What's the deal with the Number 108?
The number 108 has held a multifaceted meaning throughout history. If you are familiar with Eastern philosophy, religion, or culture you have probably run across this number a few times. In many Eastern religions and traditions the number 108 is sacred. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism all share a reverence for the number as do yoga and dharma based practices. A prime example of 108's divine significance in an Eastern religion is it's use in Hinduism. Hindu deities have 108 names; recital of these names (i.e. Na Maja Pa) are often accompanied by the counting of the 108-beaded Mala. The Na Maju Pa is considered sacred and often done during religious ceremonies.
Eastern spiritual practices and theories have also been influenced by the esoteric presence of the number 108. Yoga is one eastern practice where the number 108 can be seen repeatedly for various reasons. In Kriya Yoga, the maximum number of repetitions allowed to be practiced in one sitting is 108. To honor change, whether that change be due to the change in seasons or transitioning from a time of tragedy to peace there are 108 Sun Salutations performed. It is said that while practicing yoga if one can remain calm and only breath 108 times a day enlightenment can be achieved. In Japan, at the end of the year, a bell is chimed 108 times in Buddhist temples to finish the old year and welcome the new one. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana. Just like the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist use their 108 beaded malas so too do Zen priest wear (and use) a juzu, a ring of 108 prayer beads, around their wrists.
For those who are interested in martial arts or are practitioners you may or may not know that the number 108 has been folded into numerous disciplines and styles. Take the Goju-ryu style of karate, there is a kata (form; an individual training exercise) called Suparinpei. Suparinpei is known as the ultimate Goju-ryu kata and literally translates to "108". The Eagle Claw Kung Fu style has a form known as the 108 Locking Hand Techniques. This form is considered the essence of the style, consisting of an encyclopedia of Chin Na (joint locking) techniques, and is said to be passed down from the founder General Yue Fei. Paek Pal Ki Hyung, the 7th form taught in the art of Kuk Sool Won, translates literally to "108 technique" form. It is also frequently referred to as the "eliminate 108 torments" form. Each motion corresponds with one of the 108 Buddhist torments or defilements.
At this point you may be wondering why 108? With a literal infinite choice of numbers to choose from why was 108 selected so often? The answer to these questions may not be as mystical as you might think. The physical world has its own occurrences of the number 108 appearing in both mathematics and science. It is because of these occurrences noticed and record by ancient scholars that we see how it is possible many early cultures would associate the number 108 with the divine. According to Chinese and Indian martial arts and holistic medicine (i.e. Marma Adi, Ayurveda, etc.) there are 108 pressure points in a human body. 108 is a Harshad number, an integer divisible by the sum of its digits. Harshad is a Sanskrit word meaning "joy-giver".
With all the known associations with the number 108 in the ancient world there have continued to be more discoveries in modern times reinforcing the belief that there is a connection between 108 and the universe. With modern equipment and technology we have discovered that the distance between the Earth and Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance between the Earth and Moon is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
As you can see the number 108 is omnipresent. For those of us who follow a belief system that embraces it in it's practices, look to the stars for insight, practitioner of the martial artist or anything in-between the number 108 holds an undeniable significance in our lives whether we know it or not. It is my intention that this article be a stepping stone in your journey to acquire the knowledge you are seeking and that you use what you have learned to further your ambitions.