Buddha Recites From Memory The Hindu Large Numbers Up To Infinity!
The Indians had a passion for large numbers. For example, in texts belonging to the Vedic literature, we find individual Sanskrit names for each of the powers of 10 up to a trillion and even 1062. (Even today, the words ‘lakh‘ and ‘crore‘, referring to 100,000 and 10,000,000, respectively, are in common use among English-speaking Indians.) One of these Vedic texts, the Yajur Veda, even discusses the concept of numeric infinity (or purna “fullness”), stating that if you subtract purna from purna, you are still left with purna.
The Lalitavistara Sutra (a Mahayana Buddhist work) recounts a contest including writing, arithmetic, wrestling and archery, competing for the hand of the most beautiful woman Gupa, in which the Buddha was pitted against the great mathematician Arjuna and showed off his numerical skills by citing the names of the powers of ten up to 1 ‘tallakshana’, which equals 1053, but then going on to explain that this is just one of a series of counting systems that can be expanded geometrically. The last number at which he arrived after going through nine successive counting systems was 10421, that is, a 1 followed by 421 zeros.
A few large numbers used in India by about 5th century BC:
(See Georges Ifrah: A Universal History of Numbers, pp 422–423):
The name for ancient India is Bharat, so this is called the Bharatiya Number System:
· lakṣá (लक्ष) —105 or Ten Thousand = 10,000
· kōṭi or crore (कोटि) —107 or Ten Million = 10,000,000
· ayuta (अयुत) —109 or 1 Billion = 1,000,000,000
· niyuta (नियुत) —1013
· pakoti (पकोटि) —1014
· vivara (विवारा) —1015
· kshobhya (क्षोभ्या) —1017
· vivaha (विवाहा) —1019
· kotippakoti (कोटिपकोटी) —1021
· bahula (बहुल) —1023
· nagabala (नागाबाला) —1025
· nahuta (नाहूटा) —1028
· titlambha (तीतलम्भा) —1029
· vyavasthanapajnapati (व्यवस्थानापज्नापति) —1031
· hetuhila (हेतुहीला) —1033
· ninnahuta (निन्नाहुता) —1035
· hetvindriya (हेत्विन्द्रिय) —1037
· samaptalambha (समाप्तलम्भ) —1039
· gananagati (गनानागती) —1041
· akkhobini (अक्खोबिनि) —1042
· niravadya (निरावाद्य) —1043
· mudrabala (मुद्राबाला) —1045
· sarvabala (सर्वबाला) —1047
· bindu (बिंदु or बिन्दु) —1049
· sarvajna (सर्वज्ञ) —1051
· vibhutangama (विभुतन्गमा) —1053
· abbuda (अब्बुद) —1056
· nirabbuda (निर्बुद्ध) —1063
· ahaha (अहाहा) —1070
· ababa (अबाबा). —1077
· atata (अटाटा) —1084
· soganghika (सोगान्घीक) —1091
· uppala (उप्पल) —1098
· kumuda (कुमुद) —10105
· pundarika (पुन्डरीक) —10112
· paduma (पद्म) —10119
· kathana (कथन) —10126
· mahakathana (महाकथन) —10133
· asaṃkhyeya (असंख्येय) —10140
· dhvajagranishamani (ध्वजाग्रनिशमनी) —10421
· bodhisattva (बोधिसत्व or बोधिसत्त) —1037218383881977644441306597687849648128
· lalitavistarautra (ललितातुलनातारासूत्र) —10200 infinities
· matsya (मत्स्य) —10600 infinities
· kurma (कूर्म) —102000 infinities
· varaha (वराह) —103600 infinities
· narasimha (नरसिम्हा) —104800 infinities
· vamana (वामन) —105800 infinities
· parashurama (परशुराम) —106000 infinities
· rama (राम) —106800 infinities
· kalki (कल्कि) —108000 infinities
· balarama (बलराम) —109800 infinities.
· dasavatara (दशावतार) —1010000 infinities
· bhagavatapurana (भागवतपुराण) —1018000 infinities
· avatamsakasutra (अवतांशकासूत्र) —1030000 infinities
· mahadeva (महादेव) —1050000 infinities
· prajapati (प्रजापति) —1060000 infinities
· jyotiba (ज्योतिबा) —1080000 infinities
· parvati (पार्वती) 1020000000000 infinities
· paro (पॅरो) 10400000000000000000 infinities
This chart, cited by Buddha from pure memory, is phenomenal, when we compare this to our ancestors in Europe several thousands of years ago who only had words like “Myriad” to capture the essence of vague large numbers.
You may ask why even bother with the naming of these large numbers, these preposterous Hindu infinities!
It is because we are recognizing that the ancient Jaina Mathematicians and Cosmologists were giants of metaphysical thinking in their days, that they could recite such a litany of number-names, suggests that their Minds were vast, their intelligence perhaps magical and incantatory. Perhaps the meanings of the Sanskrit names was poetry in itself, that gave deeper meanings into the Mystery of Ordered Structure and the subsequent Creation of the Decimal Place Value System that we use today that has led to high Technology.
We can thank the Arabian Al-Biruni who journeyed to India in the C10th and gave us these accounts and records of such brilliant mathematical calculations that stretched into billions of years of the Yugas or Aeons of Ages. Symbolically, it is about setting our destination towards an Infinity or to understanding the Stars, or if we go the other way, into decimal fractions, its direction is towards the Atoms of the Microcosm.
Such ancient Jaina Mega Numbers appeared in the Anuyogadvara Sutra where they calculated the number of human beings in the creation as being 2 to the power of 96 or 2^96.
Meanwhile, the Romans, who were less interested in theoretical issues, expressed 1,000,000 as decies centena milia, that is, ‘ten hundred thousand’.
It was only in the 13th century that the (originally French) word “million” was introduced.
(chart of Hindu Large Numbers from Wikipedia)
ps: The above Bodhisattva Number: (10^37218383881977644441306597687849648128) (that is 10 to the power of a number with 38 Digits) appears in the Mahavaipulya Buddhavatamsaka Sutra, aka Avatamsaka Sutra, an influential text of Mahayana Buddhism written in the third or fourth century AD. It is a treatment of very large numbers centered on the struggle to comprehend divinity. It appears to be the “incalculable” number divined to describe the innumerable names and forms of the principal deities Vishnu and Siva.
Another great number mentioned in these sutras, as charted above, is the Jyotiba Number (10^80000 infinities). The Jyotiba may not make much sense today, but it represents the early days of a centuries-old tradition that felt such numbers had to exist, a tradition that acknowledged and included the upper-limits of human comprehension while on its quest to deciphering the true nature of ‘god’.