Svatantrika is a Sanskrit term referring to the autonomy school, a classification of views in the Tibetan philosophic framework. This classification is usually discussed in contrast to the Prasangika classification.
These classifications are sometimes used to describe Indian philosophers such as Bhavaviveka and Chandrakirti, though during their time these terms were not used. They are back translations from Tibetan terms that were used later in the Tibetan philosophic discussions, possibly refined by translator Patsap Nyima Drak or Buton Rinchen Drub.
The Svatantrika approach, compared to Prasangika, includes a form of syllogistic logic and making assertions about the nature of reality as an 'approximate' discussion of the nature of reality. This is in spite of agreement that ultimately such assertions are false, they're made to lead a student further progressively. In the Prasangika approach, there is a greater emphasis on refuting any assertions whatsoever as conceptual fixations.
Typifying this approach, Bhabaviveka wrote:
It is not suitable for the learned to go
To the top of the authentic great edifice
Without using the staircase of the correct relative truth
There is a rich backstory behind the Prasangika and Svatantrika distinction that is tied into the debates and differences in the major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. The two practice lineages of Kagyu and Nyingma are more often teaching in a style one could call Svatantrika whereas the Gelug and Sakya have a longer history using a version of Prasangika presented by Je Rinpoche in the 14th century. This is not strictly the case, as teachers in each tradition have their own style and approach and they vary. But much debate in the 14th to 19th century is framed within and influenced by the dominance of Je Rinpoche's presentation and the hegemony of the Gelug lineage in Tibet.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
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