Friday, May 25, 2012

The sacred 108

Why do the ancient scriptures, religions and traditions of the East like Hinduism, Buddhism , say 108 as sacred? Is 108 a very important number in Vedantic chantings because the great scholars knew something that we don’t?

The individual numbers 1, 0, and 8 represent one thing, nothing, and everything (infinity). 108 represents the ultimate reality of the universe as being (seemingly paradoxically) simultaneously One, emptiness, and infinite.

The Rosary beads known as the Japa Mala has beads for 108 repetitions of a mantra (Japa),usually called Naam Japa done during religious ceremonies. 

There are Ashtothras  with 108 names of the respective deity. Like, Lakshmi Ashtotra.

Let us explore this even though we can never have an absolute view of anything but only a general view.

Scientific significance:
Volume expansion of freezing water is roughly 108%.

108 degrees Fahrenheit is also the internal temperature at which the human body's vital organs begin to fail from overheating.

The moon is 108 moon diameters away from the earth the sun 108 moon diameters from earth. In other words, the distance of Sun from Earth divided by diameter of Sun and distance of Moon from Earth divided by diameter of Moon is approximately equal to 108.

Historic significance:
The pre-historic monument Stonehenge is about 108 feet in diameter.

Religious significance:
Hinduism: The Indian Subcontinent rosary or set of mantra counting has 108 beads. 108 has been a sacred number in the Indian Subcontinent for a very long time. This number is explained in many different ways.

In a book by Khurana, the explanation closely mirrors the original Vedic justifications: A circle has 360 degrees, which when multiplied by 60 gives us 21,600 minutes in a circle. 60 comes from the 60 'ghatis' which Sanatana Dharmiks believe in. One ghati is equal to 24 minutes and 60 ghatis come to 24 hours. One ghati is divided into 60 parts or 'palas'. So the 60 ghatis multiplied by 60 palasa comes to 3,600. This is further multiplied by 60 (becase a pala contains 60 vipalas) which gives us 21,600. Half of this is for the day, and the other half for the night. So, 21,600 divided by 2 gives us 10,800. For practical purposes, we use 108. Using the number 108 helps us coordinate the rhythm of time and space & we remain in harmony with the spiritual powers of nature.

Mantra and Tantra significance:
Sri Yantra: On the Sri Yantra there are marmas where three lines intersect, and there are 54 such intersections. Each intersection has masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti qualities. 54 x 2 equals 108. Thus, there are 108 points that define the Sri Yantra as well as the human body.
Meru: This is a larger bead, not part of the 108. It is not tied in the sequence of the other beads. It is the guiding bead, the one that marks the beginning and end of the mala. 

Buddhism: Soshu Buddhists use 108 beads in their malas. They implement the following formula:
6 x 3 x 2 x3 = 108
6 senses [sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought]
3 aspects of time [past, present, future]
2 condition of heart [pure or impure]
3 possibilties of sentiment [like, dislike, indifference]

In Japan, at the end of the year, a bell is chimed 108 times in Buddhist temples to finish the old year and welcome the new one. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.

Islam: The number 108 is used in Islam to refer to God.
Jain: In the Jain religion, 108 are the combined virtues of five categories of holy ones, including 12, 8, 36, 25, and 27 virtues respectively.

Sikhism: The Sikh tradition has a mala of 108 knots tied in a string of wool, rather than beads.

Chinese: The Chinese Buddhists and Taoists use a 108 bead mala, which is called Su-Chu, and has three dividing beads, so the mala is divided into three parts of 36 each.

Mathematical significance:
The ancient Indians were excellent mathematicians and 108 may be the product of a precise mathematical operation (e.g. 1 power 1 x 2 power 2 x 3 power 3 = 108) which was thought to have special numerological significance.
Numerical scale: The 1 of 108, and the 8 of 108, when added together equals 9, which is the number of the numerical scale, i.e. 1, 2, 3 ... 10, etc., where 0 is not a number.
Smaller divisions: The number 108 is divided, such as in half, third, quarter, or twelfth, so that some malas have 54, 36, 27, or 9 beads.
Pythagorean: The nine is the limit of all numbers, all others existing and coming from the same. ie: 0 to 9 is all one needs to make up an infinite amount of numbers.
Powers of 1, 2, and 3 in math: 1 to 1st power=1; 2 to 2nd power=4 (2x2); 3 to 3rd power=27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27=108

Language significance:
Sanskrit alphabet: There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.

Spiritual significance:
9 times 12: Both of these numbers have been said to have spiritual significance in many traditions. 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9. That 9 times 12 equals 108.
1, 0, and 8: 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
Stages of the soul: Said that Atman, the human soul or center goes through 108 stages on the journey

Biological significance:
Heart Chakra: The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.

Yogic significance:
According to Ayurveda and the Chinese school of martial arts, there are 108 pressure points in the body, where consciousness and flesh intersect to give life to the living being.

Marmas or marmastanas are like energy intersections called chakras, except have fewer energy lines converging to form them. There are said to be 108 marmas in the subtle body.

Time significance:
Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.

There are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called namshas or chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equals 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole.
Planets and Houses: In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.

Epic significance:
Gopis of Krishna: In the Krishna tradition, there were said to be 108 gopis or maid servants of Krishna.

Fine Arts Significance:
Dance: There are 108 forms of dance in the Indian traditions.

An official Major League Baseball has 108 stitches.
108 is the name of a community of and for open source developers, created by Red Hat.
There are 108 cards in a deck of UNO cards.
In India, 108 (1-0-8) is the toll-free emergency telephone number.


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