Survival of the Hinayana

February 21 2014

In A.D. 1956 the Hinayanian [Theravadan] Buddhist philosophy was the dominant way of life in Ceylon, Burma, Siam, and Cambodia; and in that year a Hinayanian Buddhist oecumenical council was in session at Rangoon, sitting placidly within a stone’s throw of the tense borderline between a Communist-dominated and a Western-dominated hemisphere. This serenity was an heroic example of a spirit that was also in evidence in ordinary life in the Hinayanian Buddhist countries. Many Western observers, including Westerners who were still Christians, were impressed by the strength, pervasiveness, and beneficence of the Hīnayāna’s influence on the êthos of the people at large, beyond the small circle of professed philosopher-monks. If philosophers, as well as prophets, are to be known by their fruits, [footnote: Matt, vii. 16 and 20.] the Hinayanian Buddhist philosophers need not fear comparison with their Mahayanian critics. Yet the local survival of the Hīnayāna in South-Eastern Asia was no more than a modest practical success by comparison with the tenacity of Confucianism; and elsewhere the Hīnayāna, like the Hellenic philosophies, had been superseded by other faiths. In its Indian homeland it had been evicted by a post-Buddhaic Hinduism; and, on the threshold of a vast mission-field in China, Korea, and Japan, the adherents of an advancing Buddhism had fallen away from a Hinayanian philosophy to a Mahayanian religion, in which the social demands of Love and Pity had been given patent precedence over the pursuit of self-sufficiency through self-extinction.

Old posts:

The survival of the Brahmans

Survival of the Confucians.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

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