Mīmāṁsa – Interpretation of Sacred Texts


Mīmāṁsa – Interpretation of Sacred Texts

1. Introduction
2. Origin of Mimāṁsa
3. The Scope of Mīmāṁsa
4. The Two Divisions of Mīmāṁsa
5. The Vedas (Nigama)
6. The Purpose of Mīmāṁsa
7. Mīmāṁsa Methodology
8. Mīmāṁsa Principles
9. Acquisition of Knowledge
10. Śabda — Reliable Testimony
11. Learning of Language
12. The Contents of Sacred Texts
13. The Purpose of Narrative
14. Precepts regarding Dharma
15. Precepts regarding Brahman & Ātman
16. Sanskrit Literature
17. Interpretation of the Veda
18. Eligibility for Veda Study
19. Purport —Tātparya
20. Determining the Purport
21. Considerations
22. Subjectivity versus Objectivity
23. Levels of Meaning
24. Contradiction or Paradox
25. Hyperbole
26. Conclusion

Related reading:

1. Nyāya & Tarka
- Hindu Logic system

2. Nyāya & Vaiśeṣikā

All Hindu philosophers/theologians are required to study logic (nyāya) and exegesis (Mīmāṁsa) prior to their excursion into the Vedānta.

System of Knowledge
"critical investigation"
Mīmāṁsā Sūtra
(Pūrva Mīmāṁsā Sūtra)
circa 4th century BCE

For Hindus there is no clear distinction between philosophy and theology as in the west.

The Vedānta which is the major school of Hindu philosophy is based primarily upon revealed texts — the Upaniṣads, which are the revelations of enlightened sages or mystics called Rishis,

but the teachings derived from them and the theological and philosophical systems grounded on these ‘revelations’ are subjected to rigorous semantic analysis and reasoned debate.

So the Hindu approach is one in which revelation is subjected to rigorous logical analysis to produce the doctrines upon which practice is then based.

Thus all Hindu philosophers/theologians are required to study logic (nyāya) and exegesis (Mīmāṁsa) prior to their excursion into the Vedānta.

The 3 major schools of Vedānta differ in their interpretation of teachings of the Vedic Rishis, and all of them argue and debate with one another and among themselves over the subtleties of exegesis and interpretation of the texts and arrive at nuanced understandings and insight into the nature of the Ultimate Reality.

The theological differences are sometimes quite radical but they almost all agree in the implementation of the teaching and its application in daily life.

According to Rāmānujācārya the study of exegesis is an essential pre-requisite to the study of Vedānta:

In their commentaries on the Brahma-sūtras both Rāmānujācārya and Śaṅkarācārya engage in vigorous and witty polemics with the opposing schools of thought. All their reasoning is based upon the principles of Mīmāṁsa and for modern readers it is for the most part extremely confusing and recondite.

1. Introduction

In the complexity of our daily lives here are two paths of possible pursuit:

Preyas —that which is ‘pleasant’, or Śreyas — that which is ‘good’.

Preyas is our default biological instinct of personal survival and self-propagation which we share with all lower life forms. It is the materialistic path of self-referent action:

We are naturally inclined to that which affords us maximum pleasure in the fulfilment of our basic appetites for food, sex, security and comfort:

It is a seeking of happiness which is primarily personal, and only incidentally concerns the others of our extended sphere of care —spouse, children, relatives, family etc.

It is the path that leads to samsāra — rebirth and suffering.

Śreyas is the universal good - Dharma. It is the spiritual path which leads to liberation — mokṣa and non-rebirth — nirvāṇa.

It is sometimes pleasant but usually not. It is that which ultimately benefits the many, sometimes at the expense of a few individuals.

It is that which is good for all people collectively and includes the welfare of all other sentient beings and the environment in which we are sustained.

It is that which is termed loka-saṅgraha in the Gītā.:

loka saṅgraham-evāpi saṁpaśyan kartum arhasi || Gītā 3:20 ||
“You should act with the welfare of the entire universe in view”.

We often find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma:

What is good? What should I do now? How should I act? What would be the right course of action in this particular circumstance?

- These questions are called Dharma Saṅkaṭa — Dilemmas of Dharma.

According to Manu there are 4 sources of Dharma:—

vedaḥ smṛtiḥ sadācāraḥ svasya ca priyamātmanaḥ |
etaccaturvidhaṁ prāhuḥ sākṣād dharmasya lakṣaṇam ||

The Veda (śruti), tradition (smṛti), the conduct of virtuous people and one's own conscience, these are declared to be the distinct four-fold sources of Dharma. (Manu 2:12)

The primary source of Dharma is the Veda and when we seek spiritual guidance from the Veda we are totally confused by the immensity, obscurity and complexity of the teachings!

How do we deal this vast resource of material? What is significant and what is not? What do I accept and what do I reject?

It is in this context that one has recourse to the study of Mīmāṁsa or hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is the study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts, particularly Sacred texts. A hermeneutic is defined as a specific system or methodology for interpretation of texts.

Exegesis is the application, it involves an extensive and critical interpretation of a sacred text using an hermeneutic:

The word exegesis means "to draw the meaning out of" a given text. Exegesis may be contrasted with eisegesis which means to read one's own interpretation into a given text:

 In general, exegesis presumes an attempt to view the text objectively, while eisegesis implies more subjectivity.

One may encounter the terms exegesis and hermeneutic used interchangeably; however, there remains a distinction:

Exegesis is the practical application of hermeneutics, which is the interpretation and understanding of a text on the basis of the text itself.

Traditional exegesis requires the following: —

1. analysis of significant words in the text in regard to translation
2. examination of the general historical and cultural context of the passage,
3. confirmation of the limits of the passage,
4. examination of the context within the text itself.

Hindu hermeneutics is based on the methodology propounded by Mimāṁsa.

The term Mīmāṁsa is derived from the Sanskrit root "man" —"to think, consider, examine, or investigate."

Here the term etymologically means:—"desire to cogitate" and is used to signify a thorough consideration, examination, or investigation of the meaning of Vedic Texts.

Mīmāṁsa is “rational enquiry” which “attempts at rational conclusions”.

Kumārila called it “a conglomeration of arguments” (yukti-kalāpa), very closely related to the Veda.

2. Origin of Mimāṁsa

In the Vedic period 3000-6000 years ago, the Yajña or sacrifice was the central motif of the Vedic religious experience, this being so, two major issues arose:—

1. The Vedas are considered to be the utterances of individual perfected sages (Rishis), they are not at all narrative or systematic, so there are many apparently conflicting statements in them.

In relation to the sacrificial injunctions many controversies arose amongst the theologians as to the correct method of celebrating the sacrifices.

2. The need arose for the systematic arrangement of the entire sacrificial paradigm and the allocation of specific functions to the various priests and other individuals involved.

These two forces gave rise to the creation of the body of literature known as the 'Brāhmaṇas' which aimed at systematizing the ritual and interpreting it in a cogent manner.

When the sacrificial paradigm had degenerated and the circumstances of time and place had changed further — people had become more urban and societies had become more complex,

the need arose for a clearer and more comprehensive explanation of the Vedic texts and the ritual and also the need to contemporize it in order to give it relevance.

The focus shifted from Yajña to Dharma.

This gave rise to the compilation of the 'Smṛti' literature —with all its rules and regulations regarding the daily life of the people —including social and criminal laws.

This brought about the necessity also of regular study of these matters as bearing upon 'Dharma' or the duty of the people.

It was at this junction that the Mīmāṁsa literature appeared with its 1000 odd rules of Hermeneutics for the interpretation and correct understanding of what is stated in the Vedas as regards Dharma.

These rules were first formulated in a systematic manner by the sage Jaimini in what is known as the Jaimini Sūtras (Mimāṁsa Sūtras).

Jaimini did not invent the teachings, but for the first time reduced to writing the traditional interpretations that had for centuries been handed down orally through disciplic successions.

Very little is known of his life aside from the tradition that he was a pupil of Bādarāyaṇa, founder of the Vedanta System. His actual date is quite unknown; however, the style of his writings assigns him to the Sūtra period which extended from 600-200 CE.

Once the Vedic yajñas had fallen into disuse and had become increasingly irrelevant in the lives of the people, the Vedas gave way to the study of the Tantras.

But the principles of exegesis evolved by the Mīmāṁsa continued to influence all of the vast body of Tantric literature. Whenever any dispute arose regarding the interpretation of a certain text, the Mīmāṁsa principles were always applied.

3. The Scope of Mīmāṁsa

Mīmāṁsa simply takes for granted the philosophical concepts of the other5 systems; it does not enter into any analysis or debate on the nature of the Ultimate Reality, the Self, and the Universe, or their mutual relationship.

Its entire methodology is dependent upon their acknowledged existence. Its basic premise of Right Action (Dharma) can be established and validated by the means of knowledge taught by the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school.

And, on the other hand all the declared effects of Dharma would be meaningless without the analysis of the evolution of consciousness taught by the Sāṁkhya-Yoga school.

However, Mīmāṁsa makes specific use only of those factors that are needed for its own special problems:

For example, it affirms that Verbal testimony (śabda) is the only means of Right Knowledge that can be used to know the nature of the invisible effects of action, and that all other means of Right Knowledge are necessary only to refute opponents.

Mīmāṁsa suggests that Liberation (mokṣa) cannot be achieved by Right Knowledge alone, for the Self must first exhaust its negative and positive potentialities gained through action (Karma), as a seed fulfils itself through growth.

No amount of contemplation (dhyāna) will enable one to arrive at the ultimate goal of human destiny; therefore, the emphasis is on the ethical aspect of life rather than on the rational:

All arguments to support this thesis are based on the premise that the Self by definition is eternal. The actions to be done (karma) and the rewards (phala) that follow are enjoined in the Veda and interpreted by Mīmāṁsa.

The importance of Mīmāṁsa is testified by its present-day effect, for no part of the daily life of the Hindu is without the influence of the teachings of Mīmāṁsa:

All rituals and ceremonies depend upon it; all moral conduct is guided by it; all Canon Law is interpreted by it. Mīmāṁsa is the life of the super-structure of Indian Civilisation.

4. The Two Divisions of Mīmāṁsa

Mīmāṁsa is divided into two systems based on the twofold division of the Vedas:

(karma-khāṇḍa dealing with sacrifices and jñāna-khāṇḍa dealing with spiritual knowledge); both use the same logical method of handling their problems; both use the same literary form; but each has its own limited sphere of interpretation.

The Pūrva-Mīmāṁsa (Karma Mīmāṁsa) — pūrva means "earlier"; because it deals with the earlier part of the Vedas. Its scope is to interpret the actions enjoined in the Vedas, leading to Liberation.

The Uttara-Mīmāṁsa (Jñāna Mīmāṁsa) — Uttara means "latter"; because it deals with the latter part of the Vedas. Its scope is to interpret the knowledge revealed in the Vedas, leading to Liberation.

These two systems are generally referred to as simply Mīmāṁsa and Vedānta respectively.

5. The Vedas (Nigama)

Vedic literature is divided into 4 sections: Saṁhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka and Upaniṣads.

The Saṁhitās are the core texts which consist of the revelations of the great sages (Rishis). They are presented in the form of hymns and poems (su-uktas =well said).

The Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas are ritual texts based upon the practical application and usage of the Saṁhitā portion in rituals (yajñas) and the Upaniṣads are the philosophical texts which concern us the most.

Definition of what constitutes Veda

There is a variety of opinions among preceptors as to what exactly constitute Veda;

(1) That by which the means of obtaining the transcendental goal of life is known.

(2) The Veda is that which makes known the transcendental means of obtaining the desirable and avoiding the undesirable.

(3) The Vedas are the truly authoritative and valid texts which have no author and which propound Dharma and Brahman.


Jaimini defines Dharma as:

codaṇā-lakṣaṇaḥ arthaḥ dharmaḥ

Dharma is that which leads to the highest common good (śreyas) [and is distinguished by Vedic injunctions].

Dharma is “right living” defined by the practice of universal ethics and personal morals.

Dharma” cannot be known through empirical means such as cognition. It can be known only either through intuition or through an impersonal source of knowledge.

The problem with relying on reason or intuition is that individuals will come to differing conclusions about what the ultimate nature of the “Good” is.

There are endless controversies on most if not all ethical issues by “experts” who take one side or the other.

The best and most universal source of Dharma therefore, would be an “impersonal” source such as the Vedas.


Brahman, derived from bṛḥ “the expansive” (bṛhatvam = greatness) can be defined as the Absolute, whence all existence arises, by which everything is sustained and into which everything ultimately dissolves.

Brahman or the Absolute is by definition super-sensuous, it is beyond comprehension or cognition.

It cannot even be understood inferentially, for every inferential dynamic depends upon a repeatedly perceived concomitance (connection) between that which is to be proved and its characteristic (eg., between fire and smoke).

But we do not have any such knowledge in the case of Brahman.

So, the Vedāṅtin maintains that the Upanishad portion of the Veda — which is also eternal and infallible — is the unique source of knowledge regarding Brahman.

In fact Brahman also means “sacred wisdom” — it is the knowledge, the knower and the thing to be known.

The Veda does not necessarily contain history or science.

The Veda is claimed to be ‘eternal’ in that the truths propounded in it have a perennial validity for all time.

The Veda can thus, by definition neither deal with temporal evanescent events, nor can they provide empirical facts or scientific generalizations based on those events.

The ethics taught in the Veda are the factors by which we advance spiritually, they are injunctions only, which can neither be proved nor disproved by logic.

If one finds passages in the Veda which appear to deal with history or any aspect of empirical science, they are not intrinsic to its purpose.

Likewise if there appear to be passages in it, which clearly contradict experience or science, they too are irrelevant.

As Śaṅkarācārya said:—

“even a hundred Vedic texts cannot establish that fire is cold or does not give light; for no one can cognise what is opposed to what is seen.’

The Veda on itself:—

We find at least three sorts of statements in the Vedas referring to its own origin:—

1. It is the eternal sound heard by sages in deep meditation. (R.V.8:75-6)

2. It was knowledge born out of sacrifices. (R.V.10:90-9)

3. The self-existent God manifested it for the welfare of all. (AV.10:7:70)

4. The Vedas are the breath of the Great Being. (Br.Up2:4:10)

6. The Purpose of Mīmāṁsa

The primary purpose of Mīmāṁsa is to establish the nature of Right Action (Dharma).

The basic premise of Mīmāṁsa is that action is fundamental to the human condition:

Without application, knowledge is vain; without action, happiness is impossible; without action human destiny cannot be fulfilled; therefore, Right Action (Dharma) is the essence of a meaningful life on earth.

The primary focus of Mīmāṁsa pragmatism, and the essence of Vedic prescription, is the vidhi or “injunction” defined as follows:—

Vidhis are those (Vedic) texts containing verbs or expressions that communicate [ritual] instructions.

In the Vedic context the only vidhis of importance were ritual directions.

In the Vedānta the vidhi are also those statements regarding the Ultimate Reality —

Brahman, the Ātman and purpose of life (puruṣārtha) —all matters which cannot be comprehended by the either perception or reason.

According to Vedānta knowledge must have a practical application, so therefore Brahman, jīva etc. are always mentioned in the context of “doing” something i.e. meditation.

In the Smṛti context these vidhis related to Dharma in any given situation as well as all aspects of jurisprudence and interpretation of laws.

In the Tantric context the vidhis relate to Dharma, Absolute Truth as well as methods of sādhana (spiritual practice).

7. Mīmāṁsa Methodology

The exegetical format is called an Adhikaraṇa which comprises of a 5-fold process:

1. viṣaya vākya — noting the Scriptural sentence under discussion

2. samśaya — formulating the doubt as to the correct and relevant meaning of the sentence.

3. pūrva-pakṣa — presentation of the unsound interpretation (the objector or the opposing school)

4. uttara-pakṣa — the refutation of the former position and presentation of the reasoned interpretation

5. nirṇaya — arguments for the conclusion reached

All commentaries on the Brahma-sūtras etc. are presented in this format.

8. Mīmāṁsa Principles

The central theme of Mīmāṁsa is stated in the opening verse of the sutras:—

athāto dharma-jijñāsā — "Now the investigation of duty [dharma]"

All rituals, ceremonies and meditations enjoined in the Veda, no matter how meaningless they appear on the surface are said to lead ultimately to spiritual evolution and enlightenment.

Mīmāṁsa endeavours to show how they are all based on Dharma and lead to the spiritual welfare of all beings.

Mīmāṁsa interprets the Veda on the basis that eternal beatitude is attainable by the correct performance of rituals founded on Dharma (i.e. practice), thereby storing up merit which will fructify in the next life.

9. Acquisition of Knowledge

There are 3 principle ways in which knowledge and information are acquired:—

1. Direct perception (pratyakṣa) — tangible evidence.
2. Inference/reason (anumāna) — evidence based upon reason.
3. Valid testimony/teaching (śabda) — trustworthy witness.

According to Jaimini, Knowledge of Dharma can be obtained only by Verbal Testimony (śabda /āgama = Veda) in other words through the medium of language.

The other means of knowing are fallible when dealing with the unseen effects of action. In support of his position he lays down 5 propositions:—

1. Every Word (Śabda) has an inherent and eternal power to convey its meaning. (Jaimini holds that the meaning of Sanskrit words is independent of human agency and belong to the words by their very nature.)

2. Śabda [the teaching of the Vedas] is substantive and does not depend upon any other source for its meaning; otherwise, it would become involved in the fallacy of regressus ad infinitum.

3. In matters dealing with the invisible realm (niṣkala), Śabda — teaching of the Veda — is the only infallible guide.

4. The knowledge derived from Śabda is called Upadeśa (teachings).

5. In the opinion of Bādarāyaṇa also, Śabda is authoritative.

10. Śabda — Reliable Testimony

Śabda as the valid teaching or trustworthy testimony (āpta vākya) is based upon language.

Here it is important to understand some of the concepts regarding language and its use.

Semantics (giving signs, significant, symptomatic, from sema = sign) refers to the aspects of meaning that are expressed in a language. Semantics is contrasted with two other aspects of meaningful expression, namely,

syntax — the construction of complex sentences from simple words, and

pragmatics — the practical use of words by agents or communities of interpretation in particular circumstances and contexts.

Questions about how words and other symbols mean anything, and what it means for something to be meaningful, are pivotal to an understanding of language.

Since humans are in part characterized by their sophisticated ability to use language to convey ideas, it is an essential subject to explore in order to understand the human experience.

Meaning” (artha) is the content carried by the words exchanged by people when communicating through language.

In other words the communication of meaning is the purpose and function of language. A sentence therefore should convey an idea from one person to another.

Meanings may take many forms, such as evoking a certain abstract idea, conveying an emotion, or denoting a certain real-world entity.

According to Mīmāṁsa the meaning of Sanskrit words is intrinsic to them by their very nature and not dependent upon human agency —

i.e. The meaning is not dependent upon the collective decision of people:

If this were not so, we would have an “Alice in wonderland” situation where words mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean — in which case communication becomes impossible.

Even if we accept this as given — there is still the compounding problem of interpretation in translation —

Every translator also acts wittingly or unwittingly as an interpreter of the message, and because every Sanskrit word has multiple different meanings every translator has interpreted the text according to their own agenda based upon:—

1. svabhāva — nature
2. bhūmika — level of attainment or expertise
3. adhikāra — authority to interpret or to explain the subject matter.

11. Learning of Language

According to Mīmāṁsa we learn the meaning of words only by watching the usage and activity of the speakers:

When a string of words are spoken without reference to action an observer understands nothing.

But when one person speaks to another, the latter acts in a certain way, the observer, by watching the action can infer the meaning of the words uttered:

So even when teaching foreigners to speak English we would say “I” and then point to ourselves, then “you” and point to the other — through the gesture the foreigner would infer the meaning.

Learning of words thus takes place primarily through the means of commands. Other words used in the sentence denote things related to the central command such as time, place, person, name, activity etc.

This leads to the assumption that the whole directive meaning of the Veda must lie in the enjoining of something to be done.

This attitude contradicts the view of the theologians that all the important Vedic Texts describe self-evident realities such as the Godhead (Brahman) or Self (ātman).

The Mīmāṁsa denies the self-validity of either God or the Self, but teaches that those texts which mention Brahman or Ātman must be associated with some practical purpose —

such as something to be “known” or to be “meditated upon” in order to gain self-realisation and be liberated from the cycle of rebirth.

12. The Contents of Sacred Texts

Whatever the source of knowledge, something can only be articulated using words that have a commonly understood meaning. Once written down, a “revelation” therefore takes the form of descriptions and propositions that can be assessed rationally.

On the other hand that assessment is likely to reveal more about the limitations of concepts and logic than about the original “knowledge” that they seek to articulate.

The fact that something is known through revelation does not logically preclude it from being known by reason alone, unless what is “revealed” goes against reason — and this we do not accept.

Revelation must accord with reason as far as possible. Once you reflect upon religion, you are involved with concepts and use your reason to sort them out and relate them one to another.

You can remember something without concepts, but you cannot think about it without concepts. You can draw a picture without concepts but you cannot describe it without concepts.

As soon as religion gets beyond the area of personal religious experience it encounters human reason, and the result is language.

13. The Purpose of Narrative

When an author composes a narrative the general intent is to communicate a message.

The specific reasons could be:—

(1) To convey some information or knowledge.
(2) To issue some instructions or directions
(3) To describe an event or thing.
(4) To entertain and delight
(5) To register or record something.
(6) To praise or glorify someone or something.

All these categories are found in the Vedic, Purāṇic and Tantric literature.

Mimāṁsa classifies all the subject matter of this vast body of literature under 5 different headings: —

1. injunctions (vidhi)
2. hymns or sonic formulae (mantra),
3. categories or descriptions (nāmadheya),
4. prohibitions (niṣedha)
5. corroborative passages (arthavāda).

It then explains the method of interpreting every grammatical rule and literary device employed and of analysing all Vedic ritual and ceremonies into their 2 fundamental types, principle and subordinate.

This same classification and methodology can be applied to all the Tantric/ Āgamic texts as well.

1. Vidhi — Precepts or Injunctions

A vidhi is a statement that induces one to act.

All actions (karma), according to Mīmāṁsa are said to have 2 effects:

1. one external, manifest and gross; (dṛṣṭārtha)
2. the other internal, potential and subtle (adṛṣṭārtha).

The internal aspect is regarded as being long-lasting, while the external effect is transitory.

Actions create saṁskāras (mental impressions or “subliminal activators”) through their positive and negative results, they are, therefore the seeds, planted in the mind, of future activity and resulting effects both good and bad — Karma.

How a Vidhi operates

The inducement to act consists of 3 parts — What? Through what? & How?


“One who desires a meal of curry & rice should cook!”

"What?" — the meal of curry and rice is the thing to be realized

Through what?” — "Through the process of acquiring the ingredients and then cooking them.

"How?" — By going to the supermarket – purchasing the ingredients, preparing them and then cooking them. Once prepared, the meal would be served.

The What constitutes the primary injunction.
The How constitutes the subsidiaries.
Through what constitutes the link between them.

So the comprehensive understanding of the sentence is:—

"One should prepare a meal of curry & rice by going shopping, buying the ingredients, preparing, cooking and serving.”

Sometimes there is no need to supply the “Through what” and the “how”, they’re implied because either they are common knowledge or have been mentioned elsewhere in the instructions.

These 3 aspects of the Vidhi are technically known as:—

(1) Utpatti — Primary Injunction to perform a action. A precept with a certain objective, which creates a desire to act:

 e.g. "One desirous of attaining heaven should perform the agnihotra". (a fire sacrifice)

(2) Viniyogaḥ — Injunction of Application — establishes a particular relation between the principle activity and the subsidiary actions.

(3) Prayogaḥ — Injunction of Employment — the injunction(s) that describe the order of performance of all the subsidiary or minor parts of the central activity, it determines the process and order of all the actions which constitute the process.

The variable is the:—

(4) Adhikāra-vidhi — Injunction of Qualification — an injunction which determines which person has a right to undertake the activity or be involved in some stage of the process.

There are another 3 sub-vidhis:—

Apūrva-vidhi — Original injunction — enjoins something not otherwise known:

e.g. "the grains should be washed"

Niyama-vidhi — Restrictive injunction — the text lays down one mode of doing a thing that could be done in several ways:

e.g. "pound the corn to remove the husk"

Parisaṅkhya-vidhi — Preclusive injunction — an implied prohibition:

e.g. “Only five animals with five toes may be eaten”. Implies that humans may not be eaten.

In both Vedānta (Jñāna-khāṇḍa) and Tantra; Vidhi has been broadened to include statements about the Supreme Truth and the nature of the Self and not just those that refer to action.

14. Precepts regarding Dharma

All these positive ethical precepts are authoritative and binding, though not equally so and they are conditioned by six factors:—

3 objective factors

Deśa —the place
Kāla —the time
Pātra —the circumstance

3 subjective factors

Svabhāva —one’s disposition
Bhūmika —one’s level of development
Adhikāra —one’s suitability

The discerning student is required to distinguish between grades of vidhi or to compare their levels of authority or applicability.

The primary distinction is derived from their motivation and goals, thus producing the concepts of puruṣārtha and kratvārtha.

Puruṣārtha — a primary ethical precept (Dharma) which is conducive to personal as well as universal welfare.

e.g. “Non-aggression (ahiṁsā) is the highest form of Dharma”

Kratvārtha — a secondary precept concerned with aiding or facilitating the primary puruṣārtha.

e.g. “Take refuge in wisdom”. (Gita)

So in other words, the ideal of non-aggression (ahiṁsā) is not a fixed absolute but rather a guiding principal which needs to be modified according to time place and circumstance.

15. Precepts regarding Brahman & Ātman

These appear in the form of declaring the characteristics of Brahman. eg.

—Satyamjñānam anantam brahmā
— Brahman is Being, Wisdom and Infinity. (Taittirīya Upaniṣad)

These declarations on Brahman and Ātman are of three types; —

1. Abheda śruti —those affirming identity between Atman and Brahman.

2. Bheda śruti —those affirming difference between them

3. Ghaṭaka śruti —those which reconcile the two extremes

Another way of categorising them would be according to: —

1. Affirmation — sarvam khalvidam brahmā —all this is Brahman
2. Denial — nāsti kiñcana —nothing exists.

2. Mantra —Ritual Formula

These usually take the form of prayers or hymns of praise to various deities.

Some of them, in Tantra, are sonic formulae with no grammatical meaning but generate a certain spiritual vibration in the consciousness.

Benedictory āyurasi tat te prayacchāmi —long life I bestow upon you (V.S. 3-7)

Eulogistic None is there, Indra, god or human, to hinder your munificence, The wealth which, when praised, you wilt give. (Rik Veda 8:14:4)

Incoherent Om aiṁhrīṁklīṁcāmuṇḍāya vicche

Plaintive ambe ambike —O mother! (V.S. 23;18)

Injunctive Come to us, Indra, come you who highly lauded to the devotions of the singer Mana. (R.V.1.177.5)

Didactic If all speech could be divided into four equal parts, the wise will replace three parts with silence. (R.V.1.164:45)

Inquisitive Who are you? How many are you? (V.S. 7;290

Interrogatory I ask thee of the earth's furtherest limit, where is the centre of the world, I ask thee. (R.V. 1;164;34)

Descriptive This altar is the earth's furtherest limit; this sacrifice of ours is the world's centre. (R.V. 1;164;35)

Cryptic What thing I truly am I know not clearly: mysterious, fettered in my mind I wander. (R.V.1.164.37)

Indicative devasya tvā ... nirvapāmi — which is indicative of putting corn into the winnowing basket.

3. Nāmadheya —Categorisation

This includes the lists of names given to the various sacrifices as well as naming ritual activities, the giving of lists of various things, itemizing paraphernalia etc.

Know, Dearest One! that the first element is fire, the second is air, the third is water, the fourth is the earth, and, O Beauteous Face! as to the fifth element, know it to be ether, the support of the Universe. (MNT 7:109—110).”

Manu Smṛti 8:4-7:  “Of those (titles) the first is the non-payment of debts, (then follow), (2) deposit and pledge, (3) sale without ownership, (4) concerns among partners, and (5) resumption of gifts, (6) Non-payment of wages, (7) non-performance of agreements, (8) rescission of sale and purchase, (9) disputes between the owner (of cattle) and his servants, (10) Disputes regarding boundaries, (11) assault and (12) defamation, (13) theft, (14) robbery and violence, (15) adultery, (16) Duties of man and wife, (17) partition (of inheritance), (18) gambling and betting; these are in this world the eighteen topics which give rise to lawsuits.

4. Niṣedha —Prohibition

The opposite of an injunction or Vidhi. A prohibition or negative precept which proscribes doing a thing which is either injurious or disadvantageous:

These are of two types:—

1. Paryudāsa —a prohibition that applies to the person who is undertaking to perform a yajña.

(eg. “The Yajamāna must refrain from sexual activity and not eat any cooked food”.)

2. Pratiṣedha —a prohibition of general applicability:

(e.g. “During the Agama temple festival any form of untouchability must not be practised”.)

5. Arthavāda —Corroborative Statements

Arthavāda is passage which extols and encourages the performance of a positive injunction (Vidhi) or censures and discourages the performance of a prohibition (Niṣedha).

Arthavādas are classified differently by various authorities but generally fall under the following 13 general categories:—

1. Anecdotal Varuṇam pitaram upasasāra(Varuna approached his father Tait. Up.)

2. Ratiocinative It moves and It moves not; It is far and It is near; It is within all this and It is also outside all this. Īśa Up.5

3. Deprecatory Therefore, O Devi! the worship of one who heeds not My precepts is fruitless, and, moreover, such an one goes to hell MNT 2:12.

4. Eulogistic Then first listen, O Devi! to the Mantroddhāra of the Mantra, the mere hearing of which liberates one from future births while yet living. 5:9

5. Descriptive of deeds done - He, the Lord, also created the class of the gods, who are endowed with life, and whose nature is action; and the subtle class of the Sādhyas, and the eternal sacrifice. Manu 1:22

7. Indicative of a deity - Over the lines from West to East worship Mukuṇḍa, Īśa, and Purandara: over the lines from South to North, Brahma, Vaivasvata, and Indu. MNT 6:123.

8. Indicative of material - Then, drawing a figure (in front of the Yantra), according to the rules of ordinary worship, place the plate with food thereon. MNT 6:89.

9. Indicative of action - The most excellent practitioner should for the attainment of wealth and all his desires make Japa of each or all of the first three Bījas MNT 5:14.

10. Indicative of agent - Then, reciting the Mula-Mantra, let the practitioner offer five handfuls of flowers to the head, heart, Mūlādhāra Lotus, the feet, and all parts of the body of the Devi. MNT 6:95

11. Indicative of time - In the second half of the last quarter of the night the disciple should rise from sleep. MNT 5:26

12. Indicative of place - The wise practitioner should place the articles necessary for worship on his right, and scented water and other Kula articles on his left. MNT 5:89.

13. Figurative -indicative of similarity - The massaging of the feet of a weary wayfarer, nursing a sick person, worship of god, washing the feet of brāhmins, and scrubbing the place where brāhmins have taken food —all these are on a par with the gift of a cow. (Yājñyavalkya 6:11.)

These broad categories can be summarized as being of five kinds:—

1. condemnation
2. eulogy
3. heroic performance
4. past incident.
5. explanatory

16. Sanskrit Literature

1. Styles used in Sanskrit Literature

There are 3 principle styles found in Sanskrit literature.

1. Sūtra —is a very terse form of writing in which there is no embellishment.

The sentence consists of few words and no narrative, explanation or dilation. They were meant for easy memorization by students and depended upon the commentary given by learned scholars.


yogaścitta vṛtti nirodhaḥ(Yoga Sūtras 1:2)
“Yoga (is defined) as the restraint of the fluctuations of the consciousness.”

The sūtras require extensive commentaries and because of their ambivalence can be interpreted in a number of different ways.

To this category belong all the texts of the various schools of philosophy, Mīmāṁsa sūtras, Yoga sūtras, Vaiśeṣika sutras, Dharma sūtras, Gṛhya sūtras etc.

2. Sūkta —sūktas are the hymns of the Vedas, these are poetic compositions set to various different metres, some are comprehensible while others are cryptic and need interpretation.


nāsad āsīnno sadāsīttadānīm | nāsīd rajo no vyomāparo yat |
kim āvarīvaḥkuha kasya śarman | aṁbhaḥkim āsīd gahanaṁgabhīram||

There was neither the Non-existent nor the Existent then; there was neither the air nor the heaven which is beyond. What did it contain? Was there water, unfathomable and profound? (R.V. 10:129:1)

3. Śāstra —these are the Dharma śāstras which although in different metres usually the one known as Anuṣṭup, they are in the form of narratives in which the subject matter is discussed at great length.

To this group also belong the Itihāsas and the Purāṇas with their prolix and often tediously long descriptions.


etāvāneva puruṣo yajjāyā'tmāprajeti ha |
viprāḥprāhustathācaitadyo bhartāsāsmṛtāṅganā||

A man alone is nothing —he is incomplete. The perfect man is one who is completely united in harmony with his wife and children. These three are ONE. (Manu 9;45)

2. The Four Required Criteria

Every Tantric or Yogic text must include four criteria:—

Prayojanaṁ —A statement of its purpose or objective.
Adhikāri —the qualifications of the individuals to whom the text is addressed
Abhidheya —the subject matter of the text
Saṁbandha—the connection between the title (abhidhānam) and the subject matter.

3. Literary Tools

It should be remembered that writing is an art-form and that authors use various tools in displaying their skill.

Prayojanaṁ —Purpose. Whenever an author composes a work he/she has a purpose in mind. A particular message which the author wants to convey to others.

Sometimes it is a well thought out concept and sometimes vague:

When reading a passage try to discover what the general purpose of the author is and do not be distracted by the rhetoric which may be used in its articulation.

Alaṅkāra — Rhetoric - Rhetoric is the art or technique of persuasion through speech or writing.

Rhetoric in literature is called alaṅkāra or “decoration” because of the use of many symbolic and colourful forms of speech, none of which need to be taken literally but understood terms of the theme under discussion.

Nirvacanam — Explanation - A detailed account wherein one may use any literary device to explain or elucidate a vidhi or prescription, or an incident etc.

Ākhyānam —Narrative - A description of a happening –a simple statement of facts which is devoid of any rhetoric.

Dṛṣṭānta —Allegory. A story, poem, or word picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. Though it is similar to other rhetorical comparisons, an allegory is sustained longer and more fully in its details than a metaphor and appeals to imagination. The Rāmāyana is an allegory of the search for spiritual enlightenment.

Nirdaśanam —Metaphor - A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable: “I had fallen through a trapdoor of depression,” “To grab the bull by the horns”.

Sādṛśyam — Analogy - Comparison or simile which appeals to reason or logic;

A comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification: an analogy between the workings of nature and those of human societies.

Upakrama-upasamhāra; —the opening and concluding passage of a particular text introduce and summarise the subject matter —they provide the context in which the rest of the text is to be understood.

In terms of the general theme under discussion the introduction and the conclusion should be in harmony. It is a fallacy to begin with an assertion and then complete the argument with a different conclusion.

Prakaraṇa —Context; When the validity of an injunction or teaching is dependent upon a specific time (kāla) place (deśa) and circumstance (pātra).

Not all injunctions are perpetually valid and they need to be applied according to the context given within the passage. If the context is not explicitly stated then one should apply reason.

Abhyāsa —Repetition; Often the same theme or point being made is repeated in a different way in order to impress it upon the mind of the reader. There are several ways in which repetition is used in literature.

apūrvata —Novelty of meaning. Often a text may introduce a new explanation of a term or anew and expanded development upon a previous theme.

upapatti —Congruity. In order for a text to have any validity it must be in harmony and agreement with all the relevant factors within the bounds of logic and pragmatism.

arthavāda — Corroborative statement. It must be born in mind that many of the allegories and descriptions given in the text are merely for praising or encouraging a prescribed action or form of Dharma and discouraging a forbidden one. They are not to be taken literally.

anuvāda —Paraphrase (translation). Paraphrasing is the act in which a statement or remark is explained in other words or another way —as to clarify the meaning, or when a direct quotation is unavailable. Often, a paraphrase might substitute a euphemism for an actual statement, in order to avoid offense, but the paraphrase should not change the original meaning.

phala —Outcomes. Often at the end of a hymn (stotra) or story various exaggerated results from the recitation or hearing of the passage are mentioned.

In addition all activities such as chanting hymns or reciting stories of sages and gods have the potential of planting seeds in the mind which hopefully will yield reward at some later stage when the conditions are right.

Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣad 3:

“Whoever studies this mantra and chants it constantly, attains full life and supremacy over others. He enjoys royal pleasures and becomes the master of the senses. He attains Liberation, yea Final Liberation”.

17. Interpretation of the Veda

From ancient times the Veda has been interpreted in 4 particular ways:

(1) Ritualistic (adhiyajñika)

The ritualists (Yajñikas) consider the Veda as a source book for the performance of rituals for obtaining material prosperity in this life and heaven after death.

They considered that the efficacy was in the ritual itself, the gods being incidental to the process. A person who knows and repeats the mantras properly, and performs the prescribed ritual acts punctiliously will be able to control the gods and direct events.

(2) Polytheistic (aitihāsika)

Some scholars accepted the Vedic gods (devas) as realities, as administrative cosmic forces, their battles with the anti-gods (asuras) as real incidents, and the rituals taught in the Vedas as effective acts of propitiation and worship.

The various gods are worshipped in different ways to gain specific desirable material ends and some gods such as Rudra are propitiated in order to avert harm, sickness and untimely death.

Most of the early Western scholars viewed the Vedas and the Vedic religion from this angle.

(3) Monotheistic (ādhidaivika),

According to this view, the various gods who are glorified in the Veda are but functions and facets of the One Godhead.

If the words are interpreted in the etymological sense, every hymn in the Veda can be understood as directly referring to the One God. Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Jayatīrtha, Śrī Aurobindo and most other contemporary Vedāṅtins are of this category.

(4) Metaphorical (ādhyātmika).

Symbolic explanations of the sacrifices are already found in the Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas and Bhagavad-Gītā.

The Mahābhārata 14.11;7-20 also indicates that the legend of Indra killing Vṛtra and sacrificial acts can be understood in a symbolic way.

For example; if Vṛtra represents tamas, ignorance, then Indra represents the mind (manas) and his thunderbolt (vajra) represents discrimination (viveka).

In another example, the phrase “pañca-janāḥ” (the five nations) can be interpreted as: —

(1) The four Vedic social groups and the tribes (Niṣādas)
(2) The five sacrificial fires,
(3) The four Vedic priests and the patron
(4) The eye, ear, mind, speech and breath.

It can only be argued that the entire Veda is uniformly monotheistic, mystical or spiritual through tortuous and convoluted interpretations.

The Vedas and the allied Scriptures like the Tantras and Purāṇas are in fact encyclopaedic in nature, containing profound and eternal metaphysical and psychological truths, ethical teachings of unsurpassed and perennial value as well as myths, legends, folklore, superstitions and baseless generalisations.

The Sacred Literature of India caters for all tastes and inclinations, and the rituals prescribed range from extremely sophisticated spiritual techniques for self-transformation on the one hand to silly rituals that could only apply to credulous, indiscriminating fools on the other!

18. Eligibility for Veda Study

It has been traditionally believed that Veda study is open only to men of the upper three castes. This denial of universal access in fact has been one of the greatest obstacles to the preservation and propagation of the Veda.

This prerogative for Veda study in latter centuries became the exclusive privilege of male Brahmins only. Even today most Brahmin Veda scholars and teachers generally do not teach any non-brāhmins, women and certainly not foreigners.

But the Veda itself, on the contrary declares that it is meant for all:

yathemām vācam kalyāṇīṁ āvadāni janebhyaḥ|
brahma rājanyābhyāṁ śūdrayā cāryāya ca svāya cāraṇāya ca ||

"Just as I have revealed this beneficial [Vedic] truth to all people, Brahmins, Kṣatriyas, Śūdras, Vaiṣyas(Āryas) , our own kin (svaya) and to the foreigners (aranāya) also". (Śuklā Yajur Veda 26:2)

satyam aham gabhīraḥkāvyena satyaṁjātenāsmi jātavedaḥ|
na me dāso nāryo mahitvāvratam mīmāya yad ahaṁdhariṣye ||

“O Man, I, being of the nature of truth and being unfathomable, have revealed the true Vedic knowledge; so I am he who gave birth to the Veda.

I cannot be partial either to a Dāsa (śūdra) or an Arya; I save all those who behave like myself (i.e., impartially) and follow my truthful commands”. (Atharva Veda 5.11.3)

19. Purport —Tātparya

The fundamental or basic meaning (mukhya artha) of a sentence, passage, chapter or an entire book is what may be called its purport (tātparya).

In a sentence the words all have literal semantic meaning. When these words are compiled into a sentence they then produce a combined meaning based on the interrelationship of the individual words in the sentence (syntax) this is called the purport.

When two or more sentences form a unitary passage, several sentences a chapter, and a number of chapters a book, while each sentence has its own meaning in itself, by correlating the sentences correctly, the purport of the passage is understood.

Then by correctly correlating the passages of a chapter the purport of the chapter is understood, and then through correlation of the chapters the purport of the book as a whole may be obtained.

Purport is the meaning of words leading to valid knowledge.

The purport of a sentence may be an activity or a fact.

The literal or direct meaning of a particular sentence may be an activity or a fact.

The literal or direct meaning of a sentence may sometimes not reveal a purport; in which case it’s implied meaning or figurative meaning would be its purport.

For a scriptural statement or purport to carry any validity it must fulfil the following 5 conditions:–

1. It should tell us something novel (apūrva) that we cannot obtain from any other source of information such as perception and reason.

2. It must be logical.

3. It mustn’t contradict perception and reason.

4. The content of the text must be internally consistent.

5. The knowledge presented in the text must have a practical application leading to empirical outcomes.

A Śāstra (sacred text) is a vast conglomeration of sentences, and unless selective judgment is applied in developing a coherent co-ordination of them, one cannot work out a proper perspective regarding its teaching on Dharma in context.

The selection of appropriate sentences & paragraphs has to be made based on a vision of their general importance and relevance to time, place and circumstance.

One needs to juxtapose and correlate sentences and paragraphs to discover the recurrent, coherent theme which must be in harmony with the concept of Loka-saṅgraha —the welfare of all sentient beings —the common and universal good.

The following sentences should be ignored:—

1. Irrelevant statements — those which have nothing to do with the real and meaningful aims of human life, (puruṣārtha) in the present context.

2. Useless statements — those sections which give descriptions and information which cannot be successfully utilized.

3. Incongruous meanings — those which are not in harmony with the general purport or theme of the passage or text.

All this can be done only if the recurrent dominant theme, in other words purport, is discovered; for once this is done, all statements can be harmonised with the general purport and a consistent teaching formulated.

Purport, therefore, provides the clue to scriptural understanding.

20. Determining the Purport:—

There are 6 criteria (ṣad-liṅga) which must be born in mind when looking for the purport of a text:—

1. Unity of the initial and concluding passages
2. Recurrence of the theme
3. Any new conclusion discovered
4. The general consistency throughout
5. The commendation or criticism of specific matters
6. Alleged results

1. Upakrama-upasamhāra; —the opening and concluding passage of a particular text introduce and summarise the subject matter —

they provide the context in which the rest of the text is to be understood. They must be in context and in harmony with each other and thus determine the purport of the body of the text.

It is a fallacy to begin with an assertion and then complete the argument with a different conclusion.

2. Abhyāsa —the recurrence of the theme. Often the same theme is repeated in a different way in order to impress it upon the mind or to clarify a particular point.

The figure of speech in which the theme is represented should not be taken as a new teaching or precept but must be taken in context with the original injunction —these two passages must both be understood as conveying the same meaning.

3. Apūrvata —novelty of meaning. Often a text may introduce a new explanation of a Dharma concept or a new and expanded development upon a previous Dharma theme; or perhaps a different way of conceptualising the Absolute Brahman.

4. Upapatti — Congruity or consistency of the conclusion and the argument throughout. In order for a text to have any validity it must be in harmony and agreement with all the relevant factors within the bounds of logic and pragmatism.

5. Arthavāda — Corroborative statement; commendation or criticism.

6. Phala — alleged results. Often at the end of a hymn (stotra) or story, various exaggerated results from the recitation or hearing of the passage are mentioned.

21. Considerations

1. Among these criteria the first one of thematic harmony (prakaraṇa) between the initial and concluding passages is the most important.

When a contradiction or lack or harmony is found between them, then the opening passage carries more weight and the concluding passage is to be interpreted in conformity with the opening one.

2. If this reconciliation does not work then the subsequent passage should be regarded as introducing a new topic. This is the principle of the ‘domination of the initial passage’. (upakrama -parākrama)

3. If the concluding passage contradicts the initial passage and if its sense is not intelligible unless what is said earlier is overruled, then this should be done.

This, of course, does not mean that every secondary cognition or statement should be taken to disprove the previous one.

An erroneous understanding may follow a correct one, but sooner or later a mistaken understanding is bound to be nullified by the correct view, while the right view endures.

Similarly, sometimes a right view may be stated first to refute a wrong view stated later; but still it should be understood that the statement of the erroneous view is meant to precede that of the right one; for then only there will be a meaningful sequence.

In polemics the opponent’s view is always stated first —this is called the pūrva pakṣa, the polemicist then refutes this view using logic (tarka) and presents his own considered and reasoned conclusion known as the siddhānta.

22. Subjectivity versus Objectivity

While these six criteria may help in trying to reach an objective textual interpretation, selective judgment based on one’s own agenda and sense of importance is unavoidable, therefore all interpretation is by nature more or less subjective.

Even in the scientific model of objective observation of facts, every conclusion has its objectors based on each individual scientist’s sense of importance.

The great masters of Mīmāṁsa and Vedānta (Kumārila and Prabhākara, Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja) knew and applied these criteria and principles rigorously, and yet still arrived at different interpretations.

We need to approach the subject matter with great humility and sincerity.

But it also does not mean that we accept the conclusions of the masters’ blindly! We need to arrive at our own conclusions using theirs as markers.

23. Levels of Meaning

With these guidelines we can then proceed to examine the different levels of meaning of the Sacred Texts.

a. Śabdārtha —the literal sense

For example all the Gods and Goddesses mentioned in the Veda can be accepted as they are —as polytheistic deities living in heaven and accepting the sacrifices offered to them.

b. Bhāvārtha —the allegorical sense

Based upon the statement within the Veda itself that there is only One Truth and the gods are manifestations of that Truth, we can then form a figurative explanation of the gods and goddesses as emanations or aspects of that One Truth.

c. Lakṣyārtha —the esoteric meaning.

Or we could also interpret the deities as beings subtle energies of the universe and aspects of our own consciousness, subtle forces that operate within the depths of the unconscious mind.

Indra is not just a god but is a symbol of the enlightened mind which uses the vajra (thunderbolt) representing discrimination to slay the demon Vṛtra symbolising ignorance, which has stolen and hidden the cows representing the streams of wisdom.

24. Contradiction or Paradox.

Contradiction is a logical error and applies to literal readings of a text or statement.

A contradiction needs to be resolved by applying hermeneutics. There may be contradiction in one single text or between 2 or several texts.

Paradox is a tool that is used to explain the inexplicable or to introduce an extremely abstract concept by using the tension between 2 opposites.

tad ejati tan naijati tad dūre tadvantike |
tad antarasya sarvasya tad u sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ|| 5 ||

It moves and It moves not; It is far and It is near; It is within all this and It is also outside all this. (Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad 5.)

These apparently contradictory statements are not suggestive of the mental unbalance of the writer. He is struggling to describe what he experiences through the limitations of human thought and language:

The Supreme is beyond the categories of thought. Thought is symbolic and so cannot conceive of the Absolute except through negations; yet the Absolute is not a void:

It is all that is in time and yet is beyond time. It is far because it is not capable of attainment by the ignorant and it is very near to the wise because It is their very Self.

25. Hyperbole

Hyperbole are exaggerated claims or outrageous statements that are forms of arthavāda and not to be taken literally. Hyperbole is common in many cultures, and is very frequent in Hindu literature.

The numerous phala-Śrutis or declared benefits of reciting certain stotras is one such device.

raṅganātha aṣṭakaṁpuṇyaṁprātar utthāya yaḥpaṭhet |
sarvān kāmān avāpnoti raṅgi sāyujyam āpnuyāt || 10 ||

Those who recite this hymn on Śrī Raṅganātha upon waking in the morning attain the fulfilment of all their goals and are completely unified with Śrī Raṅganātha.

Another is the benefits of taking a bath in a holy river or even just mentioning the name of the river:—

gaṅgāgaṅgeti yo bruyād yojanānāṁ śatairapi |
mucyate sarva pāpebhyo viṣṇu-lokāsa gacchati ||

The person who simply recites the name Ganga, Ganga, even though thousands of kilometres away, will be absolved of all sinful reactions and will attain the realm of Vishnu.

Degree of Authority of Injunctions (Vidhi), Mantra & Corroborative Statements (Arthavāda).

Authority” is defined as “the ability to influence somebody to do something that (s)he would not have, or could not have done”.

The Injunctions (vidhi) constitute Dharma and are therefore the essence of the śabda [Revelation].

Dharma is that act which is enjoined by the Veda through its injunctive passages and which is conducive to the happiness of all beings.

Arthavādas as such are authoritative only in so far as they serve the distinctly useful purpose of helping the injunction or prohibition.

Mantras convey a distinct meaning indicative in most cases of the deity connected with the sacrifice enjoined elsewhere and therefore in themselves have no authority whatsoever.

26. Conclusion

There is a passage in the Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad—“Meditate on Speech as a cow.... Her calf is mind”,

Śankarāchārya interprets it as follows:—

The word ‘Speech’ means the Vedas .... It is mind (the calf) which makes (stimulates) the Veda (the cow) to reveal its meaning (its milk), for the Vedas proceed forward only in a subject thought of by the mind”.

Unless the calf approaches the cow, takes its teats into its mouth one after another, sucks, and gently butts its mother’s udder with its head now and then, milk does not flow.

Similarly, only a mind which has become active and reflected deeply and long over a relevant matter (e.g., Dharma and /or the Brahman), can study the Veda and absorb and digest its meaning.

To the unprepared inactive mind the Veda would mean nothing, just as a cow cannot give its milk to its calf which does not approach it and become proactive in the right manner.

In Vedānta, reason (tarka) is employed —

(1) to ascertain the true purport of Scripture which is our only source of knowledge concerning Dharma and Brahman,

(2) to remove doubts and contrary beliefs and

(3) to convince us of the probability of the existence of what is to be known, i.e., Brahman.

The dialectic used by Vedanta must be —

(1) based on Scripture;
(2) must elucidate the content of Scripture, and
(3) must not be opposed to it.

Both Mimāṁsa and Vedānta are hermeneutic philosophies, in which exegesis, apologetics, epistemology, metaphysics and ethics are synthesised.

According to both the great teachers, Gauḍapāda and Śankara, the true meaning of the Veda must be ascertained with methodical reasoning, and nothing else.

Itihāsa purāṇābhyām vedam sam-upabṛmhayet |
Bibhetyalpa śrutād vedo mām ayam prahariṣyati ||

One should interpret the Veda through means of the Itihāsas and Purāṇas. The Veda dreads a person of little learning fearing “he will misunderstand me!”  (Vasiṣṭha Dharma sūtra 27:6)