Vādirājatīrtha’s Use of Mīmāṃsā Principles

In this post, I will look at two instances in The Jasmine Vine of Reasoning (Yuktimallikā) where Vādirājatīrtha, a prominent 16th Cent. CE scholar of Dvaita Vedānta, uses principles from Mīmāṃsā to bolster his arguments. Mīmāṃsā, one of the six traditional darśanas in Indian philosophy, is based on using a set of principles/maxims to determine the meaning of prescriptive statements in the Vedas. Since the Vedas are regarded as authorless in this system, Mīmāṃsā thinkers came up with interpretive rules or principles (nyāyas) to be followed by readers in order to understand the meaning of Vedic prescriptions without depending on authorial intention.[1] These principles of Mīmāṃsā are used across a broad range of Sanskrit intellectual disciplines including Vedānta. 

When Vādirājatīrtha invokes rules from Mīmāṃsā, he sometimes uses these rules in a casual way, framing arguments that are unlikely to be directed towards convincing interlocutors of his stance on the issue (more on that below). In these instances, Vādirājatīrtha’s approach in the debate appears to be wholly polemical, since he does not engage with the prima facie view (pūrvapakṣa) in a dialogue based on mutually accepted premises regarding Mīmāṃsā. Instead, he implies that he disagrees with some of the fundamental premises of Mīmāṃsā, but nevertheless uses these principles to argue for the superiority of Dvaita Vedānta. Vādirājatīrtha accepts these rules only hypothetically, just to show that the interlocutor who followed them would have to fall in line with the Dvaita view. It is obvious that the interlocutor that Vādirājatīrtha critiques in these passages is an adherent of Advaita Vedānta, as we will go on to see. Vādirājatīrtha’s criticisms assume that the interlocutor accepts Mīmāṃsā principles. This assumption is in accordance with the notion that Advaita scholars accept Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā where it concerns matters relating to empirical/pragmatic reality (vyāvahārika).  

In The Jasmine Vine, Vādirājatīrtha gives the reader an autobiographical note on why he came to accept Dvaita doctrines (which he refers to as Tattvavāda) by listing his primary objections to Advaita (which he refers to as Māyāvāda). These terms have dual connotations— Māyāvāda refers to the Advaita doctrine that the world is illusory (māyā), but also implies that Advaita is itself an illusory doctrine. Similarly, Tattvavāda refers to the Dvaita doctrine that the world is real, but also implies that Dvaita is the doctrine that upholds reality. Vādirājatīrtha presents his reasoning for why Dvaita is superior to other systems of thought in the following way.

parasmāt pūrva-daurbalye niṣedhād vidhibādhane /
yato mahāgrahas teṣāṃ sarveṣāṃ viduṣām api //  

tatpūrva-sarva-rāddhānta-siddhārthānāṃ niṣeddhari /
pare ca tattvavāde ‘smin garīyasi bharo mama // 
(YM 1.21-22)

Since all these scholars [of Māyāvāda] are insistent that (a) the earlier [injunction] is weaker than the later one, and (b) that the prohibition [negative injunction] blocks the prescription [positive injunction], my praise goes to Tattvavāda which is greater [than all of them], [because] (a) it is later than the established conclusions of all the previous doctrines and (b) it negates them.

Here, Vādirājatīrtha is clearly, though not explicitly, invoking the principle of apaccheda in Mīmāṃsā (Jaimini VI.5.49-50), according to which, when there is a conflict between two independent prescriptions, the later one blocks the earlier one. The determination of which prescriptions are earlier and later is not based on chronological sequence, but on a variety of factors. Here Vādirājatīrtha refers to Dvaita as the subsequent prescription on account of it being the culmination of all doctrines and being unrefuted by later doctrines.

Vādirājatīrtha also invokes the rule that the negative injunction blocks the positive injunction to argue that Dvaita is superior to all other philosophical systems because it negates or blocks previous systems of philosophy. This is very interesting, because the rule that a negative injunction blocks a prescription does not appear to be accepted by Mīmāṃsa thinkers and is presented as a prima facie view that is refuted in the Śābarabhāṣya (X.8.5).[2] The commentaries on The Jasmine Vine justify this by interpreting prohibition (niṣedha) to mean the negative statement that Brahman has no attributes (nirguṇatva) and the prescription (vidhi) to mean the statement that Brahman has attributes (saguṇatva). Vādirājatīrtha’s statement would then mean: “Because these scholars (of Advaita) are insistent that a) the subsequent prescription blocks the earlier one, and b) that the negative statement about Brahman’s lack of attributes blocks the positive statement about Brahman possessing attributes…” This way, the commentators attempt to resolve the problem of accepting a prima facie view as Mīmāṃsā doctrine. To me, this instance shows that Vādirājatīrtha is using these arguments casually in a polemical way and does not intend the Mīmāṃsā principles he is using to be extended to a rigorous philosophical dialogue on the soundness of Advaita doctrines.

Moreover, the rules about the injunctions only apply in the case of two statements from the śrutis, where both are regarded as authoritative, rather than statements from two different systems that present different worldviews. Additionally, Vādirājatīrtha states that it is his opponents who insist on these rules regarding injunctions, implying that he does not regard these rules as indispensable or perhaps even important. He simply accepts the Mīmāṃsā rule hypothetically to argue that it would still support the Dvaita position.

Later in the text, Vādirājatīrtha explains how statements from śrutis that apparently speak of Brahman as having no attributes can be interpreted by narrowing their scope down (saṅkoca). He offers one specific possibility that I would like to highlight here:

kapiñjalādhikaraṇa-nyāyānusaraṇād api
ananta-suguṇa-cchedāt triguṇa-cchedanaṃ varam // YM 1.794 

Even by following the principle of the kapiñjalādhikaraṇa, it is better to do away with three guṇas rather than to do away with infinite guṇas [good attributes]. 

The principle of the kapiñjalādhikaraṇa (Jaimini XI.1.38-46) explains that when the exact quantity of an object is not specified in Vedic injunctions, the plural number in the verb must be assumed to indicate three objects. Since words can be conjugated in the dual in Sanskrit, three is the minimum number that can be conjugated in the plural. Therefore, assuming that the plural refers to three objects when no specific number is provided allows for parsimony in the extrapolation that is inevitable. Here, Vādirājatīrtha argues that statements that negate the existence of attributes in Brahman without specifying the number of attributes negated, may be interpreted in accordance with this maxim to negate three guṇas—referring, of course, to the three guṇas of sattvarajas, and tamas that are products of prakṛti

Here too, it is easy to see the multiple objections an interlocutor could make about the application of this maxim in this specific case. BNK Sharma, who is generally sympathetic to the Dvaita argument, terms this suggestion “cute”,[3] implying thereby that it is not to be considered seriously. I am intrigued by Vādirājatīrtha’s use of the word ‘even’ (api) in the verse, which seems to advance this as an alternate interpretation that may or may not be meant seriously. Like the previous argument, this too seems to accept Mīmāṃsā rules hypothetically just to indicate that they would ultimately support the Dvaita position. 

These uses of principles from Mīmāṃsā pose the question of who Vādirājatīrtha’s intended audience was—Was he writing primarily for disciples and other scholars internal to the tradition, who already accepted his premises? Additionally, what was the attitude of post-Vyāsatīrtha scholars of Dvaita Vedānta towards Mīmāṃsā? Did they apply it merely as a useful argumentative tool, or did they think it possible to reconcile portions of Mīmāṃsā with Dvaita doctrines?

[1]  Freschi, Elisa, Agata Ciabattoni, Francesco A. Genco, and Björn Lellmann. “Understanding prescriptive texts: rules and logic as elaborated by the Mīmāṃsā school.” Journal of World Philosophies 2, no. 1 (2017)., 48.

[2] My thanks to Elisa Freschi for pointing this out.

[3] B N Krishnamurti Sharma, History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and Its Literature, Vol. 1 (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1960)., 423.

10 Replies to “Vādirājatīrtha’s Use of Mīmāṃsā Principles”

  1. I think the point you make here is decisive against Vādirājatīrtha’s first argument:

    “Moreover, the rules about the injunctions only apply in the case of two statements from the śrutis, where both are regarded as authoritative, rather than statements from two different systems that present different worldviews.”

    There is also the issue that Vādirājatīrtha seems to be applying these rules about prescriptive statements to indicative statements put forward by different darshanas. I assume that here that both Dvaita and Advaita Vedantins diverge from the Mimamsakas who believe that all the statements in the shruti texts are prescriptive. (Or is it only one of the two Mimamsaka schools that maintain this?)

    Perhaps the most charitable reading here is to take:
    (1) the different positions advocated by the different systems as construable in terms of different interpretations of the shruti texts, of which one interpretation must be deemed correct, and,
    (2) Vādirājatīrtha as arguing not against Advaita Vedantins, but against those Mimamsakas who maintain that all the statements in the shruti texts are prescriptive.

    If either one of these two conditions do not hold, I think Vādirājatīrtha’s first argument fails. So, if you have good reason to reject one of these conditions, then we may have to just conclude that his first argument is just a bad one.

    • If Condition (1) is to be met, Vādirājatīrtha has to show that the statements upheld by Advaita Vedantins and Bhatta Mimamsakas correspond to earlier shruti statements, and the statements upheld by Dvaita Vendantins to correspond to later shruti statements. It does not look like Vādirājatīrtha is doing that though, so it seems unlikely that Condition (1) is satisfied.

      • Hi Boram,

        Thanks for the comments. I completely agree that, for V’s argument to stand, he must show how the views of different Vedānta systems can be construed as valid śruti statements which contradict each other in specific contexts. And he clearly does not show why that is true. What is more, it does not seem plausible at all that Advaita and Dvaita Vedānta can be construed that way.

        It is for this reason that I presume that he does not intend this to be a serious philosophical argument that establishes the Dvaita position. I don’t think V agrees that Mīmāṃsā nyāyas are needed in order to arrive at the correct interpretation of śruti. As Elisa says in the comment below, I think he merely intends to use the Mīmāṃsā nyāyas to ridicule his interlocutors for taking the nyāyas so seriously (yato mahāgrahaḥ teṣām).

        • Hello Anusha,

          Thank you for your reply! So I have two questions regarding your point that Vādirāja does not take the Mīmāṃsā nyāyas seriously:

          (1) The Advaita Vedantins take them seriously, do they not? But what reasons do Dvaita Vedantins have for not taking these interpretive principles seriously?

          (2) I assume the Dvaita Vedantins accept shruti texts, and these shruti texts contain contradictions that ought to be interpreted away. If they don’t take the abovementioned interpretive principles seriously, then what interpretive principles do they propose instead to address apparent contradictions in the scriptures?

          One reason I am asking these questions is because, given what you present in the blog post, it seems possible that Vādirāja do take the interpretive principles seriously, and is aiming to show that these principles lead to the rejection of Mimamsa and Advaita Vedanta positions.

          I have also been trying to understand the discussion of Vādirāja’s use of the “nisheddha blocks the vidhi” principle. The discussion appears to have three parts, but I have trouble understanding the third part.

          First, it looks like Vādirāja is saying that the Dvaita position corresponds to the nisheddha, and the Advaita-Bhatta-mimamsa position corresponds to the vidhi.

          But, second, as you note, the “nisheddha blocks vidhi” is an interpretive principle that is ultimately rejected by Mimamsakas, so it looks like Vādirāja either does not know the siddhanta Mimamsaka position well enough, or has propped up a strawman to knock down.

          So, third, to address this worry, commentators of Vādirāja reverse the positions corresponding to “nisheddha” and “vidhi”. So the “nisheddha” part now corresponds to the Advaita position on nirguna Brahman, and “vidhi” corresponds to the Dvaita position on saguna Brahman.

          But how is this supposed to help? On this interpretation, Vādirāja is still saddling the Mimamsakas/Advaita Vedantins with an interpretive principle that they do not accept as siddhaanta, and worse, accusing Advaitins of using it to support their view against Dvaitins. (This last bit sounds perverse, because it appears to be Vādirāja who was using it to support Dvaita against Advaita.)

          If I am understanding the arguments (and the commentaries thereof) correctly, they strike me more as sophistry rather than polemics. Of course, since I am acquainted with just a handful of Vādirāja’s arguments and not the whole, these impressions may be misguided and you certainly will have a better feel for how to understand them.

          • Hi Boram,

            Thanks again for your comments. Regarding your points 1) and 2), the Dvaitins have very different conceptions of the meaning of śruti texts. They disagree with many primary assumptions of Mīmāṃsā, such as the idea that one śruti statement must mean only one thing. The Dvaitins see Vedic statements as having the primary purpose of praising Viṣṇu, and only secondly enjoining ritual actions. I do not know if they have any clear outline of all the interpretive rules to be followed as Mīmāṃsā does, but Madhva has several ideas about how scriptures communicate their intent (scriptures here inclusion śrutis and the epics and purāṇas as well), such as the notion of three modes/languages which encompass direct and indirect ways of communicating. That would need another very long post!

            As to your second point about the niṣedha blocking the vidhi, I agree that the commentators are not convincing. I think the idea is that niṣedhas are prohibitions, and the idea of Brahman as being nirguṇa entails a prohibition of guṇas in Brahman. According to the commentators then, V’s argument runs like this:
            The Advaitins, by claiming that the niṣedhas (statements negating Brahman’s guṇas) block vidhis (statements telling us that Brahman possesses those guṇas) are arguing implicitly that niṣedhas block vidhis. By their very logic, Dvaita doctrines, which negate other doctrines (niṣedha) , block other doctrines including Advaita.

            Whether we accept the commentators’ position or think of V as mistakenly representing pūrvapakṣa as siddhānta, this line of argumentation does not seem to be intended to convince an Advaitin of his faulty doctrine, because it seems like a very frivolous argument to make. It seems to be said in jest, which would agree with Vādiraja’s style, which is generally humorous.

    • Hi Boram,

      you know that I feel compelled to answer whenever Mīmāṃsā (or Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta) is mentioned. Yes, you are right, both Bhāṭṭa and Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā agree that śruti texts are prescriptive (the Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā, however, states that laukika texts are not prescriptive).

      • Hello Elisa,

        Thank you for this informative reply.

        So, it looks like Advaitins will not apply these interpretive principles to indicative statements about the nature of reality, and Vādirāja is drawing on these principles to attack Advaitins precisely in the domain where the Advaitins themselves have reason to reject their application.

        But I’d like to delve a bit deeper into these interpretive principles, and argue that they should apply to conflicting indicative statements as well as conflicting prescriptive statements.

        My guess is that the justification for interpretive principles adjudicating all conflicting prescriptive statements is this:
        No prescriptive statement in the shruti texts is pointless (vyārtha), i.e., for any given prescriptive statement, it must have some domain of application.
        Therefore, when there are two conflicting prescriptive statements, one of these must be interpreted as applying in a restricted domain.

        A similar justification can be given for indicative statements in the shruti texts:
        No indicative statement in the shruti texts is false (ayathārtha), i.e., for any given indicative statement, there must be a domain in which it is true.
        Therefore, when there are two conflicting indicative statements, one of these must be interpreted as applying in a restricted domain.

        Two observations on this:
        First, the above justification works well for statements that conflict in some overlapping domain, but have subdomains where they do not overlap. But they cannot work for two mutually contradictory statements about the same subject, e.g., “Brahman has qualities”, “Brahman does not have qualities”.
        Second, if we admit levels of reality, ultimate and superficial/conventional/empirical, this gives us additional ways of dealing with conflicting statements, including mutually contradictory statements about the same subject. One is true or applicable in the domain of ultimate reality,and the other is true or applicable in the domain of superficial/conventional/empirical reality.

        Now, it seems to me that the Advaitins can adopt this last strategy of explaining away conflicting statements in terms of ultimate and superficial domains of reality, but Dvaitins cannot. Their interpretation of certain claims in the Upanishads will have to be more convoluted.

        Anyway, if my first observation is right, then Dvaitins cannot simply insist that their view is correct because it is based on later or negating statements in the shruti texts. They must show how the earlier or the negated statements in the shruti texts are valid in restricted subdomains. And I am not sure how Dvaitins can do that for statements like “I am Brahman”. It seems to me that they must deny any conflict in the first place by assigning a non-literal meaning to such statements.

        • Hi Boram,
          I am tempted to interject again! The Dvaitins claim that seemingly contradictory statements too can be reconciled by narrowing the domain in which they apply. Vādirāja himself, for example, argues that in the case of aikya between jīva and Brahman, statements about aikya can be narrowed in scope by taking them in a secondary sense of similarity (sādṛśya), so that they remain as valid statements, while statements about bheda, according to him, cannot be construed in any other way without compromising on the ultimate validity of every single śruti statement (as you pointed out, the Dvaitins would disregard the classification of various levels of truths by the Advaitin, since this entails that some śruti statements are not true at the pāramārthika level).

  2. Boram’s point is appropriate (should we read V’s accusation as dealing only with the AV vs DV interpreation of śruti?), given the use of nyāyas in Mīmāṃsā. However, if I am not wrong, Anusha is suggesting a different trajectory, namely that V is doing polemics more than engaging in a real open-end discussion. In this sense, he might want to ridiculise his adversaries rather than offering a precise refutation of them. Anusha?

    • Thanks for the comments, Elisa. That is what I was suggesting. As for Boram’s first point about which interlocutors V is addressing, I concluded that it was primarily the Advaitins because of his very previous verse:

      “Therefore, I, terrified of the very name of the repulsive doctrine of Māyāvāda [Advaita], took recourse to the path of the Tattvavādins [Mādhvas].” (YM 1.20)

      I inferred that the ‘they’ (teṣām) in the verse quoted referred back to the Advaitins in the previous verse. It could possibly include the Mīmāṃsakas, but I think it should point to the Advaitins too.

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