Galileo Galilei said the universe is written in “mathematical numbers,” and the mysteries of the universe could be explained with numbers and mathematical equations. So we will turn to the sky to start our exploration of the mythical number 108.
We’ll turn first to Indian Astronomy where it was mentioned that the sun was 108 sun-diameters away from the earth and the moon was 108 moon-diameters away from the earth. Surprising that this is so accurate given the lack of equipment at the time. Today we know that the sun is 107.6 sun diameters from the earth and the moon is 110.6 moon diameters from the earth. The diameter of the sun is 1.4 million kilometers which is approximately 151 million kilometers (1.4 x 108!) from the earth. Today we also know that the sun’s diameter equals approximately 108 times the earth’s diameter.
From Earth, the sun and moon (ha tha in yoga), look to be the same size although we know they are not. The diameter of the sun is over 400 times bigger than the moon. This is why the sun can eclipse the moon.
The number 108 makes appearances in the RigVeda (one of the four books of the Vedic period) and in the structure of the document itself. There are 10,800 stanzas in the RigVeda. The RigVeda is a collection of mantras or hymns which were intended to be said aloud and were meant to symbolically take one to the sky⎯to the home of the gods. In Vedic culture, 108 also equals the wholeness of existence.
Indian philosophy believes outer cosmology to be mirrored inside of humans. The number 108 is said to represent the distance from one’s body to the body of God within.
There are 108 beads on a mala (like a rosary). When you touch each bead during meditation you are symbolically making the journey from your outer self to your higher Inner Self.
In my tradition of yoga, a Tantric Hatha Yoga Path, which is also a Shaivite path ( we follow the path of Shiva) it is said that Shiva had 108 MukhyaShivaganas or attendants.
There are also 108 pithas or sacred sites in India, 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points or sacred places in the body. 108 also indicates spiritual completion.
In the Sanskrit language there are 54 letters. Each letter has a masculine and feminine energy. 54×2 = 108.
Some traditions of yoga often perform 9 rounds of sun salutes with 12 postures in each round. 9×12 = 108.
If you put a 5-pointed star (representing a human being) inside of a circle (representing a planet) there would be 108 degrees at every angle. Who says we aren’t part of the Universe?
So I know I haven’t told you exactly why 108 is significant and perhaps we will never know the answer but it is interesting to look at all the places in the world, all the traditions and cultures that use 108 as a sacred number.
Next week I’ll share a quick list of where you can find 108.