Meaning `inferior vehicle', Hãnayàna is a derogatory term Mahàyàna Buddhists use for the pre-Mahàyàna schools of Buddhism. Although found in the earliest Mahàyàna såtras (approximately 1st century BCE), the more common terms were the disciples vehicle   (arhatyàna or ÷ravakayàna) and freed by inferior means (hãnàdhimukita). Eventually Hãnayàna became the dominant term and it is still used today by Mahàyànists to describe Theravàda Buddhism.

The Mahàyàna claim that their ideal practitioner, the bodhisattva, strives to liberate all beings while the Hãnayàna ideal, the arahat, is intent on liberating himself or herself only. The Pàëi Tipiñaka contains no term, derogatory or otherwise, for Mahàyàna Buddhism because it predates the period when sects arose within Buddhism.