by Tom Veatch, May 2016

What is the feeling of a number? Nothing?

A number is a cold and mere mathematical fact, a constructed unique name for any given count, it has no feeling of its own.

Still we attribute our feelings even to numbers, when there is a connection, symbolic or otherwise, that means something to us. In China lots of numbers have symbolic meaning, like 8 means success, everyone knows it, because the two words are homophonous in Chinese. I knew a Chinese entrepreneur named Claire that named her company C888. She had some feelings about that number.

Myself, every birthday I enjoy figuring out if my new age is a prime number, or if it can be split up into some fun factors or patterns of numbers. I'm 54 now, which is 2*(3^3) or 3^3 + 3^3, a nice number.

When Mom turned 81 on her birthday, September 16, 2013, or 9/16, it was fun to notice that she was 34 on 32/24. Or for another example, who knew that 2013=3*11*61? or that 2016 = 25 * 32 * 7, isn't that fun all year long? Yes!

This month is also the 108th birthday of my most incredible yoga master, who died 33 years ago, when I was 21, so I found myself thinking, like a good math nerd, about 108.

As it turns out, the Hindus, who invented yoga, hold the number 108 to be sacred, counting their prayer beads in 108's. Why sacred?

Well, let's start with fun, and go from there. Try taking it apart mathematically, and you may also think it is pretty neat!

I will do it for you here, so you may discover 108 to be the most evocative and loveliest of easily counted numbers, and, if you like, or if you already have symbolic associations in your mind for various numbers like the 4 directions (north south east west), 3 states of consciousness (waking, dreaming, and deep sleep), 2 or duality as the nature of suffering, it can be poetically elaborated and understood as itself an encoding, a hyper-abbreviation, perhaps, a reminder, of yoga philosophy.

108 contains and says quite a bit, look:

108 = 4 * 27 = 22 * 33 = 33 * 22 * 11 = 33 * 22 * 11 * 00.

(because anything to the zero power is one, even zero to the zero power, and of course 11=1).

To be quite poetical:

  • Representing the outer world, the cardinal directions, is it four factors? Yes, 33, 22, 11, 00.
  • Representing the inner cycling, the three states, is it three factors? Yes, 33, 22, 11.
  • Representing emotional pain, duality, is it two factors? Yes, 33, 22.
  • Representing oneness superceding all, does it combine all these in one? Yes, 108.


Is there more? We haven't even assumed decimal representation yet! So yes, that was a hint: we can find even more in 108 if we arbitrarily assume our ten-fingered, decimal representation, which makes it into three digits instead of more (like binary 1101100, which it is) or fewer (like hexadecimal 6C, which it is, also):

Among its decimal digits, 108's first (counting from smallest to largest), its finest detail, in the ones column, is eight, which is 23, two times two times two, which you can think of as duality multiplied by duality multiplied by duality (or added, added and added since 8=2+2+2+2). In yogic development or sadhana duality is our beginning, our unending swamp of suffering life, that which we seek to transcend, endless duality upon dualities. Love/hate, good/bad, mine/yours, us/them. The list goes on. 8 poetically represents endless duality.

108's second or middle digit, its center, is zero, the extentless point, the bindu. When the master on his path toward liberation, in meditation entered the bindu, the blue pearl of consciousness, he achieved realization. As concentration focusses onto an extent approaching infinitesimal, its power becomes infinite. Zero is that singularity. Mmm, poetry itself!

108's last and largest digit, its magnitude, its scale, in hundreds, is one, oneness, non-duality: The vision attained by the master.

Could three symbols evoke the highest Truth, and our path to it, more completely? From smallest significance to largest: 8, the obstacles, 0, the path, 1, the achievement.

So you may have other associations for such numbers, sacred or not, but it is certainly fun to ponder, if you can just imagine, enjoying, thinking about numbers.