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Lead me from Darkness to Light:
Asato Ma Sat Gamaya
lead me from Illusion to Truth
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
lead me from Darkness to Light
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya
lead me from Death to Life
This month, many of you have meditated on this ancient mantra with me.
The Winter Solstice (Dec 21) is the shortest day/longest night of the year. I chose the Asato Ma mantra for meditation during this time because it literally asks that we be led from “darkness to light.”
In this case, “light” is translated as jyotir in sanskrit, which means the Inner Light, Higher Self, Inner Divine, or Witness. The prayer of this mantra is to gradually shed our identification with the outer packages of ourselves – our physical bodies, our cars, our jobs, even relationships – to order to see the Inner Light of our hearts.
This is a very “lofty” aspiration; being liberated from the ego. But this mantra has a very practical application to our everyday lives: it helps free us from suffering we experience when we mistake the impermanent for permanent.
For example, when we marry we expect to “mate for life” with a person who has a certain set of beliefs, qualities and habits. Later on, this person might have a powerful life experience, or a read a book that changes their beliefs. If we expect them to think and behave in the same way they always did, we will experience suffering.
Another example: a college freshman who ran cross-country in high school might quit running in college to focus on his studies. If he continues to eat his regular diet of pizza, pasta and soda, he will discover that his metabolism is not permanent!
When we operate as if everything is permanent we run into problems. We like to believe that everything is permanent because it’s easier than staying present to the constant shifting of all things. Change can be so scary that we will even inflict suffering in order to maintain the illusion of permanence.
I would like to believe my yoga teaching job, my husband’s job, my teaching schedule are all permanent. But there is sometimes an ache in my knee, a decrease in student attendance, a negative-sounding phone call that shakes me up.
Possibly, this is why we adore Ganesh so much. His elephant hugeness and weight feel immovable, inevitably permanent!
In Yoga (I’m taught…) there is ONE permanence. It is the INNER LIGHT. The Jyotir in the mantra – the Inner Witness, the Seer, The Higher Self. It is the Sat in the mantra – the truth.
The Enlightened Ones are absorbed into it.
I am told it lives in the heart , visible in moments of utter focus – in the space between thoughts.
I don’t know that I’ve seen it – perhaps come close enough to sense it. Sometimes when I am teaching there is nothing but a laser connection, a mind-words-bodies-hearts transmission in which I forget everything else. There is no time but that time. No thought but that thought.
The Asato Mantra is a prayer for us scrambling permanence seekers. For those of us ruffled or broken, prodded by the aching threat of change. It is a prayer for us to remember that when impermanence grinds our foundation into shifting, sinking sand – there is one permanence to look to – the Light in every heart. It is a prayer to bolster our faith in the experience and testament of the sages:
That dark Dweller in Braj
That dark Dweller in Braj
Is my only refuge.
O my companion,
Worldly comfort is an illusion,
As soon you get it, it goes.
I have chosen the Indestructible for my refuge,
Him whom the snake of death
Will not devour.
My Beloved dwells in my heart,
I have actually seen that Abode of Joy.
Mira’s Lord is Hari, the Indestructible.
My Lord, I have taken refuge with Thee,