Indian mathematics for the ego

Indian mathematics for the ego

To show how time is different for different beings in this universe, the Hindu Puranas declare: Human life is equal to one blink of Indra. The lifetime of Indra is equal to the blink of an eye of Brahma. The age of Brahma is equal to the blinking of an eye of Vishnu. Vishnu’s lifetime is equal to the blink of an eye of Shiva. The age of Shiva is equal to the blink of an eye of the Goddess. No one knows the life span of the goddess, as all observers are born from her.

To show how different beings have different strengths, Jain scriptures declare: 12 warriors have the strength of a bull, 10 bulls have the strength of a horse, 12 horses have the strength of a buffalo There is power, one in 15 buffaloes has power. One elephant, 500 elephants have the strength of a lion, 2,000 lions have the strength of a Sharabha (eight-legged carnivore), one lakh Sharabhas have the strength of a Baladev, two Baladevs have the strength of a Vasudeva, two Vasudevas has the power of a Chakravarti, 100,000 Chakravartis have the power of a Nagaraja, 10 million Nagarajas have the power of an Indra, and the power of innumerable Indras is nothing compared to that of a Tirthankara.

In these narratives, the notions of big and small are not absolute; Everything exists in proportion to something else. There is always something bigger and smaller than us. From measure comes illusion (Maya).

In the Vedas and Jain scriptures we find a very large number of references which are not of daily use: 1012 in the Yajur Veda, even 10224 in Jain lore describing when the first Tirthankaras lived. This enumeration of large unusable numbers indicates a yearning for the concept of infinity or infinity. We are finite beings living in an infinite world and must always be aware that there is always someone below us and someone above us. We live in a continuum that extends from zero to everything, from zero to infinity.

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These ideas of a continuum, relative strength, exponential numbers contributed to both Indian cosmology and Indian mathematics. This is dramatically different from Western thought where the world was thought to be finite, fixed, predictable and devoid of so many numbers and dimensions. Perhaps this is the reason why Western thought constantly yearns for certainty and predictability, whereas Indian thought is designed to enable the mind to deal with unpredictability and uncertainty.

In the Indian worldview, much is uncountable, with an infinite number of numbers, and therefore there are no guarantees of life and no one can control everything. The Gita says, focus on the action, not the result. Whereas in the Western worldview, with a finite set of numbers, everything is calculable and therefore guaranteed in life and God can make everything predictable. As you sow, so you reap, says the Bible.

In a world of infinity, our value is zero. Experiencing emptiness (void) was a Buddhist passion. Merging with Ananta (the infinite/absolute) was a Hindu passion. Jain was obsessed with locating himself on a number line: positive stairs toward privilege, negative snakes toward misery. When we contribute we rise and when we consume we fall. All three religions spoke of endless rebirth in a meaningless carousel based on the calculus of actions (karma). The fear of this invalidation in a matrix of infinite indifferent numbers generated a false value: the ego.

The author writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. Contact him at



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