Sautrantika doctrine was established largely as a reaction to the analytical activity of the Sarvastivada and especially of the Vaibhasika. The name Sautrantika means `ending with the sutra' and the school entirely rejected the Abhidharma of their predecessors, claiming that the authoritative teaching of the Buddha ended with the sutras and that the Abhidharma does not carry his authority. They opposed the Sarvastivada concept of time arguing that dharmas do not exist in past, present and future modes but have a momentary existence only. A dharma occurs just after the dharma which caused it. The Sautrantikas proposed that karma can operate without the Sarvastivada explanation because each action, or cause, leads to the planting of `seeds' in the mental continuum which later `sprout', when conditions are right, and lead to appropriate effects. They valued the practice of the eightfold path, arguing that meditation and other similar practices could suppress passions but could not destroy the dharmas or skhandas which make up the person and prevent enlightenment.
The Sautrantikas probably separated from the Sarvastivada in the first century BCE. This separation was philosophical only since the Sautrantikas continued to live according to the Sarvastivada vinaya and could therefore live within the same monasteries. The first great teacher of the Sautrantika school was Srilata. Vasubhandhu who lived in the fourth century is associated with the school through the influential Abhidharmakosa in which he set out the Vaibhasika abhidharma and criticized it from a Sautrantika perspective. The Sautrantika concept of ripening seeds within the mental continuum was probably influential in the development of Yogacara thought within the Mahàyàna.
There is no inscriptional or textual evidence to suggest that the school had a particular symbol system.
The school has no contemporary adherents.
To our knowledge the Sautrantikas had no main centre. The school was particularly strong in Kashmir.