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There are a lot of people trying to understand the significance of the number 108. Often people will give a list of items that come in 108, but this doesn’t explain why 108 is sacred. A list gives no deeper understanding of why 108 is sacred, it only proves that people consider it sacred. As yogis and jyotishis, we need to understand the ‘why’ behind the principles of the ancient Rishis.
This article is published and copyrighted by the Jyotish Digest, Volume 4 Issue 2, New Delhi, 2005. The unquoted information in the main part of this article comes from the Parampara of Sri Achyuta Das of Orissa.
There are 12 rasi (sun signs) of 30 degrees each in the zodiac. These rasi are connected to the Adityas (12 Sun gods) and the rasi are said to give the results of the Sun. The Sun is karaka (significator) for the 1st and the houses 9th houses. When you take each rasi and divide it into nine amsas (divisions) it creates the Navamsa (9th divisional chart). 30 degrees divided by nine gives 9 signs of 3 degrees and 20 minutes each. With each of the 12 signs containing 9 amsas there is 108 amsas. This Navamsa shows the inherent qualities of the soul, a native’s dharma (purpose), bhagya (luck), and one’s spouse. The Navamsa is the 108 sign chart held in high esteem in Vedic astrology and a Vedic astrologer doesn’t read a birth chart without the navamsa sitting next to it.
The Moon goes through the zodiac in approximately 27 days which creates the lunar zodiac called the nakshatras. The Moon is karaka (significator) for the 4th house. Each of these 27 lunar signs are divided into 4 amsas (divisions) called padas (feet/footsteps). The nakshatras (lunar signs) are 13-20 degrees and divided by four become 3-20 degrees. 27 nakshatras multiplied by 4 padas is 108. The four pada relate to the four ayana: karma (career), artha (sustenance), kama (pleasure/family), moksa (spirituality/liberation). Each pada has a tone, using which can activate a planet within the tone. The Moon has a 108 padas and 108 tones.
The 3-20 division reveals itself as the most crucial division. The Moon sign’s padas and the Sun sign’s navamsas line up with the number 108. 108 is the number where the Moon (manas) and Sun (atman/ahamkar) line up. It is where the Moon’s cycle can be aligned with the Sun’s cycle. 108 is a number that aligns the mind and the soul.
The 3-20 division aligns the Sun and the Moon, which also shows the alignment of Shiva and Parvati or the Purusha and Prakritti. The 108 division is the coming together of Purusha and Prakritti, it is the creation of the world.
The Sun and the Moon are connected to the earth by approximately 108 times their own diameters. When you look at the Sun and the Moon from earth they are perceived as the same size, this same size appears because of their distance. In the zodiac the large solar signs (rasis) find the same size as the smaller lunar signs (nakshatras) with the number 108. Even though the Sun (1,392,000 km ) is 400 times smaller than the Moon (3,474.8 km), they are perceived the same by their division of 108 times their own diameter. This just physically reveals that the Purusha (Sun) and Prakritti (Moon) are using the vibration of 108 to create and maintain life as it is on this earth. 108 is not sacred because of this distance, this distance (of a 108 the luminaries own diameter) are existing because it is the vibration in which all life as we know it is brought into existence.
It is the vibration of the Purusha and Prakritti that has put us into existence and it is the secret key that will allow us to awaken in our existence, manipulate our existence, or transcend our existence. It is a powerful force that can do anything, tantra (both positive and negative) taps into this force. There are a 108 beads upon a mala to tap into this vibration of the supreme creative force of the god and goddess, Purusha and Prakritti.
All other lists of 108 unfold from Purusha (Sun) and Prakritti (Moon). For example, in Ayurveda there are a 108 marmas in the body. They are points that can heal or kill a living being. They are considered the points where consciousness connects to the body, where Purusha (consciousness) is brought into Prakritti (body) to give life to the living being (both humans and animals have these points). The 108 intersections on the Sri Chakra again relate to this numbers ability invoke the balance of Purusha and Prakritti and the primordial ability of the rishi to see both clearly.
In linear time Prakritti (manifest creation) came forth from the Purusha (the absolute beyond anything created). It is a point from which all came into being. In non-linear time, this point is always present where the ‘nothing’ and the ‘something’ connect beyond words. This space is 108.
I read about the distance between planetary bodies being connected to108 being mentioned a few times and I questioned it and decided to really do a little research to find out where these numbers were coming from and how accurate they were.
Here is the statement made:
1- Distance between earth and sun = 108 times sun-diameter,
2- Distance between earth and moon = 108 times moon-diameter,
3- Diameter of the sun = 108 times the earth diameter.
1 . Distance between earth and sun = 108 times sun-diameter
The diameter of the Sun has not been easy for scientists to measure. These are the numbers I was able to find.
-1,392,000 km (“Sun” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6th ed. Columbia University Press, 2003)
– 1,400,000 km (Namowitz, Samuel N. and Spaulding, Nancy E. Earth Science. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell Company, 1999)
– 1,390,000 km (The Amazing Structure of the Sun. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 2003)
– 1,380,000 km (Namowitz, Samuel N., and Nancy E. Spaulding. Heath Earth Science. Lexington, MA: Heath, 1994: 398.)
The distance between the earth and the Sun is called an Astrological Unit (AU).
1 AU = 149,597,870.691 kilometers
Even though this is the number given there are multiple places where variability gets into the numbers. One way is the elliptical orbit of the earth around the Sun.
Perihelion: 147.5 million km, about January 4th
Aphelion 152.6 million km, about July 4th (from http://science.nasa.gov)
Taking the mean distance between the earth and the Sun ( 149,597,870.691 km) and dividing it by the most commonly used diameter of the Sun (1,392,000 km) the result is 107.46973469181034482758620689655.
2. Distance between earth and moon = 108 times moon-diameter
Moon’s diameter is: 3,474.8 km
Distance from earth to the Moon:
Again the Moon’s rotation is elliptical and not an exact circle. But Apollo 11 astronauts put mirrors on the Moon and lasers measure the amount of time it takes for the light to reflect, this gives measurements with accuracy up to a few inches at any given time.
Perigree 363,300 km
Apogee 405,500 km
Mean Distance 384,400 km (http://www.freemars.org/jeff/planets/Luna/Luna.htm)
Taking the mean distance from the Moon to the Earth (384,400 km) and dividing it by the Moon’s diameter (3,474.8 km) results in 110.62507194658685391965005180154.
3. Diameter of the sun = 108 times the earth diameter
The diameter of the earth is:
Equatorial diameter 12,756.28 km
Polar diameter 12,713.56 km
Mean diameter 12,742.02 km (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth)
Note: The Bhagavad Purana Canto 5, verse 2 says “The sun globe, which is a source of heat, has a width (vistaratah) of 10,000 yojanas. The moon has a width of 20,000 yojanas”
Sun 10,000 yojanas = 72,000 km, actual diameter 1,392,000 km
Moon 20,000 yojanas = 144,000 km, actual diameter 3,474.8 km
So even though the eclipse information that followed is correct the basic diameter is not correct in Purana. Brahmagupta in the 7 th century calculated the earth to be 5,000 yojanas which is 36,000 km (@7.2km per yojana). It was close; the actual circumference at the equator is 40,076km.
Taking the most used diameter of the Sun (1,392,000 km) divided by the mean diameter of the earth ( 12,742.02 km) results in 109.24484500887614365697118667213.
It is nice to see the relative closeness to the number 108 in these measurements, but the numbers really cannot stand out too much under scientific scrutiny. One would not look back and calculate the number 108 as sacred from such computations. Stating this factual information also doesn’t really give any deeper understanding of 108.
In the Jyotish tradition, 108 is associated with various calculations related to the Sun and Moon cycles. These modern astronomical distances correlate/create the year length and sidereal lunar cycle length (as time length is created by distance/motion). While the ancients would not have known the modern distances, the ratios do reveal themselves within the mathematics of time cycles where the year of 365.256 days is averaged to 360 (12 X 30) and month of 27.321661 is averaged to 27. This relationship would have been realized by people calculating a soli-lunar calendar, which was utilized by the majority of the ancient world (from Sumeria to China and later in Greece).
All other uses of 108 (sacred sites, sacred names, etc) would have arisen after a greater meaning of 108 was understood.
1 + 0 + 8 = 9. Nine is the number of completion. As zero is the first number and after 9 the numbers start to repeat themselves. The 9 substantial numbers are representing the 9 archetypes of human existence (the navagraha). Nine is sometimes connected to Ketu, the moksa Karaka (significator of liberation), the planet that brings higher awareness, expanded vision and moksha (liberation). Ketu is connected to the deity Ganesh who guards the door to the Mother Kundalini who gives us Moksha.
In the Durga Saptasati, the goddess Durga has nine forms known as the Navadurga. The number 9 is connected to the goddess Durga whose yantra (geometric symbol) contains the 9 pointed star and who is celebrated on Navratri (the nine nights of the goddess). In Hindu Kalachakra astrology it is Durga who guards the prana of the body, she guards our core vitality.
1 + 0 + 8 = 9. Numerologically, nine is a very special number, it always returns to itself. Look how it behaves with other numbers:
9 x 1 = 9
9 x 2 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9
9 x 3 = 27, 2 + 7 = 9
9 x 4 = 36, 3 + 6 = 9
9 x 5 = 45, 4 + 5 = 9
9 x 6 = 54, 5 + 4 = 9
9 x 7 = 63, 6 + 3 = 9
9 x 8 = 72, 7 + 2 = 9
9 x 9 = 81, 8 + 1 = 9
9 x 10=90, 9 + 0 = 9
9 x 11=99, 9 + 9 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9
9 x 12 = 108
There are 108 Marmas in the body, junction points where Consciousness is tied into the the flesh. When we say 108 mantras it acts as a Kavach (protection) to each point.
There are 108 spokes coming from the Hridaya (heart center) energizing the body. And when we do our mantras 108 times it allows the mantra to flow through each of these channels (as well as each of the 108 navamsas that a planet could be placed in).
When the ocean of milk was churned in the beginning of time, it could only be done with the working unity of the devas (gods) and asuras (demons). They used a great snake to churn the ocean of milk (the milky way) there were 54 devas on the side of the tail and 54 asuras on the side of the heads. They churned the ocean searching for the amrita (the nectar of immortality). Before it arose from the ocean many poisons and blessing arose. These represent our 54 negative qualities that churn with the 54 positive qualities in the spiritual work of looking for the amrita within. This churning allows the kundalini to rise on the mountain axis of our spine with the turtle of the root chakra below.
The 108 navamsa/padas are permanently charted into the zodiac. The Sun traverses these through out the year. The 54 demons are the Sun’s Southern Course (Dakshina Ayana) where there is more darkness on the northern hemisphere. The 54 devas are the Northern Course of the Sun (Uttara Ayana). It is the time of the devas, where light is more prevelant.