[Advaita-l] A Brief Introduction to pUrva mImAmsA - 2 (The Fundamentals of dharma)

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 8 15:27:33 CST 2004

In the first posting of the series, pUrva mImAmsA (PM) was said to be
an enquiry into the nature of dharma or Duty, and that the study of
dharma in the Vedic Way was through Jaimini's pUrva mImAmsA sUtra
(JPMS). This posting will discuss the first few verses of JPMS
regarding the fundamentals of dharma, such as its definition and the
means of knowing it. 

Throughout the discussions, I will consider PM more as a philosophy
than as a religion, for the simple reason that PM really is more of the
former than of the latter. Therefore, instead of asking the question,
"What do the mImAmsakas say?", it would be more fruitful to ask the
deeper question, "Why do the mImAmsakas say what they say?". 

JPMS is split up into adhyAya-s (Chapters), pAda-s (Sections) and
sUtra-s (Aphorisms). Given below is a list of some of the relevant
sUtra-s in the first chapter of JPMS, along with their corresponding
interpretation and commentary by the PM school (which is usually
KumArila BhaTTa unless specifically mentioned otherwise). 

Jaimini's pUrva mImAmsA sUtra

KumArila's first invocatory verse:
vishuddhaGYAnadehAya trivedIdivyacakshushhe .
shreyaH prApta nimittAya namaH somArdhadhAriNe ..
"Reverence to Him who wears the crescent moon, Him who is embodied in
pure consciousness, Him whose three eyes are the three Vedas, and who
is the source from which all prosperity flows."

Note: It rather appears like KumArila is praising the three-eyed Shiva,
but later on in his shlokavArttika, he vehemently denies the existence
of an omniscient person (the very essence of the Ishvara who is
sarvaGYaH) and also never affirms an Ishvara in his entire treatise
spanning over three-thousand pages, since his philosophical system does
not require such a person (which is considered equivalent to denying
the Ishvara [1]). So who or what can the above verse refer to if not
the Lord? PArthasArathi mishra, in his nyAyaratnAkara, interprets the
verse thus: "vishuddhaGYAnadehAya = That whose body is the knowledge
purified by the mImAmsA-shAstra, trivedIdivyacakshushhe = That which is
manifested by the three Vedas (as the three eyes), namaH
somArdhadhAriNe = That which is equipped with vessels of soma. All
these epithets refer to the yaGYa (Vedic sacrifice)." [2] KumArila is
therefore praising the Vedic Sacrifice in his invocation. The word
"soma" can refer to the moon as well as the "drink of the devas" in
Vedic sacrifices. For obvious reasons, KumArila's use of the word is
taken as referring to the latter. The three Vedas - R^ig, yajus and
sAman - are the very eyes of the yaGYa, as they provide the knowledge
by which the yaGYa is performed. The reference to "shreyaH prApta
nimittAya" is the flow of prosperity that is a direct consequence of
the performance of the Vedic Sacrifice. So a better translation of the
verse in the PM viewpoint would be:
"Reverence to That [yaGYa] whose body is the wisdom purified (by the
pUrva-mImAmsA-shAstra), [That yaGYa] whose three eyes are the three
Vedas, [That yaGYa] which is the source from which all prosperity
flows, and [That yaGYa] which is equipped with vessels of soma."

KumArila's Sixth invocatory verse:
"Reverencing the scripture as I do, let none reproach me, should I err
(in my exposition). He that goes by the right path need not be
censured, even if he slips (occassionally)."

So we begin with the first verse of JPMS:

JPMS 1.1.1: 
athAto dharma jiGYAsA . 
"Now, therefore, an enquiry into [the nature of] Duty (dharma)."

KumArila's Interpretation:
The word "atha" (Now or Henceforth) is an auspicious word, and
signifies a sequence, implying that something must have occurred prior
to the study of dharma. What must have occurred prior to the study of
dharma? It is Vedic study. After a person has completed his Vedic
study, he desires to know dharma (jiGYAsA) as there are doubts
regarding its nature. What can be the reason for the desire to know?
"ataH" - therefore - since the enquiry into dharma leads to bliss.
But is it not possible to conduct an enquiry even before (or without)
Vedic Study? Yes, one does not prohibit the investigation into the
nature of dharma prior to Vedic study, nor does one lay stress upon its
*immediate* sequence to it (i.e. one can enquire into dharma even a few
years after Vedic study, while practising dharma). [3]

Notes: Cannot the above aphorism be similarly interpreted with "Veda"
being replaced by "Buddhist (or alternate) Scriptures"? KumArila does
not enter into such arguments here, as they are specially reserved for
refutation in later verses.

PrabhAkara's interpretation:
Well-known texts say that one should initiate the eight-year-old
BrAhmaNa boy and teach him dharma (ashhTavarshhaM brAhmaNam upanayIta
tamadhyApayIta - Presumably, the teaching should begin with a person
who has attained the age of discrimination of right and wrong). The
student of dharma is one who is desirous of acquiring for himself the
title of "upAdhyAya" (Professor). The student is required to study both
the text as well as the meaning of the Veda in order to know dharma.

chodanAlakshaNaH artho dharmaH . 
"Duty (dharma) is that which, being desirable, is indicated (or taught)
by [Vedic] injunction."

Objection (pUrvapaksha): We can never know dharma. Why? Because dharma
as an object of knowledge can never be defined, as we do not know the
distinctive features by which dharma can be perceived. We cannot
perceive dharma through the senses, nor can we know dharma through
inference. Therefore dharma must be a nonentity. 

Notes: The definition of an object is commonly derived either through
sense experience or inference. e.g. We can point to a tree and say that
this is a tree, or infer the existence of atoms through an experiment.
But dharma is not known through sensory experience - no one ever sees,
hears, etc. any object called "dharma". Nor can we know it through
inference - for the premises of inference require sensory experience,
which itself is not feasible in the case of dharma. Such a
pUrvapaksha-theory that claims that dharma (Morality) cannot be known
or does not exist is called "Moral Nihilism", and KumArila argues
against such a theory, clearly on the side of Moral Realism. 

Conclusion (siddhAnta): dharma is DEFINED as that desirable thing which
is mentioned or laid down by Vedic injunction. Thus Vedic injunction,
being the sole means of knowing dharma, forms the very DEFINITION of
dharma. In order to firmly establish this, one begins an enquiry into
the means of knowing dharma: 

tasya nimittaparIshhTiH . 
"Thereof, an enquiry into the means [of true knowledge of dharma
becomes necessary]."

Commentary: It has been asserted that the means of knowing dharma is
the Veda. But one should be convinced that it is impossible to know
dharma through any other means. Hereby is refuted the alternate means
of knowing dharma: 

sat.h saMprayoge purushhasya indriyANAm.h buddhijanma tatpratyaksham.h
animittaM vidyamAna upalaMbhanAt.h .
"That cognition which proceeds upon the contact of the sense-organs
with existing objects is sense-perception; and this is not the means
[of knowing dharma]; because it apprehends only objects existing at the
present time."

Sense-perception can only apprehend objects as are in existence at the
time of perception and are in direct contact with one or more of the
organs of perception (such as eyes, ears, etc.). dharma is not an
object existing at the time of perception, for it has no external and
tangible form. As it does not come into contact with a sense organ, it
is not amenable to sense-experience. Inference also, being dependent on
sense-experience for its premises, cannot grasp dharma. One is then
left with the only possible means of knowing dharma: 

autpattikaH tu shabdasya arthena saMbandhaH tasya GYAnaM upadeshaH
avyatirekaH cha arthe anupalabdhe tat.h pramaaNaM bAdarAyaNasya
anapekshatvAt.h .
"On the other hand, the relationship between a word and its meaning is
unborn; consequently [Vedic] injunction is the means of knowing dharma;
it is unfailing in regard to objects not perceived (by other means of
knowledge); it is authoritative, according to BAdarAyaNa, specially as
it is independent or self-sufficient in authority." 

Notes: This is arguably the most important verse in JPMS and occupies
the central position in the philosophy of PM. If only one verse were to
be studied in the entire JPMS, this would be it. 

Before reading the commentary on this, it would help to be aware of a
certain philosophical question concerning language: How exactly does
the human mind derive the meaning of a statement given its individual
words? What can we say about the (un)reality of logical or mathematical
statements? The branch of philosophy that tries to answer questions
like these is called the "Philosophy of Language" [5], which itself is
closely related to the Philosophy of Logic/Mathematics [6]. 

Some common observations on word and its meaning are:
(1) A word and its meaning are not identical, for the same word can
have two meanings, and two words can have the same meaning. 
(2) One can use the same word at different times and in different parts
of the world, implying that words (and their meaning) are not in the
spatio-temporal realm, and are therefore non-physical entities.

There are two major philosophical theories at present regarding logical
(or mathematical) statements:

1) Formalism: According to this view, all statements (or 'formulae' in
mathematics) exist only in the mind of the person who thinks them, and
do not have an independent existence of their own. Thus, statements (or
formulae) are "inventions", and are nothing more than a manipulation of
symbols existing only at the time when they are thought.

2) Platonism: The view that all logical (and mathematical) statements
actually exist outside of the mind, independent of the person who
thinks them. They reside in a world that is called the "Platonic world"
and is separate from the physical. Thus, statements (or mathematical
truths) are "discoveries", and describe an eternal truth. [7]

The Buddhist school is closely related to the formalist school and
believes that words and meanings are "evanescent" in nature, existing
only in the mind of the person who uses the word in a statement. The PM
school is closely related to the Platonic school and believes that
words and meanings always exist in a non-physical realm independent of
the thinker or speaker, and the person who uses words in a statement
simply "brings forth the words" from the non-physical realm. 

Note that if we can somehow solidify the claim that ALL WORDS ARE
ETERNAL AND INDEPENDENT OF THE MIND (Platonism), we can connect that
claim to the words of the Veda, and propound the theory that the words
of the Veda consist of Eternal Truths that teach us the nature of
dharma. But we must, at the same time, make the theory applicable only
to the Veda and not to other scriptures (e.g. Buddhist). So the problem
now shifts from being a problem in Ethics to one in Logic/linguistics.


The question arises: If sense-experience and inference are incapable of
grasping dharma, what about Vedic injunction? 

pUrvapaksha: We can ascertain the trustworthy nature of a person's
assertions only when he speaks of entities that can be perceived
through sense-experience. Since dharma is said to be beyond the world
of the senses, it would be impossible to ascertain the trustworthy
nature of the words on dharma. Then again, in all cases of verbal
cognition, we find that it is only after the thing and the word have
come into existence independently of one another, that people fix
conventionally a relationship between the two. Since this relationship
is subject to human error, there can be no such thing as a reliable
work on dharma. 

siddhAnta: As a matter of fact, the relationship between the word and
meaning is inborn and not a product of human convention. Doubts are
cast upon the trustworthiness of the means of knowledge only when they
afford cognitions that are found contrary to the real state of things;
in themselves the means of knowledge are all trustworthy always. In the
case of Vedic injunction, it has never been found to give rise to
cognitions that turn out wrong; consequently, the inherent trustworthy
character remains unsullied. The Veda can very well be the means of
knowing dharma, specially because dharma is not perceptible by the
senses or by inference. 

Notes: Any perception is taken as valid knowledge (pramANa) unless
there is a reason to doubt the means of knowledge. e.g. we see the sky
as blue, so the color of the sky is taken as blue unless there is an
inferential argument to disprove it - in this case, the sky is known to
be black at night, and is orange around the sun at sunset, and is no
longer blue at large distances from the earth's surface - and so we can
say that the sky appears blue but is not actually so. In the case of
the Vedas, we take the means of knowledge as valid unless there is a
good reason to show that the Vedas are untrustworthy. Since dharma
cannot be known by sense-experience or inference, we have no other
means of knowing it other than the Veda. 
In the next posting, we will see how the theory that ALL WORDS ARE
ETERNAL is defended by the JPMS.


[1] "No concept of God in Mimamsa" and "Mimamsa Beliefs" -- articles in
the book "Hindu dharma", which can be found online at
http://www.kamakoti.org/hindudharma/part12/chap2.htm ,

[2] Book B, page 1, footnote 1.

[3] Book B, page 13, verses 84-125.

[4] Book A, pages 1-2.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_language

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_mathematics

[7] Named after Plato, who believed in such a theory. A "Platonic
relationship" is a relationship in the realm of ideas.

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