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om tat sad iti nirdeso
brahmanas tri-vidhah smrtah
brahmanas tena vedas ca
yajnas ca vihitah pura
Word for word:
om — indication of the Supreme; tat — that; sat — eternal; iti — thus; nirdesah — indication; brahmanah — of the Supreme; tri-vidhah — threefold; smrtah — is considered; brahmanah — the brahmanas; tena — with that; vedah — the Vedic literature; ca — also; yajnah — sacriﬁce; ca — also; vihitah — used; pura — formerly.
Translation by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada:
From the beginning of creation, the three words om tat sat were used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth. These three symbolic representations were used by brahmanas while chanting the hymns of the Vedas and during sacriﬁces for the satisfaction of the Supreme.
Purport by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada:
It has been explained that penance, sacriﬁce, charity and foods are divided into three categories: the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. But whether ﬁrst class, second class or third class, they are all conditioned, contaminated by the material modes of nature. When they are aimed at the Supreme – om tat sat, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the eternal – they become means for spiritual elevation. In the scriptural injunctions such an objective is indicated. These three words, om tat sat, particularly indicate the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the Vedic hymns, the word om is always found.
One who acts without following the regulations of the scriptures will not attain the Absolute Truth. He will get some temporary result, but not the ultimate end of life. The conclusion is that the performance of charity, sacriﬁce and penance must be done in the mode of goodness. Performed in the mode of passion or ignorance, they are certainly inferior in quality. The three words om tat sat are uttered in conjunction with the holy name of the Supreme Lord, e.g., om tad visnoh. Whenever a Vedic hymn or the holy name of the Supreme Lord is uttered, om is added. This is the indication of Vedic literature. These three words are taken from Vedic hymns. Om ity etad brahmano nedistham nama indicates the ﬁrst goal. Then tat tvam asi (Chandogya Upanisad 6.8.7) indicates the second goal. And sad eva saumya (Chandogya Upanisad 6.2.1) indicates the third goal. Combined they become om tat sat. Formerly when Brahma, the ﬁrst created living entity, performed sacriﬁces, he indicated by these three words the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore the same principle has always been followed by disciplic succession. So this hymn has great signiﬁcance. Bhagavad-gita recommends, therefore, that any work done should be done for om tat sat, or for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When one performs penance, charity and sacriﬁce with these three words, he is acting in Krishna consciousness. Krishna consciousness is a scientiﬁc execution of transcendental activities which enables one to return home, back to Godhead. There is no loss of energy in acting in such a transcendental way.