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, romanizedKyou 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]

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]


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]

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]


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.

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]

  • The theory of anudhatu (or *purvanudhatu, "subsidiary element"), which is also associated with the theory of seeds (Bīja) espoused by Vasubandhu.[17] This theory was used to explain karma and rebirth.
  • The doctrine that caitasikas (mental factors) are but modes of citta (mind) and are not separate elemental dharmas which come together in "association" (samprayoga) as the Vaibhāṣika believed. This view is also expoused at length in Harivarman's Tattvasiddhi.[18]
  • The doctrine that the sense-elements (dhatu) alone are real existents, not the aggregates (skandha) or sense spheres (ayatana).
  • A process of direct perception (pratyaksha) which differed from the direct realism of the Vaibhāṣika, and instead posited a form of indirect representationalism.[19]

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


  1. ^ a b Westerhoff, Jan, The Golden Age of Indian Buddhist Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 73.
  2. ^ a b Tadeusz Skorupski, Sautrāntika, Oxford Bibliographies, LAST MODIFIED: 29 MAY 2015, DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0210
  3. ^ a b Wynne 2012, p. 118.
  4. ^ a b Dessein, Bart; Teng, Weijen. Text, History, and Philosophy: Abhidharma across Buddhist Scholastic Traditions, BRILL, 2016, pg 232
  5. ^ a b c d e f Buswell 2003, p. 505.
  6. ^ a b 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.


External links


The Abhidharmakośakārikā or Verses on the Treasury of Abhidharma is a key text on the Abhidharma written in Sanskrit verse by Vasubandhu in the 4th or 5th century. It summarizes the Sarvāstivādin tenets in eight chapters with a total of around 600 verses. The text was widely respected and used by schools of Buddhism in India, Tibet and East Asia.

Vasubandhu wrote a commentary to this work called the Abhidharmakośabhāsya. In it, he critiques the interpretations of the Sarvāstivādins, Vaibhāṣikas and others of the tenets he presented in his previous work from a Sautrāntika perspective. This commentary includes an additional chapter in prose refuting the idea of the "person" (pudgala) favoured by some Buddhists of the Pudgalavada school. However, later Sarvāstivādin master Samghabhadra considered that he misrepresented their school in the process, and at this point designated Vasubandhu as a Sautrāntika (upholder of the sutras) rather than as an upholder of the Abhidharma.

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Dharmakīrti (fl. c. 6th or 7th century) was an influential Indian Buddhist philosopher who worked at Nālandā. He was one of the key scholars of epistemology (pramana) in Buddhist philosophy, and is associated with the Yogācāra and Sautrāntika schools. He was also one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism. His works influenced the scholars of Mīmāṃsā, Nyaya and Shaivism schools of Hindu philosophy as well as scholars of Jainism.Dharmakīrti's Pramāṇavārttika, his largest and most important work, was very influential in India and Tibet as a central text on pramana ('valid knowledge instruments') and was widely commented on by various Indian and Tibetan scholars. His texts remain part of studies in the monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism.

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The Sarvāstivāda (Sanskrit; Chinese: 說一切有部; pinyin: Shuō Yīqièyǒu Bù) were an early school of Buddhism established around the reign of Asoka (third century BCE). It was particularly known as an Abhidharma tradition, with a unique set of seven Abhidharma works.The Sarvāstivādins were one of the most influential Buddhist monastic groups, flourishing throughout North India (especially Kashmir) and Central Asia until the 7th century. The orthodox Kashmiri branch of the school composed the large and encyclopedic Mahāvibhāṣa Śāstra during the reign of Kanishka (c. 127–150 CE). Because of this, orthodox Sarvāstivādins who upheld the doctrines in the Mahāvibhāṣa were called Vaibhāṣikas.

The Sarvāstivādins are believed to have given rise to the Mūlasarvāstivāda sect as well as the Sautrāntika tradition, although the relationship between these groups has not yet been fully determined.

Schools of Buddhism

The schools of Buddhism are the various institutional and doctrinal divisions of Buddhism that have existed from ancient times up to the present. The classification and nature of various doctrinal, philosophical or cultural facets of the schools of Buddhism is vague and has been interpreted in many different ways, often due to the sheer number (perhaps thousands) of different sects, subsects, movements, etc. that have made up or currently make up the whole of Buddhist traditions. The sectarian and conceptual divisions of Buddhist thought are part of the modern framework of Buddhist studies, as well as comparative religion in Asia.

From a largely English-language standpoint, and to some extent in most of Western academia, Buddhism is separated into two groups at its foundation: Theravāda, literally "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching," and Mahāyāna, literally the "Great Vehicle." The most common classification among scholars is threefold, with Mahāyāna itself split between the traditional Mahāyāna teachings, and the Vajrayāna teachings which emphasize esotericism.


The Tattvasiddhi-Śāstra ("the treatise that accomplishes reality"; Chinese: 成實論, Chengshilun; Japanese pronunciation: Jōjitsu-ron), 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 (Taishō number: T1646) is the only extant version, which became popular in China.This text was translated into English by N. Aiyaswami Sastri in 1978.

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Vasubandhu (Sanskrit: वसुबन्भु; traditional Chinese: 世親; ; pinyin: Shìqīn; Wylie: dbyig gnyen) (fl. 4th to 5th century CE) 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 .

Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośakārikā ("Commentary on the Treasury of the Abhidharma") is widely used in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism, as the major source for non-Mahayana Abhidharma philosophy. His philosophical verse works set forth the standard for the Indian Yogacara metaphysics of "appearance only" (vijñapti-mātra), which has been described as a form of "epistemological idealism", phenomenology and close to Immanuel Kant's transcendental idealism. Apart from this, he wrote several commentaries, works on logic, argumentation and devotional poetry.

Vasubandhu is one of the most influential thinkers in the Indian Buddhist philosophical tradition. In Jōdo Shinshū, he is considered the Second Patriarch; in Chan Buddhism, he is the 21st Patriarch.

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