The number 108 has great significance in the Yogic tradition. Malas (strings of beads), which aid Yoga and meditation practitioners in counting breath-work and mantra repetitions, are most often made of 108 beads, strung together as a necklace with one additional Guru bead. At the change of a season, many Yogis perform 108 Sun Salutations. I recently lead two groups of Yogis through this profoundly spiritual practice and decided to research the number 108 even further in order to properly explain to them the meaning of what we were doing and why. Here is what I discovered.
Ancient Yogis and Hindu Sages drew from a variety of sources and reasons to conclude that the number 108 is sacred. Indians are known for admiring structure and concord. Vedic mathematicians (The Vedas are early Hindu texts) looked to the stars to consider planetary relationships and worked out that the average distance of the Sun and the Moon from the Earth is 108 times their own particular diameters. It is also the case the water, when frozen, expands to 108 percent of its original volume. The numerological significance of the number 108 may also be the result of this precise mathematical operation: (1 power 1 x 2 power 2 x 3 power 3 = 108).
Medieval Vedic texts such as the Pranatosani Tantra state that there are 108 Pithas in India, which are Sacred Sites for Indian pilgrims to visit. The Matsya Purana, another Vedic text, states that there are 108 different names for the three main Hindu deities (a selection of these names are shown written in Sanskrit in the accompanying photo). There are also 108 Upanishads which are early Hindu philosophical texts originally passed down only orally to students, but were later also written. On top of this, the Indian science of life and health, Ayurveda, states that there are 108 marma points (pressure points) on the human body.
Another explanation of the importance of the number 108 lies in considering the Sanskrit alphabet. There are exaclty 54 letters, each having a feminine and a masculine form (Shakti and Shiva), and 54 x 2 = 108, once again.
Hindu numerologists also consider each number within the number 108 in and for itself. “One” stands for oneness with God and the Higher Truth. “Zero” represents emptiness, non-attachment and therefore completeness of spiritual practice. “Eight” is symbolic of infinity or a never-ending wheel of life. All together these three concepts contain the wholeness of existence.
108 is also significant in Buddhism, martial arts, various international literature, Chinese culture, and has been drawn upon in many modern instances as well, including the TV show “Lost”. I knew before that the number 108 was special, but I’ll admit that before all of this research, I wasn’t entirely clear why. It seems to me now that much thought and deep traditional meaning lies in the authenticity of this theory.
I have performed 108 Sun Salutations as part of a group for charity in the past, but I was newly excited and pleased to lead so many eager Yogis through 108 Sun Salutations as a result of my new understanding. We gathered to celebrate the 2011 summer solstice with this tradition, and dedicated our actions to our gratitude and love for the sun, for summer, to our loved ones, to bettering great causes in the world and to other individual ideas that made the practice even more meaningful to each practitioner. It was a challenging yet energizing accomplishment that everybody enjoyed and is looking forward to doing again in the future. To be part of such a sacred tradition is an honour. We are all connected and revolving, like beads on a mala: across the world, and also throughout time.