Article by: Sadagopan Iyengar Swami of Coimbatore
If you think about it, you find it really astonishing as to how Numbers dominate our lives– so much so that you can’t imagine an existence without them. Previously, only Police Constables and Prisoners used to be addressed by the numbers assigned to them and not by names. However, with the advent of computers, all of us have been reduced to a series of numbers, whether it is for the purpose of Social Security, Income Tax, college admissions or employment. Much more than your names, you are called upon to remember the number assigned to you for the aforesaid purposes, if you want to lead a peaceful life. And the day doesn’t seem far off when these ubiquitous Numbers would replace our names, if Cyber Governance reaches its logical destination. Imagine, your grandchild may well be known just as “25675490870982321789”, instead of Krishnan or Sharanya. With the gradual disappearance of national frontiers, each new baby would be allotted a distinguishing number on global basis, with the various digits representing date and place of birth, sex, category and so on. This may sound to be a fantasy, but is not so very far from truth as one might imagine.
In such a situation, where names lose their significance and everything and everybody is but a series of numbers, what Number would you allot to the Paramatma? For, when the Lord has made Himself amenable to digitalisation of His images, when the administration of His abodes (like Tirumala) has been extensively computerised, when we prefer to watch His festive outings (Brahmotsavams) in the form of computerised television images beamed across thousands of miles—when all these can happen, it would only be logical that we assign even the Paramaatma a number. If such were to be the case, what number would we assign to the Lord?
“No. 1”, of course, would be the answer I expect from most of you. And the logic behind this is understandable, for the Lord is indeed the first in everything.
He was the first and only being in existence when there was none other, prior to Creation—“Eko ha vai Narayana aaseet, na Brahmaa na Eesaana:”, “Eko Vishnu: mahat bhootam” etc. are just a few quotes attesting to the Parabrahmam being the sole being in existence. (The other Atmas did exist of course, but as an undifferentiated mass mixed up with Matter). It is only thereafter that He created lesser beings—“Yo Brahmaanam vidhadhaati poorvam”, “tat iykshat bahusyaam” and scores of Shruti vaakyaas attest to the singular Supreme Being becoming many.
Secondly, the Lord is indeed the first in everything, be it auspicious attributes like Wisdom, Strength, Bounties, Power or any other. There is absolutely no dispute to His primacy, be it on whatever count.
Thus, viewed from any angle, it appears only correct to assign the very first number, 1, to Paramatma.
However, Vedantis allot quite a different number to the Lord—viz., 26. I see your eyebrows raised in puzzlement—why 26? Why not 1 and why not 21? What is so sacrosanct about 26, that the Lord should answer to this number?
In our Sampradaya, there are three Realities, which every aspirant for liberation should be conversant with. These are respectively Chit, Achit and Isvaran. Chit represents all the sentient Jeevatmas, Achit represents non-sentient matter and Iswara, naturally, is the Supreme Lord with all His innumerable kalyana gunas.
Of these three, Non-sentient Objects are counted first. Again, these are classified into the following categories and are assigned the respective numbers—
1. Prakriti or Matter, the basic material of which all non-sentient objects are made. For instance, if we take a pot, clay, which forms the basic component, is what comprises of Matter.
2. Mahat (which is of three types, Satvam, Rajas and Tamas)
3. Ahankaaram or Ego
4 to 8—The Five Tanmaatraas (Roopa, Rasa, Shabda, Sprarsa, Gandha)
which represent energy in the form of radiation and which afford
the faculties of sight, taste, hearing, touch and smell
9 to 13—The Five Elements, Pancha Bhootam, viz., Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether
14 to 18—The Five Organs of Knowledge (Gnaana Indriyas)—Eyes, Ears, Skin, Tongue and Nose
19 to 23—The Five Organs of Action (Karma Indriyaas)—Hands, Feet, Speech and the two excretory organs
24. The Mind
Thus, Numbers One to Twenty-four are allotted to the aforesaid elements.
The 25th item is the Jeevaatma, the Individual Soul.
While Numbers 1 to 24 represent the non-sentient group, items 25 and 26 represent the Sentient or Chetana Group. We have seen that Jeevatma is numbered 25.
The other Sentient, the Paramatma, answers to No. 26. It is thus that we allot No. 26 to the Supreme Being.
The Lord’s love and affection for us is so much, that He yearns for us to just utter His holy names, or even those of His abodes, whether in devotion or merely in levity. He treats even such casual utterances as reason enough to turn us on to the right path leading to Liberation. According to Nammazhwar, the very utterance of the name of Tirumaalirum Solai led to Emepruman embracing Azhwar with ardour—
“Tirumaalirum Solai malai endren, enna Tirumaal vandu en nenju niraya pugundaan”. Such mention of the Lord’s abode need not even be with absolute devotion, need not even be with due regard to grammar or syntax—even if it is uttered with absolute casualness or flippancy, the Lord rushes forward to be counted as our friend, guide and philosopher.
We are told that even if we know not the names of the Lord or His abodes, even if we call the No. 26, Emperuman answers to the mere number—this, even if we have absolutely no inkling of the significance of the no. 26. Even if a devotee were to count from 1 to 100 for some other purpose, the moment No. 26 is uttered, the Lord presents Himself, saying, “Here I am!”, much in the fashion of a student answering the roll call at class.
This is what Sri Nampillai says, while commenting on the words “eNNilum varum”, in the following pasuram from Tiruvaimozhi—
“KaN ulle nirkkum, kaadanmayaal tozhil
eNNilum varum, en ini venduvam?
MaNNum Neerum Eriyum nal Vaayuvum
ViNNumaai viriyum Empiranaye”
When a devotee starts counting, “twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five”, the moment “twenty-six” is uttered, the Lord rushes forward and says “Here I am”—says the Eedu—“Irupattu ondru, Irupattu irandu, Irupattu moondru, Irupattu naalu, Irupattu aindu, Irupattu aaru endru eNNinaal, ‘Irupattu aaru naane’ endru varum”.
No.26 appears noteworthy in other ways too, in its composition.
1. If we add up the two integers, we get 8, signifying the Ashtaaksharam, (the eight-lettered formulation) which is the greatest of Mantras, which again reflects the Lord and His glory in full measure.
2. If we multiply 2 and 6, we get the number of letters in another great Bhagavat Mantram, viz., the Dvaadasa Akshari, the Vasudeva Mantram.
3. The third of the Vyaapaka or famous Mantras of the Lord, the Shadakshari or the Vishnu Mantram, is composed of 6 letters.
4. The first integer 2 stands for the Dvaya Mantram too, with its two sentences, with which Sharanagati is performed.
Thus, looked at anyway, No. 26 appears extremely significant.
Nammazhwar tells us that the Lord is indeed beyond numbers—“eNNin meediyan Emeperuman”. The Sahasranamam too confirms that He is countless—“Asankheya:”. Despite all this, it appears as though we can capture Him before counting even 50.
The next time we come across No. 26 in any context, won’t it remind us of the magnificent Lord and His immeasurable glory?
This article is written by: Sadagopan Iyengar Swami of Coimbatore