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Mīmāṃsā


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‘The School of Vedic Exegesis’, listed in modern works as one of the six darśana or ‘schools of philosophy’. The foundational Mīmāṃsā text is Jaimini's (Pūrva-) Mīmāṃsā Sūtra (c.200 bce–200ce), followed in importance by Śabara Svāmin's commentary on Jaimini, the Śābarabhāṣya or Bhāṣya (c.3rd–6th centuries ce; trad. 1st century ce), and the subcommentaries by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara (both 7th century ce). The two main Mīmāṃsaka schools are known, respectively, as ‘the Bhāṭṭa (Kumārila)’ and ‘the Prābhākara’, after the latter pair of commentators. They differ principally on the nature of the unseen force (apūrva) which ties a ritual action to its outcome, and on questions of epistemology.

The essential Mīmāṃsaka presupposition is that the Veda is self-existent—an uncreated and unauthored (apauruṣeya) revelation (śruti), the truth and authority of which is incontrovertible and infallible; it is therefore synonymous with dharma. (Jaimini's Mīmāṃsā Sūtra begins: ‘Now the investigation of dharma’.) Further, the Veda's sole function as śruti is to ensure, or actualize, the correct performance of Vedic śrauta ritual. The Mīmāṃsakas therefore classify the Veda as consisting of injunction (vidhi—the sole means of knowing or practising dharma), prohibition (pratiṣedha), and eulogy (arthavāda), the last of these having no conventionally descriptive or discursive function, but simply acting as a repository of mantras which contribute to the efficacy of the sacrifice (yajña).

In order to support their claims for the absolute authority of the Veda, the Mīmāṃsakas developed an epistemological realism, according to which perception is a direct way of knowing real objects external to consciousness, an inference which guarantees both the validity of śruti and its direct, unmediated transmission. The sacrifice itself, the enjoined action (vidhi)—more specifically the injunctive verb—produces an unseen force (apūrva/adṛṣṭa) which ultimately guarantees its success. ‘Success’ in this context, according to Jaimini, is the attainment of heaven (svarga) after death. According to Kumārila, however, the ultimate aim of the Mīmāṃsaka ritualist is to attain mokṣa (defined as a state of eternal, separate, and omnipresent bliss) through the performance of nothing other than prescribed and necessary actions, through which no further karma accrues to the individual. More generally, the goal of Mīmāṃsā is to maintain the Brahmanically-defined social order (dharma) through the monopolistic practice of sacrificial ritual, a sufficient end in itself. As part of their concern to establish the correct meaning of injunction (vidhi), the Mīmāṃsakas also developed an influential theory of language.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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