“The future remains uncertain and so it should, for it is the canvas upon which we paint our desires. Thus always the human condition faces a beautifully empty canvas.”
Frank Herbert

Children of Dune

Mimamsa – Right Action


“man” = to think, consider, examine or investigate = “desire to think”. Mimamsa is divided into two systems:

  1. Purvamimamsa  (“purva” = earlier ~ the earlier part of the Vedas)  – an interpretation of the actions leading to freedom of the soul. Also called Karma Mimamsa.
  2. Uttarmimamsa (“uttara” = later ~ the later part of the Vedas)  – an interpretation of the knowledge leading to freedom of the soul. Also called Jnana Mimamsa.

The basic premise of Mimamsa is that action is the very essence of human existence. Without action knowledge is fruitless, happiness is impossible and human destiny cannot be fulfilled. The purpose of Mimamsa is to inquire into the nature of Right Action (Dharma).

All actions are said to have two effects – external and internal. The external is gross, manifest and transitory. The internal is subtle and eternal. Actions are the vehicles for planting the seeds of life to come (aside: the word seed caused me to wonder if this relates to the idea of Vasana). In this light Mimamsa examines all the actions mentioned in the Vedas and offers a general summary of rules for the interpretation of Vedic texts.

Mimamsa accepts the philosophical concept of the other systems and does not enter any philosophical analysis of the nature of Reality, Soul & Matter or their relationships to one another. The sole concern of Mimamsa is salvation, not liberation. It argues that salvation cannot be achieved by knowledge alone, for the soul must first exhaust its potentialities through action (no amount of contemplation will enable man to arrive at the ultimate goal of human destiny). All arguments are based on the premises that the soul by definition must survive this earthly manifestation.

Mimamsa has a strong effect on the daily life of Hindu’s. All rituals and ceremonies depend on it, all moral conduct is guided by it; all Hindu law is founded upon it.

Mimamsa defined Dharma  as “an object distinguished by a command”. “dhar” = to hold, maintain, preserve. When used in the metaphysical sense, it means those universal laws of Nature that sustain the operation of the universe and the manifestation of all things, that without which nothing could be. When applied to the individual, it has reference to that code of conduct that sustains the soul and enables man to fulfill his divine destiny.

All rituals and ceremonies in the Vedas are said to lead to the enlightenment of the mind and the spiritual evolution of the soul.  On the surface they appear to be fruitless injunctions; therefore Mimamsa endeavors to show how they are all based on dharma and lead to the spiritual welfare of man.

Mimamsa claims that knowledge of dharma can only be attained by Verbal Testimony (Sabda) – every word has in an inherent power to convey its eternal meaning and teaching. There are a few refutes offered to the challenges made against this claim for example:

  • Claim: the word is a product of utterance therefore not eternal. Refute: the word must have  existed previously otherwise it could not have been pronounced.
  • Claim: the word vanished after its pronounced. Refute: only the sound disappears, the word remains.
  • Claim: the word can be modified. Refute: changes of letters are not modifications, they are new words.

Mimamsa classifies the Vedas under five categories:

  1. Vidhi – Injunctions (do’s)
  2. Mantras –  Hymns – texts which help to remember the procedures of rituals.
  3. Namadheya – Names – which define matter.
  4. Nisedha – Prohibitions (dont’s) that protect a man from doing things which may be injurious or disadvantageous to him.
  5. Arthavada – Explanations – which praise Vidhi’s and blame Nisedha’s.

Mimamsa can be understood from the way it defends objections that are raised against Vedic mantras. For example:

  1. Objection: Vedic mantras do not convey meanings because they stand in need of other passages to explain and support them. Defense: All Vedic words have significance just as they do in ordinary language.
  2. Objection: Vedic mantras are held useless because they describe what does not exist. For example “It has four horns, it has three feet, two heads, it has seven hands; the bull being tied threefold, cries: the great god entered amongst the mortals”. Defense: this is figurative speech that use symbols.
  3. Objection: Vedic mantras are held to be useless because they are learned without understanding their meaning. Defense: this is no fault of the Veda which deals only with the performance of sacrifices. It is assumed that meaning will be learned.
  4. Objection: Vedic mantras are held to be useless because there are many mantras the meaning of which cannot be known. Defense: every mantra has a meaning. Our ignorance is due to careless and indolence.

(Further details are provided on the Mimamsa approach to the Vedas – I chose to stop at this point).

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