An interview with His Holiness Sankaracarya Santananda Saraswati.

(This consists of a series of questions and answers)

The world of manifestation is limited to number nine. This is the ultimate number on the side of the physical manifestation and the system of Indian astronomy, which forms part of the sixfold system for the study of the Vedas, is based on number nine. The six vedangas are known as Shiksha, Chhanda, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Jyotisha and Kalpa. The mathematical calculations in the system of Jyotisha are based on number nine. Nine is the manifest Pranava. The Pranava is the Sat. Sat is that which cannot be broken. The numbers which are called Anka in Sanskrit, are also that which cannot be broken. Number nine has great peculiarity of the same type. One can multiply nine with any number and yet the total of the digits will always be nine; for example, 9×2 = 18 = 9, and 9×3 = 27 = 9, and so on. The number nine thus always remains nine.

Q: Your Holiness, we were in fact introduced some time ago to the concept of number nine being the perfect number, and the numbers from one to nine, if one is a number, and zero together forming a circle of nine points, but, of course, there are other descriptions as well. Could Your Holiness say something about the correspondence of the numbers to each other and to nine, between one, nine and zero?
A: Number nine is the number of manifestation. It is also the limit of manifestation. The next is number ten which is one and zero, one being represented by the Absolute and zero by the unmanifest.
Ten people were going across the country to another land and they had to cross a river. The river was shallow, but the currents were swift. They managed to cross the river, and after reaching the other shore, they wanted to make sure that no-one was drowned. Each of them lined the others up and found the total of nine only, for none of them would count himself. They were sorry and disturbed. A holy man was passing along the bank and seeing them miserable he asked the reason of their worries. They narrated their story. The holy man saw their difficulty and foolishness so he asked all of them to line up. With his stick he hit one and separated him from the others. The next one he hit twice, and separated him. Likewise he hit the tenth man ten times and declared them ten and assured them that none was lost.
In Vedantic literature this story is told to illustrate that the tenth is yourself. Tenth is the one with zero, which is unmanifest. One to nine are the numbers of manifestation, and at ten, the same Self which is one stands with unmanifest Prakriti by its side. Further on the same repetition of numbers occurs. The one at number ten embodies the nine manifestations within it. The creation starts with one and at ten it again stands as one with all the nine manifestations.

Q: The creation beginning with one, would that signify the entry of Atman into creation, that is to say, would it signify essence in its purity?
A: The ultimate or the Absolute (Brahman) is one and with the start of creation it unfolds itself in nine states and there it ends. In this nine-stage creation, we see all the manifestation. When all the stages of the creation have seen their fulfilment, it once again unites in the same Absolute. In the Brahma Sutra of Badarayana, it is said that it is the Absolute from which the creation begins, stays and merges again in the same Absolute. In Vedantic literature, something similar has been said, that this universe is created by the Absolute, the creation of manifested forms is sustained by it, and in the end the whole creation will once again merge into it. That is the Brahman and that is what one needs to know.
This creation takes place between one and nine and then all this world of manifestation concludes into zero which symbolises the unmanifest Prakriti. With this unmanifest Prakriti by its side, the one which is Absolute forms number ten.

Q: Is there a special importance in numbers three, six and nine in relation to each other?
A: Three is the number of first manifestation. The Prakriti manifests in three as the triads were given previously (i.e. Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, the three forces of the Prakriti, manifesting at the causal, subtle and gross levels). These are again provided in three measures which form the sets of one, two, three; four, five, six; seven, eight, nine. The first group forms the creating process with essentials. The second group forms the growth of multiplicity and sustains the creation. The third group is complete fulfilment of creation, which means withdrawal.

Q: Your Holiness, when we were first given this concept of number nine, we were given a sequence of numbers said to represent a perpetual motion, which sequence was 1428571... These are in fact the expression in decimal numbers of one over seven, and it is a recurring number. Could I ask Your Holiness about that succession, and is not this perpetual motion in creation a result just going on and on?
A: The Absolute at nine steps into eight as the unmanifest, and then to seven as Prakriti, and so on until it reaches one as the earth. The number seven is very important. At this point the manifestations start and go on creating all the forms of the universe. On its way back, this is the point where all forms lock in and the further steps are beyond the reach of physical or mental observation. Beyond this is the realm of Atman, which is consciousness.
This means that number seven is the embodiment of the mechanical process. Up to this stage, the body, senses and the subtle body have their existence and are also valid. This is the eternal movement which goes on in the coarse and subtle bodies. Beyond this is the causal body.

Q: A should like to ask a little about the individual numbers. Does the number two stand for duality, which is like the entry into creation, or has it a much greater significance?
A: This number two is certainly the representation of the duality of the I and the non-I, or I and the rest of creation. This I is the ultimate unity of the Absolute, represented as the Atman, and whatever is not Atman, or whatever is not being felt as Atman, is the universe. Thus number two is the stage where one stands as the consciousness looking around. Whatever come into view forms another unit which is unmanifest Prakriti.
In Sanskrit language, the I stands for Aham and the non-I stands for Idam. Aham is for the Atman, and Idam is for everything else.

Q: May I ask about the number four? This gives the impression of permanence, stability, a kind of foundation quality, as though the three gunas were operating on a firm base, this sort of quality. Would this be at all right?
A: According to the two lines of calculation of one to nine and nine to one, this number four comes at the stage of air on one side and Mahat on the other side. It is the air that holds all the physical forms. Everything is held by air, the body is regulated by air and also held together, because once the vital air passes away from the body, it falls to disintegrate. All this is represented by number four.
On the other side, it falls at Mahat or the Ahankara, which also collects and holds everything that seems to belong to it in the feeling of I. The observation of stability in relation to number four is right.

Q: Dare I go on to number five, because it is not so clear? May I ask Your Holiness about number five?
A: Number five falls in the middle from both sides. On one side is the coarse physical world which can be subject to sense observation, and on the other side is the world of subtle and causal nature.
When the causal and subtle world is transformed into the coarse world, then it is done through the Akasha, which connects both. It is like a transformer which changes one type of energy into another, or like an interpreter who makes obvious the ideas framed in an unknown language. It must have the qualities of both sides, otherwise no communication would be possible.
Akasha gives way to all the physical forms and it is only due to Akasha that the creation has found manifestation. It stands as a bridge and joins the sensual world to the mental and causal world.

A: In the move towards creation, the number seven comes in the realm of Tejas, the fire, light or glory which shines through the human being and makes up his stature, his brilliance, his light of knowledge, the heat which keeps everything moving. On the other side, number seven falls at the point of Prakriti. This Prakriti is the matrix which sets the direction of the creation in a general way and the conduct or behaviour of the individual in a special way.
If the Prakriti or nature of the person is good, then it leads him towards the pleasures of heaven or advancement in a material way; and if it is bad, then one meets misery, pain and destruction.
The discrimination takes one above nature (Prakriti) and the person is freed from the pleasures of heaven and the pains of hell.
Thus, number seven is the state which fixes the pattern of creation or of the individual. This state keeps the universe or the individual going by repeated cycles of seasons or the 8,400,000 cycles of lives in the case of the individual.
The Tejas and Prakriti can be divided into three parts. The Prakriti is divided into Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and the Tejas is also divided as sattvika, rajasika and tamasika.
Sattvika Tejas is the light of knowledge, rajasika Tejas is the celestial lights such as the light of the sun, moon, stars and lightning, and tamasika Tejas is fire, lamp lights, etc. which one finds on earth.
Against these forms of Tejas, one can see the three obstacles. The sattvika obstacle is the Avarana, the rajasika obstacle is the Vikshepa and the tamasika obstacle is the Mala. The Avarana comes over the sattvika Tejas, which is the knowledge, the rajasika obstacle or Vikshepa comes as interference, like clouds interfering with the sun's rays falling on the earth, and the tamasika obstacle or Mala, is like a thick or hard covering which does not allow the light to show, as when a lamp is shielded.
The sattvika Tejas gives us knowledge; the rajasika Tejas gives us energy and ability to perform practical work; and the tamasika Tejas, in the form of bodily heat, keeps us moving through days and nights.
The same principle applies to Prakriti. The threefold Prakriti is known as sattvika. rajasika and tamasika. The sattvika Prakriti allows growth of reason and discrimination, which takes one over the dual of good and bad. In the rajasika nature, we have the active world and the efficient activity which accounts for creation of works of artistic nature. The third type of nature, which is tamasika nature, gets people into the habit of taking drugs and engaging in violent and deceitful activity.
All these things come under the realm of number seven.

A: Number eight is the state of the undifferentiated or unmanifest and, on the other scale, it comes under the realm of water.
The unmanifest is the bank or the store room where all things and forms lie hidden and manifest when the time calls. Just as one collects all things in a store and uses them when the need arises, in the same way, all the multifarious forms of the universe lie stored in the unmanifest before creation breaks out and are also absorbed in it when the creation is to be withdrawn.
The cycle of creation and dissolution is thus started and merged in this state which is under the realm of number eight. On the side of creation, the number eight is represented by water which stands for bonds. This holds things together. In the realm of atomic or other structures, it is only the bonds which keep matter together. It is called Sneha in Sanskrit. This Sneha is the bond between things and people. It is a sort of love that keeps them together. In both cases, number eight acts as a store which keeps all things together, and also as the bond which keeps them together on universal and individual levels.
Sugar is seen in crystal form, and when diluted in water it dissolves in such a way that nothing is seen of the crystal. The same substance, when heated, once again forms the bond and a crystal is created. Similarly, the elemental particles of the universe come out of water and hold together; then in Pralaya they merge again into water and so on. If there was no bond between the particles, the particles would disintegrate and disperse in space. The world of form is produced by particles only because the bonds of water hold them together.
This is also threefold. The store of the Absolute (Avyakta) in which millions of universes are involved and out of which the substances are poured to form different universes, and in time these substances again return to it. The second store is that of the Brahma, who is presiding deity of one single universe, and through which the multifarious forms of this world find their way in appointed time and go back to Pralaya. The third is the store of the individual who manifests differently through the store of sanskaras, and once again forms them for his next life.
There are three states of water. The first is the universal water out of which the oceans are created. The water of the Ganges is said to be sattvika because it never gets polluted under any circumstances. The second is the water in the atmosphere which, stored as cloud, reaches us through rivers and rains for daily use in drinking, irrigation, etc. The third is the tamasika water which is polluted and not fit for use.
The science of numbers is a practical science which helps us in daily life and also helps us to understand the mysteries of the universe. The universe is really mysterious, for the varieties available in it have no end.
The varieties which we experience are only related to one universe, and since there are innumerable universes, it is practically beyond our scope to experience all. The scientific world is trying to find the ultimate numbers of elements, but the fact is that the next efficient scientist would add a few more, and the next one would again increase the number. In the end, they will realise that these are not really the elements they were looking for. It is all because of the endless varieties being available in the universe.
The mathematical proposition which is given by philosophy is the collection of laws under which the universe works. The philosophical aspect of mathematics fits in perfectly well with the pattern of the universe.
Once a Brahma felt tired and wanted some rest, so he went to Lord Shiva with an application for leave. After submitting the application, he was coming out from the abode of Shiva, when he saw two hundred camels with two men on each of them. The Brahma asked who these men were. The guard said that these are secret matters, so he could not say. The Brahma said, I am the Brahma of this universe, and all this falls within my domain, so I must know what goes on here. Then he was told that these were four hundred new Brahmas to take over charge to relieve the others.
Now, after hearing this, the Brahma got frightened because it never occurred to him that there was any other Brahma than himself. He rushed back to Shiva and asked for his application back for fear of losing his job. This simply means that there is no end to the varieties in the universe, and the simple facts of the universe, which are given in the Vedas, indicate the pattern in simplicity, which keeps on changing in innumerable forms. This serves as a basic foundation on which to rely.
The limit of numbers is nine, and this would ultimately limit the number of elements which are working through the universe. If one goes into details and tries to establish more numbers, he is only seeing the multiplicity of numbers. Thus, howsoever great numbers may be proposed to illustrate the composition of the universe, they can always be reduced to the limit of number nine.

Q: Just one more question on number nine before I move on: as I understand it, on the creative line from one to nine, number nine would be the element of earth. Could His Holiness say something more about the element earth?
A: Number nine in relation to the creative process is the earth, where physical phenomena have matured in full glory. This is the perfect physical form. The physical phenomena of the coarse world start from number five, which is ether (Akasha) from both sides. This ether is the transformer of the subtle energy. It has the quality of both the subtle and the physical. The physical aspect of ether is sound. It comes from space and also manifests in space. Where there is no space, there is no sound. There is no other matter involved in holding the sound except the ether.
Then comes the air (Vayu) in the realm of the physical world. Air gives the sensation of touch and can also carry sound. Thus it has two qualities. The third is Tejas, which is fire, and it has three qualities within itself, the heat-and-light form of its own, touch of air and sound of ether. Fourth is the realm of water (Jala), which has taste and bond of its own and heat and form of fire, touch of air and sound of ether. Thus it reflects the four qualities. The last of the physical world is earth (Prithivi), which is the perfect medium to reflect all five qualities of the physical world. It has smell and crystalline form of its own, the taste and bond of water, heat and form of fire, touch of air and sound of ether.
In earth all these sensations are possible, but this does not mean that in ether there is no heat or touch. They are all there, but ether manifests only sound. They lie there unmanifest and only manifest according to the system described above.
Thus the element earth is the glorious end of one cycle, where the Absolute stands as the glorious beginning on the other side, which is called Sat Chit Ananda. The element of earth is glorious because it is only through earth that all things of the world are created. Take anything from man to birds or vegetables etc. , they are all formed from it. The houses, costumes, metals, skin, eyes are all shaped from this wonderful element called earth.
This earth is the basis of all physical expansion and it provides everything where the multifarious forms and creatures find their abode. The fish in the water, birds in the air and men on land all depend on the element of earth, although they differ in the quantity of different elements in their constitution. For instance, fish have more of the element of water than man, and birds more of the element air than fish or man. But they all owe their origin to the earth.
Number nine is thus the base of all physical phenomena on one side, and the basis of all phenomena from the other side. There are of course some phenomena like sun and stars which are not directly connected to the earth, because if they were, their extra Tejas would disrupt all bonds and the particles would disperse in space. But, all the same, their movements are directly related to earth, which relationship is not so obvious as to be readily seen.

Q: Your Holiness said of the early numbers that one represented the Absolute and two duality, but it is not plain why one should represent earth and two represent water.
A: The element of water is the element of bond. It is only the bond that creates the limitation. Due to bonds, all the shapes of the universe have their existence, and all shapes create a limit or boundary through which particular types of bonds are working. With the end of the bond comes the limit.
The whole universe of forms is thus distributed in different types of limits. In this universe, the consciousness permeates and experiences the universe through these bonds and boundaries. The observer looks at these, and when he associates himself with any of these big or small boundaries, he establishes duality. Thus bond creates this duality.
The misery of our human race is only due to these different types of bonds with which he associates. These associations are bound by certain bonds and are destined to put a limit to that which is limitless. This is exactly the place where duality creeps in, and all this is at number two.
The first physical association of I is with the body as a whole. No one claims that I am earth, or water, fire, air, ether, manas or buddhi; but always asserts his consciousness with his body. The body is only the smallest limit. People get possessed of their body like someone being possessed of a ghost, and then he forgets his identity.
This is how people have forgotten the real Self and like to behave as a body and cling to their limit. All organisations are based on limit; some are small and others big. In consciousness, there is only the observer, which is only the beholder of these organised bodies and it is not bound by any limit.

Q: Your Holiness, I would like to ask further about numbers three and six. This time, I should like just to ask about their place in the sequence of numbers.
A: Number three is the stage of Tejas and Prakriti from the two sides. They are also of the number seven. Number six is the stage of Mahat and air.
Tejas is the force which governs all the movements of the world. With Tejas one sees, moves and does all sorts of works. A man is valued mostly by the Tejas which he has. The same applies to the physical world. Tejas is heat and light. If there was not enough heat in the body of a human being or the world, it would all freeze down to immobility. This Tejas is also related to the celestial bodies like sun etc., which also govern the life and movement on the planet earth.
Number three on the other scale is Prakriti, which is again the embodiment of three forces called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. All these forces have to be felt by something which is conscious. All the machines of the world are somewhere connected to a conscious being, otherwise they cannot be regulated to proper use. When the consciousness feels the force the Ahankara emerges. This happens at number six. If there is no force available, then the consciousness will have no base to feel anything.
Thus it is the combination of these two that brings about the stage called Mahat. This is the stage which holds or acts as a base for movements.
When one comes to the stage of air, which is number six from the other side, then one finds the same law working through it. Air is movement which creates heat. The air or the Pranas keep all creatures going. Hand is the organ through which the forces within can be expressed. Hand is also the seat of air which holds things, catches and throws them. The Pranas are vital energies; they make or keep us alive, discharge polluted air, regulate the digestive process, keep the body in balance and also regulate involuntary movements in the body.
Thus on one side the air regulates the forces and on the other side Ahankara appreciates these forces. This is how three and six are related.

Q: Your Holiness, I should just like to ask about the addition of digits; as where there is twenty-one the addition makes three, or in any other addition of digits, I just want to ask what is the inner meaning of this process?
A: There are two lines of system: first is from one to nine and the other is from nine to one. The first deals in multiplicity and addition of forms from one single Absolute, and division and subtraction of forces. The other is addition of forces from multiple forms and division or subtraction of multiplicity towards unity.
The basic or natural multiplicity is limited to number nine and all extra numbers are only product of these nine stages seen in different levels; and likewise there are only nine steps to unity. The world of great numbers is basically related to one to nine, and once one has seen the basic laws of these nine numbers, one can appreciate the laws manifesting in large numbers.

Q: Your Holiness, I have heard of another form of addition. For example, one, two, three and four added together create ten, showing as it is said a unity. Could His Holiness say something about this method of using numbers? It appears to be done with any number, just adding the digits until the number is reached.
A: Numbers from one to nine, being the ultimate numbers, find manifestation in time and space. Thus the multiplicity of these numbers comes in the realm of time and space. The basic numbers always remain one to nine. The distance of land and age is calculated only in relation to space or time. Just as Badrinath was only 600 miles from Allahabad in the old days, and now, since the new roads have been built, the mileage has increased; so in the future, this can be either reduced or increased. The multiplicity or additions are done in the world of matter. There is no multiplicity or addition or subtraction in number one, which is Absolute (Brahman).