Recently I’ve started to hear the term 「佛系……法」 a lot. The term plays with the Buddhist concept of noninterference, essentially suggesting that instead of trying to follow your boss’ direction/ study in school/encourage internet users to Like your page/earn money etc., you should just resign yourself to the fact that things are beyond your control and that if what you want is meant to be, it will happen without any effort from you. In one sense it can be used as an attack on the perceived lack of a work ethic among millennials, suggesting that they think they deserve to get their dreams served to them on a plate, while millennials themselves have adopted it to counter this narrative, as an expression of their cynicism at how much of a difference they can make by following the rules. Different verbs or job titles can be inserted into the blank depending on what the author is describing.
The first time I saw it was when a friend sent a meme featuring a familiar cartoon character, Bobby Hill from King of the Hill. Although my friend had no idea who Bobby Hill was, the meme featuring him meditating while incense burns in the foreground seems to have caught the Taiwanese imagination. I’ve put some examples of the use of the meme I found on the internet below. There was one example I saw of an English use of this meme, but it doesn’t seem to have caught the imagination of the English-speaking world quite so much:
Wu I-Wei (吳億偉) has won numerous awards including the United Daily Press Literary Award for Fiction, the China Times Literary Award for Fiction and Essays, the United Literature Monthly Literary Award for Fiction, and the Liberty Times Lin Rungsan Literary Award for Short Essays. He published his new collection of essays, Motorbike Days (《機車生活》), in 2014 and is now a PhD candidate at the Institute of Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and regularly reports the latest German literature news for Taiwanese magazines and newspapers. View an excerpt of a previous translation of his work here. This story, ‘Collecting Gods’, won the Jury Short Story Prize at the 30th China Times Literary Awards in 2007. A slightly different version of the original Chinese story can be found here.
The outside of the embankment was still a deep green in early autumn, the only exception being the cotton-like grey of the miscanthus ears, spreading out in a continuous unbroken strip of their own, the branches appearing a lot softer when in the wind. Amidst the rustling of the leaves and grass, one could hear a clacking sound, like something was rolling toward the riverside. Pushing aside the undergrowth as she went, an old hunch-backed woman dragged a ragged looking old pram along the ground. The frilly lace on it had already gone black and it was full of plastic bottles and sheets of used paper. She looked hesitantly in all directions as she made her way onward, her body lowered to enable her easier access to the ground. The rickety wheels continued to clack as she made her way along the riverbank searching for anything of value. Behind her ran a line of corrugated iron shacks and across a few loofah trellises, was a small path, cut out among the weeds, leading to a little temple, with a roof of red glazed tiles and mottled yellow walls with several scars, as if marked by lightning. The door was wide enough for a person to pass through with their arms outstretched and the statues of the lords of the three realms – the heavens, the earth and the waters – stood fixed on a platform under the roof, golden crowns on their heads and beards down to their chests, each holding a tablet underlining their divine authority, clothed in official garb of glistening divine gold.
On the bus to work this morning, I saw these stickers stuck below seats on the bus. They were stuck on in a rather inconspicuous way, which suggested they weren’t necessarily there to be seen.
I’d downloaded a program at work called Mojikyo, which allows you to type obscure and antiquated Chinese characters – which don’t have a unicode assignation (a system that allows for consistency in characters across different systems), as well as oracle bone and seal scripts, into Word with special fonts which modify modern Chinese characters. It also has something called Siddham characters, which I later learned from Wikipedia is a form of Sanskrit. I recognized the characters from in the picture below from playing around with the program:
I worked out that the character on all four of the outer sides of the picture were all the Siddham character . Through a little guess work I found out that the two vertical pillars within the circle were Buddhist mantras associated with Guanyin (觀音), also known as Guanzizai (觀自在) and Avalokiteśvara – who is incredibly popular in the Chinese-speaking world, and is known for his/her compassion for the suffering of humanity.
[On a side note, the ambiguity of Guanyin’s gender came under fire recently from a Christian preacher Kuo Mei-chiang (郭美江), whose comments sparked public outrage in Taiwan:
She starts off this diplomatically by saying: “Guanyin, this evil spirit, is neither male nor female…”
She’s also paranoid that Taiwan’s universities are being “invaded by gays” but that’s another story for another day. Back to Guanyin mantras on the bus…]
The mantras seem to be the same as this one:
It is pronounced “oṃ ma ṇi pa dme hūṃ” according to a website on different Buddhist mantras, which has been translated to English as “oṃ the jewel in the lotus hūṃ”, although there are questions about this translation which you can find out more about at the website.
One of my Taiwanese friends whose family is quite heavily into Buddhism told me that the first sticker is the “大寶廣博樓閣善住祕密陀羅尼咒輪” and that the second, which is below, is the “四解脫咒輪”, written in Tibetan script.
“大寶” can mean bodhisattva, or Dharma, “廣博” is broad or expansive, “樓閣” is pavilion, “善住” is one of the 36 guardian deities that is in charged with protecting from deadly injuries. “陀羅尼” is the Chinese for Dhāraṇī – which is a kind of protective charm which summarizes the meaning of a sutra.
The first sticker would seem to be to protect people from deadly injury, while the second is to help the dead move on after they’ve died, which fits in with what my friend told me when he said that it was likely that the bus had been in a deadly accident before, and the stickers were an attempt to exorcise the spirits of the dead. He said it wasn’t definitely the case but it was a possibility, and that this is part of Taiwanese culture, and it reminded me of my curiosity at flowers being tied to fences at the side of the road in the countryside in Ireland at accident black spots.
If anyone has any more information or corrections to make, suggestions are welcome in the comments section.
I’m going to continue to try and decode the Siddham characters on the first sticker, and will update in the comments section too. Here’s a list of websites I found pretty useful: