The Sautrantika response to “Is there a real world out there?”

In Mind and Its World IV, the last course in Nitartha’s foundation curriculum, we arrive at the Sautrantika view. The Sautrantikas share a lot with the Vaibashikas, who are the topic of Mind and Its World III, but go even further. Their perspective on existence is more subtle and they are considered even more insightful. Understanding their views helps us to understand our own confusion even more, and also better prepares us for what comes in Nitartha’s intermediate courses.

So, is there a real world out there? Well, if you are a Sautrantika you would say, “Yes!” And your Vaibashika friend would agree with you. Yet you differ on what that means.

Your friend says that we see objects exactly where they are, at the very moment of their existence —as outer referents composed of particles. But you, the Sautrantika , you say no, that is not the case. You assert that we experience our world in a dramatically different way, and that actually, what we think is the real world out there is our mental image and not the object itself! Outer, physical objects themselves are not experienced by our sense perceptions, but instead, they perceive mental images that are accurate reflections of the external world.

In fact, you say that the mind is clear and aware, as its definition asserts. It is clear in that it reflects; it is vibrant and devoid of matter. And it is aware in that it apprehends, it engages and is able to know. Matter does not have these qualities, so the mind could never directly experience a physical object.

How does this help us? In terms of philosophical views in general, they are essential for our meditation. And this specific view helps us by enabling us to own our experience. If we gain certainty in this Sautrantika view, we will no longer be subject to the effect of external appearances. We will be able to take charge of our way of being rather than falling under the power of outer circumstances. This is a very freeing experience. And familiarizing with this view leads to a more genuinely compassionate outlook because “otherness,” and “friends” and “enemies” are not out there, they are in here, in the mind. We realize it is impossible to harm others without harming ourselves.

Indeed, this more subtle view of what is real can help us to identify how we misinterpret our world, thereby taking us another step towards unraveling our confusion and to relating with the world around us with more clarity.

Mind and Its World IV starts Sunday, January 22, 2023. Join Dr. Sandra Roscoe and Susan Stewart in the exploration of aspects of the view of the Sautrantika philosophical system and the foundational path to liberation, as well as the result that is gained by practicing that path. We will do analytical meditation at various points throughout the course to deepen our understanding of what we are studying and how it relates to our present-day lives. Registration will open soon.