Mīmāṃsā (Sanskrit: मीमांसा), a word meaning "investigation" (compare Greek ἱστορία), is the name of an astika school of Hindu philosophy whose primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close hermeneutics of the Vedas. The nature of dharma is not accessible to reason or observation, and must be inferred from the authority of the revelation contained in the Vedas, which are considered eternal, authorless (apauruṣeyatva), and infallible. The school of Mimamsa consists of both atheistic and theistic doctrines and is not deeply interested in the existence of God, but rather in the character of dharma.
Mīmāṃsā is strongly concerned with textual exegesis, and consequently gave rise to the study of philology and the philosophy of language. Its notion of "speech" (Skt. śabda) as indivisible unity of sound and meaning (signifier and signified) is due to Bhartṛhari (ca. 5th century CE).
Mīmāṃsā is also known as Pūrva Mīmāṃsā ("prior" inquiry, also Karma-Mīmāṃsā), in contrast to Uttara Mīmāṃsā ("posterior" inquiry, also Brahma-Mīmāṃsā), is the opposing school of Vedanta. This division is based on the notion of a dichotomy of the Vedic texts into a karmakāṇḍa, the department of the Veda treating of sacrificial rites (Samhitas and Brahmanas), and the jñānakāṇḍa dealing with the knowledge of Brahman (the Upanishads). Because Uttara Mīmāṃsā is Vedanta, the term Mīmāṃsā generally denotes Pūrva Mīmāṃsā
The core tenets of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā are ritualism (orthopraxy), anti-asceticism and anti-mysticism. The central aim of the school is elucidation of the nature of dharma, understood as a set ritual obligations and prerogatives to be performed properly.
In the field of epistemology, later Mimāṃsākas made some notable contributions. Unlike the Nyaya or the Vaisheshika systems, the Prābhākara school recognizes five means of valid knowledge (Skt. pramāṇa) and the Bhāṭṭa school recognizes six. In addition to the four means of valid knowledge accepted by the Nyaya school (pratyakṣa, anumāna, upamāna and śabda), the Prābhākara school recognizes presumption (Skt. arthāpatti) and the Bhāṭṭa school recognizes both presumption and non-apprehension (anuapalabdhi) as additional valid means of knowledge. Another interesting feature of the Mimāṃsā school of philosophy is its unique epistemological theory of the intrinsic validity of all cognition as such. It is held that all knowledge is ipso facto true (Skt. sataḥprāmāṇyavāda). Thus, what is to be proven is not the truth of a cognition, but its falsity. The Mimāṃsākas advocate the self-validity of knowledge both in respect of its origin (utpatti) and ascertainment (jñapti). Not only did the Mimāṃsākas make the very great use of this theory to establish the unchallengeable validity of the Vedas, but later Vedantists also drew freely upon this particular Mimāṃsā contribution.
Dharma as understood by Pūrva Mīmāṃsā can be loosely translated into English as "virtue", "morality" or "duty". The Pūrva Mīmāṃsā school traces the source of the knowledge of dharma neither to sense-experience nor inference, but to verbal cognition (i.e. knowledge of words and meanings) according to Vedas. In this respect it is related to the Nyāya school, the latter, however, accepts only four sources of knowledge (pramāṇa) as valid.
The Pūrva Mīmāṃsā school held dharma to be equivalent to following the prescriptions of the Saṃhitās and their Brāhmaṇa commentaries relating the correct performance of Vedic rituals. Seen in this light, Pūrva Mīmāṃsā is essentially ritualist (orthopraxy), placing great weight on the performance of karma or action as enjoined by the Vedas.
Mīmāṃsā theorists decided that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God was insufficient. They argue that there was no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there was no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a God to validate the rituals. Mīmāṃsā argues that the Gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. To that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of Gods.
Relation to Vedānta
Emphasis of Yajnic Karmakāṇḍas in Pūrva Mīmāṃsā is erroneously interpreted by some to be an opposition to Jñānakāṇḍa of Vedānta and Upaniṣads. Pūrva Mīmāṃsā does not discuss topics related to Jñānakāṇḍa, such as salvation (mokṣa), but it never speaks against mokṣa. Vedānta quotes Jaimini's belief in Brahman as well as in mokṣa:
In Uttara-Mīmāṃsā or Vedānta (4.4.5-7), Bāḍarāyaṇa cites Jaimini as saying (ब्राह्मेण जैमिनिरूपन्यासादिभ्यः) "(The mukta Puruṣa is united with the Brahman) as if it were like the Brahman, because descriptions (in Śruti etc) prove so".
In Vedānta (1.2.28), Bāḍarāyaṇa cites Jaimini as saying that "There is no contradiction in taking Vaishvānara as the supreme Brahman".
In 1.2.31, Jaimini is again quoted by Bāḍarāyana as saying that the nirguna (attribute-less) Brahman can manifest itself as having a form.
In 4.3.12, Bādarāyana again cites Jaimini as saying that the mukta Purusha attains Brahman.
In Pūrva Mīmāṃsā too, Jaimini emphasises the importance of faith in and attachment to the Omnipotent Supreme Being Whom Jaimini calls "The Omnipotent Pradhaana" (The Main):
Pūrva Mīmāṃsā 6.3.1: "sarvaśaktau pravṛttiḥ syāt tathābhūtopadeśāt" (सर्वशक्तौ प्रवृत्तिः स्यात् तथाभूतोपदेशात्). The term upadeśa here means instructions of the śāstras as taught. We should tend towards the omnipotent supreme being. In the context of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā 6.3.1 shown above, next two sutras becomes significant, in which this Omnipotent Being is termed as "pradhāna", and keeping away from Him is said to be a "doṣa", hence all beings are asked to get related ("abhisambandhāt" in tadakarmaṇi ca doṣas tasmāt tato viśeṣaḥ syāt pradhānenābhisambandhāt; Jaimini 6, 3.3) to the "Omnipotent Main Being" (api vāpy ekadeśe syāt pradhāne hy arthanirvṛttir guṇamātram itarat tadarthatvāt; Jaimini 6, 3.2). Karma-Mīmāṃsā supports the Vedas, and Rgveda says that one Truth is variously named by the sages. It is irrelevant whether we call Him as Pradhāna or Brahman or Vaishvānara or Shiva or God.
The school's origins lie in the scholarly traditions of the final centuries BCE, when the priestly ritualism of Vedic sacrifice was being marginalized by Buddhism and Vedanta. To counteract this challenge, several groups emerged dedicated to demonstrating the validity of the Vedic texts by rigid formulation of rules for their interpretation. The school gathers momentum in the Gupta period with Śābara, and reaches its apex in the 7th to 8th centuries with Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara.
The school for some time in the Early Middle Ages exerted near-dominant influence on learned Hindu thought, and is credited as a major force contributing to the decline of Buddhism in India, but it has fallen into decline in the High Middle Ages and today is all but eclipsed by Vedanta.
The foundational text for the Mīmāṃsā school is the Purva Mīmāṃsā Sutras of Jaimini (ca. 3rd to 1st century BCE). A major commentary was composed by Śābara in ca. the 5th or 6th century CE. The school reaches its height with Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara (fl. ca. 700 CE). Both Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhākara (along with Murāri, whose work is no more extant) have written extensive commentaries on Śābara's Mīmāṃsāsūtrabhāṣyam. Kumārila Bhaṭṭa, Mandana Miśra, Pārthasārathi Miśra, Sucarita Miśra, Ramakrishna Bhatta, Madhava Subhodini, Sankara Bhatta, Krsnayajvan, Anantadeva, Gaga Bhatta, Ragavendra Tirtha, VijayIndhra Tirtha, Appayya Dikshitar, Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri, Mahomahapadyaya Sri Ramsubba Sastri, Sri Venkatsubba Sastri, Sri A. Chinnaswami Sastri, Sengalipuram Vaidhyanatha Dikshitar were some of the Mimamsa Scholars.
The Mīmāṁsā Sūtra of Jaimini (c. 3rd century BCE) has summed up the general rules of nyāya for Vedic interpretation. The text has 12 chapters, of which the first chapter is of philosophical value. The commentaries on the Mīmāṁsā Sūtra by Bhartṛmitra, Bhavadāsa, Hari and Upavarṣa are no more extant. Śabara (c. 1st century BCE) is the first commentator of the Mīmāṁsā Sūtra, whose work is available to us. His bhāṣya is the basis of all later works of Mīmāṁsā . Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (7th century CE), the founder of the first school of the Mīmāṁsā commented on both the Sūtra and its Śabara Bhāṣya. His treatise consists of 3 parts, the Ślokavārttika, the Tantravārttika and the Ṭupṭīkā. Manḍana Miśra (8th century CE) was a follower of Kumārila, who wrote Vidhiviveka and Mīmāṁsānukramaṇī. There are several commentaries on the works of Kumārila. Sucarita Miśra wrote a Kāśikā (commentary) on the Ślokavārttika. Someśvara Bhatta wrote Nyāyasudhā, also known as Rāṇaka, a commentary on the Tantravārttika. Pārthasarathi Miśra wrote Nyāyaratnākara (1300 CE), another commentary on the Ślokavārttika. He also wrote Śāstradīpikā, an independent work on the Mīmāṁsā and Tantraratna. Venkaṭa Dīkṣita’s Vārttikabharaṇya is a commentary on the Ṭupṭīkā. Prabhākara (8th century CE), the originator of the second school of the Mīmāṁsā wrote his commentary Bṛhatī on the Śabara Bhāṣya. Śālikanātha’s Ṛjuvimalā (9th century CE) is a commentary on the Bṛhatī. His Prakaraṇapañcikā is an independent work of this school and the Pariśiṣṭa is a brief explanation of the Śabara Bhāṣya. Bhavanātha’s Nyāyaviveka deals with the views of this school in details. The founder of the third school of the Mīmāṁsā was Murāri, whose works have not reached us.
Āpadeva (17th century) wrote an elementary work on the Mīmāṁsā, known as Mīmāṁsānyāyaprakaśa or Āpadevī. Arthasaṁgraha of Laugākṣi Bhāskara is based on the Āpadevī. Vedānta Deśika’s Śeśvara Mīmāṁsā was an attempt to combine the views of the Mīmāṁsā and the Vedānta schools.
- Lars Göhler, Wort und Text bei Kumārila Bhaṭṭa: Studie zur mittelalterlichen indischen Sprachphilophie und Hermeneutik, Europäische Hochschulschriften. Reihe 20, Philosophie ; vol. 468, Lang (1995), ISBN 3-631-48821-1.
- Reprint edition; Originally published under the title of The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy.
- R.A. Ramaswami Shastri, A Short History Of The Purva Mimamsa Shastra, Annamalai University Sanskrit Series No. 3 (1936).
- Bollingen Series XXVI; Edited by Joseph Campbell.
- Purva Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini
- Overview of World Religions entry
- Complete Lectures on Purva Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini at ShastraNethralaya