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The Sautrāntika or Sutravadin (Sanskrit, Suttavāda in Pali; Chinese :經量部\ 說經部; pinyin :jīng liàng bù\ shuō jīng bù; Japanese : 経量部, romanized: Kyou Ryou Bu) were an early Buddhist school generally believed to be descended from the Sthavira nikāya by way of their immediate parent school, the Sarvāstivādins. [1] While they are identified as a unique doctrinal tendency, they were part of the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya lineage of monastic ordination. [2]

Chinese language family of languages

Chinese is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

Pinyin Chinese romanization scheme for Mandarin

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic language family, and its relation to other languages, such as Korean, is debated. Japanese has been grouped with language families such as Ainu, Austroasiatic, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.


Their name means literally "those who rely upon the sutras", which indicated, as stated by the commentator Yasomitra, that they hold the sutras, but not the Abhidharma commentaries (sastras), as authoritative. [1] [3] The views of this group first appear in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya of Vasubandhu . [2]

Sutra a text in Hinduism or Buddhism. Often a collection of aphorisms or formulae.

Sutra in Indian literary traditions refers to an aphorism or a collection of aphorisms in the form of a manual or, more broadly, a condensed manual or text. Sutras are a genre of ancient and medieval Indian texts found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Abhidharma Buddhist texts from the 3rd century BCE and later, containing reworkings of the Buddhist sutras

Abhidharma (Sanskrit) or Abhidhamma (Pali) are ancient Buddhist texts which contain detailed scholastic reworkings of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist sutras, according to schematic classifications. The Abhidhamma works do not contain systematic philosophical treatises, but summaries or abstract and systematic lists.

Shastra is a Sanskrit word that means "precept, rules, manual, compendium, book or treatise" in a general sense. The word is generally used as a suffix in the Indian literature context, for technical or specialized knowledge in a defined area of practice.


The name Sautrāntika indicates that unlike other North Indian Sthaviras, this school held the Buddhist sutras as central to their views, over and above the ideas presented in the Abhidharma literature. The Sarvastivada scholar Samghabhadra, in his Nyayanusara, attacks a school of thought named Sautrantika which he associates with the scholars Śrīlāta and his student Vasubandhu. [4] According to Samghabhadra, a central tenet of this school was that all sutra is explicit meaning (nitartha), hence their name. [4]

Vasubandhu Indian Buddhist monk

Vasubandhu was an influential Buddhist monk and scholar from Gandhara. He was a philosopher who wrote commentary on the Abhidharma, from the perspectives of the Sarvastivada and Sautrāntika schools. After his conversion to Mahayana Buddhism, along with his half-brother, Asanga, he was also one of the main founders of the Yogacara school.

The Sarvāstivādins sometimes referred to them as the Dārṣṭāntika school, meaning "those who utilize the method of examples". [3] This latter name may have been a pejorative label. [5] It is also possible that the name 'Dārṣṭāntika' identifies a predecessor tradition, or another related, but distinct, doctrinal position; the exact relationship between the two terms is unclear. [6] Charles Willemen identifies the Sautrāntika as a Western branch of the Sarvāstivādins, active in the Gandhara area, who split from the Sarvāstivādins sometime before 200 CE, when the Sautrāntika name emerged. [7] Other scholars are less confident of a specific identification for the Sautrāntika; Nobuyoshi Yamabe calls specifying the precise identity of the Sautrāntika "one of the biggest problems in current Buddhist scholarship." [6]

Gandhara ancient kingdom in the Swat and Kabul river valleys and the Pothohar Plateau

Gandhāra was an ancient state, a mahajanapada, in the Peshawar basin in the northwest portion of South Asia, present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. The center of the region was at the confluence of the Kabul and Swat rivers, bounded by the Sulaiman Mountains on the west and the Indus River on the east. The Safed Koh mountains separated it from the Kohat region to the south. This being the core area of Gandhara, the cultural influence of "Greater Gandhara" extended across the Indus river to the Taxila region and westwards into the Kabul and Bamiyan valleys in Afghanistan, and northwards up to the Karakoram range. Gandhara was one of sixteen mahajanapadas of ancient India mentioned in Buddhist sources such as Anguttara Nikaya. During the Achaemenid period and Hellenistic period, its capital city was Pushkalavati, modern Charsadda. Later the capital city was moved to Peshawar by the Kushan emperor Kanishka the Great in about 127 AD.

Sarvastivada Early school of Buddhism

The Sarvāstivāda was one of the early Buddhist schools established around the reign of Asoka. It was particularly known as an Abhidharma tradition, with a unique set of seven Abhidharma works.


The founding of the Sautrāntika school is attributed to the elder Kumāralāta (c. 3rd century CE) [8] , author of a "collection of dṛṣtānta" (Dṛṣtāntapaṅkti) called the Kalpanāmaṇḍitīkā. The Sautrāntikas were sometimes also called "disciples of Kumāralāta". [9] According to Chinese sources, Harivarman (250-350 CE) was a student of Kumāralāta who became disillusioned with Buddhist Abhidharma and then wrote the Tattvasiddhi-śāstra in order to "eliminate confusion and abandon the later developments, with the hope of returning to the origin". [10] The Tattvasiddhi was translated into Chinese and became an important text in Chinese Buddhism until the Tang Dynasty.


The Tattvasiddhi-Śāstra, also known as the Sādhyasiddhi-Śāstra, is an Indian Buddhist text by a figure known as Harivarman (250-350). It was translated into Chinese in 411 by Kumārajīva and this translation is the only extant version, which became popular in China.

Other works by Sautrāntika affiliated authors include the Abhidharmāmṛtarasa-śāstra attributed to Ghoṣaka, and the Abhidharmāvatāra-śāstra attributed to Skandhila. [11] The elder Śrīlāta, who was Vasubandhu's teacher is also known as a famous Sautrāntika who wrote the Sautrāntika-vibhāṣa. [12] Ghoṣaka's Abhidharmāmṛtarasa and Harivarman's Tattvasiddhi have both been translated into English.

The Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu wrote the famous Abhidharma work Abhidharmakośakārikā which presented Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika Abhidharma tenets, he also wrote a "bhāṣya" or commentary on this work, which presented critiques of the Vaibhāṣika tradition from a Sautrāntika perspective. [13] The Abhidharmakośa was highly influential and is the main text on Abhidharma used in Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism up until today.

Buddhist logic ( pramāṇavāda ) as developed by Dignāga and Dharmakīrti is also associated with the Sautrāntika school.


No separate vinaya (monastic code) specific to the Sautrāntika has been found, nor is the existence of any such separate disciplinary code evidenced in other texts; this indicates that they were likely only a doctrinal division within the Sarvāstivādin school. [5]

The Sautrāntika criticized the Sarvāstivādins on various matters such as ontology, philosophy of mind and perception. [5] [14] While the Sarvāstivādin abhidharma described a complex system in which past, present, and future phenomena are all held to have some form of their own existence, the Sautrāntika subscribed to a doctrine of "extreme momentariness" that held that only the present moment existed. [5] They seem to have regarded the Sarvāstivādin position as a violation of the basic Buddhist principle of impermanence. [5] As explained by Jan Westerhoff, this doctrine of momentariness holds that each present moment "does not possess any temporal thickness; immediately after coming into existence each moment passes out of existence" and that therefore "all dharmas, whether mental or material, only last for an instant (ksana) and cease immediately after arising". [15]

The Sarvāstivādin abhidharma also broke down human experience in terms of a variety of underlying phenomena (a view similar to that held by the modern Theravadin abhidhamma); the Sautrāntika believed that experience could not be differentiated in this manner. [5]

Sautrantika doctrines expounded by elder Śrīlāta and critiqued in turn by Samghabhadra's Nyayanusara include: [16]

According to Vasubandhu, the Sautrāntika also held the view that there may be many Buddhas simultaneously, otherwise known as the doctrine of contemporaneous Buddhas. [20]

See also

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  1. 1 2 Westerhoff, Jan, The Golden Age of Indian Buddhist Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 73.
  2. 1 2 Tadeusz Skorupski, Sautrāntika, Oxford Bibliographies, LAST MODIFIED: 29 MAY 2015, DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0210
  3. 1 2 Wynne 2012, p. 118.
  4. 1 2 Dessein, Bart; Teng, Weijen. Text, History, and Philosophy: Abhidharma across Buddhist Scholastic Traditions, BRILL, 2016, pg 232
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Buswell 2003, p. 505.
  6. 1 2 Buswell 2003, p. 177.
  7. Buswell 2003, p. 220.
  8. "Kumārata". Nichiren Buddhism Library. Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  9. Przyluski, Jean (1940). "Darstantika, Sautrantika and Sarvastivaldin". The Indian Historical Quarterly. 6: 246–54.
  10. Lin, Qian. Mind in Dispute: The Section on Mind in Harivarman’s *Tattvasiddhi, University of Washington, page 15-16
  11. Charles Willemen, Bart Dessein, Collett Cox (editors) Sarvastivada Buddhist Scholasticism, Handbuch Der Orientalistik, page 108.
  12. Przyluski, Jean; Darstantika, Sautrantika and Sarvastivaldin. The Indian Historical Quarterly 1940, 6 pp.246--254
  13. Buswell 2003, p. 878.
  14. Williams, Paul (editor). Buddhism: Yogācāra, the epistemological tradition and Tathāgatagarbha, Volume 5, page 48.
  15. Westerhoff, Jan, The Golden Age of Indian Buddhist Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 75.
  16. Dessein, Bart; Teng, Weijen. Text, History, and Philosophy: Abhidharma across Buddhist Scholastic Traditions, BRILL, 2016, pg 231
  17. Fukuda, Takumi. BHADANTA RAMA: A SAUTRANTIKA BEFORE VASUBANDHU, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Volume 26 Number 2 2003.
  18. Lin, Qian. Mind in Dispute: The Section on Mind in Harivarman’s *Tattvasiddhi, University of Washington, page 10
  19. Ronkin, Noa, "Abhidharma", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>
  20. Xing 2005, p. 67.