Classical Indian Philosophy Sautantrika School-Hinayana Buddhism

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Sautantrika School- Hinayana Buddhism

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  • Sautarantika school of Hinayana is an ancient school of Buddhism that emerged in India about the 2nd century B. C. as an offshoot of the Sarvastivada or the ‘doctrine of all is real.’
  • The name sautantrika is given to the school because it attaches exclusive importance to the teaching of Buddha.
  • In other words, it accepts the authority of the Sutta-pitaka.
  • Our knowledge regarding the teachings of Buddha is dependent upon the three baskets or tripitakas. The three baskets or the tripitakas are in the Pali dialect. The three baskets are;
    • Vinayapitaka: It deals with the rules of conduct for the congregation or sangha.
    • Suttapitaka: It deals with Buddha՚s sermons and dialogues.
    • Abhidhammapitaka: It contains the expositions of philosophical theories.

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The Philosophy of Sautantrika- Critical Realism

  • According to the Sautantrika school of Hinayana, both, the mental and the external world are equally real.
  • In other words, they believe in the reality of not only the mind but also of the external objects and things.
  • As a result, they reject the views expounded by Yogacara school of Mahayana which only accepts the reality of mind alone.
  • Most of their philosophy deals with providing a criticism to the philosophy and view of Yogacara school.

They raise a number of objections. Some of the most important ones are;

  • The Vijananavadins say that through illusions, consciousness appears like an external object of the material world but Sautantrika criticises their point by advocating that if there were no external objects then it would be meaningless to say, “consciousness appears as the external object.” Hence, both mind and the external objects are equally real.
  • Vijananvadins say consciousness appears like an external object. To this Sautantrika replies that this sentence is as meaningless as, “the child of a barren woman or presence of a unicorn,” because Vijnanavadins regard external objects as unreal, hence, according to them they can be never perceived.
  • Vijananavadins do not regard the material object as a reality and believe all of the material objects are only the ideas of the mind, the only reality. To this Sauntantrika thinkers reply that whenever we see a table- table being the external object and perception of the table being internal in nature. We know that the two are different from each other. As a result, we say, “I see a table” and not “I am the table.” But Vijnanavadins expound that the table is nothing but an idea of the mind or it is non-different from the mind but saying “I am the table” makes no sense.
  • Lastly, Sauntantrika criticises Vijnanavadins by arguing that if there were no external objects or if the external objects were unreal. Then, there would have been no distinction between, “the consciousness of a table” and “the consciousness of the pot” and “the consciousness of the jug.” But there exists a distinction between the three aforementioned sentences because they are not identical in nature.

Note: It is important to note that the arguments used by Sauntantrika school to reject the subjective Idealism of the Yogacara school is similar to the arguments used by the Western philosopher and realist, Moore to reject the theory of subjective Idealism expounded by Berkeley in the Western Philosophy.

The Sautantrika School of Representations

  • According to the Sautantrika school of Hinayana, Ideas are not objects, but only the copies of the objects.
  • In other words, different external objects exist outside our consciousness, depending upon these objects՚ different forms or representations of consciousness arise.
  • So, from these forms or representations of the objects in the mind, we can infer the existence of the objects outside the mind.
  • Hence, the objects outside the mind can be inferred from their mental ideas.
  • According to Sautantrika school, perception of an object depends not only on the mind alone. Rather, it is possible when the four conditions are met.

They four conditions are;

  • There must be an object to give form or representation to consciousness
  • There must be a conscious mind at task to cause the consciousness of the form or representation.
  • Senses (such as visual, tactual, gustatory, etc.) must be present to fathom the kind of the consciousness.
  • There must be some favouring auxiliary conditions, such as, light, magnitude, etc.
  • Therefore, all these combined together result in the possibility of the perception of an object.
  • As a result, the effect of these conditions is the copy or the idea of the object produced in the mind.
  • In other words, we infer the objects from these ideas.
  • Hence, the mind, according to Sautantrikas immediately knows the copy of representation of the object in its own consciousness.
  • The sautantrikas are therefore also called the theory of the infer-ability of the external objects or also called Bahyanumeya-vada.
  • Note: It is important to note that the theory of the ″ infer-ability ″ of the external objects accepted by the Sautantrika school shares a similarity with the philosophy of the Western philosopher and empiricist, John Locke. In other words, Sautantrika՚s epistemological position of representations is similar to the epistemological theory of ″ copy theory of ideas ″ expounded by John Locke.


1. Sautantrika accepts the authority of

A, Tri-pitakas

B. Sutaa-pitaka

C. Abhidhamma-pitaka

D. Vinaya-pitaka

Answer: B

2. Sautantrika school primarily criticises the philosophical thinking of

A. Madhyamika school

B. Yogacara school

C. Vaibhasika school

D. All of these

Answer: B

3. The philosophy expounded by Sautantrika shares a close resemblance with

A. Moore՚s philosophy

B. Berkeley՚s philosophy

C. Both A and B

D. None of these

Answer: A

4. Sautantika is a school of

A. Direct realism

B. Critical realism

C. Critical empiricism

D. Both B and C

Answer: B

5. The theory of infer-ability of external objects expounded by Sautantrika shares a similarity with the philosophy of

A. John Locke

B. Berkeley

C. Both A and B

D. Vaibhasika school

Answer: A