Why 108 stones?
Malas are tools used in meditation. Each element of a mala, from the chosen stone, to the colors, to the guru bead, to the tassel, has its own significance. A mala is a tangible connection to the deeper and often indescribable meaning we experience in yoga and meditation.
If you wear a mala, be prepared to attract a lot of questions and requests to touch it. Malas are like magnets. Some have a more powerful draw than others but they all seem to compel total strangers to reach out and touch, often mid-apology for a complete lack of impulse control! Some choose to wear their malas underneath a layer of clothing to keep their mala away from other's energy. If you see someone wearing a mala and have the urge to touch it, know that it's totally normal and always okay to ask about it.
Malas are made using 108 stones knotted onto a single thread and secured with a series of knots, a guru bead and a tassel. The number, 108, is considered to be a sacred number by those of the Dharmic religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. 108 represents spiritual completion. It should come as no surprise that the early Vedic sages were renowned astronomers, mathematicians and even developed our number system. 108 was the number of choice for this simple reason:
108 represents the whole of existence.
Here are a few more reasons why 108 is considered a sacred number:
Mathematically speaking, 108 is a semiperfect number as it is equal to the sum of all or some of its proper divisors.
108 is a Harshad Number, an integer divisible by the sum of its digits. Harshad in Sanskrit means “joy-giver.”
The diameter of the sun is about 108 times that of the diameter of Earth.
The average distance between the Earth and the Sun is 108 times the sun’s diameter.
The average distance from the Earth to the Moon is about 108 times the moon's diameter. This makes it so the moon appears the same size as the sun during eclipses.
There are 12 zodiac signs and 9 planets in total. The total combinations possible with these are 108 in number and 12×9=108. In Vedic astrology there are 12 solar houses and 9 lunar houses, 9 x 12 = 108.
The 27 nakshatras or lunar constellations spread over the 4 elements - fire, earth, air, water or the 4 directions - north, south, east, and west. This also constitutes the whole of existence. 27 x 4 = 108.
All 27 constellations of our galaxy have 4 directions each So, the total number of combinations is 108 (27×4).
In Hinduism, Lord Shiva had 108 attendants.
The sum of all digits of 108 is 9, which according to the holy Puranas and scriptures, corresponds to Swayambhu Lord Brahma, the Creator of Universe.
Holy River Ganga’s dimensions are 108 in total. The sacred river Ganga spans a latitude and longitude of 9 degrees (22 to 31) and 12 degrees (79 to 91) respectively, which is again 108 (12×9).
Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter.
There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
In one hour, we breathe about 900 times and in 12 hours we breathe around 108000. The whole 24 hours will have our breathing of 108,000 times x 2.
As per Ayurveda, (a sister science to yoga) a human body has 107 weak spots (marma-sthanas) which are chained together to form 108 links.
On a related note, according to Marma Adi, Ayurveda and the Chinese school of martial arts, there are 108 pressure points in the body, where consciousness and flesh intersect to give life to the living being.
There are said to be 108 energy lines, or nadis, converging to form the heart chakra. Marma points are like Chakras, or intersection of energy, with fewer converging energy lines. On Sri Yantra, the Marmas have 54 intersecting energy lines where three lines intersect. Each has feminine, or shakti, and masculine, or Shiva, qualities. 54 X 2 = 108. Therefore there are 108 points that define the human body and the Sri Yantra or the Yantra of Creation.
Tai chi chuan long forms are counted as 108 postures or movements.
108 Sun Salutations in yoga practice is often used to honor change, for example, the change of seasons, or at a time of tragedy to bring peace, respect, and understanding.
It is said that if one can be so calm in meditation practicing pranayama to have only 108 breaths a day that enlightenment will come.
The well known bas-relief carving at the famous Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia relates the Hindu story of a serpent being pulled back and forth by 108 gods and asuras (demons), 54 gods pulling one way, and 54 asuras pulling the other, to churn the ocean of milk in order to produce the elixir of immortality.
Tibetan Buddhist malas or rosaries are often 108 beads, reflecting the words of the Buddha in the 108 volumes of the sacred text, Kangyur.
The Buddhism tradition talks about the 108 earthly desires in mortals, 108 lies humans tell and 108 human delusions.
There are said to be 108 types of meditation. Some say there are 108 paths to God. Indian traditions have 108 dance forms.
The Lankavatara Sutra has a section where the Bodhisattva Mahamati asks Buddha 108 questions and another section where Buddha lists 108 statements of negation.
In Japan, at the end of the year, a bell is chimed 108 times in Buddhist temples to finish the old year and welcome the new one. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.
In some schools of Buddhism it is believed that there are 108 feelings. According to Bhante Gunaratana, this number is reached 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.
Hindu deities have 108 names, while in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, there are 108 gopis of Vrindavan. Recital of these names, often accompanied by the counting of the 108-beaded mala, is considered sacred and often done during religious ceremonies. The recital is called NA Maja pa. Accordingly, a mala usually has beads for 108 repetitions of a mantra.