Skt., hinayana: Lesser Vehicle
Tib., theg-pa dman-pa
Jap., shojo

A term indicating the so-called "Southern Branch" of Buddhism which developed first in India and then in Sri Lanka, from where it spread to several Southeast Asian countries.

Originally, the term Lesser Vehicle was used, depreciatingly, by adherents of Mahayana (Skt., Great Vehicle), but most works on Buddhism also use the name Hinayana rather than Theravada, by which contemporary Hinayana-Buddhists prefer to refer to their tradition.

The development of Hinayana took place during the centuries following the death of Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha (in 483 BCE). Out of the original Buddhist community arose several separate schools brought about by disagreements and different priorities in interpreting the Buddha's teachings. This development finally also led to the rise of Mahayana Buddhism with its insistence on the Bodhisattva vow.

Of all the once existing Hinayana schools, only Theravada has survived and is still active today; mainly in Burma, Kampuchea, Laos, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Thailand.

One of the major flaws in traditional Hinayana teaching is the theory that only if one is (re-)born as a man (male) and becomes a monk, can one hope to attain enlightenment and liberation from the endless cycle of birth and death. In opposition to such teaching, the various schools of Mahayana assert that all beings equally possess the seed of buddhahood. The Bodhisattva (and goddess) Tara, for example, vowed to be reborn over and over again as a woman until all sentient beings would be liberated.

Here a list of the Hinayana schools in alphabetical order:
Bahushrutiya, Chaitaka, Dhammayut, Dharmagupta, Ekavyavaharika, Gokulila,
Kosha (Chin., Chushe, Jap., Kusha), Lokottaravadin, Mahasanghika, Mahishasaka, Prajnaptivadin, Pudgalavada (Vatsiputira), Sarvastivada, Satyasiddhi (Chin., Ch'eng-shih, Jap., Jojitsu), Sautantrika, Sthavira, Theravada, Vaibhashika, Vibhajyavada, Vinaya (Chin., Lu-tsung, Jap., Ritsu)