Every year for the last seven years I have celebrated the Winter Solstice by doing 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar with my local community here in Tofino. In eastern philosophy the number 108 is considered a number that represents a complete cycle and is the ultimate end of an event or phenomenon and so for this reason it is common to do 108 rounds of prayers on auspicious occasions. You can find quite a lot of info on the symbolism of 108 if you search the Internet but I’ll save you the time by listing some of the more common ones here.
- There are said to be 108 minor Upanishads, and there are 108 beads on a mala and a Catholic rosary.
- In Chinese astrology, the Tao philosophy holds that there are 108 sacred stars.
- In Islam, the number 108 is used to refer to God.
- In the Sanskrit alphabet there are fifty-four letters and each one has a masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) aspect. 54 x 2 =108.
- On the Sri Yantra there are marma points where 3 lines intersect, and there are 54 such intersections. Each intersection has masculine and feminine or shiva and shakti qualities. 54 x 2= 108.
- Hindu astrology recognizes twelve zodiac signs and nine planets. 12 x 9 planets=108.
- Regarding the symbolism of the separate numbers 1 stands for Grace or the Highest Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
- I have also seen it said many times that the distance between the earth and the sun is approximately 108 times the sun’s diameter and the diameter of the sun is about 108 times the earth’s diameter while the distance between the earth and the moon is 108 times the moon’s diameter though I am not sure if that is exactly true. You know you can’ t believe everything you read on the web!
But rather than the symbolism of the numbers themselves I believe it is the act of practicing anything 108 times with focus and intention that makes this ritual powerful. It is just long enough that the mind can begin to get bored or restless and so the practice becomes a great metaphor for life and all the mundane tasks that we must repeat over and over; in the repetition we learn how to continually come back to our intention. As well the physicality of doing 108 Sun Salutations teaches you how to work smarter rather than harder if you are paying attention, which is another great lesson to imprint on body and mind as we head into the new year.
On Wednesday the 21st this year we will gather at our local studio to light the darkest night with the power of our intentions for the year to come. You don’t need to do 108 Salutations to celebrate this sacred time of year but wherever you are I do recommend that you pause to do something such as light a candle in honor of your hopes and wishes for this next cycle. Or consider a longer meditation, perhaps reciting 108 rounds of the Gayatri Mantra or any other mantra that is meaningful to you. In my experience pausing to mark the passage of time allows me to access a deep sense of both gratitude and reverence for the gift of my life which otherwise might flow right by me unnoticed.
I hope you have a sweet and sacred solstice season.