On the Issue of
Although the dialectical terms "Hinayana" and "Lesser Vehicle" do appear in some of the source texts translated in the Kalavinka Dharma Jewels Dharma treasury, the reader should understand that it would be a great error to reflexively associate these terms with any of today's living Buddhist traditions. Due to very understandable issues of sensitivity rooted in earlier eras of Buddhist history, this error must especially be avoided in references to the contemporary Southern School monastic tradition which has chosen to designate itself "Theravada" or "Discourse of the Elders" after one of the great schools of early Indian Buddhism.
In thirty years of contact with Dharma communities, I have never met a sincere Buddhist of any tradition who did not feel compassion for other people at least some of the time and who did not wish them the benefits of Dharma at least most of the time. Although this noble intent may still fall short of the bodhisattva's vow to serve all beings until they have all attained buddhahood, still, it reflects an inherently magnanimous and altruistic desire to assist the liberation of others from karma-bound suffering. So, at least in practical terms, such sincere practitioners in all Buddhist traditions are serving as de-facto bodhisattvas through preservation and propagation of the Buddha's teachings. As such, no well-intentioned Buddhist striving to assist the liberation of others should be seen as falling outside of the all-embracing community of the "Great Vehicle" or "Mahayana."
One would surely want to include as bodhisattvic Dharma practitioners those Theravada monks, nuns, and laypeople who sacrifice years of their lives to the spreading of the essential doctrines revered by their own tradition. In fact, it would do "Northern School" practitioners well to realize that success in their own chosen path depends on a deep understanding of those very tenets. Unless one understands and practices according to the dictates of the Four Noble Truths, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, and the Eightfold Path, success in the Six Perfections of the bodhisattva is bound to be a blind and hopeless enterprise!
That being said, it is important to respond to the comments of some Southern School Buddhists who have objected that even the term "Mahayana" or "Great Vehicle" should be abandoned as somehow implying a negative judgment on any tradition not subscribing to its tenets. A suggestion such as this is extreme indeed and reveals a deep misunderstanding of the essence of what is really meant by "Mahayana" or "Great Vehicle." That some sort of judgment of other traditions is inherently implied is no more true than that the term "Theravada" or "Discourse of the Elders" is somehow intended to imply that all other traditions are nothing but the "Prattle of Fools."
The stunningly selfless path of the bodhisattva is genuinely great on its own terms and is richly deserving in its own right to be described as "The Great Vehicle" or "Mahayana." No comparative implications are necessarily implied. It should also be noted that the Bodhisattva Path and a series of historical buddhas who have trod it (including Shakyamuni) are documented right within the Theravada Pali scriptures themselves. Hence there can be no questioning the ultimate validity of the Mahayana path or the magnificence of the decision to pursue it.
All Buddhists take Shakyamuni Buddha as their primary guru, whether they find their spiritual home most comfortably with the Southern or the Northern tradition. No even minimally-educated Buddhist denies that Shakyamuni Buddha cultivated and utterly realized the path of the bodhisattva. Hence no truly aware and self-reflective Buddhist could allow himself to disparage those who affirm that path to be "great." How could one fault a person who sincerely desires to emulate the Buddha's own example?
As for the terms "Hinayana" and "Lesser
Vehicle," if they have any current application at all, it is as terms
of reference for those unfortunate practitioners in every tradition,
whether Theravada, Mahayana, or Vajrayana, who have strayed from the true
spirit of Dharma by choosing to exploit it for the petty concerns of
self-gratification, profit, or ego-enhancement.