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108 – WHAT’S IN A NUMBER?

December 1, 2012

108 - blog imageYou may have come across the number 108 in more ways than just our 108 Sun Salutations event earlier this year to mark the change in season in line with a long established tradition performed by yogis and yoginis all around the world. The number 108 is considered sacred in many Eastern religions and traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and is also found in yoga and dharma based practices. So, what’s in a number? Why is the number 108 so special? And why do we need to take time to acknowledge change whether it is in the greater environment around us or in our own lives?

In the Vedic age, the era in which the most ancient Hindu scriptures were composed, renowned mathematicians regarded 108 as the number of the wholeness of existence with the 1 standing for God or higher Truth, 0 for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 standing for infinity or eternity, representing the ultimate reality of the universe. The number 108 is connected to much more:

  • In Hinduism, there are 108 early Upanishads that make up the theoretical basis for the religion and it is also said that there are 108 Hindu deities. Some say that each of these deities has 108 names.
  • The Sanskrit alphabet has 54 letters, each with a masculine and feminine form called shiva and shakti respectively, making a total of 108 letters.
  • Krishna, another name for Vishnu, the preserver god, was said to have had 108 gopis or maid servants.
  • In Kriya Yoga, a system consisting of a number of levels of Pranayama (breathing exercises) based on techniques that are intended to rapidly accelerate spiritual development, the maximum number of repetitions allowed to be practiced in one sitting is 108.
  • The heart chakra contains 108 of the 72000 nadis or energy channels in the body. The mala beads, or prayer beads, used to count mantra repetition in meditation and chanting, number 108.
  • Shiva Rea who started the ‘Global Mala Project’, an organisation that aims to unite the global yoga community from every continent in the world through collective practices based upon the sacred cycle of 108, shares her thoughts on this tradition and creating a chain of human mala beads here.

…and so we could go on (scroll down to the bottom of the blog to read more!). This leaves us no doubt, the number 108 has something special about it!

As Autumn bids us farewell taking with her the laced leaves from the trees that clothe her and Winter makes herself known to us with her icy breath at our nostrils, we invite you to mark the change of seasons and our environment and whatever change is occurring in your personal lives, in whatever way is sacred to you. Perhaps you will embark on your own 108 sun salutations? Perhaps you are already participating in our 30 day pre-Christmas challenge? Or perhaps you will choose simply to take 108 minutes in nature to observe Winter’s arrival? Sometimes we resist change due to a fear of the unknown – we would rather hang on to the old, despite the fact it may not being serving us any longer, for fear of what change may look like. The ancient texts that have given us Yoga as we know it today, ask us to trust the Universe, the Universe within and the Universe that makes up the greater whole and to remember that we all make up a human mala chain – every bead serves a purpose in the whole.

For now we leave you with some more interesting facts and trivia about the number 108 and invite you to share with us any that particularly resonate with you or let us know of any others that you may know of:

  • The angle formed by two adjacent lines in a pentagon equals 108 degrees.
  • 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is from Sanskrit, and means “great joy”).
  •  The pre-historic monument Stonehenge is about 108 feet in diameter.
  •  In Homer’s Odyssey, there were 108 suitors coveting Penelope, the wife of Odysseus.
  • There are said to be 108 earthly desires in mortals.
  • The first manned space flight lasted 108 minutes, and was on April 12, 1961 by Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut.
  • There are said to be 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance.
  • 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.
  •  If one is able to be so calm in meditation as to have only 108 breaths in a day, enlightenment will come.
  •  According to yogic tradition, there are 108 pithas or sacred sites throughout India.
  •  Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
  •  The sacred River Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees and a latitude of 9 degrees (12×9=108).
  •  In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets (12×9=108).
  •  The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun.
  •  The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
  •  In astrology, the metal silver is said to represent the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108u.
  •  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.
  •  In Islam the number 108 is used to refer to God.
  •  In the Jain religion, 108 are the combined virtues of five categories of holy ones, including 12, 8, 36, 25, and 27 virtues respectively.
  •  The Sikh tradition has a mala of 108 knots tied in a string of wool, rather than beads.
  •  Buddhists ring a bell 108 times to celebrate a new year.
  •  There are 108 forms of dance in the Indian traditions.
  •  An official Major League Baseball ball has 108 stitches.
  •  There are 108 cards in a deck of UNO cards.
  •  The number 108 London bus goes from Lewisham to Stratford.
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