Mimamsa and Vedanta

Mimamsa is founded on Jamini’s Purva-Mimamsa-sutra, Vedanta on Badarayana’s Uttara-Mimamsa-sutras. The name Mimamsa common to both, usually means pujita-vichar i.e. proper or rational investigation. In this context, it means Vedartha-vicara i.e. proper or rational investigation into the meaning of the Vedic texts. Purva-Mimamsa (prior investigation) dwells on the anterior portion of Vedas, particularly the Brahmans and is mainly concerned with Vedic ritualism. Therefore, it is also called Karm-Mimamsa or simply Mimamsa. On the other hand, Uttara-Mimamsa (posterior investigation) dwells on the Upanisads and is mainly concerned with Vedic metaphysics, primarily an inquiry into Ultimate Reality or Truth, the Brahman. Therefore, it is also called Brahman-Mimamsa or simply Vedanta.

The philosophy of Mimamsa attempts to uphold Vedic ritualism by a rational interpretation. The Vedas, being the only source of suprasensuous knowledge, are considered the sole authority on religious and righteous deeds (dharma). Survival of soul after death, merits and demerits accruing from actions (karmas), retribution in heaven and hell and the existence of ethical order in the universe are recognized as suprasensuous truths. Performance of rites and duties enjoined by the Vedas rests on these truths. Metaphysical questions regarding the nature of the universe, nature of soul, the laws of karma and the final release from the bondage of karma are discussed to form rational basis of Vedic ritualism.

Mimamsa philosophy has dwelt at length on epistemological and other allied topics for establishment of the infallibility of Vedic testimony. The nature, different methods, validity, falsity, criterion and objects (prameya) of knowledge have been investigated in detail. Kumaril school of Mimamsa and Advaita school of Vedanta agree on the same six means of valid knowledge (pramanas) but differ regarding self-manifestedness of knowledge.

The primary source of Mimasa philosophy is the Mimamsa-sutras of Jamini (circ. 300-200 BC). Later works are mainly commentaries on it and commentaries on commentaries. The earliest known commentary on Mimamsa-sutra is by Sabara Swami (second century AD). Two different interpretations of this commentary by Kumaril Bhatta (AD 620-700) and his pupil Prabhakar Misra (AD 650-720) led to the development of two main branches or schools of Mimamsa philosophy.

Mimamsa is similar to Nyaya and Vaisesika in being realistic and pluralistic in its view of the self and the universe. The realistic view unlike empiricism, recognizes the suprasensible facts. However, Mimamsa while accepting the existence of Isvara, unlike Nyaya and Vaisesika does not accept Ishvara as the efficient cause of the Universe. It considers the laws of karma adequate for maintaining the cosmic order. It further holds that the ultimate goal of life, which is freedom from miseries and attainment of the ultimate happiness called heaven, can not be achieved by self-knowledge but by performance of proper karmas as enjoined by the Vedas. Mimamsa maintains that the purpose of entire Vedas, comprising Karma-kanda (work-section) and Jnana-kand (knowledge-section) is to advocate action and not knowledge.

The term Vedanta (Veda+anta) denotes the end or the culmination (anta) of knowledge (veda), specifically the suprasensuous knowledge (the Veda). Secondarily, it sefers to the concluding parts of the Vedas (the Upanishadas) that embody that knowledge. The Upanishadas, embodying the revealed truths, are the primary source of the Vedanta philosophy. The Vedic seers only revealed the suprasensuous truths. They did not give reasons or arguments. Thereofore, the need to systematize the Upanishadic teaching was felt. Among several attempts, the earliest one available now is Badrayana Vyasa’s Brahma-sutras (circ. 550 BC). It is highly esteemed as authoritative by all schools of Vedanta and every school has a commentary on it to corroborate its views. Brahman-sutras form the basis of Vedanta as a rational philosophy and the term ‘Uttara-Mimamsa’ strictly applies to this treatise. The third stage of Vedanta is marked by the Bhagvad-gita. It particularly dwells on the application of the Upanishadic teachings to the practical life enunciating spiritual and moral disciplines for different types and grades of seekers and points out the way to conform normal life to the highest ideal. The Upnishadas, Brahma-sutras and Bhagvad-gita form the triple basis of Vedanta (Prasthan-tray). They are respectively called the Sruti-prasthana, the Nyaya-prasthana and the Smriti-prasthana Vedanta as they follow the course of Revelation (Sruti), reason (nyaya) and regulation of life (smriti).

Vedanta philosophy is realistic but not pluralistic. It has two main divisions and their classification into different schools is as follows:

Monoistic (Non-dualistic) Advaita Vedanta

Vivarna School

Vachaspati School

Monotheistic Vedanta

Vishishtadvaita (qualified nondualism) School of Ramanuja

Shuddhadvaita (pure nondualism) School of Vallabhacharya

Achintya-bhedabheda (incomprehensible difference-nondifference)) School of Sri Chaitanya

Dvaita (dualism) School of Madhvacharya

Dvaitadvaita (dualism in nondualism) School of Nimbarka

Each system of Vedantic philosophy is essentially an interpretation of the Brahamn-sutras supported by commentaries on Upanashidas and Bhagvad-gita. Each school has original writings also to elaborate on the teachings of the three primary works to confirm to its views.

In contrast to Mimamsa, the Vedanta, particularly Advaita Vedanta, maintains that the ultimate goal of life is to attain liberation (Moksha) i.e. freedom from the state of separation of self (Jivatma) from the uncaused, eternal and universal consciousness (Brahma). The heaven attainable by karma can not be final, for whatsoever is produced must come to end. The eternal, uncaused can not be the product of karma. Vedanta maintains that the work-section of the Vedas is preparatory to knowledge-section that leads to Self-knowledge, which is the direct means to liberation (Moksa) and the purport of both the sections.

Gaudapada ( circ. 7th century AD) is the earliest known Vedanta philosopher who reconciled the authority with logic and established nondualism on a rational footing. His Mandukya-karika is the first available presentation of the cardinal truths of Advaita Vedanta. He was teacher of the legendary Adi-guru Shakaracharya whose commentary on Brahman-sutras and commentaries on principal Upanishadas gave the firm basis of Advait philosophy. The two main schools of Monistic nondualistic Vedanta were founded on his commentary on Brahman-sutras.

According to Monistic Vedanta, the sole Reality is attributeless (Nirguna) Brahman that is Pure Being-Consciousness-Bliss, the One without a second. It is Nirguna (without any attribute) and Nirvishesha i.e. without differentiation of any kind whatsoever, without even the distinction of substance and attribute. On the other hand, Monotheistic Vedanta maintains that the fundamental Reality is attribute-having (Saguna) Brahman that is the repository of all blessed qualities. It is the Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent Supreme Being. The individual selves (the jivas) and the inanimate world (jagat), though ever distinct from the Supreme Ruler (Ishvar), have no existence apart from Him. Thus in the Vedanta philosophy, there is no absolute dualism as maintained by Samkhya philosophy. Even the monotheistic Dvaita school of Madhavacharya is not dualistic in the sense in which Samkhya is. All the schools of Vedanta hold that the individual self (jiva) is intrinsically conscious. Monotheistic Vedanta holds that the jiva is distinct yet akin to Brahman, thus emphasizes their relationship. On the other hand, Advaita Vedanta though recognizes the monotheistic position, does not recognize it as ultimate. It maintains that the Jive and Brahman are essentially identical and the distinction between the two is adventitious not absolute.

The monotheistic schools of Vedanta are better known as schools of Vaishnavism. The metaphysical distinctions among the five monotheistic schools consist of subtle differences in their conceptions of the relationship between the jiva (individual self) and Brahman (the Supreme Self). All the schools recognize the difference between jiva and Brahman but hold that the difference does not mean that the two are separate or altogether dissimilar. All maintain the position that it a difference in the presence of non-difference. Ramanuja (1017-1137 AD), Vallabha (1479-1531 AD)and Sri Chaitanya (1485-1533 AD) have emphasized the non-difference while Madhava (1199-1276 AD) emphasizes the difference. Nimbarka (11th century AD) balances the difference and non-difference.

Ramanuja accepts that ultimate reality is the unity of Brahman. However, he views Brahman as differentiated (savishesha) and characterized by internal distinctions. Conscious selves and non-conscious nature belong to Him as integral parts. He is the sole reality inclusive of them all, being their innermost Self and Ruler. According to Vallabha’s pure nonduailsim, the Supreme Being (Brahman) is unassociated with maya is, therefore, pure. Brahman creates the manifold out of Himself by His inherent knowledge and power without undergoing any change whatsoever,. Consequently, the individual selves (jivas) are non-different from Supreme Being (Brahman). The Chaitanya’s school holds that the relation between the jiva and Brahman is inexplicable like the relation of the power and the possessor of power. The two are distinct but inseparable. The world and jiva are manifestations of the power of Brahman. Being the manifestation of His power, jiva is neither one with Him nor different from Him. According to Madhavacharya, God (Pramatman) the individual selves and prakriti (the potential cause of physical and psychical iniverse) with their fivefold differences are ultimately real. The difference between God and the individual self, between individual self and prakriti, between two individual selves and between tow categories of prakriti endure forever. However, God is the only independent entity. Individual selves and prakriti have no independent existence apart from Him. Nimbarka maintains that ultimate reality is God who remains unchanged in Himself and only undergoes transformations through His energies as conscious and unconscious. He manifests itself as the jiva without losing His fullness and perfection. The relation between the two is somewhat like that between the sun and its radiance. The relation between God and the world is like that of a snake and its coiled existence. The coiled condition of a snake is neither different from it nor absolutely different from it.

Thus, monotheistic views are in contrast to Shankara’s simple nondualism (Kevala-advaita). This tradition of Advaita maintains that jiva and manifold are the result of Brahman becoming associated with maya. In order to explain the nature of jiva and its relation to ajnana, various theories, based on the authority of Sankara’s commentary on Brahma-sutras, have been propounded by later Advaita philosophers.

Broadly, Advaita philosophy views knowledge in its empirical and metaphysical aspects. Its epistemology is inseparable from metaphysics. It asserts that consciousness is self-luminous, self-existent and prior to every form of existence. Fundamentally, knowledge is Pure Consciousness beyond the relativity of knower and the known. The non-relational, nondual Pure Consciousness is the ultimate Reality. Being is identical with Pure Consciousness. Advait views relational knowledge as an expression on Pure Consciousness through a mental mode of the cognizer, the knowing self. It may be psychological through internal cognition or psychophysical through sense perception. The same Pure Consciousness is individualized as the knowing self, being manifest through a particulaaar mode of mind characterized by ‘I-ness’.

The Advaita explains the appearance of the splitting of Nondual Consciousness that is self into cognizer, cognition and the object cognized as being apparent and the work of Maya. This really says that the situation is inexplicable. The empirical situation that demands the distinction of cognizer, cognition and the cognized object, does not admit of a satisfactory explanation. Adviata shows that the problem is inexplicable at the level of relative experience. This problem vanishes by itself when this level is transcended in the nondual experience. Advaita maintains that any epistemological analysis can be useful in so far it makes us aware of this truth. It holds that the aim of an exposition of the pramanas (means of valid knowledge) is to demonstrate their insufficiency and relative nature.

The classical mannual of Advaita epistemology is Vedanta-paribhasha of Dharmaraja Adhvarin. In empirical matterns, Advaita follows the Bhatta school of Mimamsa and recognizes six means of valid knowledge (pramanas):

  1. Perception (pratyaksha)

  2. Inference (anumana)

  3. Verbal testimony (Shabda)

  4. Comparision (upmana)

  5. Postulation (Arthapatti)

  6. Non-apprehension (anuplabdhi)

Among these six methods, perception is considered of special importance as it is supposed to give immediate knowledge while others give only mediate knowledge. However, in sense perception there is intervention of a sense organ between the subject and the object. Thus, the knowledge gained is really not so immediate. Even in internal perception through the mind, the situation is not so straightforward. Bhamati tradition of Advaita considers mind a sense organ while Vivarna tradition holds that the mind is not a sense organ but an auxillary to all types of knowledge. According to Advaita the knowledge of self that is liberation from the illusory bondage of duality is only similar to perceptual knowledge as even perceptual knowledge is not so immediate as the knowledge of self.

According to Bhamati tradition, even in internal perception there is operation of the sense organ of mind. The final release is achieved only when mind has taken on the mode of the impartite self (Akhandakara-vritti) through continued meditation. However, this mode subsides after having accomplished its aim and then only nondual self remains. Vivana tradition, on the other hand, holds that the final release is gained by the knowledge obtained through the verbal testimony (Shabda) of major texts of Upanishadas that teach nondifference of the so-called individual self from the Supreme Self. The verbal testimony gives mediate knowledge if the object of knowledge is remote but gives immediate knowledge if the object is immediate. Since there is nothing more immediate than the self, the verbal testimony gives immediate knowledge of self. Other means of valid knowledge are useful only in so far they can render intelligible the mediate knowledge of the self.

The intuitive experience called ‘Self-realization’ is considered not infra-rational but supra-rational. Reasoning is necessary aid in the process of inquiry. Rational reflection occupies a strategic place during study (sravan), reflection (manana) and meditation (nididhyasana). Advaita maintains that unreasoned belief or acceptance of authority is useless. Even scripture becomes authoritative only when its truth gets corroborated in personal experience.

According to Vedanta, there are two approaches to ultimate goal of life i.e. liberation (1) Jnana-yoga– the path of onowledge and (2) Bhakti-yoga– the path of devotion. The Karma-yoga or the path of performing necessary work without being attached to the result of work is preparatory to both of these. The path of knowledge is search of Nirguna Brahman and is characterized by the aspirant’s awareness of the identity of the self with Brahman. The path of devotion, on the other hand is search of Saguna Brahman and is characterized by the aspirant’s awareness of his relationship with Brahman. All schools of Vedanta recognize the path of devotion as the direct way to the realization of Saguna Brahman. While monotheistic Vedanta considers it to be the final stage, Nondualistic Vedanta maintains that this stage leads further to the path of knowledge that is the only direct means of realization of Nirguna Brahman.


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3 Responses to “Mimamsa and Vedanta”

  1. Kiwi Yogi Says:

    Excellent. Very enjoyable reading. Thank you.

  2. KSG Kamath Says:

    So lucid and illuminating.

  3. KSG Kamath Says:

    So lucid and enlightening.

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