-D K Hari
I would exasperate me, making me wait for the end to come. Because the last bead promised freedom. Let me explain: the number 108 is ubiquitous among many households, believed to be auspicious, a protector, and a guarantor. Nothing wrong can happen if one follows this number. I, too, believed in this when I would be asked to finish the mala of 108 beads as a child. Mostly on festivals or very auspicious days. I’ve also been slow at chanting, making it a very long affair for me. My stomach would often rumble threateningly while my 8-year-old mind would anxiously try to finish 108, guiltily wondering if I had skipped any.
Cut to the present day, now I enjoy the repetitive chanting of 108. I’m still slow but in the current full throttle speed of everyday living, I find it a welcome break. A little cocoon for meditativeness for those few minutes. The world fades away in the quiet of the mantra. Did our ancients know the time it would take for a mantra to bear fruit? Did they know the coming generations would have to practice taking a pause, instead of allowing a more natural and simpler flow to their days? Who knew the importance of 108 would continue thousands of years from the time it began?
If one were to take a time capsule and travel back to the ways of the ancients, we would find women and men sitting in the lotus posture, eyes closed, prayerfully chanting. Do I mimic their gestures when I sit in my living room or bed, assuming a similar stance? Would my 86-year-old grandmother, who is the epitome of discipline, find a soul sister with the same passion for chants thousands of years ago?
Bandaging our insides
Recently, a harsh word flew from my mouth before I could even comprehend what I said. I instantly kept quiet, surveying the damage that the spillage had done. My friend’s face was aghast at the exchange, I was ridden with guilt. Clearly, exhaustion and lack of patience were not excuses to behave inexplicably. When the echoes of those words stayed with me through the day, I clearly had let out energy which didn’t seem to be me. I realized the age-old wisdom: our words can cut sharper than a sword.
The energy of the harsh word rippled the tension between us, leaving its eddies uneasily around. Could I have said the same thing in a more refined way? Our speech carries energy: good, bad and the ugly. Physics has taught us that energy is neither destroyed nor created. So, those harsh eddies linger around. The manifestation of an expression of brokenness we may have carried inside of us. And that brokenness, the disconnect, can be repaired – if only we would.
The ways may be many, yet chanting is one of the paths to bandage our insides. Only if we allow love to unfold inside, can we share it with others. And just as the negative energy cannot be destroyed, so cannot the positive. It follows the more positive energy we create, the better it would be.
These cannot be measured or defined. How do you define the space positive energy creates or holds? It can only be felt. The impact and importance of 108 can only be felt by the practitioner. Though the old ancient sounds could be a prayer, it’s also a small vehicle for holding positive space. A space of calm, peace, and higher aspirations. I cannot explain how my speech feels ‘purified’ when I practice chanting. I’ve noticed an inner glow on the faces of others who chant and do some other practices. And if I look at my grandmother, an inner light seems to shine out of her. Though it could be termed as the veil of bias and familial love, it seems to be the culmination of a lifetime of prayer, surrender, and acceptance. The by-products of chanting, though one cannot hope to achieve this through chanting. It simply happens unconsciously, and the charm is in the not-knowing.
Know your vibrations
Our world is not only made up of land and water. It holds energy. And if one would like to go deeper in physics, we are all waves that intersect and interact and respond to vibrations. Have there been occasions when you felt uneasy at visiting a place for an unexplainable reason? Or times when you feel wonderful, just like that? A place of prayer, a keeper of people’s devotion, is usually soothing and peaceful. While a hospital holds different energy. The vibrations of each place is different. When we chant a mantra or a prayer, we’re spreading the vibrations of peace and love around. And those vibrations have the power to change the space.
Many people believe in Dr. Masuro Emoto’s experiment on water. One cup of water was praised while another cup was told harsh things. The latter developed disjointed patterns while the former showed remarkably beautiful structures under the microscope. Chanting has a similar effect on water, infusing it with positivity.
If it sounds too nebulous, it’s suffice to say chanting spreads peace – inside and outside!
Written in the stars?
For a believer in the power of the stars, repeating a mantra chanted 108 times has another effect: that of changing one’s destiny and thwarting ill-will. The nine planets within 12 zodiac constellations conspire to write our destiny. Some things simply must happen, it’s written in the stars. Sometimes there are several possibilities like many emerging paths. The magic of 108 (12×9) lies in its power to nullify obstacles written in possibilities. A seemingly large disaster might morph into a smaller difficulty with far lesser effects.
“When these nine planets move through the 12 zodiac signs, they can create 108 different kinds of effects in our lives. In order to save ourselves from any ill effects of those vibrations, we chant/Om Namaha Shivaya/ (108 times). When we chant/Om Namaha Shivaya/, a protective shield is formed around us which saves us from these effects.” ~ Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Human life comes with different kinds of karma: prarabdh karma (that which is happening presently), sanchita karma (written in the soul’s destiny, carried from previous lifetimes) and agami (which will manifest in the future). Our thoughts, words and actions have the power to change sanchita and agami karma while we must bow down to prarabdha karma.
Gurudev says: “Do not misunderstand this and take a fatalist view of everything around you, thinking everything is already predestined and you have no choice but to endure your fate. Do not think you have no freedom. Life is a combination of destiny and free will. There are some things we can change through our actions, and there are some things that we just cannot change and we have to accept them the way they are.”
This is true…
Truth be told our ancients knew the power of 108 intuitively. Different practices sprung around the globe at different points of time. While some could have spread by travellers and word of mouth, other regions could have partaken of the shared consciousness. For instance, each column in United Kingdom’s iconic Stonehenge is similar to the Phnom Bakheng, an ancient temple in Cambodia dedicated to Lord Shiva with 108 towers. Interestingly, the Stonehenge is a symbolic representation of Mount Meru.
The universality of 108…
- number of Upanishads
- pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India
- different types of meditation in Tibetan culture
- volumes in ‘Gandjour’, based on Lord Buddha’s life
- considered auspicious in societies like the Hung League in China. One of their practices involves planting 108 plants in a pot.
- different kinds of emotions, according to some traditions. (36 are associated with the past, present, and future each)
- number of Gods in Hinduism
- refers to God in Islam
- number of knots tied on a wooden thread in the Sikh tradition
- a bell is rung to welcome the New Year in Buddhism
- refers to the su-chu, a 108-bead mala in the Chinese, Buddhist and Taoist traditions
- dance forms in the Indian tradition
- the distance between the earth and the sun is around 108 times the diameter of the Sun.
- the distance between Earth and Moon is around 108 times the diameter of the Moon.
- the diameter of the Sun is around 108 times the diameter of the Earth. (The above three calculations were first made by ancient Indian astronomers, Bhaskara – 1 (600 CE), Sripati (1000 CE) and Bhaskara 2 (1100 CE)
Cosmos & us
The connection of the cosmos, human life and time is fascinating, mysterious and inevitable. A deep and sacred connection, hardcoded into the DNA of our existence. While we are united, our practices are diverse – celebrating the dichotomy of the human race. While we honor our lives and traditions, we also allow people to devise practices which give solace, peace and progress to them. You could agree to the Vedic significance of 108:
- one represents the solar masculine,
- zero represents the lunar or feminine energy,
- eight is the eternal symbol of infinity.
Or you could choose to believe that 108 is a sacred, regular number. The belief aside, 108 is clearly embedded deeply in human consciousness.