What’s the big deal about 108 anyway? It’s just a number like any other, isn’t it?
I’ve been hearing about the importance of 108 as long as I have been studying yoga and yet I still think it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty why it is such an auspicious number. Ancient texts purport that 108 repetitions of a mantra enhance its efficacy while the mystics of India would say this number is in sync with the rhythms of time and space.
Finding a definitive answer to the mystery of 108 may not be apparent right now but there are many examples of its significance in our lives and throughout the world. Here are just a few.
By employing 108 repetitions of a mantra we are acknowledging the order of the universe and aligning our intentions with it. In effect, harmonising our personal vibrations with those around us.
Traditionally, malas, or garlands of prayer beads, come as a string of 108 beads plus one for the guru bead (around which, it is said the other 108 turn like the planets around the sun). A mala is used for counting while repeating a mantra—similar to the se of the Catholic rosary.
Renowned mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number representation of the wholeness of existence. It’s also a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad, from Sanskrit, means great joy).
The River Ganga
The sacred River Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees (79 to 91), and a latitude of 9 degrees (22 to 31). 12 times 9 equals 108.
There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, each having a masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti. When you multiply 54 x 2 you get 108.
There are said to be 108 Indian goddess names.
The Upanishads are great texts of wisdom from the ancient sages and it is thought there are 108 in total.
According to yogic tradition, there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India.
Marmas or marmasthanas are like energy intersections throughout the body. There are said to be 108 marmas in the subtle body.
The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and it is thought there are 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-realisation.
The yogic tradition teaches the beleif that enlightenment will come to anyone who can be so calm in meditation as to only have to breath 108 in the day. (Definitely still working on that one!)
The Tantra tradition estimates the average number of breaths per day at 21,600, of which 10,800 are solar energy, and 10,800 are lunar energy. Multiplying 108 by 100 is 10,800 and multiplying 10,800 by 2 brings us to 21,600.
Each of the numbers that make up 108 have a significance individually. The 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity
Sun and Earth
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.
Moon and Earth
The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
There are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called namshas or chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equals 108
Planets and Houses
In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.
Desires and Delusions
There are said to be 108 earthly desires and 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance.
Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
The yoga tradition and nature itself is full of coincidences that lead back to the number 108. It seems that our forebears had an insight into science and time and space that goes far beyond their means and yet the information is well documented. These ancient intellectuals were able to know the unknowable through keenly developed intuition. They were not only scholars but yogis who practiced meditation, concentration and focused attention.
My own belief is that there is no coincidence in nature and when something is repeatedly brought to your awareness it’s worth paying attention to. The only problem? The more attention I give it, the deeper the mystery becomes!