Śrāvakayāna (Sanskrit: श्रावकयान; Pali: सावकयान; 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.

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.[1] “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:[2]

  1. Śrāvakayāna
  2. Pratyekabuddhayāna
  3. Bodhisattvayāna

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.”[3]