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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

So the Hinayana goal was lower


us the reason why one school was called Hinayana whereas the other, which he professed, was called Mahayana. He says that, considered from the point of view of the ultimate goal of religion, the instructions, attempts, realization, and time, the Hinayana occupies a lower and smaller place than the other called Maha (great) Yana, and hence it is branded as Hina (small, or low). This brings us to one of the fundamental points of distinction between Hinayana and Mahayana. The ultimate good of an adherent of the Hinayana is to attain his own nirva@na or salvation, whereas the ultimate goal of those who professed the Mahayana creed was not to seek their own salvation but to seek the salvation of all beings. So the Hinayana goal was lower, and in consequence of that the instructions that its followers received, the attempts they undertook, and the results they achieved were narrower than that of the Mahayana adherents. A Hinayana man had only a short business in attaining his own salvation, and this could be done in three lives, whereas a Mahayana adherent was prepared to work for infinite time in helping all beings to attain salvation. So the Hinayana adherents required only a short period of work and may from that point of view also be called _hina,_ or lower.

This point, though important from the point of view of the difference in the creed of the two schools, is not so from the point of view of philosophy. But there is another trait of the Mahayanists which distinguishes them from the Hinayanists from the philosophical point of view. The Mahayanists believed that all things were of a non-essential and indefinable character and void at bottom, whereas the Hinayanists only believed in the impermanence of all things, but did not proceed further than that.

It is sometimes erroneously thought that Nagarjuna first preached the doctrine of S'unyavada (essencelessness or voidness of all appearance), but in reality almost all the Mahayana sutras either definitely preach this doctrine or allude to it. Thus if we take some of those sutras which were in all probability earlier than Nagarjuna, we find that the doctrine which Nagarjuna expounded


with all the rigour of his powerful dialectic was quietly accepted as an indisputable truth. Thus we find Subhuti saying to the Buddha that vedana (feeling), samjna (concepts) and the sa@mskaras (conformations) are all maya (illusion) [Footnote ref 1]. All the skandhas, dhaetus (elements) and ayatanas are void and absolute cessation. The highest knowledge of everything as pure void is not different from the skandhas, dhatus and ayatanas, and this absolute cessation of dharmas is regarded as the highest knowledge (_prajnaparamita_) [Footnote ref 2]. Everything being void there is in reality no process and no cessation. The truth is neither eternal (_s'as'vata_) nor non-eternal (_as'as'vata_) but pure void. It should be the object of a saint's endeavour to put himself in the "thatness" (_tathata_) and consider all things as void. The saint (_bodhisattva_) has to establish himself in all the virtues (_paramita_), benevolence (_danaparamita_), the virtue of character (_s'ilaparamita_), the virtue of forbearance (_k@santiparamita_), the virtue of tenacity and strength (_viryyaparamita_) and the virtue of meditation (_dhyanaparamita_). The saint (_bodhisattva_) is firmly determined that he will help an infinite number of souls to attain nirva@na. In reality, however, there are no beings, there is no bondage, no salvation; and the saint knows it but too well, yet he is not afraid of this high truth, but proceeds on his career of attaining for all illusory beings illusory emancipation from illusory bondage. The saint is actuated with that feeling and proceeds in his work on the strength of his paramitas, though in reality there is no one who is to attain salvation in reality and no one who is to help him to attain it [Footnote ref 3]. The true prajnaparamita is the absolute cessation of all appearance (_ya@h anupalambha@h sarvadharma@nam sa prajnaparamita ityucyate_) [Footnote ref 4].

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