Vedanta and Mimamsa

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Fri Mar 12 15:59:30 CST 1999

On Wed, 3 Mar 1999, Vivek Anand Ganesan wrote:

> What are the similarities and differences between Vedanta and Mimamsa?

Vedanta is a type of Mimamsa (Uttara Mimamsa is a synonym for Vedanta.).
However Mimamsa by itself usually means Purva Mimamsa.  Mimamsa (from the
dhatu man -- to think) refers to the analysis of the meaning of words,
particularly the words of the Vedas.  The difference between the two is
that Purva Mimamsa is concerned with an investigation into those parts of
the Vedas that deal with Dharma whereas Vedanta investigates the parts of
the Vedas which deal with Brahman.  Dharma is pretty straightforward.  It
is the performance of actions which cause goodness and the avoidance of
actions which cause evil.  So the Mimamsaka task in reading a shastra
is to determine which action is being allowed/disallowed and what good
or bad consequences will result.  For instance the statement "One
who desires Heaven should sacrifice" tells us that performance of yagna
results in going to Swarga.  Rules were developed for inference too.  In
the rules for commencement of Vedic study, various actions are enjoined
for Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.  But not for the Shudras.  So we
can infer that the Shudras are not entitled to study the Vedas.
Furthermore, as the student is addressed as son, it is inferred that study
is for boys only not girls. etc. etc.

 The problem is what to do about the Upanishads and other Vedic texts such
as mythological stories which do not seem to prescribe or prohibit
actions?  The Mimamsakas put these in a category called arthavada (eulogy
or description.)  They are connected to Dharma because they describe or
explain it.  If for instance, we read that Indra is called Shatakratu
because he performed 100 Ashwamedha yagnas, it is a form of "advertising"
if you will of the glory of the Ashwamedha which is capable of raising
Indra to His exalted position with the implication that if you want to be
as great as Indra you should do it too.

Where Mimamsa and Vedanta part company is in their attitude towards the
texts that deal with Brahman.

At one extreme is the view (typically associated with Purva Mimamsakas)
that Brahman refers to nothing other than the self as the agent of Karma.
When Shruti is speaking of the greatness of  Brahman it is merely
eulogizing the greatness of the yajamana, the performer of sacrifices.
Jnana is pointless and futile.

At the other extreme is the view (held by Advaita Vedanta) that Brahman
refers to something which is wholly different to Karma.  The texts that
refer to Brahman are in fact dealing with something which is the
antithesis of Karma.  Karma is still important for the type of person who
believes in good and bad results but Jnana is the superior path for those
who have passed beyond this.

In between, are all sorts of views which try and combine Karma and Jnana.
Some say Karma is more important and Jnana is subordinate.  Others say
Jnana is more important than Karma.  Some of these views survive today in
the various Theistic schools of Vedanta.

A good description of all the various controversies around this topic is
the Sambandhavarttika which is the first part of Sureshvaracharyas
Brhadaranyakopanishadbhashyavarttika.  Traditionally it is believed that
in his purvashrama Sureshvaracharya was the great Mimamsaka, Mandana
Mishra who became an Advaitin after being defeated in debate by
Shankaracharya.  Even those scholars who dispute this agree that
Sureshvaracharya has a tremendous knowledge of Mimamsa which makes him
eminently qualified to describe both sides of the issue.

As you are collecting books for your list here are the details of some

Brhadaranyakopanishadbhashyavarttika of Shri Sureshvaracharya with
Shastraprakashika of Shri Anandagiri. (Advaitagrantharatnamanjusha Vol. 23)
Edited by S. Subrahmanya Shastri, Mahesha Anusandhana Sansthana, 1992

The Sambandha-vartika of Sureshvaracharya.  Edited with English
Translation, Introduction, and Notes, and extracts from three unpublished
commentaries, by T.M.P. Mahadevan, University of Madras, 1972.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

"bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam"
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