108 Stupas on the Wall

Genghis Khan’s city of Karakoram, the tented capital of Asia, was encircled by a wall that was decorated with 108 stupa-shrines. This remains a highly propitious and symbolic number in Central Asia, India, and the Far East. In India it is the emergency phone number, while in Japan the temples ring out the old year with a toll of 108 bell strikes, one for each of the 108 lies, 108 temptations or 108 sins resisted. The number can be satisfactorily resolved into three groups of thirty-six, a third dealing with the past, a third with the present, and a third with the future.

Rosaries and belts with 108 beads are also most commonly worn and counted by Hindu, Zen, and Buddhist monks and priests. For, linked with the list of 108 earthly moral temptations, each and every Hindu deity has 108 distinct names, titles, and epithets (they seem to derive from the 54 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet which, when recited in both their masculine and feminine forms, produces 108).

But the most beloved piece of symbolism behind the attraction of 108 seems to be in the order and shape of the numbers themselves. In Eastern philosophy, the 1 stands for the essential unity of creation; 0 for the nothingness of our future existence; and the 8 means everything; so, together, the create a chant of ‘one-emptiness-infinite.’”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

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