine authority. He is represented as the highest ideal of human existence and as a model for others, inasmuch as every man has the potential to become a Buddha.

In theory, Hinayana Buddhism has substituted life in a monastic community, or sangha, for worship and ritual; the significance of the latter, however, has been preserved in the countries that practice Southern Buddhism, where a distinctive form of polytheism developed.


Radhakrishnan, S. Indiiskaia filosofiia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from English.)
Vallée Poussin, L. de Ia. Bouddhisme. Paris, 1909.
Bareau, A. Les Sectes bouddhiques du petit Véhicule. Saigon, 1955.
Lamotte, E. Histoire du bouddhisme indien. Louvain, 1958.
See also references under BUDDHISM.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.