The Mystic Number Eighteen



  The number 18 is the first multiple of 9, which represents cosmogonically the Initial Triad, the Creative Triad and the Formative Triads, which are theogonically represented as Agni, Vayu and Surya; Brahmā, Vishnu and Shiva; and as purusha, shakti (fohat in Tibetan) and prakriti. The sacred number 108 (used for chanting the Gāyatrī nine times at twelve points on the right hand), as well as 1,008, 100,008 and 1,000,008, are also significant multiples of 9. All multiples of 9 added together become 9 (for example, 18 x 9 = 162, of which 1+6+2=9).

  The cosmos is constituted of three archetypal categories, three constant factors, three variable properties or propensities, and three recurring factors – BOUNDLESS SPACE, INFINITE DURATION and CEASELESS MOTION; space, time and causation; constancy (sattva), mutability (rajas) and inertia (tamas); creation, preservation and destruction (disintegration and regeneration).

  Eighteen, the first multiple of 9, recurs in connection with the Mahābhārata. Its eighteen portions (parvas) delineate the epic career of humanity on this earth. The contending armies together constituted eighteen divisions, the Pāndavas possessing seven and the Kauravas eleven. The war between them lasted eighteen days. The epic reveals the entire gamut of human possibilities and limits. Higher multiples of 9 signify further potentials extending into higher regions, such as the twenty-seven lunar constellations. The moon's orbit intersects the sun's apparent orbit – the ecliptic – at the lunar nodes, Rāhu and Ketu, also known as the Dragon's Head and the Dragon's Tail. Rāhu and Ketu move backwards through the constellations gradually so that they return every eighteen years and seven months to the places they occupied at the individual's moment of birth. Rāhu and Ketu, together with the seven sacred planets, make up the nine rulers of the twenty-seven lunar constellations, each ruler acting through each of the three gunas.

  The normal individual in average conditions takes eighteen breaths a minute, which is 1,080 breaths an hour or 25,920 breaths a day. The latter figure approximates the length of time taken for the complete precession of the equinoxes, or for the sun to return on March 21 to its starting point after successively occupying every sign of the zodiac. In addition, an average pulse of seventy-two heartbeats each minute, or 4,320 per hour, means that there are four beats per breath. A typical life-span of seventy-two years could be considered as a single inbreathing and outbreathing in the longer cycle of reincarnations, whilst each incarnation could be fruitfully divided into four periods (āshramas) of eighteen years each, corresponding to the return of Rāhu and Ketu to their natal positions. Furthermore, seventy-two years would comprise 108 x 2 x 3,110,400 breaths, a figure intimating analogies with the vast mahāyugas and the life of Brahmã.

  The eighteen adhyāyas of the Bhagavad Gitā signify six standpoints (ontological, epistemological, psychological, ethical, soteriological and theurgic) in three broad movements –philosophical, religious and scientific. The entire work may also be taken to refer to the earthly pilgrimage of the immortal soul as well as the spiritual odyssey of the dedicated neophyte through a series of progressive awakenings portrayed in eighteen successive dialogues between Nārāyana and Nara, God and Man, guru and chela. Towards the end of the second adhyāya, Krishna provides in eighteen shlokas the sublime portrait of the Self-governed Sage, the quintessence of the Teaching of the Gītā.

  Eighteen may be construed as 9 x 2, 6 x 3, or as 8 + 10, or as 4+7+7, or as 5+5+5+3, or as 1+8+8+1, or as 3+6+6+3. These suggest seven different ways of studying the Bhagavad Gītā:

1. Shlokas 1-372, 373-700;

2. Shlokas 1-280, 281-489, 490-700;

3. Shlokas 1-338, 339-700;

4. Shlokas 1-204, 205-469, 470-700;

5. Shlokas 1-233, 234-414, 415-570, 571-700;

6. Shlokas 1-47, 48-372, 373-622, 623-700;

7. Shlokas 1-162, 163-372, 373-570, 571-700

  All these methods yield significant analogies and correspondences, rich in their ramifications. The Gītā is indeed the study of Adepts in the seven sacred sciences as well as of Masters of ātmavidyā, the Science of the Self. At the same time, its archetypal universality has had wide appeal, with almost 2,000 renditions in 75 languages.

  The number 18 is mysteriously connected both with Arjuna and with Krishna. Arjuna as the archetypal Man is the fruit of 18.75 million years of lunar and solar evolution upon this earth. He is also the quintessential aspect or vesture of Krishna as the embodied Logos, or God in Man. Krishna is the seventh principle of the cosmos and of Man, and 18 represents the Avatāric form of Krishna, the paradigm and source of all the Divine Incarnations in human evolution.

Raghavan Iyer