[Advaita-l] The Mimamsaka way of interpreting the vedas

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Tue Feb 8 18:05:03 CST 2005

We have been speaking of late about how the Vedas and other shastras are
interpreted.  Shri Siddhartha Krishna feels the traditional method lacks
so he has taken his own approach.  But what is the traditional method?
Are criticisms of it justified?

By traditional method is meant Mimamsa or more properly Purva (prior)
Mimamsa.  Like Vedanta or Uttara (later) Mimamsa, Purva Mimamsa deals
mainly with textual exegesis but uses it as a springboard to other
philosophical questions. Mimamsa comes from the root man -- to think.
Doubled, man gives the sense of debate.  Mimamsa is the process by which
our sages made logical enquiry into Brahman (Vedanta) and Dharma (Purva
Mimamsa)  These are subjects known through the Vedas and other shastras
derived from them.

So what are the Vedas?  The Vedas are Shruti (that which is "heard") they
were experienced by the Rshis ("See"-ers)  These terms show that they
considered a direct mystical experience rather than human compositions.
Later Mimamsaka theory formally enshrines this idea as the doctrine of
apaurusheyatva ("impersonality") whereby any human authorship is denied to
the Vedas.  The Vedas are four, Rk, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva which exist
in many recensions (shakhas)  Each shakha consists of a samhita, and one
of more brahmanas, aranyakas, and upanishads.  The first two are the basis
of rituals and other actions (dharma) and are called karmakanda.  They are
the subject of Purva Mimamsa.  The latter two deal with upasana (meditation)
and knowledge of Brahman and therefore are called jnanakanda.  This is the
subject of Vedanta.

The sages debated the meaning of the Vedic texts and over time consensus
developed which was eventually codified into collections called sutras.
The Vedanta or Brahma sutras are ascribed to Badarayana also called Veda
Vyasa.  The Mimamsa sutras are ascribed to Jaimini who tradition also says
was the pupil of Veda Vyasa.  Both Badarayana and Jaimini are quoted in
each others sutras though not always approvingly. Other methods of
interpretation were also extent but it is the Mimamsaka view which
conquered all others.

Two slightly different schools of thought developed from Purva Mimamsa.
One is the Bhatta mat named after the writings of Kumarila Bhatta and the
other is Guru mat named after Prabhakara Mishra who was nicknamed Guru.
(There was also a "third way" ascribed to Murari Mishra but it didn't go
anywhere.)  Advaita Vedanta follows Bhatta mat.  Historically many Bhatta
Mimamsakas have been Advaitins and vice versa.

According to the Bhatta Mimamsakas, the Vedic words can be classified into
two types.  Mantra and Brahmana.  Mantras are mainly (but not exclusively)
found in the Samhita portion of the Vedas.  Brahmanas are found in the
portion of that name (and in the aranyakas and upanishads but see below.)

Mantras are formulas which are employed in ritual action.  They each have
a Rshi who "saw" it, a Devata (deity) to which it is addressed to, a
chhanda (poetic meter though yajus are prose.)  and viniyoga (purpose.)
These four items are all you really need to know about a mantra.

Brahmanas provide a context for mantras.  They can be divided into four

Namadheya is nomenclature or terminology.  It merely defines a thing.

Vidhi is an exhortation to perform an action that will provide a certain
good result.  For instance in the stock example svarga kamo yajeta
"he who desires heaven should sacrifice"  the result (heaven) will be
achived by performing the action of sacrificing.

Nishedha is a prohibition, an anti-vidhi if you will.  It specifies
something which should not be done in order to avoid a bad outcome.

Arthavada is everything else mentioned in the Vedas, stories, explanations
etc. For the Mimamsakas Dharma consists of actions.  So vidhi and nishedha
are the primary texts of the Vedas.  Mantras are secondary but still
important because they are employed in the course of actions.  Namadheyas
have a similiar secondary importance.  But what about arthavada?  Is it
useless?  No.  Its purpose is to add information of some sort about an
action.  It is also of three types.

gunavada says something which contradicts reason and experience.  For
instance even if the Vedas say "fire is cold" we know that fire is
actually hot.  So it must be actually implying that fire is not to be
kindled at some point or some similiar reason.

anuvada says something which we already know by other means.  For instance
we do not need a book to tell us "eat to live"  so it must be praising the
eating of a particular food during some ritual or some similiar reason.

bhutarthavada says something we have no other way of knowing whether it is
true or not.  For instance "Indra drank the soma and slew Vrtra"  We do
not know if there are actually beings called Indra and Vrtra, if Indra
drank soma etc.  So instead we interpret that as having some connection to
drinking Soma in the yajna.

Now what about the jnanakanda which doesn't deal with actions?  The
Mimamsaka true to form partially denies this and claims the Self mentioned
there is the sacrificers own self and the passages mentioning it are
arthavada praising the self as agent of action.  This is one major area
where Vedanta parts ways with Purva Mimamsa.

So as you can see, even the Mimamsakas didn't believe in a literal reading
of the shastras.

More on this subject in other messages.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a boy! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/nilagriva/

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