Basic vehicle

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Basic Vehicle (Skt. Hīnayāna; Tib. ཐེག་དམན་, tek men, Wyl. theg dman) — literally the 'Lesser Vehicle', but perhaps more accurately understood as 'Vehicle of Lesser Result'. What principally distinguishes followers of the Basic Vehicle from those of the Great Vehicle (Skt. Mahayana) is their motivation. They aspire for the personal liberation of nirvana, and lack the courage to pursue the greater fruition of the Mahayana—this being the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

It comprises both the Shravakayana or vehicle of shravakas and the Pratyekabuddhayana or vehicle of pratyekabuddhas.


Even though the Theravada school is the only Basic Vehicle school extant today, by the time the Buddha's discourses were written down in Pali in Sri Lanka, there were a total of 18 or 20 different ancient buddhist schools.[1]

With the first doctrinal divisions, the two following schools appeared[2]:

The Sthaviravadin later divided into three other schools:

The Mahasanghika later divided into two other schools:

  • Lokottaravadin (Skt. Lokottaravādin)
  • Prajñaptivadin (Skt. Prajñaptivādin)

Alternative Translations

  • Fundamental Vehicle
  • Individual Vehicle
  • Foundation Path/Vehicle


  1. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha's Teachings (Harmony, 1999), page 16.
  2. Source for school divisions: Philippe Cornu, Manuel de bouddhisme — Philosophie, pratique et histoire. Tome I, Bouddhisme ancien et Theravāda (Editions Rangdröl, 2019), pages 175-206.

Further Reading

  • Chögyam Trungpa, The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Volume One: The Path of Individual Liberation (Shambhala, 2014)