Buddhism 108: Much more than the number of beads on a mala
There are 108 beads on a mala; in yoga, the 12 postures of the sun salutations are often completed in rounds of nine; and pranayamic breathing is often practiced in cycles of 108. Several eastern spiritual paths, including Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, hold the number 108 sacred, and yogic and dharmic practices connect to it. The number symbolizes spiritual completion, but what is its significance?
By Sally Keys
Our Place In The Dharma
In Buddhism, the number 108 connects us to our place in the dharma. If the human form is represented by a five-pointed star contained within a circle to represent the Earth, we see 108ᵒ in each angle. Within us, the heart chakra is formed of 108 lines of energy (nadis) and 108 pressure points (marmas). 108ᵒF, meanwhile, is the critical temperature at which our vital organs begin to overheat and shut down.
On a cosmic level, the distance between the sun and the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the sun. The number 108 connects us both to ourselves and to the world around us.
108 Reflected In Our Practice
A number of religious practices find significance in the number 108, and as a result, we see it reflected in places of worship around the world. The High Temple of Lamanai in Belize is 108 feet tall, as is the Tikal funerary temple in Guatemala. There are 108 steps in many Buddhist temples, and at Zen temples in Japan, a bell tolls 108 times at the year’s end.
In Tibetan Buddhism, there are 108 delusions, and spiritual teachings in other eastern religions also reflect the number, with Hindu deities being given 108 names and Jainists believing in 108 virtues. These teachings serve to remind of us of our connection to the world around us.
The origins of the significance of 108 cannot be traced back to one individual source, but perhaps this is part of its power: it is greater than human understanding, and connects us to our place in the dharma on a level that goes beyond rationalization.
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