The word Mimansa means "profound thought or reflection", and the whole work is indeed so in the strictest sense of the term. The word is derived from the root "man", which means "to think, know, understand", from which we get the word manas or mind, on which, as we have observed, the main idea of the Vaiseshika is based; and this gives us the connection between the two systems. Indeed, the subject-matter of both is said to be Dharma, referred to the opening Sutras of each; but, as the Vaiseshika has told us so little about it, the gap is filled by the Mimansa; so that the Vaiseshika is followed by it in a strict sequence of ideas.
Again, as we have seen, the Nyaya and the Vaiseshika deal primarily with the problem of knowledge; and though the latter refers to action too, its treatment of the problem is by no means adequate. This is provided by the Mimansa now, more especially as it links up the idea of Dharma with that of Action.
Further, as we have seen, there is a broad mention of the correct method of interpretation of the sacred books in Nyaya, and the Vaiseshika makes a passing reference to it too. But the whole idea needs to be properly elaborated and explained, and that is done by the Mimansa.
The four principal questions dealt with by the Mimansa are accordingly (i) Dharma; (ii) Action and its relation to Dharma; (iii) the subject-matter of the Vedas, with special reference to the idea of Dharma and Action; and (iv) the method of interpretation of the Vedas, with illustrations by means of which we can understand them aright.
We have observed in an earlier place that the main idea of the Mimansa is based on the character of ahankara or I-as an-actor; and it is indeed corresponding to this that Action, conceived in its widest significance as Dharma or the Law of Life, is the subject-matter of this system. It may be said to be a "profound reflection" on the problem of Action, with special reference to the character of the mind as well as ahankara; and, as the special attribute of the one is desire, and of the other action, this gives us the connection between desire and action, and their corresponding systems of thought, Vaiseshika and the Mimansa.
We have also seen how ahankara and the soul are closely connected too; and ahankara, in the original sense of the term, is nothing but the soul when it is conceived to be an actor. As we shall presently see, Vedanta is based on the pure character of the soul; and this gives us the connection between Mimansa and that system too; and this will explain why they are called Purva-Mimansa and Uttara-Mimansa respectively: for the line of thought commenced by the Mimansa is completed by Vedanta, which constitutes the last word on the problem of the soul with reference to both knowledge and action.
The plan of the Mimansa: The plan of the work, though simple like that of the previous systems, is somewhat different. It is the longest of all systems of Hindu Philosophy, and is divided into twelve chapters which, with the exception of three, each of which has eight parts, consist of four parts each; and each part of a chapter deals with different aspects of the four questions which constitute the subject-matter of this system. Thus, the author begins by proposing to inquire into the nature of Dharma, and tells us what it means. He then goes on to state that the subject-matter of the Vedas is the same, and that we can understand them in this light if we adopt the correct method of interpreting them; and this concludes all the four parts of the first chapter.
The second chapter deals with the same problem again, with a fuller account of the Vedas and their contents, and a fuller explanation of the method of interpreting them, by means of which their hymns of praise addressed to the gods can be transformed into statements of the laws of Nature.
This process is followed throughout the work; and so each chapter contains an exposition of the idea of Dharma, conceived in its widest significance as action performed in a spirit of sacrifice; that is, as good, intelligent and joyful action, meant for the benefit of all together with a reference to the Vedas as dealing with this question, the method of interpreting them in this light, and a number of examples to illustrate this method. Indeed, as the whole system is based on the character and function of ahankara or the I-as- an-actor, it gives us a detailed account of the Law of Action, its character and scope, origin and effect, the manner in which it takes place, its instruments, and relation to knowledge, and bearing on the final goal of life; and it concludes with a description of the act of creation as being of the essence and end of all that is in the world.
Treatment of the system: As a summary of each part of a chapter of the Mimansa has been given in the body of the work, it is not necessary to repeat it here. It would perhaps be more convenient to put together its main ideas, spread all over the text, relating to Dharma Action, the Vedas, and their method of interpretation, together with illustrative examples as that will enable the reader not only to have a clear idea of the character and scope of the system, but also to understand the basic idea of the Vedas as well as of the wonderful "stories" of the Epics and the Puranas, which have been constructed on the same model as the Vedas, and can be analyzed into accounts of the different systems of philosophy and religion in the same manner.
Dharma: Dharma, says the Mimansa, may be defined as the highest good; but its idea is not limited to sense-perception. It arises from action, which is the law of life. Action may be divided into natural (or spontaneous) action, and deliberate action, which requires an exercise of the intellect; and Dharma refers to the latter kind of action; for action arising from impulse is not Dharma. It may be said to be action conceived as a great sacrifice, and requires knowledge to understand it.
So long as there is life, all things must conform to the Dharma of action; and the highest of such action is sacrifice.
Sacrifice means good, intelligent, and joyful action, meant for the benefit of all. Such action can transform the idea of Nature into that of God; that is, it we believe that the action of Nature is good, intelligent, and makes for joy, we believe in God as Sat-chit-ananda.
Action; the character of action: Action is a part of our nature, and cannot be renounced. It is eternal and universal, and involves a material contact between an object and a place. It is characterized by purpose, and consists of parts. It means drawing something near to one's self, and requires the use of an organ or limb of the body. It is of many kinds, and includes the process of thinking and acquisition of knowledge; and we may conceive of it as a whole or in parts.
Two classes of actions: There are two main classes of actions, natural and deliberate action, and the latter involves the function of the intellect. There can be only one deliberate action at a time, and that is the best action that can be performed by a person at the time.
The cause of action: The cause of action is some purpose, a desire to obtain some satisfaction. It is only the living that can have this purpose, while the inanimate can but serve the purpose of the animate, and impel them to action.
Purpose: Purpose implies dependence as well as attachment, and arises because of a connection between the actor and the objects of life; There are many kinds of purposes and actions in life which, however, are mingled together in accordance with a law. The final purpose of all deliberate action is improvement or purification, and so it is linked up with the idea of sacrifice.
Men as well as animals have a purpose in action; and there is reason to believe that there is purpose in the working of the great forces of Nature too; and it expresses itself through conflict. There is purpose even in actionlessness.
Action, purpose, and result are all connected together like the limbs of the body.
Desire: Desire is the basis of all action and it is associated with knowledge. The notion that all desire is evil is a popular heresy. Desire is connected with action in various ways, and activity arises from association with desire and the Gunas or the attributes of the objects of Nature.
Desire is an attribute of the mind; and once it begins, it goes on without end, expressing itself in newer and newer forms. It is necessary to control desires, and we should not act under their urge. But it is a law of action that if we suspend on action, we must begin another; and the desires of those who make sacrifices should be satisfied. It is not possible to renounce all desires; and we can renounce only those which constitute a dangerous obstacle in our path. But good as well evil desires can be associated with an intelligent action. All desires undergo a change through lapse of time.
The instruments of action: Action involves the function of all the faculties of man, his senses, mind, ahankara, and the intellect. The soul too has its own share in it.
Action involves the use of a limb of the body or an organ of sense. But in all action the mind comes first because of its attribute, desire. At the same time the main factor of action is ahankara or the I-as-an-actor; and in all deliberate action the decision to act belongs to the intellect. In every case, however, the fruit of action always belongs to the soul.
All these are closely connected together: for instance, when the intellect is associated with desire, it acts like the mind. Again, the function of the intellect involves the idea of Time, which enables us to understand the idea of the soul. On the other hand, ahankara is said to be an aspect of the soul when the latter engages in action; and the function or the mind implies that of ahankara, and is linked up with that of the senses.
Action and the forces of nature: The forces of Nature are characterized by action; and there can be no great human action without their association.
Necessity of knowledge: It is necessary to have knowledge to be able to understand the law of action. For instance, we need to understand how it is related to Time, and how the latter enables us to have knowledge of the soul. The consecration of knowledge means intelligent action. But the principle of action should not be deduced from the manner of performing it or from the place where it occurs.
Effort: Action implies effort, which is of three kinds, primary, secondary, and neutral, the last signifying effort without any desire for the fruit of action.
All are entitled to act, but the manner of the action of each is different; nor are they entitled to the fruit of action. But the fruit always belongs to the soul.
Success in life is due to action. But if we do our best and yet fail, we may ascribe the failure to Time.
Energy: Action and effort imply energy, which means activity pervading every part of an organism. We can divide energy into parts, but not a unit of action characterized by a single purpose. All actions, however, are interdependent.
Change, improvement, time: Action implies improvement as well as change, but not the creation of a new substance. Progress is the result of various kinds of actions, and it is possible to trace it to its source. There is also an element of Time in action, but there is no fixed time or place for it.
All action begins with desire, and the idea of perfection arises later. Perfection, purification and sacrifice are synonymous terms, and imply the function of the intellect, whose chief role is to decide. Intellect accordingly plays a most important part in action; and it is progressive, for in a series of intelligent actions, performed in a particular place, the last is likely to be the best.
Option: There is always an option before a deliberate action is undertaken. An option is determined by singleness of aim, and the decision to exercise it rests with the intellect.
Habit: Habit arises from a deliberate repetition of an action for some considerable length of time; and the innate disposition of a person is an important factor in its formation.
Action of the whole body: When a person acts, he does so as a whole entity, and all his faculties take part in action in greater or less degree. The body is accordingly compared to a chariot, which moves but as a single unit.
Satisfaction, pleasure, joy: All action gives some kind of satisfaction to the mind and the soul. Indeed, all other instruments of action, the senses as well as the intellect have their share of satisfaction in it too.
Pleasure arises because of the action of the mind and the intellect; but an interval of time is necessary for its recurrence. Pleasure or enjoyment has power to impel a person to action; and the motive of pleasure is strong enough to lead to the attainment of an object; but it should not cause any pain.
Those who believe that Nature is the supreme creator of life maintain that there is no joy in action; but such persons really deviate from the norm.
Sacrifice: The highest kind of action is sacrifice, and it arises from an inner urge. An act of charity, and dying in the defense of someone are acts of sacrifice.
Animals and men: Animals too, like men, have a purpose in action, and they are all governed by a common law. They also have a mind, but have only natural desires; and they lack the idea of perfection or purification, which belongs only to men.
Offspring: The instinct to have offspring is obvious. It is often stronger than reason, and implies action, and not its renunciation.
None but the living have a desire to procreate, and it serves the purpose of Nature; and, in its highest form, it is an act of sacrifice. It is a creative act, and there is always harm in indulgence.
Renunciation of action: There can be no total extinction of action, for some part of it will always remain. We can refrain from action only at the end of our life, when all our tasks are done. Indeed, actions meant for the sake of Dharma should always be performed.
Freedom of the soul: We can escape from the evil effects of action or the bondage of life only by discriminating between different kinds of actions; and so one form of activity is changed into another and a higher one in this way. Indeed, the union of goodness with intelligence makes for the best kind of action as well as freedom from the bondage of life.