Definition - What does Om Asatoma mean?
Om asatoma (Sanskrit: ॐ असतो मा ) — sometimes referred to as Om asatoma sadgamaya — is the opening line to an ancient universal prayer, which is part of the Pavamana Mantra from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. The translation of the entire mantra is: "Lead us from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light and from death to immortality." It is used as a purifying prayer which is chanted for the wellbeing of oneself or for humanity.
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
All of the lines in this prayer encourage the practitioner to be their best self and to reside in an enlightened state. It does not seek to fulfill the practitioner’s needs of this world like material gain, success and personal needs, but rather, this mantra encourages the practitioner to leave the pain of ignorance, darkness and death of this world and reside in the celestial realms of knowledge, light and immortality.
Yogapedia explains Om Asatoma
The Pavamana mantra begins as most Sanskrit prayers do, with the word om. Om is believed to constitute the Divine in the form of sound. It is the universal sound where its utterance is considered to be the sound of creation itself.
Asato ma sad gamaya means “lead us or guide us from ignorance to knowledge.” This encourages us to let go of our own ignorance that blocks our vision and precludes us from seeing the ultimate truth and reside in a state of all-knowing and all-understanding.
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya means "lead us from darkness to light." The word jyotir means light, specifically, whereas the darkness is meant as personal negativity. This lines is saying we may be free of our darkness and emerge into the light.
Mrityor ma amritam gamaya requests that we may no longer be tied by the bonds of death and reside in our eternal state of immortality.
Om shanti shanti shanti means "peace, peace, peace"
As such, the full mantra can be translated as:
Lead us from ignorance to knowledge
Lead us from darkness to light
Peace, peace, peace
This prayer is a humble request that can be directed to God, to the practitioner’s higher self, to a guru, or a spiritual teacher. These prayers are helpful for creating a serene environment and for calming the mind. The practitioner can sing this prayer, chant it, or simply say it quietly to themselves in a meditative form. This mantra can be chanted alone, but it is also often heard in modern recordings during yoga classes and during kirtan, or group chanting.
Correct pronunciation of Sanskrit mantras is very important as it can change the vibratory quality and its meaning. In this mantra, "a” is pronounced open as in the “a” in father. The “o” is pronounced like the “o” in the word open. The “i” is pronounced like the “i” in the word “i” in the word imagine. It is also helpful if you can gently roll the “r” like you would when speaking Spanish.