The three levels of Buddhist teaching are called ‘vehicles’ because they comprise the teachings and methods that will carry us to enlightenment, in much the same way that vehicles carry us to our destination in everyday life.
Hinayana is the basic level of Buddhist teaching and practice that is common to all traditions, though it is often associated with the Theravada tradition. It is called ‘the lower vehicle’, but it is not lower in the sense that it is of lesser value than the Mahayana or Vajrayana vehicles.
Instead, it is the foundation level of Buddhism. Just as a house needs a solid foundation in order to be strong, so also do the other Buddhist vehicles or paths need the solid foundation that Hinayana provides.
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You yourselves must strive, the Buddhas only point the wayBuddha, Dhp 276