[Advaita-l] A Brief Introduction to pUrva mImAmsA - 5 (Interpretation of Certain Vedic Statements)

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Wed Sep 1 16:12:18 CDT 2004

We have seen thus far that according to pUrva mImAmsA (PM), the Vedas
consist of eternal words with no author, which makes them free of all
discrepancy. Since dharma can only be known from such a text, the Vedas
are the sole source of dharma. In PM, intelligent actions that conform
to dharma can be known only through injunction/command (vidhi), and
prohibition (nishhedha), of Vedic statements.

However, several objections may be raised regarding the interpretation
of Vedic statements, such as:

1) There are portions of the Vedas that do not speak of actions. What
does it even mean to say that these statements are "authoritative with
respect to knowledge of dharma" when clearly there is no "authority" in
either their command or prohibition? For example, the common statement
"Grass is green" is neither a command nor prohibition, and hence
unrelated to action. The Vedas too are replete with such statements
that are unrelated to action (very common in the upanishhads), and
these statements can be considered to be of "no value" or "useless" in
regard to dharma, and the opponent would argue that such statements may
be removed from the Vedas.

2) There are several "contradictions" between the Vedas and experience,
and there can be no question of the Vedas being correct in such cases. 

The second pAda of the first adhyAya of Jaimini's pUrva mImAmsA sUtras
(JPMS) refutes the above objections. JMPS 1.2.1-6 will consider various
Vedic passages that require special interpretation, all of which will
be explained in the remaining verses in the pAda. The commentary on
JPMS 1.2.1 is important, as it categorizes the words of the Vedas into
four classes. This posting will concentrate on the first half of the
pAda that explains the rules of interpretation concerning the first two
classes, the next posting will take up the remaining two. As this pAda
is rather long, only the important sUtras are provided with commentary
(some sUtras are omitted).


JPMS 1.2.1
AmnAyasya kriyArthatvAt.h Anarthakyam.h atadarthAnAm.h tasmAt.h
anityam.h iti uchyate . 
"The purpose of the Veda lying in the laying down of actions, those
[parts of it] which do not serve that purpose are useless; and in these
therefore is the Veda said to be non-eternal (i.e. of no permanent


The Vedas consist of four categories or classes of words, which are:-

(1) Injunctions (vidhi) and Prohibitions (nishhedha)
(2) Valedictory and Deprecatory passages (arthavAda)
(3) Mantras
(4) Names. 

Each of these is going to be considered separately with reference to
its bearing on dharma. 

That Injunctions and Prohibitions are of value in knowledge pertaining
to dharma is obvious, and follows from the definition of dharma in JPMS
1.1.2. The matter of mantras and names will be taken up later on. As
regards the arthavAda passages, the pUrvapakshin raises a number of

First pUrvapaksha: The arthavAda passages can have no bearing on
dharma, as for instance, the statement "vAyu is the swiftest deity"
says nothing regarding any action (concerning virtue or vice). It
merely states a fact, and our knowledge of vAyu as the swiftest deity
does not aid us in the performace or avoidance of any action. Similarly
the statement, "rudra wept, and from that silver was produced" is
unrelated to action. All these passages ought to be considered useless
(since our primary enquiry is into dharma, and these statements do not
concern dharma).

JPMS 1.2.2
shAstra dR^ishhTa virodhAt.h cha .
"Also because of the contradiction of the scriptures and directly
perceived facts."

Second pUrvapaksha: There are passages in the Vedas that contradict
directly perceived facts. A few examples are:

1) "The mind is a thief" is a Vedic statement. We can hereby infer that
since an important sense-organ is a thief, one should commit theft by
other sense-organs also. But this passage contradicts those passages
that prohibit stealing.
2) The scriptural passage "During the day the smoke only is seen and
not the brightness of fire" contradicts a directly perceived fact,
since the brightness of fire is seen during the day.
3) The passage where a BrAhmaNa priest is represented as saying "we
know not if we are brAhmaNas" contradicts a fact of perception, as the
BrAhmaNahood is a directly perceived fact.
4) The Vedic passage "who knows whether or not there is such a thing as
heaven etc." contradicts those passages which lay down sacrifices that
promise heaven.

JPMS 1.2.3
tathA phalaabhaavaat.h .
"Also because of the absent of results."

Third pUrvapaksha: In the gargatrirAtra brAhmaNa, it is said, "The face
of one who knows this brightens up." Now, if the brightening of the
face is a fact, then the passage is purely descriptive of perceived
fact, and can have no bearing on dharma. If not, then the declaration
becomes untrue. Moreover, the brightening of the face is not a directly
perceived fact, so the Vedas declare results that cannot be obtained. 

JMPS 1.2.4
anya Anarthakyaat.h .
"Because of the uselessness of other passages."

Fourth pUrvapaksha: There are certain arthavAda passages that extol the
performance of the ashvamedha sacrifice by saying that one who performs
it will conquer the earth. Similarly, there exist passages that claim
that offering pUrNAhuti will help in the fulfillment of all desires.
Therefore, one may simply perform the ashvamedha sacrifice or offer
pUrNAhuti, and ignore all of the other actions that are enjoined by the
Vedas, since that one alone will suffice. Therefore, if these arthavAda
passages were true, they would render the other injunctions redundant.

JPMS 1.2.5
abhaagi pratishhedhaan.h cha .
"Also because of the negation of impossibilities."

Fifth pUrvapaksha: We meet with Vedic passages like "Fire is not to be
kindled on the earth, fire is not to be kindled in the sky" and so on.
It is well known that fire can be kindled only on the earth and not on
the sky, hence the declaration that prohibits both is impossible and

JPMS 1.2.6
anitya saMyogaat.h .
"Because of the mention of non-eternal things."

Sixth pUrvapaksha: We find in many passages the mention of non-eternal
things, such as "son of PravAhana" who has to be a human being and
therefore non-eternal. 

JPMS 1.2.7
vidhinaa tu eka vAkyatvaat.h stutyarthena vidhiinaam.h syuH .
"Inasmuch as they are syntactically connected with the injunctive
passages, they (arthavAda passages) [would be authoritative], by reason
of their serving the purpose of what has been enjoined.

>From this sUtra begins the refutation of the above objections.
Regarding the first sUtra, it is here pointed out that these passages
are indeed connected with action. They praise action that is enjoined
in the sentence with which they are related. For example, the
injunction "One desirous of prosperity should sacrifice the shveta
dedicated to vAyu" is supported by "vAyu is the swiftest deity that
will carry the performer to prosperity swiftly." 

JPMS 1.2.8
tulyam.h cha saampradaathikam.h .
"And the connection of long-established tradition is also equal (to the
Injunction and arthavAda passages)."

The other reason why arthavAda passages cannot be dismissed as useless
is that the tradition places as much emphasis on this passages as the
Injunctive passages. 

JPMS 1.2.9
apraaptaa cha anupapattiH . prayoge hi virodhaH syAt.h . shabdArthaH tu
aprayogabhUtaH . tasmaat.h upapadyeta .
"And the incongruity is not applicable; because there would be
incongruity if the passages laid down actions; but (in reality) the
meaning of the words does not lay down actions [or the passage is an
auxillary to the injunctive word, and does not lay down actions] hence
it is all right."

The first incongruity pointed out in sUtra 2 is not applicable because
there would be a contradition only if the passages laid down actions.
For instance, the passage "the mind is a thief" would contradict the
scripture prohibiting theft only if it directly laid down the action of
stealing. As a matter of fact, the words of these passages are not
taken in the literal sense, they are taken only as signifying praise.

JPMS 1.2.11
rUpaat.h praayaat.h .
"On the similarity of form, and on the character of the greater part
(the indirect injunction of passages is based)."

Continuing from the previous sUtra, the sentence "the mind is a thief"
is taken in the sense "The mind is hidden within the body". This
signification being based on the fact that the mind is similar to the
thief, in that both are hidden. The mind hides itself, just as the
thief does. 

JPMS 1.2.12
dUra bhUyastvaat.h .
"Because of the greatness of distance."

In reply to the second point in sUtra 2, it is said that "When the fire
is burning at a great distance, it is only the smoke - and not the
bright flame - of the fire that is seen"; so the passage does not
contradict a directly perceived fact. 

JPMS 1.2.13
strI aparaadhaat.h kartuH cha putra darshanam.h .
"On account of the failing of the woman, (there can be no certainty of
caste); specially as the son is often found to belong to the father."

Considering the third point in sUtra 2, there is always a chance of the
mother having misbehaved with a man of a different caste, and we find
the smR^itis declaring that the 'son belongs to the father'. Hence
there can be no certainty as to the caste of any person. The passage
therefore praises the recounting of one's pravara - names of one's
famous ancestors - and declares that even if the reciter may have
doubts as to his brAhmaNahood, it becomes universally recognized if he
recounts the pravaras. 

JPMS 1.2.14
AkAlika IpsA .
"There is desire for immediate good."

Regarding the fourth point in sUtra 2, the sentence occurs in
connection with the injunction of constructing many wide windows in the
sacrificial house that allow free exit to the smoke. This removes one
of the greatest discomforts of persons engaged in the performance and
is the "immediate good" mentioned in the present sUtra. Therefore, with
a view to eulogising a house with many windows, the arthavAda passages
say "as regards the desirable results as the attainment of heaven and
the like, people may have doubts, but there can be no doubt as to the
excellent results proceeding from the building of many windows to the
house." Thus, it does not mean that there is no heaven, but only that
the good that is obtained from many windows is immediate. 

JPMS 1.2.15
vidyA prashaMsaa . 
"It is praise of knowledge."

The objection in sUtra 3 is answered by saying that the passage only
means that "one who studies becomes so learned that it is a pleasure to
listen to him." This is what is meant by his face "brightening".

JPMS 1.2.16
sarvatram.h aadhikaarikam.h .
"The universality pertains to the capability of the agent to perform
all actions."

This meets the objection set forth in sUtra 4. When it is said that
"offering pUrNAhuti will fulfill all desires", it is understood that
"offering pUrNAhuti will ENABLE ONE TO PERFORM SACRIFICES THAT fulfill
all desires". When one says that "all rice has been cooked", it is only
meant that "all rice THAT HAS BEEN SET ASIDE FOR COOKING TODAY has been
cooked", not that "all rice that exists in the world has been cooked".
In the same manner, not ALL that one desires will be obtained, but only
those that result from the actions performed with the help of the
consecrated fire (pUrNAhuti).

JPMS 1.2.18
antyayoH yathoktam.h .
"Of the last two aphorisms [of the pUrvapaksha], the answer is as has
been explained already."

Answering both sUtras 5 and 6:
5) The prohibition of placing the sacrificial fire on bare ground is
indirect praise for placing the fire on a gold plate instead of the
ground. The prohibition of kindling the fire on the sky is stated in
the sense that "it is as absurd to place the sacrificial fire on the
ground as it is to kindle the fire on the sky."
6) The objection as to the "son of PravAhana" is explained in the same
way as the sUtra 1.3.31. All words are eternal, and in specific, these
words are also eternal. 


Notes:- All of the objections to the effect that "the statements in the
Vedas that are unrelated to action ought to be rejected", have been
explained by the claim that they are direct or indirect praise for the
performance of action (arthavAda), and those statements that appear to
contradict experience have been given secial interpretation in line
with the tradition. 
JPMS 1.2.31-53 elaborates on the third and fourth classes of words in
the Veda (i.e., mantras and names, as touched upon in JPMS 1.2.1) while
providing a justification for accepting smR^iti, which will be covered
in the next posting. 

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Mail - 50x more storage than other providers!

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list