MĪMĀṂSĀ . The word mīmāṃsā means "investigation" in ordinary Sanskrit. Since the term is applied to an important South Asian philosophical school, it must originally have meant "the investigation of the proper interpretation of the Vedic texts." The Mīmāṃsā school is thus better known as the Purva-mīmāṃsā school, which is sometimes called the Dharma-mīmāṃsā (inquiry into the nature of dharma as laid down by the Vedas, the supreme authority). Uttara-mīmāṃsā is the descriptive name for the Vedānta school, which deals with the nature of brahman as laid down in the latter part (uttara ) of the Vedas, and in the Upaniṣads, hence also called Brahma-mīmāṃsā (inquiry into the nature of brahman ). The word dharma is of prime importance in this context. It stands here for one's "duty" (codanā ) enjoined by the Vedas, which includes both the religious or sacred duties or actions and the moral duties as well. Dharma also denotes the "virtue" attainable by performing such duties or following such courses of actions. Thus dharma is the main topic for discussion in the Mīmāṃsā school.
The Vedic scriptures were seriously attacked by the Śramaṇas (mendicant Brahmanic philosophers) about 500 bce, and as a result its authority was apparently being devastated by criticisms. Hence the Mīmāṃsā school originated among the Vedic priests who wanted to reestablish this authority by resolving the apparent contradictions and other textual problems found in the Vedic scriptures. The Mīmāṃsā school in this way developed the science of exegesis. A Mīmāṃsā Sūtra was compiled as early as the first century bce, and it was ascribed to an ancient sage, Jaimini. It is regarded as the key text of the school.
Regarding dharma, Mīmāṃsā maintains a form of fundamentalism. It claims that the scriptures are the only means of knowing what is dharma and what is not. Only by following the injunctions of the scriptures can we attain dharma, or the "good," that cannot be attained by any other means. Other means of knowledge (perception, inference, reasoning, etc.) are of no help in the realm of dharma, for concerns of dharma are with transcendental matters, the imperceptibles and the unverifiables, such as the afterlife, heaven, and the moral order. Hence the Mīmāṃsā school defines the essence of the Vedas (vedatā ) as that which informs us about such a transcendental realm. And the authority of the Vedas in such matters is self-evident. The truth of the scriptural statements is self-validating. The Vedas are to be regarded as eternal and uncreated. The scriptures are revealed texts, there being no author of them. In short, the truths of the Vedas are transempirical, hence no empirical evidence can conceivably bear on them.
The problem of interpretation has led the Mīmāṃsā school to the study and discussion of topics which are of great philosophical interest. The Mīmāṃsā developed itself into a kind of philosophical discipline, incorporating into it a theory of knowledge, epistemology, logic, a theory of meaning and language, and a realistic metaphysic. With its emphasis on the philosophy of language and linguistics, the Mīmāṃsā has sometimes been called the vākya-śãstra ("theory of speech"). It also formulated various rules of interpretation in order to resolve and eliminate the apparent inconsistencies of the scriptural texts.
Later on, the Mīmāṃsā school was divided into two subschools (c. 600–700 ce), following the two important exponents of the school, Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prābhākara. They are called the Bhāṭṭa school and the Prābhākara school. Of the many minor differences between the two subschools, only a few of the more notable ones have been noted here.
Kumārila speaks of six pramāṇa s ("legitimate ways of knowing")—perception (pratyakṣa ), inference (anumāna ), verbal testimony (śabda or aptāvacana ), comparison (upamāna ), presumption (arthāpatti ), and nonapprehension (anupalabdhi ). Prabhākara accepts the first five only. Since he rejects "absence" (abhāva ) as a separate reality, as a "knowable" entity (prameya ), he does not need "nonapprehension" to establish such entities. For the Bhāṭṭas, a cognition is not a perceptible property, but it is inferred from the "cognizedness" (jñātatā ) of the object cognized: since this pot is cognized by me, a cognition of it must have occurred in me. For the Prābhākaras, a cognition is self-cognized—it perceives itself. But both regard knowledge to be self-validating. Kumārila admits both Vedic and non-Vedic śabda (sentences, speech) to be pramāṇa. Prabhākara holds that real śabda-pramāṇa is the Vedic śabda. Both try to establish the Vedic authority not on God but on such transcendental reality as dharma and mokṣa. The Bhāṭṭas explicitly hold the jñāna-karma-samuccaya-vāda, that both knowledge and action lead to liberation. The Prābhākara view does not seem to be very different.
The two subschools differ in their views about the correct incentive for man's action (which includes both moral and religious acts). The Prābhākaras say that it is only the sense of duty while the Bhāṭṭas argue that both sense of duty and the desire for benefit constitute the correct incentive for action. On another rather technical matter, the two disagree. The Bhāṭṭas believe that the sentences get their meanings from their atomistic constituents, the individual word-meanings, while the Prābhākaras believe that the words directly constitute the sentence-meaning as a whole only insofar as they are syntactically connected (anvita ) with other words in the sentence.
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Rāmānujācārya. Tantra-rahasya (1923). 2d ed. Edited by Rudrapatha Shamasastry and K. S. Ramaswami Sastri. Gaekwad's Oriental Series, no. 24. Baroda, 1956. Contains an introduction by the editors.
Shastri, Pashupatinath. Introduction to Pūrva Mīmāṃsā (1923). 2d ed. Edited and revised by Gaurinath Sastri. Varanasi, 1980.
Bhatta, V. P. Epistemology, Logic, and Grammer in the Analysis of Sentence-Meaning. Delhi, 1992.
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Bimal Krishna Matilal (1987)