Śrāvakayāna (Sanskrit: ष्रवकयन;, Pali: श्रभकयन) is one of the three yānas known to Mahāyāna Buddhism.
It translates literally as the "vehicle of listeners [i.e. disciples]". Historically it was the most common term is used by Mahayana Buddhist texts to describe one hypothetical path to Enlightenment.
Śrāvakayāna is the path that meets the goals of a Arhat – an individual who achieves liberation as a result of listening to the teachings (or lineage) of a Bodhisattva Buddha.
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 Pratyekayāna in contrast to the Mahāyāna.
In the Theravada school
The term Śrāvakayāna does not appear in Theravadin scriptures.
Possible latter use in commentaries
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 pacceka (Sanskrit: Pratyekayāna;
roughly "one who becomes enlightened without the aid of The Sangha").
If this usage did in fact occur, then it should not be misrepresented as a Theravadin view and instead recognised for what it is: a later terminological accretion.
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.