As I discuss in this question, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school, which bases its tenets on the doctrines laid out in the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa which summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. (You can read the Brahma Sutras here.) But the Vedanta school didn't always have the dominant position in Hindu philosophy; before the time of Adi Shankaracharya the dominant school of Hindu philosophy was the Purva Mimamsa school, which I discuss here. In contrast to the Vedanta school which is devoted to analyzing the Jnana Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Upanishads, Purva Mimamsa focuses on analyzing the Karma Kanda of the Vedas, i.e. the Samhitas and Brahmanas.

Now in Adhyaya 1 Pada 2 Sutra 1 of Jaimini's Purva Mimamsa Sutras, the defining text of the Purva Mimamsa School, Jaimini says this:

āmnāyasya kriyārthatvādānarthakyamatadarthānāṃ tasmādānityamucyata

The purpose of the Veda lying in the enjoining of actions, those parts of the Veda which do not serve that purpose are useless, in these therefore the Veda is declared to be non-eternal (unreliable).

Now Purva Mimamsa philosophers interpret this Sutra as saying that any statements in the Vedas that don't prescribe an action are mere Arthavada, i.e. statements that are just meant to glorify an action. (See this excerpt from Shabara's commentary for more details, like the fact that this is a Purvapaksha Sutra.) But the Advaita philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, disagreed with this view, as being a member of the Vedanta school he believed that Vedic statements about Brahman were meaningful and not connected to actions. And yet he had to contend with the Sutra above. How he deals with this is by arguing that Purva Mimamsa philosophers are misinterpreting what Jaimini is saying; see this section of his Brahma Sutra Bhashya.

With regard to the other passage quoted ('as action is the purport of the Veda, whatever does not refer to action is purportless') we remark that if that passage were taken in an absolutely strict sense (when it would mean that only those words which denote action have a meaning), it would follow that all information about existent things is meaningless.... Moreover, there are found (even in that part of the Veda which treats of actions) such passages as 'a Brâhmana is not to be killed,' which teach abstinence from certain actions. Now abstinence from action is neither action nor instrumental to action. If, therefore, the tenet that all those passages which do not express action are devoid of purport were insisted on, it would follow that all such passages as the one quoted, which teach abstinence from action, are devoid of purport--a consequence which is of course unacceptable. Nor, again, can the connexion in which the word 'not' stands with the action expressed by the verb 'is to be killed'--which action is naturally established --be used as a reason for assuming that 'not' denotes an action non-established elsewhere, different from the state of mere passivity implied in the abstinence from the act of killing. For the peculiar function of the particle 'not' is to intimate the idea of the non-existence of that with which it is connected, and the conception of the non-existence (of something to be done) is the cause of the state of passivity. (Nor can it be objected that, as soon as that momentary idea has passed away, the state of passivity will again make room for activity; for) that idea itself passes away (only after having completely destroyed the natural impulse prompting to the murder of a Brâhmana, &c., just as a fire is extinguished only after having completely consumed its fuel. Hence we are of opinion that the aim of prohibitory passages, such as 'a Brâhmana is not to be killed,'is a merely passive state, consisting in the abstinence from some possible action; excepting some special cases, such as the so-called Pragâpati-vow, &c. Hence the charge of want of purpose is to be considered as referring (not to the Vedânta-passages, but only) to such statements about existent things as are of the nature of legends and the like, and do not serve any purpose of man.

In short, Adi Shankaracharya is saying that if we interpet the Sutra as saying that only Vedic statements about actions are meaningful, then that would mean that Vedic statements telling you NOT to do a particular action would be meaningless. And so we should interpret the Sutra more loosely, so that it only applies to statements about "legends and the like", not statements about Brahman.

My question is, have there been any responses by Purva Mimamsa philosophers to Adi Shankaracharya's argument here? The reason I ask is that the reasoning seems rather tenuous to me, and if I were a Purva Mimamsa philosopher I think I could come up with an interpretation of the Sutra where both Vedic statements to do an action and Vedic statements not to do an action are meaningful, but statements about legends and Brahman are meaningless. (Not that I agree with Mimamsakas about the substance of their view.)

  • check if this has an answer, or its previous/next pages. – mar May 3 '17 at 12:41

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