Śrāvakayāna (Sanskrit: ष्रवकयन; Pali: श्रभकयन; traditional Chinese: 聲聞乘; pinyin: Shēngwén Shèng) is one of the three yānas known to Indian Buddhism. It translates literally as the "vehicle of listeners [i.e. disciples]". Historically it was the most common term used by Mahāyāna Buddhist texts to describe one hypothetical path to enlightenment. Śrāvakayāna is the path that meets the goals of an Arhat—an individual who achieves liberation as a result of listening to the teachings (or lineage) of a Samyaksaṃbuddha.
Use of the term
Scholar Isabelle Onians asserts that although "the Mahāyāna ... very occasionally referred contemptuously to earlier Buddhism as the Hinayāna, the Inferior Way," "the preponderance of this name in the secondary literature is far out of proportion to occurrences in the Indian texts." She notes that the term Śrāvakayāna was "the more politically correct and much more usual" term used by Mahāyānists. "Hīnayāna" (the "lesser vehicle"), however, was used to include both Śrāvakayāna and Pratyekabuddhayāna in contrast to the Mahāyāna.
In Early Buddhist schools
At least some of the early Buddhist schools used the concept of three vehicles including Śrāvakayāna. For example, the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins are known to have employed the outlook of Buddhist practice as consisting of the Three Vehicles:
The Dharmaguptakas regarded the path of a śrāvaka (śrāvakayāna) and the path of a bodhisattva (bodhisattvayāna) to be separate. One of their tenets reads, "The Buddha and those of the Two Vehicles, although they have one and the same liberation, have followed different noble paths."
In Mahāyāna traditions
In the 4th century Mahāyāna abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asaṅga describes those who follow the Śrāvaka Vehicle (Skt. śrāvakayanika). These people are described as having weak faculties, following the Śrāvaka Dharma, utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, being set on their own liberation, and cultivating detachment in order to attain liberation. While those in the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle (Skt. pratyekabuddhayānika) are portrayed as also utilizing the Śrāvaka Piṭaka, they are said to have medium faculties, to follow the Pratyekabuddha Dharma, and to be set on their own personal enlightenment. Finally, those in the Mahāyāna (Skt. mahāyānika) are portrayed as utilizing the Bodhisattva Piṭaka, as having sharp faculties, following the Bodhisattva Dharma, and set on the perfection and liberation of all beings, and the attainment of complete enlightenment.
In the Theravada school
The term Śrāvakayāna does not appear in Theravadin scriptures. It has apparently been claimed by some that a small number of latter Theravadin commentaries may have used the term to differentiate between the normal path to enlightenment – that based on receiving the dhamma through the sangha, and the enlightenment of the paccekabuddha (Sanskrit: pratyekabuddha).
- Isabelle Onians, "Tantric Buddhist Apologetics, or Antinomianism as a Norm," D.Phil. dissertation, Oxford, Trinity Term 2001 pg 72
- Nakamura, Hajime. Indian Buddhism: A Survey With Bibliographical Notes. 1999. p. 189
- Boin-Webb, Sara (tr). Rahula, Walpola (tr). Asanga. Abhidharma Samuccaya: The Compendium of Higher Teaching. 2001. p. 199-200