Purva Mimamsa Philosophy

M. R. Dwarakanath

Introduction: The word Mimamsa is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root मन् to know and its derivative (desiderative) root मिमंस – the desire to know. Mimamsa means critical inquiry or exegesis. Purva Mimamsa (PM) means earlier inquiry. This is in contrast to Uttara Mimamsa or later inquiry. The earlier / later terminology may not necessarily indicate chronology. It may perhaps be regarded as a prerequisite for Uttara Mimamsa. Sage Jaimini, the author of Purva Mimamsa Sutras appears to be a contemporary of Sage Badarayana, the author of Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta Sutras. It appears that they had a teacher-pupil relationship. Purva Mimamsa is also known as Dharma Mimamsa and Karma Mimamsa; it strongly defends Vedic ritualism. As these names indicate, this philosophy is highly ritualistic at root. It is the most religious of the Darshanas. Vedic ritualism was regarded as a stepping stone to knowing the transcendent Brahman. Jaimini Sutras is a work in 12 chapters and the main commentator on the Sutras is Shabaraswamy. However, two schools of Purva Mimamsa developed under Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara whose interpretation of Jaimini differs in some aspects.

Purva Mimamsa Epistemology admits Knowledge as being self evident and accepts 6 ways of obtaining it. Knowledge is of two kinds – immediate and mediate. The six means are Sense perception, Comparison, Inference, Testimony, Postulation and non-perception. The Prabhakara School does not accept non-perception as an independent means of knowledge. Broadly speaking, PM epistemology is in general agreement with Nyaya and the Advaita Vedantins have adopted all 6 means of PM into their epistemology. Valid knowledge, according to PM, should yield hitherto unknown data which is not contradicted by other means of knowledge and not arising out of defective circumstances such as defective senses or the environment that generates such knowledge.

Pratyaksha – Sense Perception: It is immediate knowledge that arises from the contact of the senses with a real object through the mediation of the mind. The mind interprets the impressions of sense perception from past experiences. This knowledge is processed in two steps. First, there is a general awareness of the existence of the object without grasping the details and such perception is called Nirvikalpaka. Subsequently, the object is grasped in its totality with its characteristics and this perception is termed Savikalpaka. In the Savikalpaka state, the object is grasped for what it is and one is able to say it is such-and-such. The Objects are real and have unique distinguishing features.

Anumana – Inference has many subcategories in Nyaya and most of them are accepted in PM. The classifications depend on the applicability of the inference to oneself or to another, whether the effect is inferred from the cause or the cause inferred from the effect and whether the inference is related positively or negatively to the Hetu (cause) of Sadhya the inferred. One need not get into such weeds here.

Inference in Nyaya is inextricably rooted in Vyapti or invariable concomitance. It is a kind of inductive logic. The stock example of such inference is the conclusion that the mountain is on fire because of the observed smoke enveloping the mountain. Smoke is always associated with fires such as is observed in a smoky kitchen. This is the invariable concomitance. One should note that this invariable concomitance operates in one way – fire is not always accompanied by smoke unless the fuel is wet. Fallacies in inference are possible and such inferences are not valid.

Upamana – Comparison is a quirky means of knowledge in PM. Consider this situation: A reliable source testifies that there exists an animal called Gavaya which is similar to the domestic cow that lives in the forest except that it lacks the dewlap. Now on a trip to the forest one encounters an animal that resembles a cow without a dewlap and concludes that it is the Gavaya. However, the knowledge of Gavaya is not regarded as gained by Upamana or comparison. It is regarded as direct sense perception aided by memory of the cow and from testimony. According to Mimamsakas, the subsequent reflection the domestic cow is like a Gavaya is gained by comparison! In this instance, the cow is not an object of immediate perception and thus it is a case of Upamana. It appears the concept of reciprocity was not appreciated! Similarity or Sadrsya is an important element in Upamana. So, PMs hold Sadrsya to be a separate entity of real objects.

Shabda – Testimony is of two types – Paurusheya (personal) and Apaurusheya (revelatory.) The knowledge they impart can be new information or can be injunctions. The Vedas are regarded as Apauresheya and eternal; their main goal is to give instructions about rituals; what to undertake and how to execute them. PM puts forward a number of arguments to justify the Vedas as both Apaurusheya and eternal. In the process, they argue all words and letters to be eternal and speech itself to be uncaused and a manifestation of the eternal in the way it is cognized.

Arthapatti – Hypothesis or postulation is yet another means of knowledge. The standard example is that of Devadatta who is known to fast by day, yet is strong and muscular! The postulation or hypothesis is that he eats at night. It is not sense perception as there is no direct cognition of Devadatta eating at night nor is it a case of inference as there is no invariant concomitance between being fat and eating at night. So, this deserves its own separate category. Arthapatti is classified into two categories; the seen and the heard.

Anupalabdhi – Non-cognition addresses how one discerns the absence of an object. When one realizes there is no book on the table, there is no contact of the sense organ with the absent book. The PMs say that the absence of the book is known from an absence of its perception. The Prabhakara School does not accept this as a Pramana while the Advaita Vedantins do accept it as Pramana.

Theory of Error: Truth is self evident and error is recognized by inference. One may say an error occurred when a rope was perceived as a snake. How could this be if knowledge is self evident? According to PM all perception is valid unless contradicted by another piece of data or the perception is vitiated by defective conditions. In the case of the rope being mistaken for a snake, what was cognized is a long coiled object which is indeed real. The Kumarila Bhatta’s school opines that both the rope and the snake are real objects and the error is one of wrong association. The Prabhakaras do not accept that an error has been made. They say that the perceived rope and the remembered snake are both valid. The difference between what is perceived and what is remembered is just not registered by the observer.

PM Metaphysics: PM is a pluralistic, realistic philosophy but it is not empirical as it accepts extra-sensory entities like souls, deities, heaven, hell etc. as being real. It regards the world and the objects therein to be real. Some PMs accept the Vaishesika atomistic view. The dynamics of atoms is governed by the laws of Karma.

The Souls too are real, eternal, infinite spiritual substances. There are as many souls as there are beings. They are subject to bondage and liberation. The souls do not intrinsically possess consciousness. They only have a potential for consciousness which manifests when the soul is embodied and objects are presented to the senses.

The World is eternal and uncreated. The world specifically is not a creation of god. The dynamics of the world is governed by the laws of Karma.

The Vedas are eternal and are not of human or divine origin. Vedas derive their authority from its Apaurusheyetva and thus free from errors, which would not be a characteristic of human creation. The sole purpose of the Vedas is to enjoin one to perform rituals to discharge one’s duty. Performance of rituals leads to desirable goals such as attainment of heaven etc. The Vedas are detailed manuals in the conduct of various sacrifices and not so much about revealing eternal truths.

Dharma is duty for the sake of duty. The Vedas enjoin one to engage in prescribed duties, such as sacrifices which are offerings to the deities, and refrain from prohibited actions. As long as a sacrifice is performed as an essential duty, there is no Karmic consequence. However, when sacrifices are undertaken for realizing specific material or spiritual benefits, one is held accountable to Karma.

Deities: are many and these are eternal Vedic nature gods. However, these deities do not exist in space and time. They are not anthropomorphic beings. They do not even give boons and benefits for the sacrificial offerings given them. The deities cannot be on par or superior to the Vedas.

Religion: PM is perhaps the first truly religious Darshana. While Yoga’s goal was Moksha, PM’s goal is primarily attaining heaven. Yoga was about stilling the mind and withdrawing from the external world. PM is all about action with emphasis on faithful observance of Vedic rituals. Although sacrifices were offered to the deities, faith in the very deities seems lacking. PMs question how the deities could be present in so many different altars simultaneously where they are invoked!

Summary: Unlike other Darshanas, PM appears to be much more about faith than about inquiry. An abiding faith in the Vedas and an equally strong commitment to discharging the duties commanded by the Vedas is the core of PM. Heaven was the goal, although, the later Mimamsakas seem to have nodded in favor of liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. The Jinas and Bauddhas seem to have rebelled against the extreme ritualism of Purva Mimamsakas. Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta seems to be a reaction to the reaction of the Jinas and Bauddhas.

॥सर्वं श्रीकृष्णार्पणमस्तु॥

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