Number Symbolism

Zero : Dimensionless Infinity of Consciousness

Geometric representation of zero is a dot (point) because a point is zero-dimensional. The Absolute Unqualified Consciousness (Nirguna Brahma) is symbolized by a point because Nirguna Brahma is beyond this creation, it is beyond our understanding.

We can say that the “point” is preclusive of numbers and dimensions. The Absolute Unqualified Consciousness is dimensionless and preclusive of numbers.

Symbols for zero appeared in many cultures before Common Era (BCE). The philosophical conception of zero, however, is usually attributed to the Indian philosophy. The evidence is in the Sanskrit language. The Sanskrit word “shunya” meaning “emptiness” or “void” was used by Indian philosophers for many centuries before Common Era.

The concept of zero as a number in the decimal place-value system is also attributed to India. In 498 CE, Indian mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata clarified the decimal place-value notation. The Indian mathematician Brahmagupta elucidated more on the usage of zero in his book Brahmasputha Siddhanta (The Opening of the Universe) written in 628 CE.

The Indian numerals and the positional number system were introduced to the Islamic civilization by Al-Khuwarizmi whose book Arithmetic (circa 820 CE) synthesized Greek and Indian knowledge and also contained his own fundamental contribution to mathematics and science including an explanation of the use of zero. It was only centuries later, in the 12th century, that the Indian numerals and the positional-value number system was introduced to the Western world through Latin translations of Al-Khuwarizmi’s Arithmetic.

We should also mention in passing that the word “Algebra” comes from Al-Khuwarizmi’s book “Hisab Al-jabr w’almukala” (The book of restoration and equalization).

One : Unity of Being

The Qualified Consciousness (Saguna Brahma) (Supreme Being) is symbolized by number 1. In geometric terms 1 corresponds to a line which is 1-dimensional. This is why the numeral 1 looks like a line.

There is a duality between the “point” and the “line” which is apparently different but a line looks like a point when viewed from a different angle (head-on). Therefore the “point” and the “line” are dual.  The difference is due to the vantage point. The difference between the Absolute Unqualified Consciousness and the Supreme Being is similarly due to the vantage point.

When the “point” becomes a “line” an uncountable number of “points” appear to be forming the “line”. The “line” can be viewed as a “point” by changing the viewing angle but the “point” cannot be viewed as a “line”. The “point” has to become a “line”.

Saguna Brahma has infinite (uncountable) dimensions whereas Nirguna Brahma is dimensionless yet it is the Infinity of possibilities. Nirguna Brahma cannot be understood in terms of the Creation=Cosmos.

Two : Being to Becoming and the Fundamental Interaction

Transformation of the (Supreme) Being to Becoming (Cosmos) proceeds by a fundamental interaction which is symbolized by the number 2. The fundamental duality is the outcome of this interaction. For any interaction you need two entities. How does unity act like two?

The fundamental interaction that is sometimes symbolized by the yin/yang symbol is the binding action of Prakrti (Cosmic Operative Principle of the Transcendental Entity – Absolute Unqualified Consciousness) on the Being. This binding action is the fundamental interaction.

Metaphorically speaking the love of Cosmic Mother for the Cosmic Father is the cause of the Cosmos. In the historical context some of the dualistic pairs of spiritual philosophy like Puruśa/Prakrti (Shiva/Shakti), were understood using the father/mother metaphor. Shrii Shrii Anandamurti who reformulated Tantra Yoga for the present age was very careful with metaphors. He explained the second entity, the cause of the fundamental duality, Prakrti, as follows:

“The Cosmic Operative Principle, or Cosmic Creative Principle, or Causal Matrix, is sheltered in the Transcendental Entity, the Supreme Cognition.” [1]

Ying/Yang is the universal symbol of dualities:

  • Puruśa/Prakrti
  • Shiva/Shakti
  • Father/Mother
  • Cognitive/Operative
  • Being/Becoming,
  • Consciousness/Life
  • Mind/Energy

The second universal symbol for these dualities is the cross


Vertical line: Puruśa, Shiva,  Father, Cognitive, Being, Consciousness, Mind

Horizontal line: Prakrti, Shakti, Mother, Operative, Becoming, Life, Energy 

Three : Gunas, Fundamental Tendencies

I wrote an article about the symbolism 3. Number 3 and its geometric representation triangle refers to the 3 gunas which can be described as tendencies or binding principles:

Sattvaguna (sentient guna): tendency for straightness, tendency towards limitlessness, symmetry, the force resisting curvatures

Tamoguna (static guna): localizing, internalizing, forming, limiting, symmetry breaking tendency

Rajoguna (mutative guna): the principle that mediates the opposing forces of the sentient and the static gunas, the principle of evolution, the principle of energy

The triangle symbolizes the spiritual illumination and enlightenment in Freemasonry.

Douglas De Long says that the triangle symbolizes reincarnation [2].

According to Moustafa Gadalla the metaphysical role of the number 3 was recognized in Ancient Egypt. He summarizes the Ancient Egyptian wisdom by saying  “each unity is a triple power and double nature” [3].

Sefer Yetzirah, the earliest text of Kabbalah, says “…He engraved Yah…, the Living God,.. and He created His Universe with three books (Sepharim), with text (Sepher), with number (Sephar), and with communication (Sippur)”.

According to Aryeh Kaplan the “He” refers to the Infinite Being (Ein Sof) who is above all divine Names. Ein Sof of Kabbalah corresponds to the Nirguna Brahma of Tantra Yoga. It is also clear to me that “Sepher”, “Sephar”, and “Sippur” are related to the 3 gunas: Rajoguna, Tamoguna, Sattvaguna.

In Taoism the “I Ching” (Yi Jing) uses trigrams which represent the 3 gunas. A trigram is a simplified representation of the various combinations of the 3 gunas. In reality the number of combinations is uncountable but “I Ching” comes up with 64 combinations using 8 fundamental trigrams. The line place (first, second, third line) corresponds to the one of the 3 gunas. From the descriptions of the solid and broken lines it is clear that

solid line : yang =  Sattvaguna
broken line: yin = Tamoguna
transitions between yin/yang = Rajoguna

In physics there are exactly 3 generations of fermions. Fermions are the constituents of matter. The quarks which are fermions carry exactly 3 “color charges”. Why only 3 generations? Why only 3 color charges? The reason is clear but it will take a while for the physicists to establish the connection mathematically. The 3 fermion generations and the  3 color charges are manifested because the fundamental process behind the scenes is an interplay of 3 gunas.

Four : Ordering Principle, Cosmic Mind

Number four symbolizes the stage before the creation of the physical universe. This is probably why there are 4 archangels in Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).

In J.C.Cooper’s words: “…it is the spatial scheme or order of manifestation, the static as opposed to the circular and dynamic.” [4]

Physics discovered four fundamental forces in the physical universe

  • Gravitational force
  • Electromagnetic force
  • Nuclear force (known as the “Strong” force by physicists)
  • Weak force (another type of nuclear force)

Five : Fundamental Factors, Layers of Mind

Hindu, Japanese, and Greek systems of thought elaborated on the the 5 classical elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire and a fifth element known variously as “quintessence”, “void”, “aether” or “akasha”.   The number five symbolizes these classical elements.

In Tantra Yoga the five classical elements are known as: akasha tattva, vayu tattva, tejas tattva, apa tattva, ks’iti tattva. It is said that in the emergence of the physical universe from Cosmic Citta, the rudimental factor known as Ethereal Factor or akasha tattva came into being first.  The Ethereal Factor is said to be able to carry the subtle primordial vibration known as Onmkara or Om. As the binding effects of Prakrti increased, a portion of the Ethereal Factor was transformed into vayu tattva or Aerial Factor. Then came the tejas tattva or Luminous Factor. Following the luminous factor there was the creation of the Liquid Factor, apa tattva. The last factor to be created was the Solid Factor or ks’iti tattva. Sanskrit terms “tattva” and “bhuta” are used interchangeably. These five fundamental factors are also known as the five bhutas.

The number five also symbolizes the five layers (kosha) of the mind:
1. Kamamaya 2. Manomaya 3. Atimanasa 4. Vigyanamaya 5. Hiranmaya

In this respect, five is the number of the microcosm (human being).

Six : Inner and Outer Development, Equilibrium and Harmony

The downward pointing triangle of this ancient symbol symbolizes the inner (spiritual) development. The upward pointing triangle symbolizes the outer (mental and physical) development.

Many educational institutions use the upward pointing triangle in their logos because education is about physical and mental development.

Number six also symbolizes equilibrium and harmony.

Seven: Realms of Being, Lokas, and Chakras

Number seven is the number of the macrocosm (Cosmos).

According to Tantra Yoga and many other religions and spiritual traditions there are seven realms of Cosmos.

The Sanskrit term for “realm” is “loka”. You can read about lokas from this link: Layers of the Mind.

In Abrahamic religions, the seven lokas are known as seven heavens.

There is a mysterious connection between the seven realms of the Cosmos and the seven centers of human subtle body. These centers (chakras) are very closely associated with the glands and the complex nerve centers of the spine but their main function is in the subtle body which is connected to the seven lokas.

References

[1] Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, “Supreme Cognition”, Subháśita Saḿgraha Part 24

[2] Douglas De Long, “Ancient Teachings for Beginners”, Llewellyn Publications, ISBN 978-1-56718-214-9

[3] Moustafa Gadalla, “Egyptian Cosmology”, Tehuti Research Foundation, ISBN 0-9652509-3-8

[4] J.C. Cooper, “An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols”, Thames & Hudson, ISBN: 978-0-500-27125-4

If you liked this, you might want to read “Numbers and Their Meanings” by crystalinks.com.

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About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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