Vedānta: Mīmāṁsa – Introduction

Basic principles of Mīmāṁsa – Introduction

RamiSivanAuthor: Rami Sivan, Priest, Dharma teacher, counselor, Gov. Advisor (1998-present)

As mentioned before, Mīmāṁsa gives us the methodology of interpreting the Sacred Texts and lays the groundwork for the philosophical superstructure.

Mīmāṁsa as a school arose when the Vedic yajñas were the dominant form of religion. The Mīmāṁsakas were atheists who did not believe that the devas gave the results of the yajña – the results came from the meticulous performance of all the rites and their subsidiary parts as enjoined in the Vedas. So the most important thing, therefore, was to interpret the texts correctly. The bulk of the Mīmāṁsa Sūtras, therefore, are concerned with the elements of the Yajña.

When the sacrificial paradigm had degenerated and the circumstances of time and place had changed further — people had become more urban and societies had become more complex, the need arose for a clearer and more comprehensive explanation of the Vedic texts and the ritual and also the need to contemporize it in order to give it relevance.

The focus shifted from Yajña to Dharma. This gave rise to the compilation of the ‘Smṛti’ literature — with all its rules and regulations regarding the daily life of the people — including social and criminal laws. This brought about the necessity also of regular study of these matters as bearing upon ‘Dharma’ or the duty of the people. It was at this junction that the Mīmāṃsa literature appeared with it’s 1000 odd rules of Hermeneutics for the interpretation and correct understanding of what is stated in the Shastras as regards Dharma.

The importance of Mīmāṃsa is testified by its present-day effect, for no part of the daily life of the Hindu is without the influence of the teachings of Mīmāṃsa. All rituals and ceremonies depend upon it; all moral conduct is guided by it; all Canon Law is interpreted by it. Mīmāṃsa is the life of the super-structure of Indian Civilization.

Vedānta makes use of the principles, rules and paradigms of the Mīmāṁsa to interpret the Upaṇiṣads. In their commentaries (bhāṣyas) the Acāryas, Rāmānuja, Śankara and Madhva make full use of Mīmāṁsa in framing and presenting their arguments and apply Tarka/Nyāya rules in refuting and defeating their opponents.


The primary purpose of Mīmāṃsa is to establish the nature of Right Action (Dharma).

The Sūtras of Jaimini open with:–

athāto dharma-jijñāsā — “Now the investigation of duty [dharma]”

The basic premise of Mīmāṃsa is that action is fundamental to the human condition. Without application, knowledge is vain; without action, happiness is impossible; without action human destiny cannot be fulfilled; therefore, Right Action (Dharma) is the sine-qua-non of a meaningful life on earth.

The very proper name of Hinduism is SANĀTANA DHARMA – The Eternal Dharma emphasizing the practical and applied aspect of Hindu teaching.

DHARMA or right action is also a prerequisite for Knowledge Jñāna and Mokṣa.

nāvi̍rato duśca̱ritān nā̍śānto nāsa̱māhi̍taḥ | nāśā̍nta̱-māna̍so vā̱’pi̱ pra̱jñāne̍naina̱m āpnu̍yāt || Kaṭha Upaṇiṣad 2:24 ||

24. One who has not desisted from bad conduct, who is not restrained, nor one without concentration, nor even one whose mind is not still, can know This even though learned beyond compare.

The major focus of Indian spirituality and religion is not on BELIEF but on PRAGMATISM. The function of “belief” is to orientate one to the correct course of action (Karma Yoga of the Bhagavad Gītā).

VIDHI — Injunction

Therefore the primary focus of Mīmāṃsa pragmatism, and the essence of Vedic prescription, is the vidhi or “injunction” defined as follows:—

Vidhis are those (Vedic) texts containing verbs or expressions that communicate [ritual] instructions.

So the most important element of any Scriptural text is the VIDHI – and this is what must be looked for. In the Vedic context the only vidhis of importance were ritual directions.

In the Vedānta the vidhi are also those statements regarding the Ultimate Reality — Brahman, the Self (Ātman) and purpose of life (puruṣārtha) — all matters which cannot be comprehended by the either perception or reason.

According to Vedānta, knowledge must have a practical application[1], so therefore Brahman, jīva etc are always mentioned in the context of “doing” something i.e. meditation.

In the Smṛti context these vidhis relate to Dharma in any given situation as well as all aspects of jurisprudence and interpretation of laws.

In the Tantric context the vidhis relate to Dharma, Siddhānta (Established Truth) as well as methods of sādhana (spiritual practice).

[1] yathāvasthita vyavahāra anuguṇa jñānam pramā