The Asatoma Prayer

Chant the Asatoma Prayer with Ramdas.

Asatoma Sadgamaya
Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya

Gurur Brahma
Gurur Vishnu
Gurur Devo Maheshvara
Gurur Sakshat Parambrahma
Tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Lead me from the unreal to the real
Lead me from darknes to light
Lead from a timebound consciousness to the timeless state of Be-ing that I am

The Guru (the True Self) is the power of creation
The Guru is the power of maintaining
The Guru is the power of transformation
The Guru is the Supreme Absolute present in all of us
Salutations to that Beloved Guru

OM (everything) Peace Peace Peace

What Does It Mean?

You’ve hear or even chanted the Asatoma Prayer but what does it mean?  Here is a brief explanation from Ramdas.

Asatoma Sadgamaya

"Lead me from the unreal to the real" is the basic translation but what is the unreal and what is the real?  Have you ever told stories to yourself about what was going to happen?  Of course you have, everyone does.  How often do the stories you tell turn out to be just that, stories?  Most of the time, right?  These stories we tell are the unreal; especially, the stories we tell about ourselves.

So what is the real?  For something to be real or absolutely true, it must be universal, unchanging and timeless.  Who are you?  Does the answer change based on the circumstances?  If so, perhaps that is not the real you.  In everyday matters, the real means to see things as they are without the past affecting the present."

Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya

"Lead me from darknes to light" is with this line basically means but from what darkness to what light?  It is the darkness of not knowing the answer to the question, "Who am I?"  What is the light?  It is the Light that sees both darkness and light in the same Light.  What does that mean?

The Light that sees both darkness and light in the same Light is the answer to the question, "Who am I?" You are that Light.

Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya

This line literally means leave me from death to immortality.  This isn’t a very practical interpretation, it’s difficult to check whether you’ve hit that immortality part or not.  Well, I guess that’s not actually difficult to check but if you’re wrong, you don’t get a second chance.

"Lead from a timebound consciousness to the timeless state of Be-ing that I am" is a much more practical understanding of this line.  Time bound consciousness is where we’re focused on death or, more immediately, the past or the future.  Either way, we’re bound by time.  Being timeless means being fully present and focused on the only time that’s timeless.  The only time that is timeless is Now.  Now never begins and now never ends.  It is always, eternally Now.

Being fully present and focused on Now doesn’t mean you can’t clean up yesterday’s messes or prepare for tomorrow’s adventures.  It means that while you clean, you don’t relive the events of yesterday.  It means that while you prepare, don’t get lost in the dreams of tomorrow.  It means you fully enjoy this moment, Now, as you clean or prepare.

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo Maheshvara

"The Guru (the True Self) is the power of creation, maintaining and transformation."  The first thing these lines teach is that you, or rather the True Self, are the true Guru.  External gurus are helpful and needed but they exist only to point you back to the true Guru that you are.  If you ever encounter anyone who says, "I am a guru and you need to follow me," what you need to do is turn and run.

Authentic gurus don’t play the game so that you’ll like them.  And they play the game so you’ll see yourself as you really are: whole, full and complete just as you are.

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (Maheshvara)

Brahma is a mythological figure with four faces that represents creation.  Vishnu is blue and has four arms.  He represents preservation or maintenance.  He sustains and maintains what has been created.  Shiva is the transformative destroyer.  He may be blue or not.  He may have four arms or not.  He may be half male and half female or not.  He usually has a crescent moon set in his hair along with a river flowing out of his hair.

The purpose of this prayer is not to convince you that these mythological figures a running around existence somewhere and that you need to revere them.  Rather, their purpose is to illustrate something about you.  You create, maintain, destroy or otherwise transform every experience you had ever had.

You don’t create the circumstances.  You don’t create the weather.  You don’t create whether another person helps or hurts you.  What you do is you use all of the circumstances to create your own experience.  This is why to people in the same set of circumstances can have entirely different experiences.  Here’s a brief story to illustrate:

Identical twins were born to abusive, alcoholic parents.  At the age of 21, both twins moved out of their parents’ home.  One twin was already a raging alcoholic.  The other twin wouldn’t even watch beer commercials on television.  When asked why they were the way they were, both twins gave the same answer: "Look at my parents, what choice did I have?"

Gurur Sakshat Parambrahma Tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha

"The Guru is the Supreme Absolute, present in all.  Salutations to that Beloved Guru."  This doesn’t mean that I am a true guru and you’re a true guru.  This says there is one, universal True Guru.  That one, universal True Guru is the True Self.  You are an expression of that True Self and I am an expression of that same True Self.  We are literally all in this together.

We celebrate the recognition of this True Guru.  Why?  Because this recognition is the recognition that the most essential nature of you and I is the same.  With this recognition, non-violence and all forms of right action become natural rather than some philisophical set of ideals.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

(OM) is the symbol for all of existence and shanti means peace.  This is my favorite line of this prayer.  It is the simplest line to understand and, in my view, it is the mind that is most powerful.  It means that because we can see both darkness and light in the same Light, we can use both darkness and light—everything—to create peace.