Assessing the Five-Man Panel Report in Light of Mīmāṁsā

Assessing the Five-Man Panel Report in Light of Mīmāṁsā

To download the PDF version of this article and the original report titled “Report of the Lokanath Swami Case Panel” (71 pages) and its appendices (213 pages), click on this link.

Table of Contents

Results of the analysis

The only meaningful difference is the approach each side uses to interpretating applicable law

As per “Report of the Lokanath Swami Case Panel” (henceforward, the Five-Man Panel Report), both the Majority and Minority agree on 1) the material facts of the case, 2) the history of how the case had been conducted, 3) and what are the applicable laws. The Majority and Minority opinions are in full agreement on this much, and this covers the first 22 pages of the 71 page report. 

The only meaningful aspect of the report that merits scrutiny are the different approaches, or theories, of textual interpretation that the Minority and Majority use to reach their opposite conclusions. The Minority explicitly names a theoretical approach that they use for interpreting applicable law, and interpretations produced by this approach form the basis of their dissent. And although the Majority does not say they relied on any particular theory of textual interpretation, unstated assumptions on their part about how to interpret applicable law are nevertheless operative and well understood. It is unnecessary to examine the final decisions each side has made, since they proceed from their different ways of interpreting GBC laws. Hence, in order assess which side has more merit, it is necessary only to consider the different approaches to textual interpretation used by each side.

The question then, is which approach to textual interpretation is most suitable for this case? This can be best answered by first classifying the approach each side uses, then assessing the relative merits of each, and then comparing the two approaches with the Mīmāṁsā system of interpretation, which is the system that our ācāryas use.

Classifying the textual approaches of the two sides

Majority – Textualist

The Majority’s approach to interpreting applicable law is clearly “textualist.” As described by Frank Cross in his book The Theory and Practice of Statutory Interpretation (2009),

The simplest and most straightforward approach to statutory interpretation is to decide based on the text of the statute passed by Congress.” And it is “grounded in the fundamental principle that judges should give effect to what the legislature actually promulgates in statutory text and not go beyond those words with judicial discretion. . . . (Cross 24)

A sign that the Majority prefers a textualist approach is its insistence that the intent of the GBC be inferred from their own written statutes.

We cannot sanction re-writing the 2007 GBC resolution concerning leadership restrictions ̨on cases decided by the CPO to cover any child abuse decisions. If that was what the GBC intended, it should have said so. And if that is what it wants now, it should amend that resolution. (50)

Also, the Minority criticizes the Majority for their “literal” (i.e. textualist) interpretation.

In considering whether a case previously dealt with by the GBC or one of its agents should be re-opened by the Task Force / CPO particularly that of whether a sentence that has been imposed is “clearly inappropriate” warrants more than a literal interpretation of the words that form this criteria. (55)

The Majority is textualist in its approach to interpreting statues governing the case.

Minority – Contextualist / Pragmatist

In their dissent, the Minority says that the legislative history of the GBC’s statutes pertaining to child abuse and child protection should be reviewed, along with specific CPO policies and rulings in other abuse cases. They say that this is necessary because it provides additional context that the text of the applicable law does not give and will give us a better idea of what the GBC law really prescribes.

To interpret a text in its context includes the intra-textual context and the enactment as a whole (in this case to ascertain whether the case should be re-opened) as well as the extra-textual context i.e. the rest of the existing law and other contextual considerations that might be applicable (in this case the purpose of the task force and the establishment of the CPO for the addressing of allegations of child abuse to be dealt with properly and consistently). (57)

The Minority calls this the “text in context” approach to statutory interpretation (60). It is also known by some as the “Legislative History” approach, which includes a plurality of different methods (the “mischief rule” cited by the Minority is but one among many rules used in this approach). As per Cross,

The basic theoretical case for consideration of legislative history lies in a broader theory about the importance of “intentionalism” in statutory interpretation. Per this theory, the court’s objective should be to ascertain the legislature’s intent underlying the statute and ideally how the legislature would have intended this particular statutory interpretation case to be decided. The judge basically inquires into the question of how the legislature would have meant for the instant case to be resolved, had it explicitly considered that case. Joseph Raz argues that since the legislature has the lawmaking power, the law must be presumed to be what it intended to enact. The interpretation of such a law would be legitimate only insofar as it reflected that enacted intent. (Cross 59)

The purpose of this approach is to understand the legislators’ intent behind their statute—especially in cases where the legislation itself is not clearly expressed. Though in wide use, this approach is not uncontroversial, and it continues to be the focus of substantial criticism.

Perhaps the best known cynical comment on legislative history refers to its use as like “looking over a crowd and picking out your friends.” Consideration of the legislative materials allegedly allows “judges to pick and choose from the diverse opinions found in much legislative history, and thereby reach result-oriented decisions.” A review of securities law opinions concluded that legislative history was used by the justices “for post hoc rationalization of a conclusion reached on other grounds.” Yet the degree to which use of legislative history allows such manipulation, as opposed to other interpretive theories, is an unproven empirical question. (Cross 80)

The Majority in fact criticized the Minority for trying to bypass parts of GBC statutes in order to get the result they wanted.

The “clearly inappropriate” standard that the Task Force Report thus provided for reviewing the prior sentences is not a technicality or loophole, but rather a fundamental principle of law. One can only imagine the chaos if every punishment issued by decision-makers in our world—be they criminal judge or ecclesiastical body—were subject to increase or decrease merely because another decision-maker, years later, believed a different punishment was more appropriate; (50)

But there is reason to believe that the Minority is not so interested in understanding the actual intent of the GBC’s 1993 statute. There is no question that the GBC in 1993 did not want to place any permanent ban on Mahārāja. That is why temporary restrictions were placed on him, not permanent ones.

What the Minority really wants to the GBC to do is simply do what the Minority thinks is “the right thing,” regardless of what the GBC might have said or written in the past. In other words, outcomes are what matters, not what prior, expressed intent might have been. This is the Pragmatist approach to textual interpretation.

Perhaps the most controversial contemporary theory of statutory interpretation is pragmatism. Unlike the theories discussed in the above chapters, pragmatism does not rely on particular legislative materials or particular interpretive rules that constrain judicial discretion. By contrast, pragmatism embraces judicial discretion and seeks to direct it toward the best outcome for society. Pragmatic interpretation may reject as fiction the claim that judges merely “interpret” the pre-existing defined law, contending that judges are partners in creating the law that governs America. As such, judges should dedicate their efforts to creating the wisest rules of law. (Cross 102)

Some further consideration of the history and philosophical tenets of Pragmatism will help show why the Minority’s approach to textual interpretation is better understood as Pragmatist, though there is much overlap with a Legislative Historical approach.

Pragmatism is distinguished from other theories by its broader philosophical pedigree. It developed in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the United States. It developed in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the United States. Pragmatism evolved out of a small group of Massachusetts intellectuals, including lawyers, who called themselves the Metaphysical Club. They included William James, John Dewey, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Rather than pursuing a notion of absolute truth, the [103] pragmatists simply sought to find “what worked” in the world. The philosophy was a consequentialist one. The morality of action was grounded in its consequences, and action was evaluated based upon its results. The theory is plainly instrumentalist and abandons all pretenses that the law is a self-contained system ruled by logic. For Holmes, law was not based on a “syllogism” but on the “felt necessities of the time,” and “intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious.” This may be what Alexander Hamilton meant when he spoke of the important role of the judiciary in “civilizing” statutes. (102 – 103)

William James, also a pioneer in the (then) new field of Psychology, described the “cash value” of some statement or outcome as the only thing that counted as truth. For James, theories themselves were of no consequence. In his book Pragmatism (1907), in which he explains its philosophical tenets, he declares that if a theistic or non-theistic account of the universe were to succeed equally in describing the universe as we experience it, then he would consider both theories to be of equal worth, to have equal “cash value.”

Hence, the Minority suggests numerous, different ways that the GBC could somehow ban Lokanatha Mahārāja as an initiating spiritual master or allow the CPO to retry the case, which would assuredly result in Mahārāja being banned from initiating.

  • (Point 1) Argues that because the GBC’s initial ruling was “decided on administrative standards,” they could just reopen the case and rule that Mahārāja’s ban on initiating be permanent. (53)
  • (Point 2) That the “clearly inappropriate” standard could be read in a different way through the application of a “text in context” approach to statutory interpretation in order to allow the case to be reopened. (55)
  • (Point 3) Ex-post-facto law: The GBC could simply add a condition to the 1998 Child Protection Task Force Report’s criteria that would allow the case to be reopened.
  • (Point 4) Use a double-jeopardy exception that had been discontinued by the GBC in 2009. (62)
  • (Point 5) Argues that that “finality of judgment” does not apply to GBC decisions, because they are administrative, not judicial. (62)
  • (Point 6) Just reopen the case on any pretext. (63) As said by the Minority, “In short, there are many valid and acceptable reasons why an administrative decision can be changed or amended.” (64)
  • Etc. (the Minority gives further suggestions not mentioned here)

So, the Minority’s “spamming” the report with numerous, more or less creative suggestions for getting the case against Mahārāja reopened, or just even outright banning Mahārāja from initiating, without regard for actual intent of past legislation, and for the sake of bringing about what the Minority thinks is the right outcome, shows that the Minority’s approach to statutory interpretation is also as Pragmatic, though that also includes legislative history (“text in context”) as a tool in the Pragmatic interpretive toolbox.

Secular character of the Five-Man Panel Report

Aside from the fundamental role of specific theories of textual interpretation, another remarkable feature of the report is its thoroughly secular character.  The only references to anything in śāstra or something Śrīla Prabhupāda said are from his Gītā commentary on ślokas 9.30 and 31 (cited on page 35, and in its entirety in Appendix T) and excerpts from some conversations (Appendix U). And these were used only by the report to clarify what was meant by the assessments of Mahārāja’s behavior, made by the original 1993 Committee and by representatives of Child Abuse Prevention Behaviour Associates, Inc. (the “CAP Team”). Nothing else in the more than 280 pages of the report and appendixes seems to rely on these references.

While no one, including Mahārāja himself, disputes that Mahārāja’s offense occurred because of negligence in following the rules and regulations of dharma and bhakti, the remarkable thing is that hardly anyone who has been involved in conducting this case or in reviewing it seems to have ever questioned whether the exercise of justice itself has been in accord with the principles of dharma and bhakti.

The fact is that the report’s Minority party, in accordance with secular legalistic principles and secular principles of textual interpretation, is aggressively recommending all manner of legislative maneuvers just to obtain a particular outcome against Mahārāja. In a similar manner, secular societies are constantly adjusting their own laws in order to produce some good result yet always end up creating social unrest and chaos.

“The Vedic principles (mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ) urge us to follow in the footsteps of great liberated souls. In this way we can receive benefit in both this life and the next, and we can also improve our material life. . . . In democratic government at the present moment all kinds of fools and rascals are making decisions. But what can they do? What is the result of their legislation? They enact something today just to whimsically repeal it tomorrow.” (SB 4.14.4)

“The demons, therefore, do not accept any instruction which is good for society, and because they do not follow the experience of great sages and the rules and regulations laid down by the sages, the social condition of the demoniac people is very miserable.” (BG 16.7)

Consequently, the social unrest that has accompanied this case for the past thirty years seems to be increasing, not decreasing. That should at least raise some suspicion that the execution of justice within ISKCON may be to some degree opposed to the principles of dharma and bhakti, not in accord with them. Bringing our system of justice in line with Vedic principles would reduce the problem of social unrest.

It so happens that within the Vedic tradition, there is an extensive tradition of theory and practice of law as well as advanced principles of textual interpretation. In particular, the Vedic science of interpreting texts is called Mīmāṁsā, and it is used wherever there is need of interpreting difficult passages or resolving them. Moreover, ācāryas within our own disciplic succession use mīmāṁsā to harmonize texts with one another or to clarify the meaning of esoteric passages. As will be shown in the next sections, matters that will remain forever controversial within the framework of Western secular law are easily resolved by mīmāṁsā.

Introduction to Mīmāṁsā, the Vedic tradition’s system of textual interpretation

Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī in his Sarva-saṁvādinī commentary on his own Tattva-sandarbha, verse 11, explains how to reconcile the meaning of conflicting statements from different śāstras and of conflicting statements within the same śāstra:

yatra tu vākyāntareṇaiva virodhaḥ syāt tatra balābalatvaṁ vivecanīyam. ac ca śāstra-gataṁ vacana-gatam ca. pūrvarn yathā, śruti-smṛti-virodhe tu / śrutir eva balīyasī [597] ity-ādi. uttaraṁ ca yathā, śruti-liṅga-vākya-prakāraṇa-sthāna-samākhyānāṁ samavāye pāradaurbalyam artha-viprakarṣāt [598] ity-ādi. niruktāni caitāni,

śrutiś ca śabdaḥ kṣamatā ca liṅgam
vākyaṁ padāny eva tu saṁhatāni
sa prakriyā yat-karaṇaṁ sa-kāṅkṣaṁ
sthānaṁ kramo yoga-balaṁ samākhyā [599]

iti. tac ca virodhitvaṁ parokṣa- vādādi-nibandhanaṁ cintayitvetara-vākyasya balavad-vākyānugato ‘rthaś cintanīyaḥ.

But when there are conflicting statements, we must decide which is stronger and which weaker. This relative strength and weakness applies to differences between one scripture and another as well as to different statements within a single scripture.

An example of the first type of application: “In a conflict between śruti and smṛti, the śruti is stronger.”[597] An example of the second: “When there is conflict among direct statement, logical indication, the sentence, the larger context, the location, and the etymology, the later items are progressively weaker because they are derived by progressively more indirect methods.” [598]

These terms are thus defined: “‘Direct statement’ is the word itself, ‘logical indication’ means capability, ‘sentence’ means the words taken together as a whole, the ‘larger context’ is that composition which has a particular expectancy, ‘location’ refers to sequence, and ‘etymology’ is the strength of derivation.” [599]

When one understands that a conflict has arisen from causes such as an esoteric expression, one should then interpret one statement in accord with another that is stronger.” (trans. H.G. Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu, Tattva-sandarbha, 307)

For the second type of conflict (bolded above), Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī quotes a śloka from Śrī Jaimini Ṛṣi’s Mīmāṁsā-sūtras (3.3.14) that shows how to determine the relative strength of different understandings of an esoteric expression, so that one can select from among them the correct understanding.

Most devotees have heard of the term “mīmāṁsā,” usually with the negative connotation associated with Karma-mīmāṁsā. But our ācāryas have utilized it despite, from our point of view, this limited connotation. So, what is mīmāṁsā and why is it important for us?

Briefly, mīmāṁsā is the Vedic science of interpreting texts and is also called vākyaśāstra. It is similar in some ways to the Western science of Hermeneutics but is also different from it in some important aspects. A famous example of its use is found in Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha 28, where Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī uses mīmāṁsā rules to prove that Lord Kṛṣṇa is the source of all incarnations according to the verse ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam (SB 1.3.28).

Of particular interest to us in assessing the different approaches to textual interpretation used in the Five-Man Panel Report is determining whether the literal (textualist) interpretation used by the Majority is more appropriate, or whether the Minority’s “text in context” approach (and more broadly, its overall Pragmatic approach) is more appropriate. In this regard, the mīmāṁsā rules of interpretation are well suited to making this determination, whereas the rules of textual interpretation in English Law are not.

In this regard, K.L. Sarkar in the beginning of his 1909 book The Mimansa Rules of Interpretation as applied to Hindu Law has presented an excellent comparative study between English rules of interpretation, citing the famed English jurist Sir Peter Benson Maxwell’s On the Interpretation of Statutes, and equivalent rules in Mīmāṁsā. Sarkar begins his comparison of Maxwell’s rules of “literal construction” and “construction by context,” with the first four of the rules of mīmāṁsa that Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī cites in the above-mentioned passage from Tattva-sandarbha: śruti-liṅga-vākya-prakāraṇa (direct statement, logical indication, the sentence, the larger context).

After an initial comparison, Sarkar then notes the lack of “any distinct and clear classification” of the rules and principles in the English system but notes that Mīmāṁsā has such a distinct classification. This matters because the classification allows the clear demarcation of when each rule is applicable and when it is not.

Sarkara’s observation is lengthy but illustrates the problem well:

By a general comparison of Liṅga, Vākya and Prakāraṇa etc. with the observations of Maxwell which I have quoted before, you must have seen that all these Mimansa principles of construction fall under the head of construction by context, as that expression is used in English books. The English writers make no sub-classification of the rules of construction by context such as the Mimansa writers try to do. Maxwell says:

“The literal construction then, has, in general, but prima facie preference. To arrive at the real meaning, it is always necessary to get an exact conception of the aim, scope, and object of the whole Act; to consider, according to Lord Coke, I. What was the law before the Act was passed; 2. What was the mischief or defect for which the law had not provided; 3. What remedy Parliament has appointed; and 4. The reason of the remedy. According to another authority, the true meaning is to be found, not merely from the words of the Act, but from the cause and necessity of its being made, which are to be ascertained not only from a comparison of its several parts, but also from extraneous circumstances. The true meaning of any passage, it is said, is to be found not merely in the words of that passage, but in comparing it with every other part of the law, ascertaining also what were the circumstances with reference to which the words were used, and the object appearing from those circumstances, which the Legislature had in view.” (Maxwell, 3rd Edition, pp. 30 – 31)

You see that in the above observation there is a suggestion of a variety of rules and principles covered by the general expression ‘construction by context.’ But there is no attempt to make any distinct and clear classification of these rules and principles. In fact, there is no attempt even to mark off the province of literal construction from that of contextual construction. The Mimansa writers, however, have made such an attempt. And I think you will be satisfied that the attempt cannot be said to be unsuccessful. A proper classification makes science. And I venture to say that it is the Mimansa writers, and only they, who may be credited with having reduced the rules of interpretation to a scientific shape. (Sarkar 155 – 157)

Notice that in Maxwell’s quotation, four criteria for determining meaning from context are given, and they are the same criteria that the Minority gives in their dissent:

i. What was the existing law (the legal position) before the legislation in question was adopted? ii. Which problem (mischief or defect) was not adequately addressed before the new legislation (in this case the CPO Guidelines) was adopted? iii. What remedy is proposed by the new legislation to solve this problem? iv. What is the true reason for the proposed remedy? (59)

This shows that Sarkar’s criticism of the English system directly addresses the issue as to whether the Minority’s interpretive approach is justified, or whether even the Majority’s approach is justified. What we have seen in the report is that both the Majority and Minority have accused each other of using inappropriate methods of interpreting GBC laws. And this occurs because a lack of clear rules for determining when one approach to interpretation and not some other must be used. As Sarkar notes in regard to Maxwell’s enumeration of methods for interpreting a text, “there is no attempt even to mark off the province of literal construction from that of contextual construction.” That condition is still prevalent in Western interpretation of laws.

Therefore criticisms such as this one against legislative history (or “text in context”) are endemic to the enterprise of textual interpretation in Anglo-American law:

The fundamental case against legislative history, and for textualism, is the desire to control the judiciary and prevent “judicial legislation” that twists statutes to fit the judges’ ideological predispositions. Given the plenitude of legislative history, some argue that it simply provides convenient materials for willful ideological judging. More materials will generally facilitate greater judicial choice in interpretation, and with both conservatives and liberals in Congress, one might expect legislative history to be manufactured to suit various ideological positions. (Cross 79)

There are similar complaints made against textualism (literal construction) and also against pragmatic construction. All methods of textual interpretation can be misused, and no method has escaped criticism. But in mīmāṁsā, these conflicts are successfully resolved through application of its scientific rules governing the application of these various interpretive approaches.

The golden rules of interpretation in Mīmāṁsā

As per Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, śruti-liṅga-vākya-prakāraṇa-sthāna-samākhyānāṁ samavāye pāradaurbalyam artha-viprakarṣāt, “When there is conflict among direct statement, logical indication, the sentence, the larger context, the location, and the etymology, the later items are progressively weaker because they are derived by progressively more indirect methods.” (Pūrva-mīmāmsā-sūtras 3.3.14, qtd. in Tattva-sandarbha, 11, Sarvasaṁvādinī).

Sarkar introduces these same rules, calling them “the Golden Rules of Interpretation,” and he also states that their order of precedence is from the most direct to the least direct. What follows is Sarkar’s summary exposition of these rules, which is consistent with Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī’s own brief description of them:

K.L. Sarkar: Introductory Lecture, Class II: The General Principles of Interpretation

[From The Mimansa Rules of Interpretation as applied to Hindu Law (1909) pages 70 – 72. In this section, Sarkar also provides extensive śāstric references, which have been omitted for brevity.]

These deserve to be called the GOLDEN RULES OF INTERPRETATION, and may be shortly stated as follows:

  • When a verb and the case governed by it have a self-evident meaning and thus form a complete and independent sentence, this is called a Śruti; no attempt should be made to strain or twist its meaning. This may be called the Śruti principle of construction.
  • When the meaning of a word or expression is not clear on the face of it and its latent force or suggestive power has to be brought out by the suggestive power of some other word or expression, this is called a Liṅga; and this principle of construction may be called the Liṅga principle.
  • Where what is apparently a complete sentence has, in order to make out a satisfactory sense, to be read as a part sentence connecting it with some other clause, this is called a matter of Vākya or Syntactical arrangement. The principle of construction consisting of this process is called the Vākya principle of construction.
  • When a sentence or clause by itself does not indicate its purpose but its purpose becomes clear when read with some other text belonging to any other topics discussed, this is called a case of Prakāraṇa. The principle of construction herein involved may be called the Prakāraṇa principle of construction.

These principles form the science of interpretation.

The first and cardinal principle of interpreting written documents, whether they are private or public deeds and authoritative law books, is that where the writing exhibits the statement of an independent proposition in clear grammatical language couched in terms of unambiguous meaning, that proposition must be accepted and acted on as it is, however disagreeable or objectionable it maybe to those who are called upon to interpret the writing. These latter are bound to accept the intention which the clear language of the writing expresses. They cannot twist and distort it to suit their own ideas and fancies. This is an universal principle prevailing in all civilized countries of the present day. It is called the literal principle. The author of the Aphorisms of hoary antiquity lays down the same principle and attaches to it the same importance. He and his followers have named it the Śruti principle.

This Śruti principle is expressed and emphasised in various places and various ways to which I shall refer later on. For the present I would merely state it as the first of the general rules of Mimansa interpretation. Where this rule is applicable, no other rules of interpretation should be resorted to.1 In cases, however, in which the language is not clear or the sense is not explicit or when words are ambiguous in meaning or the idea is dependent on some other idea, the interpreter cannot stop at the literal principle of construction. He must have recourse to other considerations. Accordingly the modern western writers on interpretation of statutes introduce other principles of interpretation, such as, interpretation by context, rules of beneficial construction, exceptional rules of interpretation according to equity and reason and the like. In departing from the rule of literal construction the departure should never be wider than is absolutely necessary.

Rishi Jaimini and his followers proceed on the same lines. In fact, the rules of interpretation, they lay down in departure from the literal principle, are perhaps clearer, more logical and more distinctive than the rules discussed in our modern books. They lay down step by step how a freer and more rational principle is to be adopted one after the other, and how a wider departure from the literal principle should be avoided when a narrower departure would suffice.

There are two other principles of interpretation by means of Sthana (place) and Samakhya (derivative words) which are usually placed after Prakāraṇa. But these not being of importance I would leave them apart. I shall explain the principles of Śruti, Liṅga, etc., at length.

[End of Sarkar’s text]

Is the Minority’s approach to interpreting text the correct method?

The Minority’s dissent rests primarily on an interpretation of GBC laws that utilizes a wide variety of sources in addition to the text of the laws themselves. And they not only criticize the Majority’s literal interpretation of GBC statutes but also go to great lengths to argue for the use of a much broader interpretation.

In this regard, the Majority’s approach to interpretation, “textualism,” or literalism, in mīmāṁsā is the Śruti principle of construction. As described by Sarkar. “. . . where the writing exhibits the statement of an independent proposition in clear grammatical language couched in terms of unambiguous meaning, that proposition must be accepted and acted on as it is, however disagreeable or objectionable it maybe to those who are called upon to interpret the writing.”

And the approach to interpretation explicitly advocated by the Minority is “text in context,” which in mīmāṁsā is the Prakāraṇa principle. As per Sarkar, “When a sentence or clause by itself does not indicate its purpose but its purpose becomes clear when read with some other text belonging to any other topics discussed, this is called a case of Prakāraṇa.” And that is exactly what the Minority has been insisting on. They say that it is not enough to read the GBC laws as they are to understand what the GBC body’s true intent behind them was; they must be read with many other documents, such as reports, other laws made by the GBC, and CPO rulings, etc. The Minority’s “text in context” approach is, in terms of mīmāṁsā, the Prakāraṇa principle of construction.

As per mīmāṁsā rules, which approach is the correct one? According to the rules, if the more direct method produces a coherent meaning, then that is to be accepted over a different meaning constructed by a less direct method—even if the less direct construction also produces a coherent meaning. Since the Majority opinion primarily relies on the Śruti principle, it is necessarily the more direct method, and since it has produced a coherent meaning (at least the Majority is convinced that it has), it is to be accepted over the interpretation advocated by the Minority. The Majority’s approach to interpretation of GBC statutes is the correct approach. Hence, the understanding produced by that approach more faithfully represents the true intent of the GBC’s laws.

Actually, neither the Majority nor the Minority always follow the approach to interpretation they implicitly or (in the case of the Minority) explicitly say they follow. Sometimes the Majority uses a more indirect method to understand some statement, and sometimes the Minority will use the Śruti principle and interpret a passage directly. But what the mīmāṁsā rules enable both sides to do is look at any particular passage in any particular text and agree that one approach to interpreting it would be better than some other. Just as one cannot win a game fairly, or lose fairly, unless there are rules, following the mīmāṁsā rules are necessary in order to obtain just rulings.

Must we use Mīmāṁsā?

Because the Mīmāṁsā system is used by our ācāryas for reconciling texts and interpreting them, we are obliged to follow it. Furthermore, as demonstrated here, all other legitimate methods of interpreting a text are included within it. Therefore, we would be remiss to follow some other approach to textual interpretation instead of the system our own ācāryas have used.

Some may say that mīmāṁsā is only suited for Sanskrit works, not for English or other non-Indian languages. But this is untrue because Jaimini Muni’s Mīmāṁsā-sūtras have an adhikaraṇa for the interpretation of words and phrases in mleccha-bhāṣā, or foreign languages. The reason for this is that the Mīmāṁsā system is also employed within vyavahāra (Vedic law) for reconciling local custom with rules and regulations of Vedic literature, especially the dharmaśāstras. And local customs are most likely understood or recorded in the language spoken locally, not Sanskrit. Hence, the local customs of other countries and even family traditions may be given the status of being dharma (and therefore enforceable by the state), provided they can be proven to have been in existence for a long time (i.e. they were not just made up on the moment to win a court case) and that such customs are compatible with the rules and regulations of dharma and not against them. So, mīmāṁsā has application in foreign languages also.

Finally, it may also be said that there may be some approach to interpretation that is useful but not governed by mīmāṁsā. To a significant extent, this is true, as vyākaraṇa (grammar) and nyāyā (logic) also deal with interpretation, but each within their own domains. And different fields such as dharma have their own rules regarding hierarchies of pramāṇas (evidences) and how they are to be understood and reconciled. So, vyākaraṇa (grammar), mīmāṁsā (textual interpretation), nyāyā (logic), along with śabda (Vedic literature) together constitute a comprehensive system of pramāṇa in which all kinds of evidences may be reconciled. In other words, pramāṇaśāstra is a comprehensive and scientific system of epistemology with universal application—on the vyāsāsana, in the laboratory, and in court rooms and legislative assemblies.

Distinguishing Mīmāṁsā from Karma-mīmāṁsā

With regard to mīmāṁsā, one should clearly distinguish it from its namesake school, Karma-mīmāṁsā. Our ācāryas adopt the processes of both nyāya and mīmāṁsā—but not the siddhāntas—of these schools. The same holds true for saṅkhyā, nyāya, and yoga as well. These words are frequent throughout Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and in our ācāryas’ writings. That atheists at some point adopted these original concepts and created five schools propagating their own godless interests does not necessarily invalidate saṅkhyā, mīmāṁsā, nyāya, etc., as philosophical concepts. Prabhupāda often points to “the imposter Kapila” and Saṅkhyā as an example of this.

The Mīmāṁsāsūtras are different from Karma-mīmāṁsā philosophy, which adopted those texts. Nor was Jaimini Ṛṣi a karma-mīmāṁsaka, although some of his commentators were. So, the Karma-mīmāṁsā philosophy, which bases itself on Mīmāṁsāsūtras, is rejected, but not the sūtras themselves. Similarly, there is brahma-mīmāṁsā (i.e., uttara-mīmāṁsā, or Vedānta). Vedānta is not rejected; only the Advaita interpretation of Śaṅkarācārya is rejected. So, it’s similar here, where a wrong interpretation of the Mīmāṁsā-sūtras is rejected, but not the sūtras themselves.

Within the Śrī Vaiṣṇava sampradāya there was a great ācārya known as Vedānta Deśika. He began writing a commentary on Pūrva-mīmāṁsā-sūtras, and it is known as Seśvara-mīmāṁsa (seśvara = sa-īśvara, lit. “with God”), which explains that how the mīmāṁsā-sūtras establish that there is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, īśvara, not nirīśvara. The point is that the Mīmāṁsasūtras are not at all opposed to Vaiṣṇavism or bhakti. If it were, the great ācāryas, including those in our own sampradāya, would not have accepted its authority.

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