The Vedas, as the Mimansa has explained, deal with the many problems of Nature and Man in a number of ways, and with great precision, beauty and wealth of description. Nature consists of an infinite variety of objects, and is governed by a number of laws; hut, in spite of apparent conflict, it is characterized by a fundamental unity. Man consists of his body and soul; and the body is said to consist of intellect, ahankara or the I-as-an-actor (where the soul is conceived to be a non- actor), mind, and the senses of knowledge and action.
We cannot conceive of the soul by itself, and so can think of it only in terms of these faculties of man; and man is associated with the objects of Nature through desire, purpose or aim; and seeks, by their means, some satisfaction, pleasure, or good, with perfection or purification as his final goal. All life is characterized by action; and action, deliberate action conceived as Dharma or sacrifice, is the subject matter of the Vedas; and all that is included in it has been described in a variety of forms, and can be understood by means of the method of interpretation explained by the Mimansa.
Three ways of explanation: The Mimansa then goes onto give us a number of illustrations to explain its idea. These illustrations are to be found scattered throughout the Mimansa, and the reader may consult the Glossary and Index to the Mimansa.
It tells us that there are three ways of understanding the text of the Vedas; by means of (i) the common meaning of words, (ii) special definitions given in the text itself, and (iii) division of words into parts. It also tells us that, though all these are different from one another and there is often little in common between them, the common meaning of words is not, sometimes, without a connection with their meaning obtained by means of division into parts; and this has been rendered possible because a number of words used in the text have been newly coined for the purpose, though old existing words have also been used. It then gives us a number of illustrations to explain the different methods of interpreting the text, with special reference to the problems dealt with by the sacred books.
The common meaning: The first method, based on the common meaning of words, does not require any special illustration; but the Mimansa tells us that certain words, especially those bearing on the idea of action, should not be divided into parts. Indeed, it has been laid down as a fundamental principle of this method of interpretation that we should at first take the common, current meaning of words; and it is only when they do not make sense, or are otherwise unsatisfactory, that we should divide them into parts to understand their real meaning.
Special definitions: The Mimansa contains a number of names the meaning of which has been specially defined, and they relate to both Nature and Man; and we are required to accept this meaning in preference to any other.
Division of words into parts: The largest number of names, however are those the meaning of which can be obtained by means of their division into parts But, as special definitions and meanings obtained in this manner are often connected together, we have combined illustrations for both.
Nature and the Gods: There are a number of expressions of this kind that refer specially to Nature. The gods, for instance, are said to represent the great forms and forces of Nature, which, as the Sankhya tells us, include the Intellect, Ahankara, Mind, the ten senses, the five great "elements" and their respective properties; and so the principal gods of the Vedas refer to all of these. Some of them refer also to the soul; and so the Mimansa refers to a number of them, Agni, Indra, and Soma, Vayu and Vishnu, Mitra and Varuna, Heaven and Earth and Visvedevas (All-gods), and explains the meaning of many of them, and tells us how to understand the rest by dividing their names into parts. The planets too are said to be a kind of gods, and we are told how to understand their idea.
Nature and sacrifice; the Vedi: Nature is also represented in a number of other ways, by means of its objects as well as other forms, grass, herbs, and trees curd, milk, and water animals, sudra, or a "woman"; while "sweet" water means Nature "sweetened" into the idea of God by means of sacrifice or good, intelligent and joyful action. Indeed, the whole world of Nature has been conceived in terms of action or a great sacrifice, in which Man too has an important place; and so we have a picture of this great Sacrifice, with its Vedi or great platform, in the midst of measured ground, made of bricks of different kinds, each in its proper place, sprinkled with holy water and covered with grass. Then there are the materials of sacrifice, fragrance and flowers, fruits and medicinal plants, and grains of all kinds, with rice above the rest; and all these refer to the world of Nature in the midst of which we live. Then there is the "sacrificer" and the "priests" who help him to make the sacrifice; and they refer respectively to the soul and the faculties of man, his intellect, ahankara, mind and the senses by means of which he acts.
Sacrificial posts and animals: Then there are a number of sacrificial posts, and animals tied to them with ropes; and these are meant to illustrate the inborn tendencies of man, and the different kinds of actions he performs.
Fire and clarified butter: The fire is then kindled, the gods invoked in due form, and clarified butter and a number, of things mixed with it poured into the flames; and all this is meant to illustrate the idea and character and scope of intelligent action, and its association with goodness in the life of man.
Explanation of terms: All these terms have been explained at considerable length and with great wealth of detail in the Mimansa. Thus "measuring the sacrificial ground" means "using the mind" in an intelligent action in the world; Vedi or the raised platform refers to Nature; the "bricks" used in constructing it are desires of different kinds, and those placed in the middle are neutral or disinterested desires. Similarly, water, grass, flowers, fruits, grains, and medicinal plants symbolize the life-sustaining, gracious, and healing powers of Nature. Fire, as the Mimansa tells us, refers to the intellect; and so all that is done in connection with it signifies action and its purification, in which the gods or the great forces of Nature play a most important part.
The "sacrificer" is the soul; and the four Ritvij priests are the four faculties of man, his intellect, ahankara, mind, and the senses respectively. The sacrificial posts, yupa and svaru, refer to disinterested action and action with a purpose respectively; while the rope tied round an animal refers to the innate characteristics and tendencies with which a creature is born.
Other Illustrations: There are a large number of other expressions with a similar explanation. For instance, the hand represents the idea of action; so does the term prshtha; while "conquest of everything" signifies intelligent action.
Early morning work means the best work; Saman is "active life"; kapala (the alms-bowl) and life in the forest refer to renunciation of action; while japa (silent repetition of a sacred name) and an oblation offered to deceased ancestors signify action that is free from desire for fruit.
The sun and moon: The Mimansa tells us that Agni or fire refers to the intellect; and the idea of the Sun is the same. The Moon, on the other hand, refers to the mind, which has desire for its special attribute; and so all that relates to Soma or the Moon, for the idea of the two is the same refers to the mind or to desire. Thus no-moon signifies the merger of the mind in the intellect, for the Moon is said to dwell with the Sun on the no-moon night; the new- moon refers to the birth of the mind in the form of desire; the changes of the moon to the changes of the mind and its desires; while the full-moon signifies the fulfillment of desire through action, or the union of the mind with the intellect, for the full-moon is said to be like the Sun.
Desire and its satisfaction: The idea of desire and its satisfaction is also expressed in many other ways. The "bricks" used in the construction of Vedi or the sacrificial platform, refer to desire, signifying that Nature (Vedi) consists of innumerable objects of desire. The idea of different kinds of desire is expressed in the same manner: for instance, the idea of desire with a purpose, and neutral desires, without any particular object, and so meant for the benefit of all is expressed by means of certain specified bricks used in the construction of the Vedi. Similarly, the word chhandas (which has a number of meanings, including pleasure) signifies desire regarded as an obstacle in our path. Sweetmeats and cakes as well as other articles of food and drink and dress refer to desires and their satisfaction. The mass of people refers to different kinds of desires, some good, some bad like the people themselves; and there are similar ideas associated with common things, like acts of buying and selling, eating cooked and uncooked food, wearing clothes, giving in charity, and offering sacrifices. Indeed, the whole world is conceived to be full of objects of desire, for the very basis of life, especially family-life, is desire, and so the birth of a son symbolizes the satisfaction of desire.
Man and woman: These illustrations have a great bearing on the ancient idea of human life and its relations. For instance, Man refers to the whole human race, and includes Woman too. But Woman, conceived as a special instrument of creation, is said to symbolize the idea of Nature or Prakrti; and so, as the latter is said to be characterized by unconsciousness, "woman", we are told, can neither have knowledge nor property. But we have to understand the sense in which the term is used, for all the disabilities associated with a "woman" refer to her idea as a symbol of the creative power of Prakrti. But woman, conceived as a living creature, is a co-partner of man in everything, knowledge, property, and deeds of sacrifice even as the Mimansa tells us.
The four castes: We have to understand the idea of the four castes in the same manner. They are said to be Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra; and the Mimansa tells us that the Brahmana refers to the intellect, while the sudra to the objects of Nature; and then, if we obtain the meaning of the remaining two names in accordance with the method explained in the Mimansa, we find that the Kshatriya refers to ahankara and the mind, while the Vaisya to the senses of knowledge and action. Thus it is only the first three "castes" that can be included in the idea of a living creature or Man, and all the characteristics of a human being can be applied to them; while the sudra, referring as he does to the objects of Nature, can only be described in terms of the character of Prakrti, that is, unconscious, and incapable of acquiring knowledge or property. Indeed, the Sudra is like a "woman" in the sense in which the latter is symbolic of the idea of Prakrti; and, as the latter, even as the Sankhya tells us exists for the sake of purusha or the soul, so is a "woman" said to live for her purusha or "man". There is, however, a small difference between the idea of a "woman" and a sudra. A woman is, indeed, an instrument of creation; but she can also be conceived as a supporter of life, for she gives milk to her young; and both are characteristic of Prakrti, conceived as the original source of life. But the primary emphasis is on the creative power of a woman when she is conceived to be symbolic of the idea of Nature or Prakrti. But we can conceive of the objects of Nature as supporting the life of creatures too; and so it is possible to conceive of them independently of the idea of a "woman", when she is regarded as a supporter of life. As the sudra refers to the objects of Nature, he is accordingly the supporter or "servant" of the living or the first three castes). It is in this manner that the character of the sudra and a "woman" has been described in the sacred books; and we need to understand the exact meaning of these terms and the sense in which they are used to be able to grasp their original idea.
The four stages of life: The Mimansa also contains a reference to the four stages of human life, that of a student, a householder, a dweller in the forest, and a renouncer of all actions. It tells us that the first is not meant for pleasure, but for acquiring knowledge. We have an experience of desire and its satisfaction at the next stage and it also enables us to understand the idea of action performed as a sacrifice, for the head of the family thinks of the family in preference to himself, and all his actions are meant for the benefit of all its members. The third stage is one where the idea of family is extended to the whole world, and a person acts for the benefit of all creatures; and the last stage is that when he must pass away, and so renounce everything.
Sacrifice: The idea of sacrifice has a special significance in the Mimansa, for it deals with the problem of Dharma, which is nothing but action performed as a sacrifice. It tells us that sacrifice means good as well as intelligent action, which purifies both the doer of the deed and the materials used in connection with action; and then we have a number of references to Homa, rajasuya, jyotishtoma, a preliminary sacrifice, supplementary sacrifice, bone-sacrifice, renewal of sacrifice, consecration of animals, offering of five cups, and dying in the midst of a sacrifice, together with the names of a number of ceremonies and articles used in connection with them. All this is meant to explain the idea of action, conceived in the widest sense of the term, including all that is in Nature and Man, working in accordance with a law that is both intelligent and good, and preserves and sustains the universe.
Animals and men: We have observed that an animal refers to the objects of Nature, and man to living creatures, specially the human race. But certain special ideas have also been associated with certain animals: for instance, the cow refers to the senses of knowledge, the horse to the senses of action, and the goat to action.
Figures of speech: There are also a number of figures of speech in the text. For instance, certain objects have been personified: Sarasvati is the name of a woman as well as a river; and a "woman" and "water" both refer to Nature or Prakrti. Hence Sarasvati refers to Nature or Prakrti, and is represented as a goddess. Similarly, desire is personified as a god; but not so Time, for it is an unfailing cause of decay. The human body is described as a chariot, for the latter moves as a single unit, and the body acts in the same manner too; while words once uttered are compared to the action of a sword, because they are beyond recall.
Significance of numbers: There is a special significance attaching to certain numbers: for instance, the numbers three, six, eleven, and sixteen all refer to the mind in its different aspects; three, where the mind may, for practical purposes, be identified with the intellect; six, when it is associated with only the senses of knowledge; eleven where it is associated with both the senses of knowledge and action; and sixteen where it is associated with the ten senses of knowledge and action, and the five properties of the five great "elements".
There is no reference to the number twenty-one in the Mimansa; but it occurs in later literature, where it refers to the mind in association with the ten senses and their ten objects, the great "elements" and their properties.
Similarly, the number five refers to the five senses of knowledge or of action; and ten to the ten senses of knowledge and action combined. The number ten also refers to the idea of multiplication and one-tenth to that of division.
There are also a number of other ideas associated with numbers: for instance, the numbers 8, 12, 33, 34, 112, and 1200 all refer to Nature or Prakrti, its divisions, variety, or vastness, as the case may be. The number twelve refers also to Time and the intellect; thirteen and four signify completeness, and thirteen may also refer to the soul; fifteen implies a sudden retirement from-active life; seventeen refers to the "subtle body" as well as the intellect or the soul, as should suit the context; twenty-six refers to God; while a thousand signifies something indefinitely large, or a long duration of time during which the laws of Nature operate.
The original idea of the Vedas: These and several other illustrations are scattered throughout the Mimansa, and they give us a new idea of the Vedas as dealing with the great laws of Nature, with special reference to the life of Man. They have been described in a new form, clear, concise, exact, and accurate and yet full of life, colour and variety, which can be understood by means of the method of interpretation, it has explained. It tells us that the same principle has also been applied to later works, called smrti, for they too deal with the same problems of life, only they lay special emphasis on the character of the soul and the place of God in the scheme of the universe.
The importance of the Mimansa: The Mimansa accordingly occupies a most important place, not only among the six systems of Hindu Philosophy, but all ancient and sacred literature. It covers the principal range of the subject matter of the Vedas; and, as the same ideas have been repeated in later literature in different forms, by enabling us to understand the Vedas, it enables us to understand the central idea of all sacred books, the sruti as well as the smrti for they are all governed by the same method of interpretation and have the same forms of expression, the difference between them being one of degree rather than kind. Indeed, it contains the substance of some of the most important ideas o ancient science, philosophy, and religion, and gives us picture of the customs, manners, and ways of life of the people of the times; and so it is possible to reconstruct the ancient edifice of thought and life by its means. A number of ancient ideas, especially those relating to the "caste-system" and the sudra, the four stages of life, the status of "woman", the conception of sacrifice and the renunciation of action may not be the same as those of later times or our own; but that would only show how many changes hay taken place during the intervening years.