Six Systems of Indian Philosophy

Mimamsa - Freedom through the Performance of Duty 

Mimamsa or MI for short means to analyze and understand thoroughly. The philosophical systems of MI and Vedanta are closely related to each other and are in some ways inter-dependant and complementary. The teachings of Vedanta may be said to have their roots in the fertile soil of MI. MI emphasis the teachings of Veda in the light of rituals, while Vedanta emphasis the teachings of the Veda in the light of knowledge. Traditionally MI is called Purva-mimasa meaning the initial teachings of the Veda and Vedanta is called Uttara-mimamsa meaning the later of higher teachings of the Veda. MI is meant for householders while the exclusive practice of Vedanta should take place after one has realized the facts of worldly life meaning it is meant for retired life. Now retired is not to mean life after quitting a job, rather it refers to retirement from worldly charms and temptations, in which one receives a pension of perfect detachment and contentment.

MI teaches the yoga of action while Vedanta teaches the yoga of knowledge. One should develop a lifestyle designed within the framework of the yoga of action while simultaneously internalizing and spiritualizing one’s actions to realize the Vedantic truths. Generally these two aspects combined are referred to as the yoga of action – Karma Yoga. MI provides a philosophical justification for rituals and explains the meanings behind them. In the Veda, numerous gods and goddesses are invoked. The MI system deems it necessary to provide a clear explanation of their nature and purpose. The MI system also discusses the science of sound and mantra but the major concern is to emphasize the use of meditation with rituals.

The first systematic work on this school is the MI Sutra of Jamini that is divided into twelve chapters. Sabara Swami wrote a major commentary on the Sutra. Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara, the pioneers of this system, founded two branches of MI, although the major teachings of both the branches are the same. Most modern scholars focus on the MI theories of knowledge, metaphysics, ethics and theology but this review will focus on the concept of duty and ritual.

Many think that rituals given in the Veda are mere dogma and religious ceremonies, not true. Rituals are the beginning tools for going inward. Through them one learns how to organize his life and prepare a lifelong plan so that he can utilize his time properly and become creative. Another misunderstanding of the MI system concerns the concepts of dharma –virtue and adharma – nonvirtue. According to MI activities that do not thwart the activities of others are dharma and vice versa. To be specific all actions and rituals prescribed by the Veda are virtuous and vice versa. However, when we say Veda it does not mean a manual that is rigid. Veda means knowledge and that which is realized, understood or performed in the light of knowledge is dharma. The Veda says ‘One should follow only that advice of mine which is good and beneficial, and leave that which is not’. Thus the Veda does not ask you to follow any advice blindly but it advices you to keep an open mind and use your intellect whether an act is virtuous or not.

Before discussing the major teachings of MI, the following terms should be understood –

1. The Concept of Duty - Many people are concerned with rights but not duty. Demanding rights without accepting duty leads to many problems. Duty is that for which one is responsible, that without which one cannot lead a happy and peaceful life. It is the law of duty that unites family; society, nation and because of which the entire universe continue to exist. When one relates to family etc only because he is tied by fear or attachment he is not following the law of duty. But when he acts with full knowledge and understanding, when all his actions are performed for the sake of peace and harmony and are centered towards inner exploration, then he is following the law of duty.

Following one’s own dharma to attain the highest duty of Self-Realization is the way of practice prescribed in MI, but to do this we must understand what dharma is. According to MI, dharma is the intrinsic nature of Rta, the breath of cosmic life. All those activities that are helpful in coordinating individual life with cosmic life constitute one’s duty of dharma.

The concept of duty is so vast that it is very hard to specify one’s duty in every case. Duty is part and parcel of life but how does not prioritize one’s duty. For this one to develop a discrimination to understand what is appropriate duty that is to be performed at a particular time and place. Knowing one’s role in life can help him realize his primary duty. For e.g. it is the duty of a teacher to teach his student. But an action is not dutiful if it performed under pressure or with the intention of earning a reward.

MI proclaims that the Vedic rituals are highest duties one has to perform, but it also explains and demonstrates that one Vedic command may be comparatively more important than others in one context, other commands may be more important in other contexts.

2. The Concept of Rituals - Many people regard the trappings of rituals i.e. reciting mantras as the ritual themselves but these acts are only the external appearances of the actual ritual. When one understands the inner meaning of these externals, he can start enjoying the divine grace that flows through the practice of rituals. Rituals provide a context in which one receives full opportunity to understand the value of action. The true role of rituals is to spiritualize all actions for higher attainments. In short, a ritual is a mental attitude. If one analyses the inner nature of rituals as explained in the Brahmana literature, one will realize that those rituals and sacrifices provide training for daily living.

In regard of this claim, two of the yagas – rituals mentioned in the beginning of the Satpathabrahmana – darsa and purnamasa – can be studied. One who intends to perform these rituals starts mental preparation a day in advance, taking a light meal the previous night and sleeping in a devotional / positive mood. Then one rises early morning, perform’s chores and prepares a meal. In performing these activities as part of a ritual, one develops the attitude of living in God-consciousness so that every moment and action in life can be experienced in God-consciousness. The participitants transcend the physical plane and interpret ordinary physical activity in a subtle and divine light. Though it may seem that the person is performing these actions, it is God who is allowing the person to do so.

Rituals are performed not to worship any deity but rather simply because the Veda commands one to perform them. They are practiced for the sake of duty. Ultimately the food is cooked and served, and through the use of mantras, the Divinity is invited to partake. One mentally feels the presence of the Divinity. Then one bids the Divinity farewell and enjoys the food as well as the blessings the Divinity has bestowed. This entire process is an unbroken meditation in action in which one’s body and mind are perfectly harmonized. In the scriptures, all processes – physical, spiritual and mental are considered to be essential aspects of the ritual.

Actions that are performed selflessly for the sake of duty and as part of a grand lifelong ritual in the service of Divinity are like beautiful trees that produce fruits of love and joy. Thus actions performed for duty’s sake are rituals, but actions performed without proper understanding are mere actions. The MI system believes that one can cut one’s own poisonous plant of past karma with the powerful axe of present karma and performing rituals helps in this process.

3. The Divergent Teachings of the Veda - To live according to Vedic teachings a man must understand its teachings for which he must first resolve conflicts arising out of diverse teachings in the Vedas. The teachings of the Veda were compiled when society was first formed, when culture and civilization were first being established. It was very important for the Vedic sages of those times to introduce their teachings with strong emphasis so that individuals and society as a whole world would welcome them. The method they applied is called ‘stutivada’ which means ‘to state with strong emphasis and admiration’.

Just as in English there are various types of sentences so too the Veda is composed of various types of sentences. These include vidhi (imperative). Nisedha (negative) and stuti (admirational) sentences. MI studies the Veda according to the nature of its sentences, analyses them and then states imperative statements are more valid than admirational sentences. The former can be accepted but the teachings of admirational sentences must be further analyzed to determine their implied core meanings.

Thus the MI system provides a technique for studying the Veda, understanding its real meaning, and selecting the gems of knowledge hidden in its depths. There is no real conflict in the divergent sentences of the Veda; it is merely defective analysis that fails to discern their true knowledge.

The methods for knowing the actual meaning of the Veda is provided in the MI texts such as Mimamsa-anujramanika of Mandana Mishra. These shall be discussed elsewhere.

4. The Science of Mantra - The generic term for all Vedic verses and sentences is mantra. The Veda is the embodiment of knowledge expressed in the form of sound and symbolically represented in the script. MI posits the theory that sound is eternal, and it provides the most ancient as well as the deepest study of sound. MI places greater emphasis on mantras than it does on gods and goddesses because it believes in the validity of the science of sound on which the science of mantra is based. MI does not view the performance of rituals as a means for imploring favors from a deity rather it states that Vedic rites are grounded in verifiable truth and not blind faith.

MI explores the subtle levels of sound by delving into its origin and realizing its various vibrational patterns. Sound is called ‘vak’ in Sanskrit, but this words means more than sound or speech. Vak refers to thought and expression, while speech is the communication of thoughts and feelings through words. Vak sakti, the power of speech, is the law of communication that conveys thoughts and concepts.  It is the force flowing from the higher levels of consciousness through the articulated level of speech, which is its gross expression. Following analysis MI categorizes vak sakti on four levels: para (transcendent), pasyanti (concentrated thought pattern), madhyama (formulated thought pattern ready for expression) and vaikhari (expression with the help of words).

According to MI there are two universally intertwined factors in manifestation: sabda, the sound and artha, the object denoted by that sound.  One signifies the name, and the other the form. They are inseparably associated, there can be no sabda without artha and vice versa.

The finest state of sound called para vak is perfect. The ultimate sound or Supreme Consciousness manifests itself in various grades and degrees that are distinguished from each other by the differing rates of vibration. Any vibration that can be perceived by physical instruments, such as the ears, is only a gross manifestation. The subtlest state of sound vibration is known ‘pasyanti vak’ in MI. Between para vak and pasyanti the difference is that in the latter the Supreme Consciousness sees the entire universe as its primeval desire, thus this state is called pasyanti – ‘one who sees’. In this state the power of desire is dormant but it is nevertheless the direct cause of the universe, which will be manifested as both idea and speech. The third state of vak is called madhyama meaning that which is intermediate. The fourth state is vaikhari is completely manifest and audible. At this stage, a sound that belongs to a specific language can be perceived through the sense of hearing.

The origin of speech is transcendent and eternal and the flow of pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari from the state of para is the flow of the forceful stream of energy from vak sakti. Speech emerges from its hidden source in the state of silence (para), flows downward into more and more manifested stages and when at last dissolves into infinity, its origin. This is the process of the enfoldment of vak sakti.

Divinity or truthfulness is veiled in everyday speech, but this is not the case with mantras. Mantras are not mere words but are specific sound vibrations that have been experienced by sages in the deepest states of meditation. They are said to be sound-bodies of certain aspects of the cosmic forces. A mantra is thus referred to as a ‘setu’, a bridge. That a student can use to cross over the mire of delusion to reach the other shore of Consciousness

The mantra lies in a dormant state till it is awakened. The secret of awakening and utilizing mantras lies in the rhythmic vibrations in which the mantra is meant to be pronounced and repeated. The proper use of mantras, with their prescribed rituals, is designed to lead one to experience the bliss and happiness contained within the mantra itself. The great potential of mantras is hidden and defuse. We need to learn how to awaken, concentrate and utilize their potential.

5. The Concept of Gods and Goddesses (very enlightening) - Modern scientists have developed mathematical equations and scientific laws to describe the order and lawfulness of the universe. Likewise, Vedic sages developed immense powers of introspection and discovered form equations that express the underlying order, lawfulness, structure and dynamics of the phenomenal world. The form of expressions and sound patterns are known as deities and mantras. These forms contain a profound symbolic meaning that must be understood to comprehend the concept of deity.

The critics of MI philosophy state that the MI system believes in many gods and goddesses. But when one analyzes this further, he finds that within this apparent diversity, there is an underlying unity. The all-pervading consciousness manifests itself in different stages, each of which has a different form (deity) and sound vibration (mantra). The process of manifestation begins with the emergence of the subtlest forms, from which the grosser or more delineated forms are manifested. In the Vedic tradition, prototypic forms have been conceptualized as deities – gods or goddesses – each characterized by a set of divine qualities. The Vedic deities provide a metaphorical representation of the progressive stages of manifestation.

The Vedic deities radiate from the source of energy that generates all forms and names. They are thought forms that represent the cosmic powers and are thus the central points that control all the manifestations and are the main cause of the universe. Deities are capable of transforming and directing one’s pranic and psychic energies to reveal the inner avenues of human potential that make one blissful, radiant and perfect. The forms of a deity contain unimaginable powers that are behind and involved in manifestation, but a deity is not limited to any specific anthropomorphic form. If it were, it would not be possible for a single deity to be present at different rituals at the same time.

Deities are not imagined by the human mind, but rather are known through intuition by great sages in the deepest state of meditation. The deities emerge as primal forms and sound-bodies (mantras) with perfect bliss and happiness. Some think that a deity and mantra are different but they are one and the same. A deity is a gross physical form of a mantra, and a mantra is a subtle of a deity. When a sequence of vibration of a mantra is materialized into a particular form or shape it is a deity and vice versa.

There are certain rules by which a mantra converts into a deity and a deity into a mantra. Both operate on a principle similar to the conversion of energy into matter and matter into energy in physics. When a particular ritual is performed with the proper utilization of mantras, the deity related to those mantras is present because when the vibration is concentrated, the materialized form of the deity appears. According to MI, vision of a deity is manifest whenever the mantra related to it is pronounced in a prescribed manner, and it has to yield the desired objects that are believed to be provided by it. Adepts of MI philosophy and practices have full confidence that their individual and cosmic powers can be utilized at will, and they know how to use rituals as the methods for controlling such powers.

Friends in a recent English movie titled ‘ Lord of the Rings’ the heroine uses a mantra to make a huge gush of water flow across the river so that ghosts on the other side of the river do not cross it and catch her.

The concept of ritual is misunderstood in modern society. MI identifies two purposes. One is to attain and expand one’s inner potential and unite it with the cosmic force. Two is to pay respect and show gratitude to the cosmic forces that are constantly supplying light and life to all living beings. The Bhagavad Gita, which synthesizes all systems of Indian philosophy, says that human beings should honor those cosmic forces that provide for humanity. ‘Ritual’ is meant in a broader sense here. Pouring butter in the ceremonial fire and reciting mantras verbally is not the only ritual. Giving up one’s own desires and attachments, renouncing the fruits of one’s actions in the service of humanity and carrying out one’s own responsibility are the real meaning of the word ritual.

6. The Concept of Divinity within Physical Objects - The human mind is so engrossed in its own sensory experiences that it rarely allows one to feel the presence of divinity in every walk of life. MI however, applies the theory of all pervading presence of divinity by providing specific practices designed to remind the student of this truth.

For e.g. there is a prescribed way for gathering and using of common objects like water, fruit, grass during a ceremony. For instance before a blade of grass is uprooted, one is to recite a specific mantra and glorify the divinity within the grass and ask permission to use the grass and use it in the ceremony. When the grass is uprooted one recites another mantra, explaining the process in the following sense: ‘I am uprooting negativities symbolized by the grass. Even within these there is divinity. I am uprooting it for use in the ritual, in which the real nature of divinity is going to be unveiled’.

This is not the worship of grass and stones but the worship of divinity within them. By realizing the concept of divinity within living and non-living things enables the human mind to expand its individual consciousness to universal consciousness. It prevents the mind from being overcome by hatred, jealousy and anger. This practice helps us to understand the great Vedantic truths ‘The whole universe is Brahman’ and Thou art That’.

7. The Sources of Valid Knowledge - The six sources of valid knowledge are perception, inference, comparison, testimony, postulation and nonperception. MI emphasis testimony because it believes exclusively in the authority of the Veda. The MI theory of perception and inference are similar to Nyaya, but the MI theory of comparison is quite different from that of Nyaya, although both ultimately base their theories on the similarity of two things, of which one is already known.

Postulation is the necessary supposition of an unperceived fact to explain some apparently conflicting phenomena. For e.g. a person who does not eat during the day but constantly grows fat can be suspected of eating at night. Knowledge of the person eating at night cannot come under the category of perception or inference nor can it be reduced to testimony or comparison. Nonperception is the source of one’s immediate cognition of nonexisting things.

8. The Concept of Soul - MI does not entangle itself in the discussion of metaphysics but instead emphasizes the practical approach of Karma Yoga, the Yoga of Action. Rituals or actions have three components: the performer, the object of the action and the process of performing it. The main doctrine of Karma Yoga is ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’. Accordingly, one is the master of his own destiny. MI considers the soul to be eternal, infinite substance with the capacity for consciousness.

Major Teachings of the Mimamsa System

1. Selfless Action - In a historical debate with Sankara, Mandana Misra, a great pioneer of MI, verified that knowledge alone liberates. This liberating knowledge can be achieved only through the yoga of action. Knowledge allows the person to understand the nature of action and to pave the way for a life of skillful action. Running away from the duties of the world does not solve the problems of life. Face up to challenges must be the motto.

One is bound in the rope of one’s karma from time immemorial. Knowledge, spiritual strength and skillful action done selflessly form the entrance to the kingdom of spiritual life. Inner strength comes from selfless service expressed through mind, action and speech. Inaction leads to inertia and selfish action serves as a rope of bondage.

When the human mind understands the purpose of life and expands one’s personality while realizing the presence of divinity within and without, one moves to higher dimensions of awareness expanding one’s love for all creatures of the world. Through the expansion of the center of love and performance of selfless actions, a person becomes free from all residue of the past (samskaras).

Selfless action in the service of humanity is the real implication of Vedic rituals.

2. Nonattachment - When one learns to love others, not just human beings but all creatures of the universe – one is learning to love. There is only one force called life. By loving all, one loves the life force itself. One should learn to express love through mind, action and speech. Of these action is most important. Selfless action done skillfully is the highest of all expressions of love. Universal love means nonattachment which does not mean not to strive to be successful in whatever one is attempting to do, nor does it imply that one should be lackadaisical in his actions. One the contrary true nonattachment frees one to be fully enthusiastic, which inspires his will power to grow.

For the purpose of nonattachment, one has to develop a proper philosophical attitude. He must consider himself as a travel in this cosmic city of life and must view this present life as a brief stopping place in his journey. Nothing that we possess is our own, everything is temporary. Thus one must not grieve over loss or be overjoyed with gain. One must not forget that sooner or later all these objects of pleasure would be left behind. Thus the principle of nonattachment provides a constant awareness of truth.

Normally one is a slave to one’s duties and actions, but when those duties and actions are performed with perfect detachment, one becomes their master and is no longer bound to receive their fruits. Rather one is free to receive or reject what he chooses from them. An action in itself never binds one; it is the fruit of that action that binds.

Nonattachment should not be confused with either complacency or indifference. The former does not allow a person to improve further, whereas nonattachment inspires a person actively to seek higher attainments. Indifference is usually indulged in as a mere escape, when one finds himself unable to cope with a situation. This is the quality of a weak and forlorn person while nonattachment is the positive quality of a strong and inspired soul.

The concept of nonattachment can be best understood through the e.g. of the manner in which an oblation is offered in the ritualistic fire. The performer of the ritual takes the oblation (clarified butter, sesame seeds, rice pudding) in his hand, recites the mantra while holding it and then says ‘This oblation is offered to the deity, it does not belong to me anymore’. In this way he expresses his resignation of ownership over the object. Offering obligation in the sacrificial fire symbolizes mental training for renouncing attachment to worldly objects and sharing one’s possessions with all, just as the fragrant smoke of the burned oblation is enjoyed by all.

3. Self-control & Self-discipline - Although it is true that one is the master of his life, most of time one allows himself to live as a slave of his environment. This slavery manifests in all aspects of the personality – on the physical, mental and energy levels. When the body, breath and mind are out of control, however, they create great problems and do not allow one to concentrate within to explore his inner potentials. No one can impose the kind of discipline that is needed to control the body, mind and senses. It has to come from within from a commitment to improve oneself and a belief in one’s ability to do so.

4. Daily Schedule of Psychophysical Well-being - As a training for self-discipline, MI emphasizes the importance of having a well-organized daily schedule. This schedule must be designed in such a way that it does not conflict with one’s internal or external life. This schedule should be able to spiritualize all the actions that must be performed in daily life. Life is all about attitude.

MI provides techniques for improving one’s attitudes. With respect to eating and breathing, MI advises saying grace before meals to soothe the mind and make the flow more regular – both of which are essential for the proper enjoyment and digestion of a meal. When one does so, one withdraws the senses and mind from all outward directions and concentrate within. When one remembers the presence of divinity during grace, this harmonious state of mind reflects onto the body. It stimulates the secretion of saliva and gastric juices and thus inspires a good appetite. As a result, one enjoys his food and digests it properly.

Once faith in God is established in a person’s unconscious mind, it cannot be easily removed. MI understands this inner inclination of the human mind and formulates all its beneficial teachings within the framework of religion and in the name of God. An idle man is a devil’s workshop. MI provides a schedule for one’s whole life and divinizes all activities through ritualistic philosophy. Thus the mind does not have time to brood but is trained to occupy itself with the performance of the present ritualized action.

MI advises one to consider all activities as part of the cosmic soul. The entire world is an altar, and each individual life is a miniature representation of that cosmic altar, which should shine and radiate the light of the force of life for the benefit of all humanity. This altar should be full of the fragrance of positivity, love, compassion and happiness. One should know how to enjoy the blessings of divinity in all the circumstances of life.

5. Social Awareness - when one becomes self-controlled and self-disciplined he gradually expands his awareness and eventually finds himself in resonance with society. He yearns to be a citizen of a well-civilized society and dissolves all conflicts between his individual personality and social life. He becomes a dynamo that radiates love and compassion and follows an inner discipline as a spiritual seeker.

6. Sense of Equality - In order to experience this growth, one has to learn to dissolve the inferiority and superiority complexes in which he is entangled and because of which he suffers. These complexes serve as barriers that check the overflowing current of love through the human heart. To remove these barriers, one needs to establish and nurture a feeling of equality with others.

Through its ritualistic approach MI removes inferiority and superiority and establishes a theory of equality. In some of the holy rituals people from all caste, animals/plants are necessary participitants. The absence of a representative from any one of these groups vitiates the efficacy of the ceremony.

7. Unity within Diversity - To see the basic unity that underlines the apparent diversity of this existence is a very important factor in being able to resolve conflicts and contradictions everyone experiences in life. These inner and outer problems must be resolved to be able to realize his potentials. An average human being is so engrossed in the external objects of the material world that he looses his capacity to see the one single Reality that manifests in various forms.

It is very difficult for the untrained mind to experience this essential oneness of the universe. To assist one MI teaches that the ultimate Reality, called Indra, manifests himself in the form of moon, sun, fire, wind and all cosmic powers, which are personified as individual deities.

Partially informed scholars think that MI is polytheistic, but that is not exactly true. Polytheism is an initial stage of the MI philosophy that is applied to reach the state of monism. The MI system states that all the things of the world have an essential potential, called Sakti, which is the power by virtue of which everything comes into existence, remains for a period of time and returns again into its origin.

This all pervading potential is one and the same in all the divergent objects of the universe, it only appears to be diverse with many names and forms, just as water appears to be different colors depending on the colors of the vessels in which it is contained. When viewing the objects of the external world, one should be aware of the divinity of all things, and one should learn how to tie all these experiences together with the thread of divine unity.

8. Selectiveness - Novices are confused by MI’s varied teachings, spiritual practices, rituals and concepts of gods and goddesses. MI thus advises one to be selective and conscious of his own interests, inclinations, attitudes, capacities and circumstances when deciding which particular spiritual practice/lifestyle to adopt. This process of discrimination, self-examination and introspection consists of listening to various teachers and studying diverse scriptures, but selecting only those that are helpful and beneficial for personal growth. Unless one goes through this process you could end up wasting your time.

Every teaching is not meant for every individual. One should incorporate into his schedule only that which suits his personality and that which does not create internal or external conflict. But to do so means you have to be broadminded. One who is spiritually inclined must open his mind/heart to all and listen to others so that he can choose the gems of knowledge from all over, integrate them properly within the framework of his personal philosophy of life.

9. Seeing Eternity in the Noneternal - Often one may not understand the deeper meaning of rituals or become disgusted with the religious beliefs associated with these rituals. Many people think that establishing a relationship between divinity and symbol is a primitive way of thinking. Actually these people do not understand the inner meaning of such beliefs. Because of their egos a number of people do not understand the presence of divinity in other living and non-living things. To gain a proper understanding and appreciation of any kind of worship, ritual etc, one must first understand and appreciate the importance of love.

Love and reference cannot be separated from each other; love without reference is lifeless and empty. When one learns to love another human being, he also learns to love the life force itself. Love is the Lord of life. Thus, it should be revered in all its forms. One should be aware of extending his love not only to human society, but to all creatures of the world as well. This makes an aspirant aware of that universal consciousness that manifests itself in the form of love and unites all.

This divine love is the inner light of the inner heart and is omnipresent and omnipotent. This realization of the omnipresence of divinity is possible only when one withdraws his narrowness and expands his God-consciousness within and without. Gratitude is the best way of expressing one’s love and sincerity.

The sun provides light. If one does not express his gratitude for this, he is surely blocking the flow of love. A plant gives fruit, a river gives water. The expression of gratefulness is not worship of plants and animals, it is the worship of that all-pervading consciousness that is in oneself and in all other beings and objects.

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