The Wonders of Indian Philosophy - What is Mimamsa?

Mimansa Philosophy

Mimansa Philosophy

Image: Mimansa Philosophy

Of the six orthodox schools of Vedic knowledge, the Mimamsa school is now little-known and may even be said to have died out entirely in India. However, as a philosophical approach dedicated to the proper performance of Vedic ritual and the recitation of mantras, its influence can still be felt very strongly. As a school of ‘prior inquiry’, or Purva Mimamsa, it is concerned with the theory behind ancient Vedic practice - the correct performance of sacrifices. This topic actually forms the bulk of the Vedas themselves, which list thousands of Mantras to be used in Vedic ritual and precise instructions on how to use them. These rituals still form the backbone of Hindu religious practice in India, and the precision behind their performance is a direct legacy of Mimamsa philosophy.

The Importance of Vedic rituals.

Mimamsa means ‘inquiry’ and this philosophical school often goes by the name Purva Mimamsa, or ‘prior inquiry’ distinguishing it from the ‘latter inquiry’ (UttaraMimamsa) of the Vedanta school. The ‘prior inquiry’ in question concerns the karma-kanda or ritualistic parts of the Vedas, in contrast to the jnana-kandaor knowledge-based philosophies arising from the study of the Upanishads. Mimamsa philosophy may be seen as the philosophy that supplies the rational basis for the precise and faithful practice of original Vedic ritual. It considers the entire Veda as revealed scripture, and provides a rationale for the powers contained within the Vedic hymns, or mantras. As such, the Mimamsa philosophy is strongly in favour of ritualism and social duty, and against mysticism, or any philosophy arising from the individual’s inner experience.

Mimamsa Philosophy.

The ritualistic instructions of the Vedas were thought to have their own exceptional power, representing the highest source of knowledge available to man. It is important to note that early Mimamsa was an atheistic doctrine placing all its faith on the Vedic injunctions themselves – meaning that the correct performance of mantra and ritual was itself possessed of ultimate power. Only Vedic ritual could bring about the simultaneous illumination of knowledge, knower and known, and was therefore the highest action available to man. The correct performance of Vedic scacrifice was considered the only source of dharma (righteousness) and also the mechanism of karma. Correct performance of ritual led to reward, and the failure to perform ritual led to punishment, which individuals would receive in Heaven or Hell, respectively. The correct operation of reward and punishment was attributed to a secret, unseen power or Shakti called apurva.

Developments in Mimamsa Philosophy.

Early Mimamsa was very strictly based upon the rewards and punishments achieved from the proper performance of Vedic ritual, to such an extent that one of its main proponents, Prabhakara taught that all parts of the Vedas not containing instructions should be ignored. In Mimamsa’s later developments, we see changes that could be attributed to developments within the contemporary Vedanta school, or to the influence of Buddhism. The focus on Heaven and Hell, or reward and punishment, shifts tomoksha (enlightenment) based on the detached performance of dutiful action. The performance of necessary Vedic rituals in a state of detachment would ultimately lead to the cessation of karmas; mind and sense organs would withdraw, and the soul would retreat to something like a deep-sleep state.

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