It was singing ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ that did it.
We have the great good fortune to live in a street with wonderful neighbours and it’s always a pleasure to invite them round on Christmas Eve for a noggin and a carol or two. It was during one such Yuletide singalong that an idea was sparked for a book based on numbers. I began to think of it as a kind of countdown to enlightenment – hence the rather provocative subtitle.
All religions seem to have a penchant for numbers – especially the number 3 – but Buddhism goes further than any of them in its numerological fascination (probably to do with its Chinese influence). The Buddha is supposed to have delivered 84,000 teachings – though why that precise number and who was counting is a matter for debate.
I wanted to be far more concise. To the well-known numbers – Three Jewels, Four Truths, Five Precepts, and Eightfold Path – I wondered if it might be possible to add a few others, thereby setting out some of the key ideas of Buddhism in a clear and simple format.
Here’s the full set:
TEN Worlds; NINE Consciousnesses; EIGHT fold noble path; SEVEN Seas; SIX Paramitas; FIVE Precepts; FOUR Noble Truths; THREE Jewels; TWO but not Two; ONE-eyed turtle and the floating sandlewood log.
Several of these number/chapter/themes will be familiar to readers of this Mud Pie blog – but there are a few which might be surprising, especially my favourite number ‘Two but not Two’. In this chapter I explore the idea of interdependence or ‘inter-being’. It is impossible, I argue, to overestimate the importance of this concept for the future of life on this planet.
It was tempting to end the book with a piece on the all-important number of Zero – but such a chapter could have gone on for ever! For, as the Buddhist concept of Sunyata makes clear, nothing gives rise to everything. I did, however, indulge myself by craving an audience with the great Professor Marcus du Sautoy whose book The Number Mysteries is full of fascinating games, brilliant insights and intriguing challenges. He confessed that he has always been drawn to the prime numbers 17, 41 and 43. And he also admitted to having a bit of a soft spot for the number 108 (3 cubed x 4) which is considered a sacred number by Jains and Hindus as well as Buddhists.
Which got me thinking. What’s your favourite number? And why? Everyone seems to have one. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post it on the website. If enough people do this we could end up with a galaxy of interesting numbers – and no doubt some fascinating reflections on different aspects of Buddhism.
The possibilities are, well, numerous.