Divali lunch hosted by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

Deoroop Teemal delivered the attached speech at the Divali lunch hosted by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr Keith Rowley, at his residence.


Notwithstanding the traditions, celebrations and festivities surrounding Divali, in my address to you today, I would like to explore some aspects of the spiritual possibilities that Divali affords us every year. In doing so, I would like to use an ancient prayer that has been with the Hindu tradition for thousands of years and one which is chanted extensively during the festival of Divali. It is a prayer to the Divine Mother:

Om. Asato Maa Sad Gamaaya

Tamaso Maa Jyotir Gamaaya

Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaaya

This prayer is comprised of nine words. Om – the primeval sound that is used at the start of all Hindu prayer. The word gamaaya which is mentioned three times signifies movement, a leading towards a goal or objective

In this prayer, we are not asking for a physical movement but rather a progressive movement of change, moving from one state or position or condition to another. Thus, this ancient prayer is framed around the context of change, movement and transformation and in this regard Diwali can be experienced as a possibility to bring about a shift in one’s consciousness from the static and unproductive to a dynamic which embraces a willingness to immerse ourselves in a process of self-reflection and inner searching, and the courage to continuously and persistently, act on the results of our search. The word Maa refers to the Divine Mother Lakshmi and is also, repeated three times. Here we see that for the transformational movement to take place, the Divine Mother is being asked to lead the process. This acknowledges the importance of divine grace in bringing about meaningful change.

The other six words of this prayer comprise three pairs of opposites. Thus, the movement or shift we are seeking is from one state to its opposite. The first pair of opposites is the words sat and asat. Loosely translated sat could be taken to mean reality or truth. So, the seeker is asking to be taken from the unreal to the real or from untruth to truth. Reality for many of us may be our obligations to our family, our jobs, our expenses, our pleasures and a host of other responsibilities that occupy our daily lives non-stop. In fact, if we do not try to contend with these responsibilities and expectations, we are told that we are living in a dream world rather than the real world. The Hindu tradition tells us that the entire creation owes its existence and sustenance to a divine consciousness which is also all pervading and resident in all beings. To live our lives in forgetfulness of this connectivity with this divine inheritance of ours is truly living in the unreal. All truths experienced in this world are relative in that they owe their existence to a related experience. The only absolute reality or truth in the entire universe is the Divine and all our realities and truths in life are only valid if all facets of life are linked to this eternal truth.

The second pair of opposites is the words tamas and jyotir. Jyotir means that which comes from a flame i.e. light and thus tamas indicates darkness.

Tamas is often translated as darkness. Tamas refers to state of inertia, a static, non-productive, non-creative, impotent state. Tamas is a state in which ignorance dominates and blocks the opportunities for us to recognize the light of the divine within and all around us. Tamas is anything that produces this state of inertia or state of being in which barriers like doubt, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, hate, anger, complacency and other such debilitating factors, can dominate and control our thoughts and actions, thus preventing the light within us to manifest in our lives and in our society.

It is instructive to note that rather than use the direct word “light” itself, the seer or composer of this prayer has chosen to remind us of how light is produced i.e. using a flame. Thus, on deeper reflection here, we are being reminded that to have light, action and effort is necessary, the right effort in the right direction must be available to produce this flame.

The third pair of opposite words in the prayer to the Divine Mother is mrityu and amritam. Mrityu means death but we should not take this to simply mean the end of our physical life here on earth. Mrityu here refers to the many forms of death we experience whilst alive. There are many facets of our character and personality that we allow to die because of our failure to develop and nurture them. Our failure to allow our spirit to guide and influence our lives is a form of death. We know of the saying, “cowards die many times before their death” which identifies fear as a form of death. It is fear that makes us want to dominate, hate and discriminate. It makes our minds small and narrows our view of the world. Dharma has the power to outgrow this fear and help us to recognize the essential oneness in all diversity. Amritam means immortality and once we have released or conquered all these forms of death, we are rendered free and immortality is ours.

This prayer to the Divine Mother which is chanted so many times at Divali time is about our aspirations and our will to encourage movement in our lives for the better. This prayer is not about the rules and regulations we use

to regulate humanity but it is aimed at enabling each one of us to cope with the diversity of the life experience, in a manner that always moves us forward. It is the call to do darshan, seeking the light within us all. In it, we see the movement or shift framed by the pairs of opposites.

In the world, today, focus is mainly on methods and systems to bring about change in the world and society – economic, politics, management, technology, etc. The thoughts expressed in this prayer, focuses on how we should see the world, what is seen and unseen, and the necessity for us to seek the unseen within the experience of the seen. The entire world experience is within opposites framed in relativity. We cannot experience one without the other – joy without knowing what sorrow is, pain without knowing what happiness is, etc. The pairs of opposites we have looked at in this prayer is unique in the regard that it takes us are a journey from the external world to the internal self, to bring about transformation in our lives.

We may ridicule this approach as passive and ineffective, for extreme value is placed on changes only in the external world and society to bring about transformation whilst turning a blind eye to the impact these have on the internal world of the mind.

Most times we live in the external or gross and the inner subtle world does not confront us. When we move from the possibility of the external realm to the inner, when we see another dimension after being in another all the time, the shift enforces realisation that helps us to an awakening from the tamas to the light, from the untruth to the truth. This prayer signals to us that before effective change can be externalised, it must be internalized in the light within us. Diwali therefore always provides us with the possibility of a shift, of movement and of transformation. We light the deeyah of Diwali to remind us of this possibility.

O Divine Mother – from untruth lead us to truth, from darkness lead us to light, from death lead us to immortality.

In closing, I would like to thank the organisers of this event, for the opportunity and privilege to share these thoughts with you and I take the liberty, on behalf of everyone, to extend our thanks and appreciation to the

Honorable Prime Minister for hosting this luncheon and to the GORTT for

its contributions towards Divali celebrations, 2016.

May the Divine Mother lead us and guide us always and may she bring prosperity to everyone present and to all citizens of this nation. Shubh Divali

– Happy Divali to us all!

Source: World Hindu News (WHN)