There are various differences among the Bhāṭṭa and the Prābhākara schools of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā, respectively founded by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara Miśra, who possibly lived around the 7th c. AD, but one of the most striking and telling ones is that regarding the concept of apūrva.
What is an apūrva? The term is attested already in the Śrautasūtras and it refers to the element of novelty introduced by each sacrifice. However, Prābhākaras tend to identify this novelty with dharma itself, i.e., with the fact of being “to be done” (kārya), which is what distinguishes a sacrifice from a sum of actions, substances, etc. Thus, the apūrva lies at the center of the Prābhākara system and it is identified with the real meaning of the Vedas and of the Vedic codanās ‘injunctions’. It is in fact called apūrva because it was “not [known] before [hearing the Vedic injunction prescribing it”. This fits well with the general idea that Prābhākaras focus on the sacrifice itself more than on its result.
By contrast, for Bhāṭṭas the apūrva is the energy arisen through a sacrifice and lasting until the arousal of the sacrifice’s result. It is, thus, postulated through śrutārthāpatti ‘cogent evidence’ in order to justify the apparent inconsistence of the fact that most sacrifices end well before the arousal of the result and that, thus, it is hard to imagine how they could be the cause of such future results.
Now, what is Śabara’s position, given that Śabara is the author preceding both Prabhākara and Kumārila and given that both claim to be just subcommenting his commentary on the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtras? Authors, both in Classical India (see Yoshimizu 2000, fn. 27) and today tend to know Kumārila better than Prabhākara and, consequently, to read Śabara through Kumārila’s lenses. However, Kiyotaka Yoshimizu has started his career as a Mīmāṃsā-scholar with a focus on Prabhākara (see Yoshimizu 1997) and has always tried to show unexpected sides of Mīmāṃsā (see Yoshimizu 2007 and 2008 —and my discussion of them on this blog, here and here— for his surprising reading of Kumārila as upholding a paramātman in the Veda).
In his 2000 article he reconsiders the issue of apūrva in Śabara and notes that —against expectations— his concept of apūrva is not at all identical with Kumārila’s one. The crucial passage, in this sense, is Śabara’s commentary on PMS 2.1.5, which is where the theory of apūrva originates (the punctuation is significant and it is Yoshimizu’s, p. 153):
katham punar idam avagamyate “asti tad apūrvam” iti. ucyate: codanā punar ārambhaḥ. codanety apūrvam brūmaḥ. apūrvam punar asti, yata ārambhaḥ śiṣyate ‘svargakāmo yajeta’ iti. itarathā hi vidhānam anarthakaṃ syāt. bhaṅgitvād yāgasya. yady anyad anutpādya yāgo vinaśyet, phalam asati nimitte na syāt.
After the first lines of his commentary, Yoshimizu agrees that Śabara goes on explaining apūrva in a way similar to Kumārila’s one. However, here, according to Yoshimizu, he is doing something else. More in detail, ārambha (in yata ārambhaḥ śiṣyate) does not mean the same as vidhāna (in itarathā hi vidhānam anarthakaṃ syāt), where the additional explanation (the one resembling Kumārila’s one) begins. ārambhaḥ, as Yoshimizu demonstrates, refers “to undertaking the whole procedure of a sacrifice beginning from the first preparatory rite prescribed by a subsidiary injunction”, whereas vidhāna refers to the injunction to sacrifice common to many rituals. In order to justify this understanding of ārambha, Yoshimizu points out its use in the context of optional (kāmya) sacrifices. These sacrifices are undertaken by people who desire a certain result, i.e., a son or rain or cattle and are thus prompted by such desire. In their case, accordingly, the prescription does not prompt the performance of the sacrifice (which one has already undertaken because of one’s desire), but rather “to complete the sacrifice which he [the sacrificer] has already undertaken by his own choice” (fn. 22). And in this context, ārambha is used, which thus seems to refer to the whole sacrifice.
Long story short, “the term apūrva is not used here [in ŚBh ad 2.1.5] to mean a kind of potency left by the sacrifice” (p. 150).
Yoshimizu’s article then goes on describing how Kumārila refutes the idea of a substantial apūrva: apūrva (understood as the bridge between the sacrifice and its result) is only a śakti, or perhaps a saṃskāra inhering in the sacrificer. Interestingly, Yoshimizu shows that Śabara had refuted a theory comparing the apūrva to a progressive action, like ingesting ghee (and ending up with the result of being fatter only at a later time) (p. 151).
Is Yoshimizu right? Does Pūrva Mīmāṃsā turn to an ontology (with substances, etiologies presupposing that dharma and ātman are “things” and a soteriology akin to the Vedāntic one) only with Kumārila?
Kiyotaka Yoshimizu, Change of View on Apūrva from Śabarasvāmin to Kumārila. In: Sengaku Mayeda (ed.). The Way to Liberation. Manohar 2000, pp. 149–165.
For further posts on Yoshimizu’s articles, see , here and here.