QUESTION: I get irritated by the differing numbers given in the instructions. They tell you: do this six times, do this nine times, do this 21 times and so on. There are bigger numbers such as 108 beads on a rudraksha rosary, which makes me think, Why not just 100, a natural number?

ANSWER: There is nothing natural about the decimal system, which is most inconvenient: one cannot divide by 3 for example.

On the general point, there has to be a number. If when you are directed to do something 9 times, you at once think Why not 8 or 10, then consider that if it were 10, you would be thinking, Why not 9. When in a Keep Fit class you are told to do something 12 times, you do not at once think Why not ll or 13.

QUESTION: Well, allowing that point, why not have one standard number, for instance the sacred number 7, and multiples of it. Then there would be a satisfying reason for choosing that number.

ANSWER: Then people might think: “Oh, but this is not the sacred 4 lettered Tetragrammaton. There are the Four Vedas and the four Archangels, and the Double-four, or 8, is the symbol of comleteness. Jung says that too. So the 7 would be just short of completeness.” There would be no end to speculation with numbers as symbols.

The ancient traditions in India knew this tendency of the human mind to seek to escape from practice by raising side-issues. The numbers are mostly connected with impersonal mathematics. The rosary number, 108, is 3 cubed multiplied by 2 squared. 54 is justified not as the number of letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, but as three cubed x 2, and the 27 is just 3 cubed.

The numbers are not regarded as magical; they are given and adhered to in order to maintain regular practice. It is true that some of them are associated with changes of consciousness, but this is a mnemonic for teaching and practice; the particular numbers do not have special virtues of their own.