Saturday, December 11, 2010


 More about our meeting of the Society of Friends on November 30:

The mala I use
Friend Christian shared information about the “Mala” a Buddhist rosary with 108 beads. He reviewed traditional ways to use the Mala, how to hold it between the fingers, how to advance from one bead to another, not crossing over the larger “Guru” bead which marks the beginning and end of the sequence.

Christian talked about the significance of the number 108, especially as it relates to Buddhism. He shared this array of 108 defilements which must be overcome to achieve enlightenment.

(Several of us remarked that we had some work to do in regard to this list!)

The number 108 is, elegantly enough, the product of 1 to the first power times 2 to the second power time three to the third power, that is, 1 times 4 times 27 = 108

Christian shared how 108 refers to the number of defilements to overcome. It derives from the following:

The three sense experiences times the six senses  3 X 6 = 18

The three sense experiences are:

The six senses are
(Buddhism regards the consciousness as the sixth sense—it is consciousness that senses thought objects like loyality.)

Aversion to or Craving for these experiences: 2 X 18 = 36

Past, Present, and Future incidents of the aversion/craving: 3 X 36 =108

On a more practical level, 108 slow breaths (about 5 breaths per minute) takes just about 20 minutes. You can "count" your breath and use the mala to “time” a meditation period without need of any watch or timepiece. This “clock” ticks to the movement of the breath.

He also talked about about how this number appears in other religious traditions in Asia. He stated that the Catholic rosary has 54 beads on it, half of the 108 on the mala.

There are additional links he pointed us to. They are here:

The Significance of 108

The 108 Defilements in Buddhism

The Number 108 in Buddhism

Wikipedia on Mala

More on our meeting in coming posts.


Ruth said...

I'm going to have to look up a couple of those words. :)

I'm fascinated by the numbers. I'm not good at math, but I can see the symmetry. I especially love the sixth sense! Why haven't I ever heard that before. So, practically speaking, if i breathe the five breaths per minute (wow), what should I be doing, just focusing on the breath? Fingering each bead? Since each bead represents each defilement?

George said...

I enjoyed this posting, Dan, but I must come back to it. There is much here that encourages further thought. I especially like the Buddhist notion that consciousness is the sixth sense.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Ruth. One form of meditation is to try to focus solely on your breath for a period of twenty minutes or so, about 108 breaths. Count them from 1 to 108. You'll almost certainly discover you cannot do that. Your mind will wander. The discovery of your monkey mind is the first step down the path of meditation. What did your mind do instead?

Dan Gurney said...

Hi George! As I teach kindergarten, I am always annoyed by curricula that present the "five" senses as if that were a complete accounting. I feel a bit as if I were teaching there are only eight notes in music or 26 sounds in spoken English. None of the above lists is complete!

The sixth sense in Buddhism is consciousness of thought-objects like liberty, equality, justice, love. People often put their lives on the line for these thought objects.

I've known people who've lost (temporarily) a seventh sense and been quite miserable: the sense of balance. Being able to know which way is up is pretty important, too.

That's seven senses.

Not counting other, more subtle senses, such as the strong feeling/intuition I have that I am in the presence of resounding, vast, and holy wisdom when I stand under a mature redwood tree.