Hinayana and Mahayana: two schools of thoughts of Buddhism

Buddhism can further be divided into two schools of thoughts- Hinayana and Mahayana


Buddhism the most fostered religion of the world is further divided into two major schools of thoughts: Hinayana or the lesser vehicle and Mahayana or the greater vehicle. The division originated in Prajnaparamita Sutras (the formulations on achieving the ultimate awareness). Both the sects have a profusion of differences between them.


Buddhika Sanjeewa, Beijing, China. Source: Wikimedia Commons


  • It is an ancient version of Buddhism, without any noticeable change in it. It contains preachings as Buddha himself had instructed.
  • Bodhisattvas are the compassionate human beings who aspire to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of sentient beings. No such concept exists in Hinayana.
  • Hinayana includes eighteen schools and the most important of them are Sarvastivada and Theravada. Sarvastivada were widespread in Northern India when the Tibetans started to travel over the region while Theravada was dominant in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

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  • They don’t believe in idol worship and believe in salvation through self-discipline and meditation.
  • In Hinayana, Buddha is portrayed in human form. Asoka was the patron of Hinayana and Pali was the language used by Hinayana scholars.
  • There are only symbols related to Buddha- circle, animals related to Buddha’s life like lion- symbol of Mahabhinishkraman (Sanskrit term for “the great departure”), elephant- symbol of birth, et al. The stories of Hinayana tend to believe that when Buddha’s mother was conceiving him, she dreamt of a white elephant entering her womb.
  • The aim of a Hinayana devotee is to get Nirvana which can be achieved with life. When the person becomes free of all sangyas and asangyas (all worldly attractions and distractions), the person is said to have achieved Nirvana.


  • It originated in first century A.D. after it split from Theravada. It is a modified version of Buddhism in which some liberties are awarded to the devotees.
  • Mahayana Buddhism is prevalent in India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia.
  • Mahayana doctrine was based on the possibility of universal liberation from suffering for all being and hence named as the greater vehicle.
  • It affirms the existence of Bodhisattvas and their language is Sanskrit.

Peace_Pagoda_Temple_SculpturePeace Pagoda temple, Darjeeling, India. Source: Wikimedia Commons

  • Buddha is presumed in divine form, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and they started to profess idol worship. It allows salvation to be alternatively obtained through the grace of Buddha by having faith and devoting oneself to mindfulness of Buddha. They believe in mantras (chanting).
  • After getting Nirvana, the person has to help other people to attain nirvana.

Shruti Pandey is a third year engineering student at HBTI, Kanpur and aspires to bring a change through words. Twitter handle: srt_kaka




  • Pragya Jha

    Buddhism is a religion which focuses on non-violence and peace….Hinayana and Mahayana are the sub parts of this religion.Followers of Hinayana don’t believe idol worship whereas followers of Mahayana believe in idol worship.