Sunday, April 19, 2009


Asato mâ sad gamaya
Tamaso mâ jyotir gamaya
Mrtyor mâmrtam gamaya

"Lead me from the false to the true!
Lead me from darkness to light!
Lead me from death to the immortal!"

The words are from the Brhadaranyaka-upanishad (perhaps about 800 BC), and describe the salvific experience of immortality in the most vivid terms. Note the old Indo-Euroepan words sat, "true", originally a participle of the same root that gives English "is", the root mr-, which we find in Latin mors (and in the latinate loanword "mortal"). The word gamaya ("lead") is a causative of the same root (*gwem-) that we have have in the word "come", which means that the text literally says "let me come."

And where do we find this text today, apart from the dusty tomes and recitations of philologers and brahmins? In the majestic choral piece called Neodämmerung , which is played in the movie The Matrix Revolutions, when Neo is fighting with the ever-so-cool Agent Smith. The word-stress is not quite right in the movie, however (the chorus puts the emphasis on second syllable in gamaya , which should ideally be short). But it is nonetheless quite fun to find Upanishadic Sanskrit in a big Hollywood movie - who said ancient languages can't help you understand modern life?

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