Friday, March 16, 2012

Asotoma Mantra

Asotoma Sat Gamaya
Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad — I.iii.28)

Lead me from the unreal to the real
Lead me from darkness into light
Lead me from the illusion of death, to immortality
May all beings everywhere be at peace.

In my classes at Island and EVI this past week, we opened with this beautiful mantra from the Upanishads. Below is an interpretation of the mantra, with some commentary that I found and edited from the website of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (aka Amma).

If you want to hear this mantra chanted, singer Deva Premal has several lovely versions, recorded on various CDs, available on iTunes. 

This Vedic prayer is actually three distinct mantras, each of them setting a powerful intention. The final line, OM shanti, shanti shanti, is an affirmation of peace that is often used as a benediction.

In the first mantra, Asotoma Sat Gamaya, the word Sat is often translated as "truth," "existence", or "reality." We often speak of religion or philosophy as a search for Truth. But in India’s philosophy of Advaita Vedanta,  the concept of "truth" has been meticulously and successfully dissected. According to Advaita, for something to be considered true in the ultimate sense, it must be true not just at one given moment, but always be true—true in all three periods of time: the past, present and future. In fact, Advaita goes one step further. It says if something does not exist in all three periods of time that it does not truly exist, it is not ultimately real. Thus, truth, existence and reality are one and the same. That reality, Vedanta says, is what we call God.  Sat is our True Self—the blissful consciousness that ever was, is and ever will be. 

The second mantra—Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya—means "Lead me from darkness to light." When the Vedas refer to darkness and light, they mean ignorance and knowledge, respectfully. This is so because ignorance, like darkness, obscures true understanding. And in the same way that the only remedy for darkness is light, the only remedy for ignorance is knowledge. The knowledge spoken of here is again the knowledge of one’s true nature.

The final mantra—Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya—means: "Lead me from death to immortality." This should not be taken as a prayer to live endless years in heaven or on earth. It is a prayer for assistance in realizing the truth that "I was never born, nor can ever die, as I am not the body, mind and intellect, but the eternal, blissful consciousness that serves as the substratum of all creation."

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