Both Śabara’s and Veṅkaṭanātha’s commentary on the Mīmāṃsā Sūtra insist that mantras are not important only insofar as they are pronounced, but rather that they convey a meaning (technically: they are vivakṣitārtha `they have intended meanings’).
One of the evidences for the meaningfulness of mantras is the fact that mantras are modified (ūh-) in the ectype rituals. If, for instance, the archetype ritual is for Agni and the ectype ritual is offered to Indra, the mantra will be accordingly changed (e.g., from Agnaye juṣṭam to Indrāya juṣṭam). If the mantras had no meaning, there would be no scope for modifying them. If the pronunciation were enough to achieve some unseen potency (apūrva), one would just repeat the mantras in the same form.
Commentaries can be manifold in ancient India. They have different purposes and form, but they all share some characters:
- they have a given text as their main interlocutor/they are mainly about a given text
- like with Origene’s commentaries, they are a genre in its own right, not a minor specialisation for authors at their beginnings (Sakai 2015, section 4, suggests that authors in fact needed to have already become acknowledged authorities before being entrusted with the honour of composing a commentary on an influential text.)
- they are characterised by a varied but strong degree of textual reuse
- they allow for significant degrees of innovation (This is evident in the case of the Navya Nyāya commentaries on the NS. Outside the precinct of philosophy, juridical commentaries often reflect the recent juridical developments much more than the original text they are commenting upon.)
The discussion on the epistemological validity of sentences starts in Jaimini’s Pūrva Mīmāṃsā Sūtra (PMS) and in Śabara’s commentary thereon when the opponent notes that, even if —as established in PMS 1.1.5— there were really an originary connection between words and meanings, this would still not mean that the authorless Vedas are a reliable instrument of knowledge, since they are made of sentences, not just of words. And clusters of words are either made by human authors or are just causally put together by chance and are thus meaningless.
The hermeneutic principles are the ones which regard only the Brāhmaṇa texts and whose significance could not be automatically extended outside them, e.g., to a different corpus of texts, or can be extended, but regard characteristics of language. Mīmāṃsā authors had to develop them first of all out of an epistemological concern, namely because they considered the prescriptive portion of the Veda authoritative and thus needed to distinguish the authoritative portion of the Veda.
Consequently, in order to make sense of complex texts like the Brāhmaṇas, in which it is not at all easy to distinguish what belongs to a certain ritual and what to another, Mīmāṃsā authors needed to be able to distinguish the boundaries of a given prescriptive passage. Consequently, some basic hermeneutical rules regard the identification of single prescriptions through syntax and through the unity and novelty of the duty conveyed.
In the following list I tried to enumerate the cornerstones among the hermeneutic principles.
- The prescriptive portion of the Veda is never meaningless.
- A prescriptive sentence is identified through the syntactical expectations among the words forming it and through the single purpose it conveys (PMS 2.1.46).
- Each prescription must be construed as prescribing a new element. Seeming repetitions must have a deeper, different meaning, e.g., enhancing the value of the sacrifice to be performed.
- Each prescriptive text, which may entail several prescriptions is construed around a principal action to be done.
- Each prescription conveys (only) a single piece of deontic information (anyāya ankekārthatva, ŚBh ad PMS 2.1.12; vākyabheda, ŚBh ad 1.1.1).
- No prescription can be meaningless. If it appears to be meaningless, it is not a prescription (vidhiś cānarthakaḥ kvacit tasmāt stutiḥ pratīyeta, PMS 1.2.23).
- Each prescription should promote an action (āmnāyasya kriyārthatvād ānarthakyam atadarthānāṃ tasmād anityam ucyate, PMS 1.2.1).
- The most powerful instrument of knowledge for knowing the meaning of a prescription is what it directly states (śruti), which is most powerful than its implied sense, context, syntactical connection, etc. (niṣādasthapatinyāya PMS 6.1.51–52).
- A material may achieve a result resting on an already prescribed act, like a king’s officer can achieve a certain result only insofar as he relies on the king’s authority (Vṛttikāra within ŚBh ad PMS 2.2.26).
- Any prescribed action needs to have a result. If a prescribed action seems to have no result, postulate happiness as the general result (viśvajinnyāya).
- Only what is intended (vivakṣita) is part of the prescription. For instance, in sentences such as ”Take your bag, we need to go”, the singular number in ”bag” is not intended. What is prescribed is to take one’s bag or bags, and not the fact that one must take one bag only. By contrast, the singular number is intended in ”You must take one pill per day”, meaning that one has to swallow exactly one pill per day. Whether something is intended or not is determined through its link with the sentence’s principal duty.
This post is a follow-up of this one (on logical and hermeneutical principles in Mīmāṃsā).
The Mīmāṃsā school of Indian philosophy has at its primary focus the exegesis of Sacred Texts (called Vedas), and more specifically of their prescriptive portions, the Brāhmaṇas. This means that the epistemic content conveyed by the Vedas is, primarily, what has to be done. In order words, the Veda is an epistemic authority only insofar as it conveys a deontic content.
F.X. D’Sa Sabdapramanyam in Sabara and Kumarila (Vienna 1980) is one of the very first books on Mimamsa I read and I am thus very grateful to its author. Further, it is a fascinating book, one that —I thought— shows intriguing hypotheses (e.g., that Sabara meant “Significance” by dharma) which cannot be confounded with a scholarly philological enquire in the texts themselves.
What do nouns mean? And what is the difference between nouns and verbs? Pūrva Mīmāṃsā authors are rightly known as having conceived the first textual linguistics in South Asia. In this sense, their theory differs from the Vyākaraṇa one, as it does not start with basic forms having already underwent an analysis (vyākaraṇa), but rather with complex textual units, the sacrificial prescriptions of the Brāhmaṇas.
पूर्वमीमांसासूत्रे सू॰ १।१।६ अरभ्य सू॰ १।१।२३ पर्यन्तम् शब्दस्वरूपविषये नैयायिकानां पूर्वपक्षाः प्रदर्शिताः (१।१।६–१।१।११) प्रतिवदिताश्च ।
१।१।६ विषयं प्रतिजानाति “कर्म एके तत्र दर्शनात्” इति । एके − नैयायिकाः मन्यन्ते, शब्दः कर्मैवास्ति, प्रयत्नानन्तरदर्शनाद् इति यावत् ।
१।१।७ सूत्रे द्वितीयो हेतुरुक्तः “अस्थानात्” इति । शब्दः कर्म, यतः शीघ्रं विनश्यति, विनष्टश्च न कुत्रचिदुपलभ्यते । सन्ति तु अर्थाः, ये सन्तोऽपि नोपलभ्यन्ते, मेरुवत् इति चेन्न । मेर्वादयः व्यवधानेभ्य एव नोपलभ्यन्ते । व्यवधानं विना सर्वमुपलभ्यमिति नैयायिकः ।
१।१।८ सूत्रेऽपि हेतुरुच्यते “करोतिशब्दात्” इति । लोके “सः शब्दं करोति” इति यावत् । किमर्थं लोकव्यवहारं प्रमाणमिति चेत्, उच्यते − यथा लोके वदन्ति तथा चिन्तयन्ति, न चानुपलब्धं किंचिद्वर्तते इति सूत्रे १।१।७ उक्तम् । तस्माद् यदुपलब्धं तच्चिन्तितं, यच्चिन्तितं च तल्लोकव्यवहारे व्यक्तमिति लोकव्यवहारः प्रमाणमिति नैयायिकः । तत्र तु −संस्कृता वागपि संकेतिका इति नैयायिकाः । अत एव संभवति यत् केवलं संस्कृतायां भाषायां “शब्दं करोति” इति व्यवहारोऽस्ति । वस्तुतश्च हङ्गरीभाषायां “शब्दं प्रमुञ्चति” इत्युच्यते, न तु “करोति” ।
१।१।९ सूत्रे यौगपद्यं हेतुत्वेनोक्तम् “सत्त्वान्तरे च यौगपद्यात्” इति । नानादेशेषु “शब्द”शब्दादयः यौगपद्येन श्रुताः । यद्येक एव शब्दो भवेत्, तर्हि एतदसम्भवम् । यथाहि ममैकः पुत्रः केवलं पाटलिपुत्रे दृश्यते, न तु यौगपद्येन पाटलिपुत्रे वारणसीपूरे च ।
किम् मन्यन्ते तत्रभवन्तः, कः कः हेतुः युक्ततमः?
शब्दस्वरूप एतत् “पोस्ट्” अपि पठितव्यम्
(apologies in advance for the lack of diacritics, I am home, ill, with no access to a unicode keyboard)
Purva Mimamsa authors are generally not interested in the topic, whereas several Uttara Mimamsa (i.e. Vedanta) ones deal at length with the status of the Mimamsasastra (I am tempted to say that, similarly, Christians alone are concerned with the unity of the two testaments within the Bible).
A particularly puzzling element, in this connection, is the status of an “intermediate part” of the Mimamsasastra,