?r?vakay?na (Sanskrit: ; Pali: ?; traditional Chinese: ; ; pinyin: Sh?ngwén Chéng) is one of the three y?nas known to Indian Buddhism. It translates literally as the "vehicle of listeners [i.e. disciples]". Historically it was the most common term used by Mah?y?na Buddhist texts to describe one hypothetical path to enlightenment. ?r?vakay?na is the path that meets the goals of an Arhat--an individual who achieves liberation as a result of listening to the teachings (or following a lineage) of a Samyaksa?buddha.
Isabelle Onians asserts that although "the Mah?y?na ... very occasionally referred contemptuously to earlier Buddhism as the Hinay?na, 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 ?r?vakay?na was "the more politically correct and much more usual" term used by Mah?y?nists. "H?nay?na" (the "lesser vehicle"), however, was used to include both ?r?vakay?na and Pratyekabuddhay?na in contrast to the Mah?y?na.
At least some of the early Buddhist schools used the concept of three vehicles including ?r?vakay?na. For example, the Vaibhika Sarv?stiv?dins are known to have employed the outlook of Buddhist practice as consisting of the Three Vehicles:
The Dharmaguptakas regarded the path of a ?r?vaka (?r?vakay?na) and the path of a bodhisattva (bodhisattvay?na) 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 the 4th century Mah?y?na abhidharma work Abhidharmasamuccaya, Asa?ga describes those who follow the ?r?vaka Vehicle (Skt. ?r?vakayanika). These people are described as having weak faculties, following the ?r?vaka Dharma, utilizing the ?r?vaka Pi?aka, being set on their own liberation, and cultivating detachment in order to attain liberation. While those in the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle (Skt. pratyekabuddhay?nika) are portrayed as also utilizing the ?r?vaka Pi?aka, 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 Mah?y?na (Skt. mah?y?nika) are portrayed as utilizing the Bodhisattva Pi?aka, as having sharp faculties, following the Bodhisattva Dharma, and set on the perfection and liberation of all beings, and the attainment of complete enlightenment.