What does “108″ mean?

Via on Sep 14, 2010

Lost, Uno and the Mystical Number 108.

When I started sitting with the Kansas Zen Center, I was introduced to bowing practice.

Bowing practice consists of doing 108 full prostrations. It’s actually pretty tough to do, so it’s sometimes suggested that people start off doing 27, and then adding on a “rep” as one progresses. By 27 of, course.

It was recommended to me by my guiding teacher that instead of sitting twice a day, I should do 108 bows in the morning. It takes roughly 12 minutes to complete and, believe it or not, rocks some good cardio. Now that I think about it, maybe her reason for suggesting it is my belly?

Oh well, regardless: this suggestion made me wonder, “Why 108?” It seemed like such a strange number. So I decided to look up its meaning and was surprised to see it everywhere, even here on our beloved Elephant Journal! I have no doubt that many of you are quite familiar with the meaning of “108.” Hindu and Buddhist prayer beads (mala), for example, have 108 beads. But why? Well, I was determined to find out.

What does 108 mean?

The ancient Indians were excellent mathematicians and 108 may be the product of a precise mathematical operation (e.g. 1 power 1 x 2 power 2 x 3 power 3 = 108).

There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.

9 times 12: Both of these numbers have been said to have spiritual significance in many traditions. 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9. That 9 times 12 equals 108.

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.

Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.

In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.

The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth.

According to Atman, the human soul or center goes through 108 stages on the journey.

In Pythagorean, the nine is the limit of all numbers, all others existing and coming from the same. ie: 0 to 9 is all one needs to make up an infinite amount of numbers.

There are 108 Upanishads in the Muktikopanishad.

There are 540 (108 * 5) doors to the Great Hall of Valhalla in Nordic mythology.

The number of stitches on a baseball.

The sum of “The Numbers” in the TV show Lost (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42). It is also the number of minutes within which these numbers must be entered into the computer and the button must be pushed. 108 is also the number of days the Oceanic 6 spent on the island.

There are 108 cards in an Uno deck.

So who knows exactly why 108 bows?  It appears to have been a mystical number back in the day.  But if anyone asks, I’m either going with Lost or Uno.

About Blake Wilson

Blake is a law librarian and a member of the Kwan Um School of Zen, sitting with the Kansas Zen Center in Lawrence, Kansas. Blake is way into g33k culture which, as he sees it, easily includes Zen, and is willing to share with you his struggles and observations. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and kansaszencenter.org.

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