Maharashtra PSC Exam: Philosophy: Purva Mimamsa Overview

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The Self

The Mimamsakas think that the atman is one with consciousness. Therefore the self is regarded as distinct from the body, the senses and the understanding (buddhi) . The self is present even when buddhi (intellect) is absent (non-functional) , as in sleep. The self is also not the senses, since it persists even when the sense-organs are destroyed. The body is material, and in all cognitions we are aware of the cogniser as distinct from the body. The elements of the body are not intelligent, and a combination of them cannot give rise to consciousness. The body is a means to an end beyond itself, and so is said to serve the soul which directs it. The facts of memory prove the reality of self. It is admitted that the soul suffers change, but through the changes the soul endures. Cognition, which is an activity (Kriya) , belongs to the substance called the soul. It is no argument against the eternal character of the soul that it undergoes modifications. Nor is it a serious objection that, when we reap the results, we forget the actions which bring them about. Note that the soul cannot be atomic, since it apprehends changes in different parts of the body. It is regarded as vibhu or all-pervading, and as able to connect itself with one body after another. The soul directs the body, with which it is connected, until release.

The Mimamsakas adopt the theory of the plurality of selves to account for the variety of experiences. Presence of the soul is inferred from the activity of the bodies, which are inexplicable without such a hypothesis. As one՚s actions are due to his soul, other activities are traced to other souls. The differences of dharma (right action) and adharma (wrong action) , which are qualities of souls, require the existence of different souls. The analogy that as the one sun, reflected in different substances, becomes endowed with distinct properties, the one soul reflected in different bodies becomes endowed with different qualities, does not hold, since the qualities that appear different belong to the reflecting medium and not the sun. If the analogy were true, the diverse qualities appearing in connection with the souls would belong to the bodies and not the soul. But pleasure, pain, etc. are qualities of the soul and not of the body.

What appears as the “I” is the self, free from all objective elements. The self is distinct from the body. The self is not perceptible in itself, but is always known as the agent (karta) of the cognition and not the object (karma) . The act of cognition does not produce its result (sva-phala) in the self, so that the self is never an object of perception, external or internal. There is no such thing as self-consciousness apart from object-consciousness. The self cannot be the subject as well as object of consciousness. It is the agent, the enjoyer, and is omnipresent, though non-conscious. It is thus entirely distinct from the body, senses and understanding, is manifested in all cognitions, and is eternal. Though it is omnipresent, it cannot experience what is going on another body, since it can experience only that which goes on in the bodily organism brought about by the past karma of the soul. There are many souls, one in each body. In its liberated state the soul continues to exist as a mere esse (sat) , serving as the substratum of the collective cognition of all things taken together, but not feeling, since the properties of pleasure and pain cannot manifest themselves except in a body. It is imperishable, since it is not brought into existence by any cause.

Note that the atman is consciousness itself, though the souls are many. Since all souls are of the nature of consciousness, the Upanisads speak of them as one. The atman is consciousness as well as the substrate of cognition, which is a product of the atman. The existence of the self is inferred through the notion of “I” The self is manifested by itself, though imperceptible to others.

The Nature of Reality

The Mimamsaka theory of perception assumes the reality of objects, for perception arises only when there is contact with real objects. The universe is real and is independent of the mind, which perceives it. Thus the theory of the phenomenality of the world is not accepted. The real can be described in terms of eight categories:

  1. substance (dravya)
  2. quality (guna)
  3. action (karma)
  4. generality (samanya)
  5. inherence (paratantrata)
  6. force (sakti)
  7. similarity (sadrsya)
  8. number (samkhya) .


Dharma is the scheme of right living. Jaimini defines dharma as an ordinance or command. Dharma is what is enjoined, and it leads to happiness. Activities which result in loss or pain (anartha) are not dharma. Thus the lack of observing the commands leads not only to missing the happiness but becoming subject to suffering also. The Vedic injunctions lay down the details of dharma. Good action, according to the Mimamsaka, is what is prescribed by the Veda (including the Upanisads) . The duties which have no scriptural sanction are explained on principles of utility. If any act is performed in response to one՚s response to natural instincts, there is no virtue in it. These and other rules (aspects) of Mimamsa are used for the interpretation of the Hindu law, which is based on the rules of the Vedas or sruti (open equally to all, irrespective of the varna, caste or vocation) . To gain salvation, the observing of nitya karmas (regular or daily duties) like sandhya, etc. and naimittika karmas (duties on a special occasion) are recommended. These are unconditional obligations, not fulfilling of which incurs sin (pratyavaya) . To gain special ends, kamya (optional) karmas are performed. Keeping clear of kamya karmas, one frees himself from selfish ends, and if keeps up the unconditional (nitya and naimittika) duties attains salvation.


Acts are enjoined with a view to their fruits. There is a necessary connection between the act and its result. An act performed today cannot effect a result at some future date unless it gives rise before passing away to some unseen result. Jaimini assumes the existence of such an unseen force, which he calls apurva, which may be regarded either as the imperceptible antecedent of the fruit, or as the after-state of the act. Since sacrifices and the like are laid down for the purpose of definite results to follow after a long time, the deferred fruition of the action is not possible unless it is through the medium of apurva. Apurva is the metaphysical link between work and its result. The Mimamsakas are unwilling to trace the results of actions to God՚s will, since a uniform cause cannot account for a variety of effects.


Liberation is defined as “the absolute cessation of the body (or cycle of birth) , caused by the disappearance of all dharma and adharma.” Liberation thus consists in the total disappearance of dharma and adharma, whose operation is the cause of rebirth. The individual, finding that in samsara (world) pleasures are mixed up with pain, turns his attention to liberation. He tries to avoid the forbidden acts as well as the prescribed ones which lead to some sort of happiness here or hereafter. He undergoes the necessary expiations for exhausting the previously accumulated karma, and gradually, by a true knowledge of the soul aided by contentment and self-control, gets rid of his bodily existence. Mere knowledge cannot give freedom from bondage, which can be attained only by the exhaustion of action. Knowledge prevents further accumulation of merit and demerit. Note that karma, in expectation of reward, leads to further birth. A person՚s likes and dislikes determine his future existence. He must break through the circle if he wants to attain release. Liberation is the cessation of pleasure as well as of pain. It is not a state of bliss, since the attributeless soul cannot have even bliss. Moksa is the natural form of the soul and represents the state of atman in itself, free from all pain.

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