‘Om asatoma sadgamaya’ is a soothing ancient Shanti Mantra chant and a set of four powerful affirmations used as a purifying prayer which is chanted for the wellbeing of oneself or for humanity. This mantra is a part of the ‘Pavamana Mantra’ which finds its roots from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28.). This beautifully expressed mantra encourages to leave the pain of ignorance, darkness and death of this world and hence reside in the celestial realms of knowledge, light and immortality. This encourages us to let go of our own ignorance that blocks our vision and also precludes us from seeing the ultimate truth and reside in enlightenment and freedom from fear.
The complete mantra is as follows:
Om asato ma sadgamaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
Mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya
Om shanti shanti shanti
ॐ असतो मा सद् गमय
तमसो मा ज्योतिर् गमय
मृत्योर् माम्रतं गमय
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः
Meaning: Lead us from the unreal to the real. Lead us from darkness to light. Lead us from death to immortality. Om peace, peace, peace!
- Om asato ma sadgamaya: Firstly the line of this verse means seeking the path of eternal truth, reality and existence. The word ‘sat’ means truth, pure existence and ‘asat’ means the opposite ‘untruth’. The person here is seeking the ultimate truth in life. He has come to understand the limitations of the present life that he is leading. Everything in this ephemeral universe is constantly undergoing change. Our human bodies go through constant change. Our mind and intellect are constantly changing. Thus, none of these can be labeled as a source of eternal joy.
- Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya: The second line of this verse means seeking the light of true wisdom, knowledge and understanding. The word ‘tamas’ means darkness and ‘jyoti’ means light. The Sanskrit word for ignorance is ‘avidya’. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali states that avidya is the root cause of all suffering. Further he defines ignorance as, ‘Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the non-Self as Self.’ (sutra 2.5). This process will ultimately lead to self-realization.
- Mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya: Thirdly the line of this verse means seeking the path from death to immortality. The word ‘mrityu’ means death and ‘amritam’ means immortality. The Sanskrit term for cycle of birth, death and rebirth is ‘samsara’. In the yoga philosophy we understand that it is just the physical body which disintegrates back into the five elements at the time of death. Basically it is the soul (atman) which is tied up with the subtle body (mind, intellect etc.) that undergoes this cycle of samsara.
- Om shanti shanti shanti: Lastly the fourth line of this verse means let there be peace, peace, peace!
We all want to go from darkness to light, from untruth to truth and from death to immortality. This is generally a prayer for total cessation of all attachment and false identifications. Basically the essence of this mantra is to transcend from Asat (un-truth) to Sat (truth). Accordingly to Advaita Vedanta, truth is truth if it stands the test of time. Further The Vedanta suggests that truth should be the same in the past, the present, and the future.
The mantra is altogether beneficial for uplifting your consciousness. It also keeps the mind away from negativity and invokes a sense of peace and calmness within you. Finally this can be sing as a prayer, chanting, or simply saying quietly to ourselves in a meditative form. It is indeed helpful for creating a serene environment and for calming the mind.