The number 108 originates from the sacred Hindu scriptures known as the Vedas – predating Buddhism by about a millennium. The Vedic sages (known as rishis and seers) were esteemed mathematicians and created the number system. 108 is a number that expresses spiritual completion and the whole of existence.

The Buddhist rosary or mala, inspired by the rosary of the Muslims, then promptly as a custom of Catholic Christians, is composed of 108 beads.

The mala is used both in Hinduism and Buddhism for counting mantras, chants or prayers. 108 has been a sacred number for thousands of years, and it is explained in a profusion of ways. In this article, we focus on the number 108 as it relates to Buddhism — and more specifically, Tibetan Buddhism.

While Tibetan Buddhist malas or rosaries are typically 108 beads, they are also sometimes 111, which includes the guru bead(s), echoing the sentiments of the Buddha — known in Tibetan as the Kangyur, (a list of sacred texts recognized by various schools of Tibetan Buddhism), in 108 volumes. (The extra beads also allow for any inattention made through carelessness in counting, or for loss or breakage of beads. The guru bead is where the power of all the mantras chanted is stored.)

Customarily the 108 beads of the Buddhist malas symbolize the 108 human passions the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is able to assume in order to support devotees.

The Lankavatara Sutra (a well-known Mahayana Buddhist Sutra) contains a section where the Bodhisattva Mahamati asks Buddha 108 questions and another segment where Buddha lists 108 accounts of negation.

In Buddhism, according to Bhante Gunaratana (a renowned Theravadan Buddhist monk), 108 is arrived at by multiplying the senses smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight, and consciousness by whether they are painful, pleasant or neutral, and then again by whether these are internally generated or externally occurring, and yet again by past, present and future, finally we get 108 feelings. 6 × 3 × 2 × 3 = 108. (Source: Wikipedia)

In both Indian folklore and Buddhism, there are 108 worldly desires in mortals, the 108 lies humans tell, and the 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance. Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future. In some schools of Buddhism, it is believed that there are 108 defilements.

In Tibetan Buddhism the 108 sins or 108 delusions of the mind are: abuse, aggression, ambition, anger, arrogance, baseness, blasphemy calculation, callousness, capriciousness (unaccountable changes of mood or behaviour) censoriousness (being severely critical of others), conceitedness, contempt, cruelty, cursing, debasement, deceit, deception, delusion, derision, desire for fame, dipsomania (alcoholism characterized by intermittent bouts of craving), discord, disrespect, disrespectfulness, dissatisfaction, dogmatism, dominance, eagerness for power, effrontery (insolent or impertinent behavior), egoism, enviousness, envy, excessiveness, faithlessness, falseness, furtiveness, gambling, garrulity (tediously talking about trivial matters), gluttony, greed, greed for money grudge, hardheartedness, hatred, haughtiness, high-handedness, hostility, humiliation, hurt, hypocrisy, ignorance, imperiousness (assuming power or authority without justification), imposture (pretending to be someone else in order to deceive), impudence, inattentiveness, indifference, ingratitude, insatiability, insidiousness, intolerance, intransigence (unwilling or refusing to change one’s views or to agree about something), irresponsibility, jealousy, know-it-all, lack of comprehension, lecherousness, lying, malignancy, manipulation, masochism, mercilessness, negativity, obsession, obstinacy, obstinacy, oppression, ostentatious, pessimism, prejudice, presumption, pretense, pride, prodigality (spending money or using resources freely and recklessly), quarrelsomeness, rage, rapacity (being aggressively greedy or grasping), ridicule, sadism, sarcasm, seduction, self-denial, self-hatred, sexual lust, shamelessness, stinginess, stubbornness, torment, tyranny, unkindness, unruliness, unyielding, vanity, vindictiveness, violence, violent temper, voluptuousness, wrath. (Source: Humanity Healing University)

108 is a Harshad Number, which means it is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits. Harshad in Sanskrit means “joy-giver.” The Sanskrit language (which is used in Tibetan Buddhism texts including mantra) with its 54 letters, represents the two genders, 54 X 2= 108.

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