Asato Ma Sad gamaya: Meaning with Explanations

This Shanti Mantra from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is a set of three profound Mantras. The Rishi and Chandas of the Mantra are not known. But the divinity this Mantra addresses is the Paramatman—the supreme consciousness.

The Mantra

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Word by Word Meaning

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय
Asato ma Sat gamaya
Lead me from unreal to real

तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
Tamaso ma Jyotir gamaya
Lead me from darkness to light

मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।
Mrityor ma Amritam gamaya
Lead me from death to immortality

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
Om peace, peace, peace

Swami Vivekananda visited Kashmir in 1898 accompanied by his Western disciples. On June 11, at Bhim Tal, he passionately chanted each line of the Rudra-prayer in its original form before providing the English translation.

‘From the unreal, lead us to the Real.
From darkness, lead us unto Light.
From death, lead us to Immortality.
Reach us through and through our self.
And evermore protect us—O Thou Terrible! —
From ignorance, by Thy sweet
Compassionate Face.’

—cf. Life of Swami Vivekananda by E and W Disciples, Vol 2, p. 356


  • असत:- from neutrality
  • मा – me
  • सद्: (to) reality
  • गमय- lead
  • तमस:- from darkness 
  • मा: me
  • ज्योति: – (to) light
  • गमय: lead
  • मृत्यो: -from death
  • मा: me
  • अमृतम: – (to) immortality
  • गमय: lead

Lead me from unreality to reality. Lead me from darkness (of ignorance) to light (of knowledge). Lead me from death to immortality.


Asato ma Sat gamaya – “Asat” denotes a superficial understanding and the performance of actions based on inherent tendencies. On the other hand, “Sat” signifies refined knowledge and actions guided by scriptural wisdom. The prayer to the supreme Brahman beseeches for guidance from the crude state of knowledge and action to a state of refinement, where actions are guided by deep understanding and aligned with scriptural teachings.

Tamaso ma Jyotir gamaya – “Tamas” signifies ignorance and erroneous knowledge, while “Jyoti” represents authentic knowledge. The prayer implores guidance from ignorance towards enlightenment, emphasizing the journey from darkness to illumination.

Mrityor ma Amritam gamaya – The aspiration to transcend death and attain immortality is deeply ingrained in human consciousness. Unlike the relatively abstract concepts of Asat and Sat, Tamas, and Jyoti, the desire to move from mortality to immortality is widely understood and universally felt. Acharya Shankara highlights that this longing for immortality is inherent to human nature, serving as the fundamental destination of our journey. Hence, it requires no elaborate explanation, as it resonates with the innate yearning of every individual.

The progression outlined here signifies a transformative journey. Initially, adhering to the teachings of our scriptures (Mantra 1) enables us to dispel ignorance and distractions, paving the way for a focused and tranquil understanding of reality (Mantra 2). Subsequently, through disciplined focus and perseverance (Tapas), we internalize this knowledge, transcending mortal limitations and attaining immortality (Sat-Cit-Ananda) (Mantra 3). This process marks a profound evolution towards spiritual realization and ultimate fulfillment.

Acharya Shankara offers a crucial insight into the application (Viniyoga) of the Mantra. He emphasizes that the three Mantras from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad are intended for Japa by individuals who clearly understand Prana’s functioning (Prana-vijnana). This implies two key points:

  1. Firstly, knowledge of Prana’s operation is essential for effective Mantra utilization, particularly for practitioners of Yoga or Pranayama. Hence, these mantras hold greater significance and impact for those engaged in yoga/pranayama practices to calm the mind.
  2. Secondly, the emphasis on Japa indicates that mere study of the Mantra is insufficient; repeated recitation (Japa/abhyasa) coupled with contemplation of its meaning is essential for a deeper understanding and internalization of its essence.

Why Hindu

We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

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