Number Symbolism

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Introduction to Number Symbolism

Tibetan:  1 chi  2 nyi  3 sum  4 shi  5 nga  6 truk  7 dün   8 gye  9 gu  10 chu

Numbers as Mnemonic Devices [memory aids] 

The Buddhist tradition is no different from others in this regard.   For example, the Anguttara Nikaya is the largest of the four main collections of the Buddha’s discourses contained in the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon.  Its title which is usually translated, Further-factored Discourse derives from the way it is arranged: 

The Book of Ones (Ekaka Nipata) comprises unique or single items; the Book of the Twos (Duka Nipata), items of pairs of opposites, and so on up to the Book of Elevens.  

Many examples of this use of numbers, so common to traditional literature of all kinds, will be seen in the Buddhist examples that follow this Introduction.

Letters as Numbers and vice-versa

Some traditions go further, placing an importance on the alpha-numeric equivalence of words.  For example, the Jewish mystical system, Kabbalah, uses a technique called gematria [pron.: ghemahtria] in which each letter of the Hebrew alphabet accords with a number, so that hidden meanings may be derived from words. 

This practice was transferred to other languages and alphabets where it is known as numerology. 

The letters of Sanskrit, used for both Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, are thought to have great powers, too.  Tibetan, though, is not an ancient but an invented script, and perhaps that is the reason why the numerology tradition does not seem to be practiced.   

Numbers play an important role in Tibetan astrology, which blends the systems of China and India.  Unlike the system used in the West, the Tibetan one places great emphasis on the phases of the moon using a system that divides a lunar month into 30 equal "days".  

This lunar cycle is thought to be derived from the cosmic tortoise of Hindu mythology that is the foundation of the physical world.   (Not surprisingly, North American aboriginal peoples also refer to the 13 moons on Turtle's back.) 

The Numbers of Buddhism

  • Zero

Zero is a marker, it is not a number.  See summary of philosopher Pandeya's article.

In Sanskrit, shunya stands for perfection, Emptiness, or Nirvana which translates as extinction. According to Venerable Ato Rinpoche, there is not such a negative connotation in Sanskrit references to zero, as in the usual Western view.

  • One

*The Syllable Ah which stands for Non-arising can be thought of as an expression of One.

*One Dharma, perfect in the beginning, the middle and the end!

  • Two

*Pair: yab-yum, mother-father in union; skillful means with discriminating wisdom.

*Halves: The earth is half grass and half water, say Tibetans.  It is used to remind someone whose partner has left that there are many other opportunities  -- there is someone for everyone.

*2 stages of tantra: generation and completion.

  • Three 

*Three Jewels:  Buddha, Dharma, Sangha

Some may think that the qualities and attainments of the 3 Jewels (Skt. triratna) are inaccessible, but by using methods that work with real-life experience -- that is, by means of the 3 Roots we can actualize these qualities. 

*Three Roots:  Guru, Yidam and Dakini/Dharmapala

The Guru (and qualities he or she embodies) represents both aspiration and  goal.  It is linked to The Buddha.

The Yidam (or deity-practice) is the method we use to get there, like the Dharma.

The Dharmapala (or Dakini) is a companion who may exert an influence, just like the sangha -- brothers and sisters in dharma. 

*Vajrayana practitioners who choose to take the 3 Inner Refuges:  Lung, Tsa and Tigle [winds, channels and bindus or drops] may attain the realization that the 3 Jewels and their qualities are within the physical body. 

*3 Negativities: Ignorance; Clinging/Greed/Desire, and Passion/Anger.  Also called the poisons.  In Vajrayana Buddhism, these are not thought of as 'sins' but qualities which can be transmuted  and recognized by sentient beings as three aspects of Tathagathagarbha. 

*Three poisons [see also, 3 negativities, 5 poisons] ignorance, attachment, anger as symbolized by the 3 animals or swirls at the hub of the Wheel of Rebirth, and the tines of the khatvanga [pike or trident carried by adepts].

*Three Kayas: 'realities' or 'states of existence'

*3 Realms of samsara: of desire, of form, and formless.

*Three Great Red Deities of the Sakya denomination:  Kurukulla, Ganapati & Kamaraja. 

*three forms of action: mental, verbal, and physical

*3 trainings:  discipline, concentration, and discrimination.

  • Four

*Fourth BuddhaShakyamuni

The previous One was Kashyapa.  Before him was  Kanakamuni, and before him, Krakucchanda.

*Four Noble Truths

*The Four Immeasurables: Skt.: maitri  (kindness,) mudita (pity,) karuna (joy,) and upeka (equanimity or even-ness, poise, ie. not distracted/unbalanced) are the four qualities of the enlightened mind. The Four Immeasurables is the title of the following prayer:

May all beings+ know happiness and the causes of happiness.

May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

May they never be separate from the highest bliss ... 

May they come to rest in the great equanimity free from attachment and aversion.

+Strictly translated from this famous Tibetan prayer, all grandmother beings, since it is believed that every living being has been the parent of every other numerous times over numerous lifetimes.

*Four thoughts that lead the mind to Dharma practice.  Read a 1970's teaching by Lama Ganga. 

*4 empowerments of tantric initiation: vase, secret,  wisdom - knowledge, precious word.  [They are variously described/named.]

*Four continents of 4 shapes around Mt. [Su]meru in the mandala of Indian cosmology:  They are: 'Superior Body', Jambu the Southern-most which is our world [so-called because it is home to the Jambuvriksha or Rose-apple Tree], 'Cow Utilizing', and 'Unpleasant Sound'.

*Four activities:  pacifying, increasing, magnetizing and subjugating.  

*Four means of magnetizing:  being generous, uttering kind words, giving appropriate teaching, being consistent in word and deed.

*Four Schools (Buddhist philosophy) Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Madhyamika and Yogacara. [Link is to HH Dalai Lama's brief answer to query by NZ scientists.]

*Four friends in the Jataka story about ethics:  Buddha Shakyamuni was a bird in a previous life while his attendant Ananda was his friend the elephant, Shariputra was the rabbit and Maudgalyana was the monkey. 

*Four Maras:  the Daughters, or Children, of Mara the Opponent

  • Five 

*The Five Wonderful Precepts as applied by Thich Nhat Han:

First Precept
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life. 

Second Precept
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth. 

Third Precept
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. 

Fourth Precept
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. 

Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small. 

Fifth Precept
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. 

I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.
               ~Thich Nhat Hanh. For A Future To Be Possible (rev. ed.)

NB:  Not all preceptors treat these as broadly.

 *Five Buddha Families:  5 kulas (in Skt.)

In the Gelugpa system, white or blue Vairochana [Illuminator] is the central Buddha seated on a Lion throne holding the Wheel of Dharma [Truth].  For the Nyingma, Samantabhadra is the central figure.  In the East is white Vajrasattva [Purity] on the Elephant throne holding the thunderbolt [Determination], or blue Akshobya [Unshakeable].  To the West is red Amitabha [Radiance} on a Lotus throne with peacocks or water fowl and holding a bowl and/or lotus.  To the North is green Amoghasiddhi on a throne supported by garudas [shang-shangs, really cf. harpies: part human, part bird] and holding crossed vajras.   Yellow Ratnasambhava is in the South on a horse-supported throne, holding a jewel.    

These Buddhas may vary in arrangement somewhat, according to the various traditions or lineages. They are sometimes thought of as being in the embrace of their consorts  [Tib. yab/yum]. The corresponding shaktis or female activity-expressions or in Tibetan Buddhism called the Wisdoms, are:  central Mother of Space, the eastern Mamaki [All Mine], western Woman in White, the northern Green Tara the Achiever, and southern Buddha-eyes.           

*Five Skandhas: [bundles, or heaps] psycho-physical aggregates.


          < kapila [Tib. nangchu] vessel, cauldron 

The nangchu is a container modeled on the skull cup / cauldron-on-a-tripod used in tantric rituals for the transformation of the five psychophysical aggregates [skandhas,] corresponding to the 5 delusions, into the 5 wisdoms

*Five chakras in the body-of-light [gyalu] according to the Tibetan Buddhist system with their corresponding colours: white, red, blue, yellow and green.

*Five kayas of fruition.  According to Padmasambhava, these aspects of enlightenment are:  The perfection of the benefit of oneself (peaceful dharmakaya), the spontaneous present for the benefit of others (unified samboghakaya), the manifold skillful means to tame beings (nirmanakaya), the distinct and unmixed appearance (true bodhikaya) and the unified or one-taste as Emptiness (vajrakaya).

*Five Paths of Buddhism:  Shravakayana (Way of the Hearers) and Pratyekakaya are the 2 besides Hina- , Maha-  and Vajrayanas.

*Five poisons or pancha-klesha A.k.a. obscurations, contaminants, afflictions of human nature, they are: confusion (Skt.: moha), pride (mana), envy (irsya), hatred (dvesha), and desire (raga).  They are also given as: ignorance, desire, anger, greed, sloth, or the 

*Five obstacles or Hindrances, which are: 
i.   Attraction or desire (Skt.: Kamachachhanda). 
ii.  Aversion or hatred (Vyapada) 
iii. Slothfulness (Thinamiddha). 
iv. Arrogance and suspiciousness (Uddhachcha-Kukuchcha). 
v.  Doubt or uncertainty concerning the triratna (Vichikichah). 

*Five major disasters:  war, epidemics, famine, pollution and poverty. 

*Five wisdoms:  of dharmadhatu, the mirror-like, of equality, the discriminating and the all-accomplishing.

*5 major consorts in the long lifetime of Guru Rinpoche.

*5 Forms of Desire or Qualities of Enjoyment (T. dod-yon sna-lnga, Skt. pancha kamaguna)  Items symbolic of the senses remind us how susceptible we are to craving:

Fruit (T. shing-tog, Skt. phala) represents sweet taste. 
Incense Burner (T. spos-snod) as a shell container with pleasant fumes arising. 
Mirror (T. me-long, Skt. adarsha) like our eye, it captures form. 
Lute (T. pi-wang, Skt. vina) sweet sound impinges on our ears delighting the mind. 
Silk (T. dar, Skt. netra) evokes smooth, cool touch. 

"In the Hindu system, whence they appear to have been derived, these Five Objects of Enjoyment correspond in symbolism, in their order as here given, to the Sanskrit Rasa (Taste), Gandha (Smell), Rupa (Form or Sight), Shabda (Sound or Hearing), and Sparsha (Touch or Feelings)."   (Evans-Wentz)

Sometimes the last two are combined, as in an image of a pair of cymbals connected by a silk ribbon.

  • Six

*6 paramitas, the "perfections" or virtues:  generosity, self-discipline, patience, effort or energy/determination, concentration or insight/mindfulness, and compassion.  

Wisdom can be regarded as their product. 

There are six creatures that represent the Six Perfections.  They are:  
1) The lion representing the perfection of wisdom (prajna).  2) The elephant, concentration (dhyana).  3) The dwarf, effort (virya).  4) The makara, patience (kshanti).  5) The naga, morality (shila).  6) The garuda, the perfection of generosity (dana). 

*6 senses: 

  1. apperception [with the mind, cognition]

  2. sight

  3. hearing

  4. touch 

  5. taste 

  6. smell

*6 realms of rebirth:

  1. gods [devas]

  2. ashuras or demi-gods, "titans"

  3. humans

  4. ghosts

  5. tormented/ "hell" beings

  6. animals


  • Seven

*7 chakras in the body of light/'subtle' body [in the Hindu tantric system] and their corresponding lotuses.  Seven chakras appear in some Buddhist tantric texts, too.

*seven precious substances:  ruby, emerald, sapphire, diamond, pearl, coral, lapis lazuli.  [Sometimes, silver, gold, crystal, turquoise, or amber are substituted.]

*The Seven Jewels:

Three-Eyed Gem/Triple Gem (T. nor-bu bskor-cha
Rhino or Unicorn's Horn (T. bse-ru
Queen's Earrings (T. btsun-moi rna-cha
Crossed Gems (T. nor-bu bskor-cha
King's Earrings (T. rgyal-poi rna-cha
Eight-Branched Coral (T. byu-ru yan-lag brgyad-pa
Elephant's Tusks (T. glang-chen mche-ba

"The origins of these symbols seem to be in Chinese art, and no specific meaning is given to them in Tibet other than the understanding that they represent items of value. "

*7 Planets

In astrology, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and the Moon  and Sun are the traditional seven planets.  Their respective symbols according to the Tibetan tradition are: a bundle of wood, an arrowhead, a phurba or ritual "dagger," a hand, an eye, and a crescent and a disk.

*7 Transmissions

In the tradition descending from Guru Padmakara and Mahapandita Vimalamitra, a person who demonstrates mastery of certain spiritual abilities is said to have obtained "the immense and profound treasury endowed with the seven transmissions." They are: 

The unbroken oral tradition from person to person, 
The profound treasures themselves, and mind termas, 
Rediscovered treasures, the termas of recollection, 
Pure visions, and the hearing lineage; 
The rivers of these seven transmissions 
Will be immensely precious for the Buddhadharma in the dark age. 
Profound and extensive, they will shine further than the light of the sun. 

*Seven Possessions of a Chakravartin:

They are the same as the Eight Magnificent Offerings, minus the symbol of Worldly Wealth which is the Treasure Jar.

*8 Great Events in the Life of Buddha Shakyamuni. See them as symbolized on an ancient Indian stele

*Prayer to the Eight Noble Ones or, "Tashi Prayer" has lists of 8's including Tibetan names of the 8 Bodhisattvas.

*8 auspicious symbols (Skt: Ashtamangala): conch shell [shankha], auspicious seal [endless knot], banner of victory, umbrella of royalty that is a reminder of spiritual and material protection, dharma wheel,  pair of happy fish, the flower, the treasure vase.  

Ven. Tenga Rinpoche, on the 8 Auspicious Symbols.

*See the gestures or mudras for the 8 Auspicious Symbols.

           Can you find all 8 symbols?  They stand for the Presence of the Buddha:

Parasol, sign of nobility, stands for his head.
Golden Fish are his eyes.
Treasure Vase (the whole) is his neck.
Lotus is truth and purity of speech:  his tongue. 
Right-Turning Conch announces royalty:  his mouth, speech.
Endless Knot or "auspicious seal" links all dharmas and activity; it is his heart. 
Victory Banner is his torso.
Wheel, the dharma-chakra, stands for his limbs -- the means by which the teaching reaches us. 

The 8 auspicious symbols are actual objects -- gifts bestowed on Shakyamuni by celestial beings at his attainment of the Enlightenment of Buddhahood. says:

"The white parasol affords protection from evil desires; it is also a symbol of royalty.

Matsya, the fish symbolize beings rescued from the ocean of misery of earthly existence.  

Shankha, the white conch-shell, symbolizes the blessedness of turning to the right and proclaiming the glory of the saints by its humming sound;

Dhvaja, the banner signifies the victory of Buddhism;

Srivatsa, the endless knot or mystic diagram symbolizes the endless cycle of rebirth; also the karmic connection -- pull here, it tightens there. 

Kalasha, the vase, treasury of all spiritual wealth and it also holds amrita, the water or elixir of immortality;

Padma, the lotus, symbolizes purity; 

Chamaru, the fly-whisk, symbolizes tantric manifestations -- it is made of a yak tail attached to a silver handle and is used during ritual recitation and for fanning deities in an auspicious religious ceremony. "

These symbols are displayed, alone and all together.  They are marked on paper, cloth or metal, and used during ceremonies such as the consecration of houses, at life's passages, and at elaborate fire offerings.

*Eight Magnificent Offerings

Figuring in the mandala offering in which the whole world is visualized, they are thought of as pertaining to Mount Sumeru.  Each is associated with a direction. To the East lies the Precious Wheel, to the South is the Precious Jewel, to the West is the Precious Queen, and to the North is the Precious Minister. In the SE is the Precious Elephant, in the SW is the Precious Horse, in the NW is the Precious General, and to the NE lies the Great Treasure Pot [or jar.] 

*The 8 worldly dharmas are those influences that challenge equanimity:

To feel happy when you get a reward, 
To feel unhappy when you don't.  
To feel happy when praised, 
To feel unhappy when criticized. 
To feel happy when you feel mentally and physically well, 
To feel unhappy when you don't.  
To feel happy on hearing nice things, 
To feel unhappy or worried on hearing unpleasant ones. 

  • More about the 8 influences by Gen Rinpoche.

*8 Chariots of Tibetan Buddhism:  The "instructional lineages." 

*The 8 Common Abilities/powers [resulting from mastery of Vajrayana techniques]: The sword, the pill, the eye lotion, swift feet, extraction of essences, celestial realm, invisibility and treasures of the earth.

*8 Freedoms: 

*The eight favorable qualities of birth that are most conducive to success are:  Having a long lifespan, a handsome healthy body, in a reputable family, with wealth and friends, with credibility of speech, with influence, as a male, and with a powerful body and mind.

*8 sub-continents [see 4.]

*8 vidyadharas: Manjushrimitra, Nagarjuna, Hungkara, Vimalamitra, Prabhahasti, Dhana Sanskrita, Shantigarbha, Guyachandra.

*8 classes of gods and demons.  Regarded as impure manifestations of 8 types of consciousness, in the Tibetan tradition they are:  ging [attendants and entertainers], mara [creators of obstacles, eg. Klesha who embodies passion,Yama who is death, Skandha who is war, Ganapati or 'Godly Son'] tsen, yaksha [genii, titans or guardians of 'upper' realms ], rakshasa [elementals], mamo, rahula and naga.

*8 manifestations of Guru Rinpoche

*8 Non-free States of Existence:  These are also known as the "fetters" (e.g. leg irons) There are two kinds:  four affecting humans and four affecting other classes of beings.

1. being born into circumstances where one is exposed only to wrong views,  2. to be born among "barbarians,"
3. to be born into a world where Buddha has not appeared,
4. to be born as a person who cannot communicate and/or not understand,
5. to be born as a denizen of hell,
6. to be born a hungry ghost,
7. to be born an animal,
8. to be born a god, long-lived filled with incessant conflict and uncertainty.


  • Nine

*The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism classifies the tantras as NINE stages on the spiritual path, or the

*Nine Gradual Vehicles [according to Padmasambhava]

  • Ten:

    *In the Mahayana, there are two ways of viewing the virtues or Paramitas [ways to cross,] as numbering 6 Paramitas or as the 10 Paramitas (the 6 plus another 4).  These 'virtues' are inter-dependant.   There is no true generosity for instance, without  wisdom or prajna:  the realization that giver, gift and recipient are all "empty."  

*10 Bhumis to Buddhahood. [Sanskrit/Pali for plane, storey or level].

The realization of Emptiness, shunyata, is the goal.  Therefore, the bhumis are the consequences of virtue-in-action.    The bhumis are also interpreted as reflecting the 3 kayas or levels of "reality."

Two sutras which discuss the bhumis: Dasabhumi (Sutra of Ten Bhumis) and Samadhi-nirmochana (Explaining Profound Secrets.)  

Chandrakirti, in the Bodhisattva-Avatara Shastra explains:

0. The Foundation:  Beings in samsara [the 6 realms] having generated the aspiration to climb the Bodhisattva Bhumis by practicing the 6 paramitas.

Now we proceed through 3 stages on the Path of Accumulation and 3 more stages on the Path of Unification: 

1. "The Joyous": Having tasted shunyata [emptiness], we are joyous.  Here, the main practice is to perfect the Generosity Paramita.  You might be born as a King in the Human Realm and have lots of chances to practice generosity!  Now on the Path of Seeing, we can start the Path of Meditation.

2. "The Stainless":  At this bhumi, the main practice is the perfection of Shila [discipline of vows] because of which you are  free of anxiety and the 3 Poisons [negative tendencies, obscurations].  You might be born as a chakravartin (King bearing the noble marks of an emperor, like Siddartha Gautama  Shakya), whose power and enjoyment are challenged by the practice of discipline and precept-keeping.  

3. "The Luminous": Here, we try to perfect Patience or equanimity.  This is the source of the luminosity.  You might be born as Indra, King of gods, who is called Shakra, --  opposer of the Ashuras. 

4. "The Radiant":  After the 3rd Bhumi, the Nirmanakaya aspect of Buddhahood has been perfected.  But there are two more Kayas, therefore, the Paramita to perfect here is that of Exertion.  This activity in the service of virtue creates a radiance of wisdom which burns away false conceptions.   Here, you might be reborn as Shyama, a deity in the "Continuous Peaceful Realm").

5. "The Unconquerable":  Driven by exertion, you perfect  
dhyana [meditation] and other skillful means in preparation for the helping of all sentient beings.  The word  unconquerable refers to both the difficulty of achieving the state of dhyani and the state of the being having now achieved this goal.  Now it is possible to be born as a god in the Tushita Heavens  where you can observe the Six Realms and the interplay of dharmas.

6. "The Manifest":  The intense practice of dhyana and other skills enables you to be reborn as a God-king who can manifest  miraculous activity.  The Paramita of Prajna is to be perfected. 

7. "The Gone-Afar": Having perfected the Six Paramitas, we now possess both wisdom and skill.  This is a plateau below which you will not fall, but there is still room for effort.  

In the 10 Paramita system, the perfection is that of Skillful Means needed to overcome Mara who provides opportunities for others to act in opposition.  

It is said that once the 7th Bhumi is attained, the Buddhas prophesy concerning your achieving Buddhahood, and will indicate your Buddha-Name and circumstances.  

In a former life, Lord Shakyamuni received this prophecy after having presented 4 golden flowers to the Buddha of that aeon .

8. "The Immovable":   At the Eighth Bhumi, you can enter Nirvana at the snap of a finger; so Tathagatas come and click you out of it, reminding you of your aspiration and the work still ahead.  But they cannot force you to remain, therefore the virtue is that of firmness of Aspiration. 

You might be reborn as Brahma, Lord of the Universe.

9. "The Good-Wisdom":  Almost ready for Buddhabood, you practice the acquisition of the Ten Powers and Six Supernatural Powers.  You might also be reborn as Brahma.

10. "The Dharma-Cloud":  All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas rejoice in your elation at having attained Buddhahood completely.  Primordial awareness [dhyani/jnana] clears away whatever subtle defilements and tendencies might still be retained.  You, like Lord Maitreya in the Tushita Heavens, await your turn.  This is also the beginning of the Path of Non-Meditation.

Finally, Buddhahood.

~ based upon an interpretation by BBW submitted to the Kagyu email list.

*10 Lunar months:  correspond to 9 solar months; Mahamaya's pregnancy with the Buddha, Shakyamuni.

*10 Close Disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha:

*10 non-virtuous Actions: Killing, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct [ie. leading to disorder,] the verbal misdeeds of uttering divisive talk/lying/gossiping, and speaking harshly, and the mental misdeeds of covetousness, anger and holding wrong views [generally defined as the philosophies of Materialism or Nihilism.]

*One-in-Ten: The sign called in Tib. nam chu wang den (rnam.bcu dbang.ldan) that is the seed syllable of Kalachakra.

*10 Pillars of Tibetan Buddhism (kachen chu, spelled ka.chen bcu) The 10 founders. 

*10 Opportunities of a Our Birth: (5 personal, 5 general)  They are:  being born as a human being, in a central place, having functioning senses and "aggregates," and possessing faith in the 3;  being born in an era of "light" (ie. in which a Buddha has appeared,)  in which the Buddha has agreed to teach the dharma, an era in which the dharma is sustained, with circumstances that engender devotion such as others who can support us in our practice, and where we are kind and have teachers who are also kind so that they will teach us.

  • Eleven   

*11-headed Chenrezi, see a Japanese version

  • Twelve  

*12 Links of Causation: (Skt.: Nidhanas "understandings")

They are depicted in segments on the rim of the Wheel of Samsara

  1. ignorance                                            

  2. misperception due to disposition

  3. cognition

  4. names and forms

  5. sensory experience [see 6 senses]

  6. contact

  7. emotion

  8. craving

  9. attachment

  10. becoming

  11. birth

  12. sorrow, sickness, old age, death [cf. the Sights]

*12 Deeds of the Buddha: according to the Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist litany.

  1. He manifests in the world by taking the form of a divine white elephant to enter the womb of Mahamaya.

  2. He is born from her side in the Lumbini Garden at which time the gods rejoice.

  3. As a youth, he demonstrates proficiency in the martial arts of the time, and emerges victorious in competitions.

  4. He lives in the style of a prince at that time and place, conforming to custom and  serving his father's kingdom. [That is, not disgracing his family.]

  5. Seeing the uselessness of attachment to material existence, he sets out alone [a Tibetan version recounts how he escaped by flying] and  ordained himself. [He cut off his hair and took the vows of a renunciate or sadhu.]

  6. Through the extensive  practice of different forms of  yoga for six years, he earnestly attempts to achieve enlightenment.

  7. Through his own perseverance, he attains his goal.

  8. Due to his compassion for others, at Varanasi he preaches [Turns the Wheel of the Doctrine, or Dharma ] three different ways for achieving enlightenment.

  9. He overcomes various opponents, philosophical, political and spiritual.

  10. He performs wonders and miracles at Sravasti, transmuting the elements.

  11. Establishing the Sangha, he causes the Dharma to flourish.

  12. He passes away into Nirvana in such a way as to convince people that the Sublime Knowledge he revealed is indestructible.

*12 Deeds of Guru Rinpoche

*12 remati [semo or shvana] sisters: from the legend of Padmasambhava; they are sworn protectors for whom a torma [ritual food offering] is made to this day.

  • 13

*Thirteen Golden Doctrines central to the Sakya tradition

*13 lunar months in 1 year

*some say there are 13 bhumis (see 10.)

  • 16 

*16 causes of premature death as per Amitayus [sambhogakaya form of Amitabha] practice.

  • 18

*18 Mahayoga TantrasThe Essence of Secrets (Guhyagarbha Tantra) is considered by Jamgon Kongtrul to be the greatest of these.

  • 21

*21 manifestations of Green Tara, consort of  Amoghasiddhi.

Her sadhana [liturgy] is referred to as "Homage to the 21 Taras" or the 21 Praises.

*21 disciples of Guru Rinpoche

*21 genyen:  sworn [bonded to the dharma] local deities

  • 28

*28 Ishvaris:  7 for each of the 4 kinds of activity. (See 4 , 58).

  • 30

*Thirty Pieces of Advice From the Heart is a famous text concerning the way to conduct oneself in this life by Longchenpa [Longchen Rabjam,] founder of the Longchen Nyingthig lineage of the Nyingma denomination. 

Some Larger Numbers

  • 37 stages of a bodhisattva

  • 42 peaceful deities: 

Samantabhadra (All-Goodness) and Samantabadhri plus the five male and five female buddhas, the eight male and eight female bodhisattvas, the 6 munis, plus four male and four female gatekeepers. 58 herukas:  five male and five female herukas [blood-drinkers, ie. forms of ego-clinging] plus eight yoginis, eight tramen [hybrid, ie. animal-headed] goddesses, four female gatekeepers, and the twenty-eight ishvaris ['ladies'].

  • 64 bodhisattva vows: found in the Highway for Bodhisattvas [Tib.: Jangchub Shunglam] by Je Tsongkapa [1357-1419]

  • 84 Mahasiddhas: legendary Buddhist adepts of India.  Dowman (Buddhist Masters of Enchantment) identifies 54 of them as:

Minapa, The Bengali Jonah 
Luipa, The Fish-Gut Eater 
Virupa, [Ugly or Mis-shapen] Master of Dakinis 
Dombipa, The Tiger Rider 
Saraha, The Great Brahmin 
Lilapa, [Playboy] The Royal Hedonist 
Savaripa, The Hunter 
Goraksa, The Immortal Cowherd 
Tantipa, The Senile Weaver 
Khadgapa, The Master Thief 
Caurangipa, The Limbless One 
Kankaripa, The Lovelorn Widower 
Aryadeva, The Lotus-Born 
Nagarjuna, Philosopher and Alchemist 
Vinapa, The Music Lover 
Thaganapa, Master of the Lie 
Camaripa, The Divine Cobbler 
Syalipa, The Jackal Yogin 
Naropa, The Dauntless Disciple 
Tilopa, The Great Renunciate 
Santipa, The Academic 
Mekopa, The Wild-Eyed Guru 
Kambala, The Yogin of the Black Blanket 
Vyalipa, The Courtesan's Alchemist 
Tantepa, The Gambler 
Kukkuripa, The Dog Lover 
Kanhapa, The Dark-Skinned One 
Acinta, The Avaricious Hermit 
Bhadrapa, The Snob 
Kalapa, The Handsome Madman 
Bhusuku (Santideva), The Lazy Monk 
Kotalipa, The Peasant Guru 
Indrabhuti, The Enlightened King 
Jalandhara, The Chosen One 
Bhiksanapa, Siddha Two-Teeth 
Ghantapa, The Celibate Monk 
C[h]ampaka, The Flower King 
Kumbharipa, the Potter 
Godhuripa, The Bird Catcher 
Kapalapa, The Skull Bearer 
C[h]arbaripa (C[h]arpati), The Sidda Who Turned People to Stone 
Kantalipa, The Rag Picker 
Jayananda,The Crow Master 
Dhilipa, The Epicure 
Darikapa, Slave-King of the Temple Whore 
Udhipipa, The Flying Siddha 
Laksminkara, The Mad Princess 
Nirgunapa, The Enlightened Moron 
Mekhala and Kanakhala, The Headless Sisters 
Kirapalapa (Kilapa), The Repentant Conqueror 
Nagabodhi, The Red Horned Thief 
Saravabhaksa, The Empty-Bellied Siddha 
Manibhadra, The Model Wife 
Saroruha, The Lotus Child

100 peaceful and wrathful deities.

108 beads in a malaIn Hindu cosmology, any Brahma lives for 108 Brahma-years.  In Tibetan Buddhism, 108 lotsawas [translators of dharma teachings] were predicted. 

253 precepts held by fully ordained monastics [Tib.:  gelong]

500-year periods of ten in all in which Buddha-dharma is expected to endure.

1, 000 buddhas predicted for this eon, a Good Eon.

84, 000 teachings of the Buddha

160,000 years in an age of a buddha according to one tradition.

Note:  Regarding the large numbers, Tibetan tradition prefers rounded numbers such as 100, 000 (Tib. bum, but called a lakh in India.) A large number written the Indian or Tibetan way may lead to some confusion for Westerners, eg. 11, 74, 000 (no zero is missing), means 11 lakhs 74 thousand.  This is equal to the Western 1, 174, 000.

A koti (Sanskrit word) is a 100, 000 lakhs or 10 million.  The modern Hindi for koti is crore.

An ayuta is 100 kotis, and a 100 ayutas is one niyuta.

  • 4, 320, 000 years in the kalpa according to the Indian cosmological tradition.  This is one 'year' in the life of Brahma, who has lived for around 51 years (this time round.)  There are 4 kalpas in a yuga. During a kalpa, the world comes into being, exists, then is destroyed, and a long period of emptiness ensues.  Then the cycle starts over again. 

    • "The life and kingship of one Indra endure 71 eons, and when 28 Indras have expired, one Day and Night of Brahma has elapsed. But the existence of one Brahma, measured in such Brahma Days and Nights, is only 108 years."           ~Brahmavaivarta Purana.

Though a kalpa is considered to be 4,320,000 years, Buddhists describe its duration metaphorically:  Rub a one-mile cube of rock once every hundred years with a piece of silk, until the rock is worn away -- and a kalpa still hasn’t passed! 

In the Indian cosmological view, we are currently in the Kali yuga, a dark and decadent time.  One etymology has Kali coming from kalaha meaning quarrel.


Pandeya's footnotes refer to W. Windelband's A History of Philosophy, (2nd ed. New York:  Macmillan, 1960.)  In the philosophy of the Renaissance, numbers played a very important part. "The book of nature is written in numbers; the harmony of things is that of the number-system."

In modern philosophy, the same problem of reality was viewed in terms of monism, dualism, and pluralism. Descartes' mind and matter, Spinoza's one Substance, Leibniz' plurality of monads, and, finally, Hegel's one Absolute show the way in which numbers play a part in the determination of philosophical concepts.  Modern logicians like Frege and Russell give a new orientation to number-concept (B. Russell, An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy). 

In India, the controversy about the number of ultimate reality dates back to the Rig Veda. "Reality is one but described as many." (ekam sad vipraa bohudhaa vadanti--I.164.46),  the episode of the twin birds (1.164.20), and the Nasadiya Sukta (RV, X.129), which perhaps thinks in terms of void or zero, give a glimpse of the numerical thinking of the ancient seers. 

The Upanishads abound in discussions about the one and the many.  Has the name "Samkhya" anything to do with numbers? Except [for] the two Mimamsa views, all other systems of orthodox Indian philosophy proceed with the enumeration of various categories, viz., 24 or 25 categories of the Samkhya-Yoga, six categories of the Vaisheshka, 16 categories of the Nyaya. The Uttara Mimamsa school discusses the relation between the one (Brahman) and the many (jiva-jagat). That early Buddhism was fond of categorization and counting is evidenced in Abhidharma philosophy. The term "sunya," [shunya-ta] preferred by Madhyamikas to designate their concept of reality, therefore assumes importance.

ZERO is often used to indicate absence of quantity. "We can define all the natural numbers if we know what we mean by '0' and 'successor' " (Russell. An Introduction to Mathematical Philosopby. 20). Thus, number 1 can be defined as the successor of O. But 0 itself is not the successor of any number. All the natural numbers, therefore, proceed from 0 (24, 25).  A number is defined as a number of terms in a class; number 0 is the number of terms in a class which has no member.  Since a class is not identical with its member, "0 is the class whose only member is the null-class" ( 23). In this light "`sunya" will mean a class having no member; and "ekam" will mean a class having one member. "Ekam" can be explained in terms of "sunyam," and thus would be inferior to the latter. "Sunyam advayam" is a higher philosophy than that of "ekam advaitam."  But we are emphatically asked not to take shunyas as a notion or concept (d.r.s.ti), because that, being a class, is in no way better than other class-concepts.

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