All Sacred Books of the Hindus claim the Vedas for their authority, and so do the systems of Philosophy, from Sankhya to Vedanta. But the real character of this claim has never been established. The Vedas contain, for the most part, hymns of praise addressed to a number of gods; but no one has so far been able to explain what their connection with the different systems of Philosophy. But we have pointed out that the gods of the Vedas represent different creative energies of life; and if the Vedas are the real foundation of all ancient systems of Philosophy, we should find in the latter the same idea too.
The Origin of Vedanta; Vishnu and Vayu: We have observed that Vedanta is based on the Vedic character of Vishnu and Vayu, who personify the Soul and its vehicle Prana (breath), and the idea of God as the sole supreme creator of the universe. As Prana or breath is also connected with Air, the element of all action, it is the cause of all physical activity in man; and so the Soul as well as God should be characterised by unceasing action in Vedanta. Again, we have observed that the special characteristic of the Soul is self-consciousness, which is the basis of all knowledge in man; and so the individual soul as well as God should be characterised by knowledge too.
The subject matter of Philosophy: We have explained the twenty four, twenty five, and twenty six topics of the different systems of Philosophy, and pointed out that the five great subjects of each relate to God, Nature or Prakrti, the individual soul, and knowledge and action as the goals of life. If Vedanta is really based on the Vedic character of Vishnu and Vayu, it should hold (1) that God is the sole supreme creator of the universe, that he is ever active, that he creates Nature or Prakrti, and then, uniting with it, creates all forms of life; (2) that Nature or Prakti is created by God; (3) that the idea of the individual soul corresponds to that of God, and so it is characterised by unceasing action as well as unceasing self-consciousness (knowledge); and (4 and 5) that knowledge and action are two twin goals of life, each being a counterpart of the other, completing what the other lacks.
Knowledge and Action, and Systems of Philosophy: It is necessary to understand clearly the connection between knowledge and action. We have observed that when the mind of man grows sick of the fret and fever of life, its endless worry and unceasing strife, it seeks to escape from its tangle and woe, and imagines that the way to freedom lies through renunciation of the world and its activity, and that it is in knowledge alone that happiness lies and so he comes to believe that knowledge or renunciation of action is the final goal of life. But it is impossible for man to refrain from all action, for then life itself would come to an end; and so he is forced to admit the necessity of action, and led to believe that it may be possible to harmonize the claims of knowledge and action in some way.
There is thus an apparent conflict between knowledge and action, for perfect knowledge implies the renunciation of all action, and this has a vital connection with the different systems of Hindu Philosophy. Indeed, they may all be rendered in terms of Knowledge or Action as the final goal of life. God and the individual soul for the idea of the two is alike are characterised by unceasing knowledge and endless action in Vedanta, for God is the sole supreme creator of the universe, and so it is he alone who knows and acts. But God is associated with Nature or Prakrti, to however small an extent, in the system of Yoga. According to Vedanta it is impossible for man to dissociate himself from Nature which is a creation of God himself, and so the renunciation of action, the special characteristic of Nature or Prakrti, becomes impossible. But Prakrti is conceived as a separate entity in Yoga, and so it is possible for man to dissociate himself from it; hence it is possible to conceive of knowledge or renunciation of action as the final goal of life in this system. But, as it holds God to be the chief creator of life, and creation implies action in different ways, Yoga conceives of God as well as the individual soul as characterised by action too. God and Nature are even more closely allied in the Vaisesika; and so, as in Yoga, this system gives a place to action and, at the same time, regards knowledge as the final goal. Nyaya, on the other hand, holds that Nature is the chief creator of life, and God has either a small place in the work of creation, or is but a spectator of Nature's work; and so it can give but a small place to action, and holds that knowledge is the final goal of life. Finally, the Sankhya believes that Nature is the sole creator of life; and, as the world is full of activity, sorrow, suffering, and death, renunciation of action, or knowledge, is the only goal of life according to this system.
Thus we might say that each system of Philosophy admits the necessity of action in proportion to its idea of God as a creator of the universe, and regards knowledge as the final end in proportion to its idea of Nature or Prakrti as the supreme creator of life. If it believes in God as the sole creator of the world, as in Vedanta, it conceives of ceaseless action as the goal of life; but if God is associated with Nature, as in Vaisesika and Yoga, we admit the necessity of action, but hold that knowledge is the final end. If again, as in Nyaya, God has but a small share in the work of creation, action is given but a small place in the scheme of life, and its goal is knowledge and the renunciation of action. Finally, Sankhya, as it has no place for God, has no place for action too, and holds that knowledge is the only end.
Thus all systems of Hindu Philosophy may be studied in the light of this conflict between Knowledge and Action; and, as we shall see, it is this that is rendered in the Mahabharata in story-form. The rival forces of the Kauravas and Pandavas meet on the field of Kurukshetra which, as the literal meaning of the word implies, means "the field of the necessity of action", and so they might be said to meet to debate the problem of "the necessity of action" in the light of all systems of Philosophy.
Two Divisions of Vedanta: It is necessary to understand the true significance of action because all systems of Philosophy can be rendered in its terms. The more we believe in action, the more we believe in God as an actor; and the more we believe in knowledge, as opposed to action, the less do we believe in God as creator of the universe till in the Sankhya, which has knowledge for its ultimate goal, the idea of God itself is eliminated. In Vedanta, however, which believes in unending action, and so in God as the sole creator of the universe, we have a harmony of knowledge and action but as two aspects of the same energy of Prana or vital air. As the vehicle of the soul, Prana is characterised by knowledge or self-consciousness; but as the element Air, it is the instrument of action; and so with every breath that we draw we gain knowledge and act at the same time.
It is for this reason that there are said to be two divisions of Vedanta Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa the one relating to sacrifice which, as we have explained, is nothing but creative action, and the other to God-knowledge. Both are but parts of one great whole the manifestation of life in the universe; but it would be convenient to examine them separately.
Sacrifice and Systems of Philosophy: But we have observed that all systems of thought, except the pure Sankhya, admit the necessity of action in some form or another, and so the idea of creative action or Sacrifice is associated not only with Vedanta but all of them, except the Sankhya. Indeed, as we shall see in the story of the Mahabharata, it is the one connecting link between Nyaya, Vaisesika, Yoga, and Vedanta; and when we deny the idea of Sacrifice, we may be said to have abandoned all these and followed the pure Sankhya.
The Purva Mimamsa is, therefore, connected not only with Vedanta though it finds its culmination in that system but with the other systems too all except the Sankhya. Even as its name signifies, it is the beginning of all true Philosophy, for with the idea of creative action (Sacrifice) we get the essence of the truth of life as well as of God. In the same manner Vedanta (Veda-anta) is the end (anta) or culmination of all Vedic thought. Hence in the Purva or Karma Mimamsa, or the Philosophy of Action conceived as a Sacrifice, we should find a great deal that is common not only to Vedanta but to the other systems too.