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:
Visible Mantra : Buddhist Calligraphy: http://www.visiblemantra.org/avalokitesvara.html
Mojikyo: http://www.mojikyo.org/ (the content has to be downloaded from another site though, see this site for tips on how to get the fonts and the character map: http://tinyapps.org/blog/windows/201002130700_mojikyo_character_map.html )
A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: http://mahajana.net/texts/kopia_lokalna/soothill-hodous.html