...Buddhism for Urban America
Urban Dharma Newsletter... September 2, 2003
Ritual loom: Weaving, cutting, dying, sewing.
3. No Dog Collars Allowed: A Justification of the Western Clergy
Collar ...Father Antonio Hernández,
4. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: Zen Meditation
Groups in the California Central Valley
5. Book/Movie Review: My Master's
Robe: Memories of a Novice Monk ...by Thich Nhat Hanh
Ritual loom: Weaving, cutting, dying, sewing.
a remote part of the Thai Kingdom, a group is keeping alive
an almost-extinct tradition. ...Phatarawadee Phataranawik from
The Nation Newspaper reports.
a remote village in northern Thailand, Mae Ui Jai carefully
checks to make sure her weaving machine is in good condition.
She will be weaving cotton into robes for monks in the Kathin
Laen ceremony this weekend, an event she looks forward to each
their lives, Mae Ui - which means grandmother in northern dialect
- and her neighbours in Baan Yang Luang, in Chiang Mai's Mae
Chaem have been practising and keeping alive this almost extinct
religious tradition, which is popularly known as Chula Kathin.
annual ceremony is held to celebrate the conclusion of Buddhist
Lent, when monks, after having stayed in their temples during
the three months of rainy season, are free to travel again.
means "a little", and reflects the Buddhist belief
that sharing and caring in even small doses is beneficial and
should be encouraged. It also reflects how during Chula Kathin,
small pieces of newly made fabric will be cut and then sewn
together into the five main pieces of clothing worn by a monk.
ceremony is a very important religious tradition that requires
strong faith because it takes a whole day to complete the merit
making," explains Paothong Thongchua, deputy director for
Arts and Culture at the Thai Khadi Research Institute, which
studies and help preserve Thai traditions with the support of
Chula Kathin takes place on just one 24-hour period, the preparation
is lengthy. The six-month process begins by planting specially
chosen cotton seeds, and carefully tending the plants into which
they grow. The procedure and ceremony are based on the story
in which the Lord Buddha performs the humble task of preparing
robes by hand for his monks.
the contemporary Thai version of the practice, jackfruits are
used to stain the fabric the distinctive yellow-orange colour
of Buddhist robes. After they are woven, the fabric is dyed,
cut, sewn, and ironed carefully before being presented to the
villagers traditionally went to such lengths in making the robes
to honour the monks and their sacrifice of confining themselves
to their temples for focusing on spiritual growth during rainy
season. The ceremony also honours the teachings of the faith
and supports the good deeds of the monks.
in today's modern consumer society, its hardly surprising that
many find themselves without the great amounts of time needed
to prepare robes for the ceremony.
years of research in Baan Yang Luang and other villages, Paothong
has come to understand more about why this once popular tradition
has fallen out of favour, and credits the unprecedented social
and economic restructuring of Thai society over the last century
and a half with the decline.
young women who traditionally made the robes now leave their
villages to find work in larger cities. He also says a declining
faith in Buddhism is partially responsible. Ritualistic items
needed for Buddhist ceremonies are easily bought in stores these
tradition of weaving monk robes for Chula Kathin decreased sharply
during the reigns of King Rama IV and V with the ascendance
of many religion-related industries," says the researcher.
"Merit making became easier and less time-consuming. Convenience
has replaced tradition.
I first visited the village over decade ago, the Chula Kathin
ceremony had disappeared from the community. Wat Yang Luang
then only had a few monks, and only four families in the village
were still weaving. After my personal study and learning from
the old generation and monks about the ceremony for many years,
I helped reintroduce this tradition to Wat Yang Luang 12 years
ago," recalls Paothong, who has his summer house in the
village. He also works closely with weavers in the village in
order to preserve skills and techniques called upon in the ceremony.
celebrate the centenary of the birth of the late Princess Mother
this month, the Thai Khadi Institute is helping organise an
even more elaborate Kathin ceremony. On Saturday and Sunday,
weavers will use one hundred looms to create what will ultimately
be one special piece of 20-metre-long cloth. Since the small
Baan Yang Luang does not have enough looms, villagers from over
20 villages, including members of a nearby Lue hill tribe community,
will bring their looms for this special Buddhist ceremony.
ceremony will start after the monks take their mid-day meal
on Saturday, and runs for the next 24 hours until mid-day Sunday.
The ceremony starts with weavers gathering in the main hall
of the temple to pray that they will be able to complete the
robes in one day. Then seven young girls, representing angels,
will collect the harvested cotton from villagers, and present
the cotton to seven veteran female weavers of the village.
Saturday afternoon, the weaving begins, accompanied by dancing
and drum beating in a parade, the highlight of which is the
waving of paper-made flags, in the tradition of Lanna villages
in the area. While women prepare the weavings that will be transformed
into robes, make garlands and other handicrafts for the ceremony,
men will craft objects such as terracotta bowls, tables and
chairs, also to be given to the monks.
long cloth will be cut into 100 small squares, one for each
year that has passed since the birth of the Princess Mother.
Efforts will then focus on sewing together the small squares
into five special pieces, which will be worn by one chosen monk.
These pieces are the angsa (a broad band worn across the shoulder),
sabong (sarong), rad prakod (waist band), jeworn (robe) and
sangkathi (special ceremonial robe). The remaining squares will
be sewn into a special covering for the main Buddha image in
the village's temple.
tiny square-shaped pieces of cloth are meant to resemble rice
fields," Paothong explains. "Imagine, old and young,
men and women joining hands and sewing these tiny pieces. That
scene makes me to cry," he says. "These villagers
have strong faith."
delicate and complex process is designed to remind the villagers
of the symbolic and spiritual value of the cloth, and bring
we just spend money to get clothes," says the researcher,
who usually wears the traditional fabrics that he studies.
of food also plays an important role in the ceremony. On Saturday
villagers will prepare, khao thip, a special sticky rice dish
incorporating nine ingredients. The number nine is auspicious
in the Buddhist and Brahmin traditions of Southeast Asia. The
ingredients are: peanuts, white sesame paste, black sesame paste,
coconut, sugarcane, honey, milk, butter and sticky rice. Meanwhile,
another group of older villagers will prepare kheepueng sue
chata, a traditional wax which is believed by to protect from
evil and bring good luck.
Southeast Asia, numbers are important and can bring about positive
results. Odd numbers bring auspicious results. Even numbers
are used for non-auspicious ceremonies, such as funerals, in
which four monks take part," the historian explains.
Chula Kathin reaches a colourful climax with, hundreds of merit
makers parading the newly sewn pieces of fabric through Baan
Yang Luang enroute to the village temple, where the old cloth
covering the main Buddha image is replaced by the new one, and
the five pieces of clothing are offered to the monk. In previous
decades, several monks were given hand-sewn clothing.
even if in this more modest modern form, the tradition survives.
Thanks to the efforts of the villagers, Paothong and the Thai
Khadi Research Institute, the future of the ancient Chula Kathin,
and the Buddhist ideals it represents, looks more promising.
The Canon states that when a bhikkhu passes away, his belongings
all go to the Community of bhikkhus. The Commentary adds that
this principle holds regardless of where the bhikkhu dies. If
he happens to die while visiting a nunnery, his belongings still
go to the Community of bhikkhus. Similarly, if a bhikkhuni dies
while visiting a monastery, her belongings go to the Community
of bhikkhunis. Furthermore, according to the Canon, the belongings
of a dead male novice all go to the Community of bhikkhus; the
belongings of a dead female probationer or female novice, to
the Community of bhikkhunis.
Commentary adds that even if the dying bhikkhu or novice says,
"After my death, may my belongings go to so-and-so,"
the request is invalid. Thus, from the point of view of the
Vinaya, a bhikkhu's last will and testament would have no force.
The civil law in Buddhist countries recognizes the Community's
claim on a dead bhikkhu's property, but this claim has yet to
be adequately tested in courts of law in non-Buddhist countries.
(If the highest court in the land were to rule against the Community's
claim here, this would be an appropriate area to apply the principle
of "complying with kings," stated in Mv.III.4.2, and
not to further contest the issue.)
Vinaya Mukha discusses a tradition, based on a loophole included
in the Commentary itself, designed to get around the Commentary's
ruling against last wills and testaments: a bhikkhu, on his
death-bed, may say, "I give my belongings to so-and-so."
As long as he does not add the condition, "after my death,"
the gift is valid. If he happens to recover from his illness
after giving the gift, the recipient is free to return the items
or not, as he sees fit. If the ill bhikkhu dies, the belongings
go to the recipient and not to the Community. If, however, the
bhikkhu adds the condition "after my death" to his
statement, his belongings after his death go to the Community,
and the intended recipient has no rights over them.
the Community receives a dead bhikkhu's belongings, it may bestow
his bowl and three robes on those who cared for him, in honor
of their service not only to him but also to the Community in
fulfilling the bhikkhus' obligation to care for one another
(see Chapter 5). The procedure is as follows: One of the bhikkhus
who acted as the dying bhikkhu's nurses approaches the Community,
carrying the dead bhikkhu's robes and bowl. After he informs
them of the death, he presents the robes and bowl to them. One
of the members of the Community recites the transaction statement,
consisting of a motion and proclamation, bestowing the robes
and bowl on those who cared for the bhikkhu when he was sick.
This statement is given in Appendix I.
Commentary here discusses the question of who has a right to
a share in the robes and bowl. If the whole Community had set
up a roster for nurses, it says, there are differing opinions
as to who counts as caring for the sick. Some teachers say that
everyone in the Community deserves a share, even those who were
not put on the roster. Others (and this makes more sense) say
that shares should go only to those put on the roster who actually
observed their duties. All sides agree that whoever helps --
whether bhikkhu, novice, or lay person -- should get a share.
(The Canon states that each novice involved has a right to a
share equal to that of a bhikkhu.) If one person took on a special
burden in looking after the sick bhikkhu, he/she should get
a special share. Bhikkhus who simply sent medicine don't count
as "caring for the sick." Those who helped the nurses
in washing robes, boiling medicine, etc., do.
for the dead bhikkhu's remaining belongings, the Canon says
that all his light/inexpensive articles (lahubhanda)
and light requisites should be divided among the Community that
is present. His heavy/expensive articles (garubhanda)
belong to the Sangha of all four directions, both those who
have come and those who haven't, so they are not to be divided
up or distributed.
the Commentary adds that if the dead bhikkhu's bowl and robes
are of low value and the remaining goods of high value, the
Community should take funds from the remaining goods to provide
a decent bowl and set of robes to the nurse-bhikkhu. Belongings
left by a dead bhikkhu in another monastery belong to the Community
in that monastery. If he held ownership of items in common with
someone else, those items go to the other owner, not to the
same principles hold true for the belongings of a dead novice.
Unlike some of the other early Vinayas, the Pali Vinaya contains
no rules on how to conduct the funeral of a dead bhikkhu or
novice. Writers have speculated as to why this is so, but the
speculation tends to say more about the writers than about the
Vinaya. The practical upshot is that the Community (or the bhikkhu's
friends, relatives, etc.) may dispose of his body as they see
fit in line with local custom and law. D.16 states that
arahant, after death, deserves to have a stupa built over his/her
remains, but the Vinaya contains no rule to enforce this.
issue that arises at present is the custom of willing one's
body to medical science. Because there is no rule that the bhikkhu's
body (as opposed to his belongings) belongs to the Community,
if he has willed his body in this way, that will should be honored.
issue arising at present is the cost of a funeral. In the Buddha's
time, funerals could cost nothing. The body would either be
cremated, in which case wood was easy to find in the ubiquitous
forest, or the body would be exposed in a charnel ground, which
involved little effort and no expense. At present, with the
high cost of funerals, the tradition in Thailand is a useful
adaptation of the Vinaya's rules. There, if no one else volunteers
to sponsor a dead bhikkhu's funeral, the Community itself is
the sponsor, and the funds for the funeral come first from his
belongings. Only if any of his light articles and requisites
remain after the funeral are they divided among the Community's
Community is the owner of the robes and bowl of a bhikkhu who
has passed away. But those who tend to the sick are of great
service. I allow that the Community give the three robes and
the bowl to those who care for the sick." Transaction statement
Community is the owner of the robe and bowl of a novice who
has passed away. But those who tend to the sick are of great
service. I allow that the Community give the robe and bowl to
those who care for the sick." Transaction statement --
allow that a novice who tends to the sick be given an equal
share." -- Mv.VIII.27.4
allow that the Community give the three robes and the bowl to
those who care for the sick. Whatever light goods and light
requisites (§) are there may be divided among the Community
that is present. Whatever heavy goods and heavy requisites are
there are for the Community of the four directions, both those
who have come and those who haven't. They should not be transferred,
they should not be divided up." -- Mv.VIII.27.5
a bhikkhuni, as she is dying, should say, 'After I am gone,
may my requisites belong to the Community,' the Community of
bhikkhus is not the owner there. They belong to the Community
of bhikkhunis. If a female probationer ... If a female novice,
as she is dying, should say, 'After I am gone, may my requisites
belong to the Community,' the Community of bhikkhus is not the
owner there. They belong to the Community of bhikkhunis.
a bhikkhu, as he is dying, should say, 'After I am gone, may
my requisites belong to the Community,' the Community of bhikkhunis
is not the owner there. They belong to the Community of bhikkhus.
If a male novice ... If a male lay follower ... If a female
lay follower ... If anyone else, as he is dying, should say,
'After I am gone, may my requisites belong to the Community,'
the Community of bhikkhunis is not the owner there. They belong
to the Community of bhikkhus." -- Cv.X.11
No Dog Collars Allowed: A Justification of the Western Clergy
Collar ...Most Reverend Father Antonio Hernández, O.M.D.,
a long-practicing American Buddhist, I have realized the importance
of being earnestly Western, and specifically, American. Too
many Buddhists here are trying desperately to turn into some
other race or nationality; it is beyond me why a born and bred
Texan, for example, would want to convert to Soto or Rinzai
Zen Buddhism just to turn into a Japanese.
is nothing to do with racism, mind you- I once wanted to be
Chinese and I also went through a phase during which I desperately
longed to be a full-blooded Eskimo. That is neither here nor
there. The point is that religions adapt to their cultural environments.
as an example, saw its monks scrambling for clothes when they
first reached China. It had less to do with weather than with
appearances: the Chinese would have no truck with raggedy mendicants.
Indian Buddhists, accustomed to one thin robe and an even thinner
outer cloak, found themselves swathed in Chinese yi, those lovely
proto-kimonos. They had to put the old, thin Buddhist robes
on top of the nice Chinese robes.
modern Western clergy collar, sometimes wrongly called a "Roman"
collar, is the example of the millennium. In surfing the web
trying to find clergy apparel dealers, I ran across the most
asinine debates about the propriety of, and necessity for, the
clergy collar. The essays and comments ranged from the desperately
pro to the rabidly con.
clergy-collared shirt is an integral part of my daily dress.
This is because in the West, a priest or minister is recognized
by this particular detail of his "uniform". I was
not the first to introduce Western clergy apparel to Buddhism
in the West; that credit goes to Reverend Master Jiyu Kennett,
Abbess and Founder of the Soto Zen Order of Buddhist Contemplatives
in Mt. Shasta, California. Reverend Kennett saw the need to
Westernize Buddhism in that particular way in order to ease
it comfortably into American life.
clergy dress on a daily basis always includes a clergy collar.
I may or may not wear robes over my Western clothes, depending
on the situation, and thus I will never be confused with a Christian.
It is only meet that Buddhism should adjust to America as it
has adjusted to the cultures everywhere else it has been. My
Western collar is part of that natural evolution.
controversial collar originated as a Mandarin collar on the
black cassock worn by Catholic priests after the Rennaissance.
The priests found their black collars becoming soiled, and covered
them with a simple, folded band of linen which could then be
removed and laundered. By the time they adopted the practice,
everyone else had opted for long, frilly linens and lace at
the throat. Thus was born the white "dog collar",
and hence the term "man of the cloth".
outer cassocks which were adopted later had a larger Mandarin
collar with an opening at the front- this fit nicely over the
linen-banded collar. It created the classic collar we know today:
that rigid black circlet with a small square of white at the
front. Today, cleverly and comfortably designed clergy shirts
are available in a rainbow of colors and styles.
favorite shirt is called a tab-collar, called a "tunnel-neck"
by the British. It has a beautifully tailored standing collar
with a small opening at the front. A strip of white plastic
is inserted into the opening, and presto!- instant clergy. A
few old school folks like myself sometimes also wear the old
"parson's" white neckband collar.
seems the disturbance is truly caused by the way others perceive
the collar. I have read ridiculous apologetics written by clerics,
and vitriolic criticisms about the abuses of collar-wearers.
The problem is simple: if one is a minister, rabbi or priest,
does it matter very much what strangers think? If someone sees
me in a hospital and assumes I am somehow "abusing my privileges"
because I'm wearing a collar, is that my problem, or theirs?
symbolism of the collar or the message it conveys to others
is not the point of wearing the collar, and never has been.
Some hot-heads believe the collar's outer message/symbol is
all-important, but is not. The whole point of the clergy collar
consists of an inner message and symbol: that it cause discomfort,
both physical and spiritual. In such a collar, any priest will
tell you, one is reminded of the example one must set. (One
has no choice but to guard one's behavior while strapped into
one of these collars.)
at their most comfortable, they are uncomfortable. They are
unbearably hot – even in the dead of winter- and are often
soaked and grimy at the end of the day. No wonder so many spiritually
lazy people want to toss them out the window. I say go ahead,
if you want to surrender the least part of a faith worth defending.
But, if you cannot be trusted there, how far can you be trusted?
Einstein once wrote that a person not to be trusted in small
matters can never be trusted in great ones.
sounds contradictory and cheap, but yes: looking the part of
clergy is inherent and implicit to any ministry, albeit the
least important aspect. My heartiest agreement is with those
who say it is ridiculous to tee off, garden, mow the lawn or
dig a hole while wearing a clergy collar. My recommendation
to such a collar-crazy person would be to check into the nearest
the collar is the sole identifier ministers have left- unless
they belong to a religion that employs another habit of dress.
Not so long ago, Catholics howled when priests first appeared
in the clergy collar and black suit. "PROTESTANTISM!!"
they shouted. Not long after, the pope ordered that all priests
wear the "Roman" collar at all times while out of
doors. Today, Catholic designs in clergy shirts are the standard,
with the exception of the exquisite Anglican shirts- but even
these descend from the modern Catholic designs.
course even a minister or priest must enjoy personal time, and
no clergy collars are allowed then. One may relax alone or in
company; casual dress can be excused. One may even find oneself
in an emergency pastoral situation and not be appropriately
dressed. (During the cold months, I keep a spare shirt in my
car at all times.) At all other times it is the minister's duty
to keep on his collar, if his religion employs the use of it
for its ministers. When I was a boy, even seminarians and theology
students wore "clerical" collars to distinguish themselves
from other students.
am one of those priests who loves wearing a clergy collar. It
is my karma, a part of my service and duty to the universe in
my vocation as a humble servant. There is no way I can imagine
anyone abusing the ministerial office using the collar itself
for the purpose. Americans are not that easily cowed.
are generally a respectful people. They see a clergy collar
- true, sometimes they can't see past it - but they respect
it. It is one of the little blessings that helps ease the burdens
associated with the collar itself. As with all blessings, it
cannot be ignored or refused; it should be accepted humbly and
took note of the argument that wearing a collar elicits hoots,
laughter, hateful stares and other ridiculous scenarios. Certainly
I have experienced my share of this. If a person can't take
that sort of childishness in his stride, why be in the ministry
at all? If it's mocked or despised, isn't the collar its own
best defense? After all, such rude people don't really know
the person wearing the collar. Thus they are like dogs chasing
if the reader doesn't mind, I shall slip out of my little blessing
and into a t-shirt for some puttering around the yard.
Rev Antiono Hernandez September 2003, email@example.com
Zen Meditation Groups in the California Central Valley
website provides information related to three Zen Buddhist practice
groups in the Central Valley of California: Empty Nest Zen
Group in North Fork, Valley Heartland Zen Group in
Modesto, and Fresno River Zen Group in Fresno.
three groups offer training and practice opportunities in the
Soto Zen tradition and are led by Grace Schireson, an ordained
Zen priest in the Suzuki Roshi lineage. All three groups
offer a range of practice opportunities including the following:
zazen (sitting meditation), introductory classes, and intensive
instruction, group lectures, and individual consultations with
and practice in the spirit of the Suzuki Roshi lineage
traditions with Berkeley, San Francisco, Green Gulch, and Tassajara
by an ordained Zen priest and experienced lay practitioners
to affirm one's faith in the Buddha Way through training and
to participate in engaged Buddhism through the Prison Meditation
Nest, Valley Heartland, and Fresno River Zen Groups are all
led by Grace Schireson.
is an ordained Zen Priest in the Suzuki Roshi lineage who has
practiced Zen meditation for more than 35 years. She has
trained in Soto Zen in America under Sojun Mel Weitsman Roshi
of Berkeley Zen Center and in Rinzai Zen in Japan under Keido
Fukushima Roshi of Tofuku-ji Monastery in Kyoto. She has
taught Zen classes throughout the United States and in Japan.
She is also trained as a clinical psychologist and is dedicated
to teaching Asian methods of quieting the mind using techniques
suitable for Westerners.
Empty Nest Zen Group is based in North Fork, in the Sierra
Foothills between Fresno and Yosemite National Park. The
group serves residents of North Fork, Oakhurst, El Portal, Coarsegold,
Mariposa, Wishon, Auberry, and other nearby towns. The
group meets weekly on Sunday mornings from 8:45 to 11:30 a.m.
These morning sessions include two 30 minute periods of zazen
(sitting meditation), a brief period of walking meditation,
a Zen service, a Zen talk, and tea. In addition, the Empty
Nest Zen Group holds longer meditation retreats, ranging from
one to five days.
Valley Heartland Zen Group is based in Modesto, about 100
miles southeast of San Francisco, in the Central Valley of California.
The group serves residents from the wider Modesto community,
including Merced, Stockton, Turlock, and Los Banos. The
group meets weekly on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
at Unity Church, 2467 Veneman, Modesto, 95356. The evening
session includes two 30 minute periods of zazen (sitting meditation),
a brief period of walking meditation, a Zen talk, and tea.
In addition, the Valley Heartland Zen Group regularly holds
half-day and one-day meditation retreats.
Fresno River Zen Group is based in Fresno, about halfway
between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in the Central Valley
of California. The group serves residents of Fresno, Clovis,
Madera, Visalia, and neighboring towns. The group meets
weekly on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Unitarian
Church, 4144 Millbrook, Fresno. The evening session includes
two 30 minute periods of zazen (sitting meditation), a brief
period of walking meditation, a Zen talk, and tea. In
addition, the Valley Heartland Zen Group holds longer meditation
retreats from time to time.
My Master's Robe: Memories of a Novice Monk
...by Thich Nhat Hanh
Description ...Thich Nhat Hanh's experiences as a
novice monk in central Vietnam. As a young man, he tested Buddhist
teachings and planted the seeds that would carry him through
the ordeals of the Vietnam War. The simplicity and clarity of
monastic life is the background against which the memorable
characters in this Buddhist master's life are lovingly presented:
the elderly cook, the Master sewing by lamplight, the daring
lizard who eats rice offered for the Buddha, the young French
soldier seeking understanding, and others. Two weeks ago, after
the Buddha's offering, I approached the shrine to put out the
flame of two white candles that rested in tall brass candle
holders when I saw a small lizard leap out of the alms bowl.
He had a couple of grains of rice in his mouth. He looked at
me in panic, his eyes as bright as tiny crystal balls. I didn't
chase him, but he ran off behind the statue of Buddha.
Reviewer: from Lewisburg, PA USA ..."Tin Nguoi"
is the Vietnamese title of this little book. It means "humanity,"
and humanity is precisely what Nhat Hanh reflects on in it.
What it means to be human, what it means to seach for one's
true self, what it means to live in community with other humans:
each of these questions are explored through a series of short
story-like reflections on Nhat Hanh's years as a young Buddhist
first reading, the book seems slight. But like most of Nhat
Hanh's books, it's better thought of as simple rather than simplistic.
We make the world too complicated with our rushing about and
our efforts to master everything. Nhat Hanh's prose offers a
simpler, slower, more meditative approach to reality, and thus
mirrors the points he wishes to make.
his stories about memorizing large books as part of his novice
training, or of being assigned to look after the cattle (kept
by the monks solely for their manure), or his delightful sketches
of fellow-novice Brother Man or monastic cook Aunt Tu, generally
aim to teach a lesson about what it means to follow the Buddha's
path. They are parables, and as such will provoke any number
of reflections on the part of the perceptive reader. The chapter
dealing with koans is one of the most insightful treatments
of the subject I've ever read. It alone is worth the price of
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