3. THE SAUTRĀNTIKAS
Yaśomitra says in his Abhidharma-kośa-vyākhyā (B.B., p. 12):
“Those who hold the sūtras as their authority and not the śāstras are Sautrāntikas.”
They reject the authority of the Abhidharmas of the Sarvāstivādins, for according to them, those Abhidharmas are far from the sayings of the Buddha. The word sūtrānta actually means that which is definitely ascertained of the sūtras.
The Sautrāntika School is said to have been founded by Kumāralāta of Taxila. The original works of this School which contained a great variety of philosophical doctrines are hardly accessible.
Many of the Sautrāntika views may be known from the Abhidharma-kośa of Vasubandhu and its Vyākhyā, for though he was a Vaibhāṣika and mostly (prāyeṇa) followed that School in the book, he had much sympathy with the Sautrāntikas and later on himself adopted the Yogācāra attitude.
Like the Vaibhāṣikas the Sautrāntikas are also realists, the main difference between them being that while the Vaibhāṣikas hold that the external world is perceived, the Sautrāntikas affirm that it is known by inference.
They dispute vijñāna-vāda which holds that there is only consciousness (vijñāna), for without the object of consciousness there is no possibility of consciousness itself. Therefore it must be accepted that there is the existence of the external world.
As shown by the Vijñāna- vādins atoms cannot be supported, and in that case owing to their absence and consequently to that of an object made of them, anyhow one will have to admit by inference the existence of the external things, otherwise there can in no way be consciousness of things around us, which we cannot deny.
One of the most important and remarkable thoughts of the Sautrāntikas is their theory of continuum (santati) of a person or a thing. It is best described in the Milinda-pañha from which we take the following:
The king said:
“He who is born, Nāgasena, does he remain the same or becomes another?"
“Neither the same nor another."
“Give me an illustration."
“Now what do you think, O king? You were once a baby, a tender thing and small in size, lying flat on your back. Was that the same as you who are now grown up?"
“No. That child was one, I am another."
“If you are not that child, it will follow that you had neither mother nor father, no nor teacher. You cannot be taught either learning or behaviour, or wisdom.
What, great king! Is the mother of the embryo in the first stage different from the mother of the embryo in the second stage, or the third or the fourth? Is the mother of the baby a different person from the mother of the grown-up man?
Is the person who goes to school one and the same when he has finished his schooling another? Is it one who commits a crime, another who is punished by having his hands and feet cut off?
“Certainly not. But what would you, sir, say to that?"
The elder replied:
“I should say that I am the same person, now I am grown up, as I was when I was a tender tiny baby flat on my back. For all these states are included in one by means of this body."
The Sautrāntikas are said to have two Schools (Abhidharma-kośa, IV), one known by the same name, Sautrāntikas, and the other was called Dārṣṭāntikas in the Vibhāṣā.
The reference to the Sautrāntikas as such in the Vibhāṣā is extremely rare. One may, therefore, think that only the Dārṣṭāntikas were known to the commentary.
The history of this School is, however, not yet quite clear. It is, therefore, natural to establish some relation between the name and the work of Kumāralāta, Dṛṣṭānta- paṅkti.
One may want to know if the Dārṣṭāntikas characterize them by the employment of similes, as said in Tibetan, according to which there is no difference between the Sautrāntikas and Dārṣṭāntikas.
However, the sense of the word Dṛṣṭānta is not yet established with certainty. One may think that the word Dṛṣṭānta may imply here some opposition to the Scripture. But what Dṛṣṭāntas are meant here? Certainly they are not other than the traditional ones. And one may think them to be such as we have in the Milinda-pañha referred to above.
The continuum of persons and things referred to just now is not quite new to Buddhism, but is already well known in the Sāṁkhya system as the theory of transformation (pariṇāma-vāda),
only with this difference, that while in Buddhism the continuum is universal, in the Sāṁkhya it is of objects alone, and not of the spirit. This theory is accepted also in the Jaina philosophy.
Now this question of continuum is involved with that of the universal flux or momentariness (kṣaṇa-bhaṅga), for if you admit a thing to be a fixed form, it can in no way be continuous. Either it must be fixed or continuous, never both fixed and continuous.
On the following grounds one must admit that whatever is existent is momentary. It may be argued thus:
We hold that all that is compound (samskṛta) is instantaneous. But how is it so?
Because otherwise nothing can function. For function is that which is in an uninterrupted continuity. And it cannot be justified if there are not, every moment, origination and suppression (utpāda and nirodha) alternately.
If, however, one says that, having remained for a time, a thing, by suppression of the preceding moment and the origination of the succeeding moment, functions in an uninterrupted continuity, then this cannot be accepted. For after that there will be no function as there is no continuity.
One may suppose that a thing after its production remains for some time. But how does it remain so? Does it remain itself, quite independent of anything else, or with the help from some other thing?
The first cannot be justified. Why? Because afterwards it does not remain by itself. And why is it not able to remain at the end by itself? Because there must be some cause for remaining so. But it is not to be found there.
It may, however, be argued that owing to the absence of the cause of destruction it remains and when the cause of destruction arises it is destroyed, as the blackness of an unburnt earthen pot disappears by the fire.
But it is not right, because the cause is not to be found there. For there is no cause even afterwards. But is it not said that the blackness of an earthen pot is destroyed by the contact of fire!—a fact which is well known to all.
But it can be explained differently. Here the fire simply produces a dissimilar continuum of blackness, and we see that by the contact of fire a dissimilar continuum of blackness is produced, not the total discontinuum of any function.
One may argue that if every moment a new thing is produced there will be no recognition (pratyabhijñāna) pointing out “it is that." But it is not so.
For recognition is possible on account of the similarity of the preceding and succeeding moments just like the flames of a lamp. Thus the recognition is owing to the similarity and not to the actual presence of the thing.
But how can it be known? By suppression (nirodhataḥ). If a thing remains in the same state no suppression is possible, because it is that very thing.
Besides, some transformation (pariṇāma) of a thing is also noticed at the end. Transformation is alteration, and if that transformation of things, either internal or external, does not begin at first it cannot be known at the end.
Therefore the transformation starts at the very beginning, it spreads gradually and becomes manifest at the end just like the milk in the state of curd.
As long as the transformation is very subtle it is not ascertained. Yet, every moment there is a change, and one must accept the instantaneousness of things.
Again, if a thing does not change every moment it cannot have its particular weight or measure.
A small boy cannot grow into a young man. And if you admit one's growth, it has no meaning, for without that change it will remain in the same state, and without further growth no increment is possible.
Take again some other thing such as a river or a tank, or a pool. Water is seen there sometimes dried or increased to some extent. It would be impossible if every moment there is no change, as nothing is found afterwards to account for it.
The wind naturally moves, it becomes violent or is extremely slow. This cannot be justified if it remains always in the same state without a constant change.