This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

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8.7. Mimansa

Mimansa

The name of the fifth darshana means ‘profound thought’ or ‘inward reflection,’ which pertains directly to the study of the shruti. Taken in this sense, as the art of determining the precise meaning of the Veda, Mimansa includes both the fifth and six darshanas. Considered in this way, they are given the names Purva-Mimansa and Uttara-Mimansa, which means first and second Mimansa. Alternatively, the first can be called Karma-Mimansa, since it deals with action, while the second is called Brahma-Mimansa, since it deals with knowledge of Brahma, which is the point of view of pure matephysics. It is this second Mimansa that constitutes the Vedanta, and this is how we will refer to it from here onward, while we will reserve the term Mimansa for the Karma-Mimansa. As usual, the exposition of the darshana in question is attributed to a name, which in this case is Jaimini.

Mimansa proceeds by setting before itself a question and then enumerating various incorrect responses to the question, which are then refuted before a conclusive answer is provided. This method mirrors that of the Scholastics, most notably St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica.

The justifications of dharma

The sutras of Jaimini describe their aim as providing proofs for karya, ‘that which must be accomplished,’ in connection with dharma, taken in the sense we have given it above. Essentially, it is seeking to describe action in conformity with dharma as a principle of order. As a matter of course, therefore, it deals with the subject of karma in the special, technical sense of ritual action as enjoined by the Veda. The purpose which Mimansa sets for itself, then, is to discover the reasons for these ritual ordinances. In this way it reaches into the depths of dharma and all of its implications.

Jnana and karma

Karma is taken by Mimansa in the special sense of ritual action, but it also has a more general meaning, referring to action plain and simple, and in this sense it is opposed to jnana or ‘knowledge.’ We mention this here only to avoid confusions for the reader who is bound to discover both forms of the word, and because the opposition we have just mentioned, between thought and action, is that which separates the last two darshanas, the Mimansa being concerned with action, and the Vedanta with knowledge.

Pramanas

The first matter dealt with by Mimansa is proof, which it addresses by way of the various pramanas given by the logicians. These are classified and discussed. Next, the injunctions of the Veda are divided and classed as direct and indirect.

Brahmana and mantra

All that is contained in the Vedic texts is either brahmana or mantra. The latter contains ritual formula; the former contains precepts, but not precepts only, as the Upanishads themselves, which are part of this category and are purely doctrinal. The Upanishads aside, however, Mimansa is concerned with the class of brahmanas that is practical in nature and lays out the manner of performance and conditions proper to the accomplishment of rites. Since Mimansa also explains the mantras, it is here that we find the theory of the perpetuity of sound, with all that this implies.

Infallibility

Due to its subject, we should also not be surprised to find in Mimansa the theory of infallibility, which is common to traditional doctrines and which closely resembles the form of infallibility of Catholicism. As with Catholicism, infallibility is not a ‘property’ of a person, but is a property of the doctrine itself and only attaches to a person indirectly, insofar as that person serves the function of expounding doctrine. That is why the Pope is only infallible under very restricted conditions. Authority in these cases is always derived, an authority by participation and with respect to a specific function. Aside from the performance of that function, it is not bound up with the personality of any individual.

The Vedangas

We made the distinction earlier between the darshanas and the Vedangas, which were ancillary sciences. Having arrived at Mimansa, we see that these sciences are most directly attached to this darshana due to its subject matter, which is the proper understanding of texts; likewise due to its connection with action and the accomplishment of ritual, it makes sense that the proper pronunciation of words, as well as the precise meaning of grammar and spelling, would be of utmost concern here.

Mimansa and law

It should come as no surprise that questions of jurisprudence are dealth with in Mimansa, especially considering its concern for dharma and the centrality of dharma for Hindu civilization in all its parts.

Apurva

Even a minimal overview of Mimansa, which is all we claim to present, would be incomplete without mention of the notion of apurva. This notion is bound up with action but could be seen as its transtemporal reflection, or its metaphysical echo. Of course, these are imprecise ways of speaking, and so we must try to clarify things further. We have said that action does not carry its consequences in itself, and this makes it distinct from knowledge, which is, in a way, one with its fruits. We could say that in this respect the difference between knowledge and action is like that between simultaneity and succession, with the consequences of action belonging to the successive domain. However, we are then presented with a problem, because if these consequences are to have as their cause a given action, and if they are separated by a duration of any length, then the causal connection is lost, because the relationship between cause and effect must be one of simultaneity. For this reason, it is said that an imperceptible effect is produced by the action, one which will, at a more or less remote time, act as cause of the future effect of the action. Thus, we say that there is a transtemporal and imperceptible effect of action, created immediately, and carries the relationship of causality to the future results. This transtemporal effect is called apurva, and can be considered the ‘germ’ of all of the future consequences of the action; it is understood as either a ‘posterior state’ of the action, or as the ‘antecedent state’ of the result. It is in this way that action can be said to escape the limits of the temporal condition. Additionally we may add two qualifications: first, since the apurva remains in some sense attached to the being which performed the action as a constituent of its non-corporeal individuality, it will remain with it as long as this individuality subsists. Second, the apurva is at the same time regarded as quitting the limits of that individuality and entering the realm of potential energies in the cosmic order. In this second sense, it proceeds as a vibration and, upon reaching the limits of the realm in which it finds itself, returns back to its point of origin, in conformity with the Taoist theory of ‘concordant actions and reactions.’ Every action represents a rupture of equilibrium, and since all disequilibrium taken together equals a total equilibrium, so also the action must be balanced by the reaction.

Apurva, karma, dharma

The notion of apurva completes the idea that begins with the relationship between karma and dharma, and marks the intersection of the cosmic and human orders. It can also be seen here why these ‘reactions’ must not be seen as ‘punishments’ in a moral sense, being natural expressions of disorder. This rebounding consequence, through apurva, of an action, may reach back to the individual who originated it; or, if the being is no longer located in the individual human state, the influence of the reaction will reach the being in whatever state it happens to be situated, due to the necessary continuity between states. It is true that this has given rise to the perverse notion of reincarnation, taken as re-embodiment of the same being, as a result of karma, taken as moral behavior, but as we will explain in due course, reincarnation in this sense is utterly at odds with the theory just laid out, due to the fact that no being passes through the same state twice, since this would imply contradiction. As the Scholastics said, ‘God does not repeat himself,’ and if the consequences of apurva reach a being after its death, it is not by causing him to be reborn in this or that condition; rather, it simply means that these consequences will reach him in whatever future state he is situation in, which is to say, in the ‘afterlife.’