About the Book
About Suzuki Roshi
Shunryu Suzuki Lecture
There are two versions of this lecture - the verbatim and this minimally edited version which is easier to read. - DC
This is one of the last lectures that Shunryu Suzuki gave.
If you want to practice in its true sense so that you may not regret what you have been doing, it is necessary for you to have good confidence in your practice. This is very important, or else it is not possible for you to practice the true way. There may be many great teachers in various countries, but even though there are great teachers, if your way-seeking mind is not strong enough you cannot study. Even though you meet him, you don't know who he is.
Tonight I want to introduce the story between Bodhidharma and Butei in China. [Suzuki-rōshi is referring to Case 1 in The Blue Cliff Records or
Case 2 in The Book of Serenity:
Emperor Wu: "What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?"
Butei: Chinese Bu + -tei, emperor. Also Emperor Wu or Liang Wudi (502-550). Butei founded the Liang (Ryo) Dynasty in southern China. One of the first Buddhist emperors, he built many temples, translated sūtras, and lectured on Buddhism.] Bodhidharma arrived at China in 520, according to traditional record, and he lived with the King of the Liang. And he—the king, who was a great supporter of Buddhism, he built many temples, and he studied Buddhism and was a great teacher—daishi. [daishi: Japanese dai, great; + shi, teacher or master. Hence, posthumous honorific title meaning "great master" or "great teacher."]
He himself was already good scholar, and at the same time a great supporter of the Buddhism. As soon as Bodhidharma arrived at China he visited the king. And this is a very famous story, as you may know.
The king asked him, "What is Buddhism? What is Buddhism?" Bodhidharma's answer was, "In the realm of clear dharma world, there is no sage or no common people."—it is like a clear sky. And "there is no sage"—it means that also "no sage or no common people." That was his answer. And so Butei asked him again: "You say there is no sage or no common people, then who are you—who is sitting in front of me?" he asked, and his answer was, "I don't know." [Laughs.] That was Bodhidharma's answer. This is very famous question and answer between Bodhidharma and the king.
Last night I told you something about usual understanding of our life and Buddhist understanding of life and the Oriental way of thinking in comparison to your way of thinking. Although the king knew Buddhism very well, but his understanding, his way of thinking, his way of supporting Buddhism was something like materialistic. He supported many priests, and he himself studied Buddhism and built a temple and helped set up various ceremonies too. And in Japan and in China, still we are observing the ceremony he set up—he helped setting up the way of observing ceremonies.
So apparently he is a great supporter of Buddhism, but the way he support is, in one word, materialistic, which is based on accumulating the merit, accumulating visual materialistic practice and observation of ceremonies, and more intellectual understanding of Buddhism, or philosophical understanding of Buddhism. That was his way.
So, in short, accumulation of many goes first, while Bodhidharma's way is—start from nothing, start from one. "One is everything. Everything is one." That is what we always say. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. But for us, emptiness comes first. Or one comes first, and many comes next. One and many.
The king's way was, "Many comes first." Many is more materialistic, more substantial. Many. And accumulation of many will eventually become great—that is more or less his way. And so knowing the king's way, Bodhidharma said "no merit" [laughs]. No sage or no common people—because they must have talked more about it, according to the record. He told Bodhidharma about what he did and what will be the merit of building temples or helping students or teachers—what will be the merit? Bodhidharma says no merit [laughs]—no merit comes first, while king's way is many comes first. In short, emptiness comes first. One big great empty being comes first. It's opposite.
But if you understand—if the king understand what Bodhidharma says, then his merit will make sense. But he couldn’t understand what he says. No merit or no sage or no common people.
Why it is so important for us to understand what Bodhidharma said is your practice is in the realm of duality or accumulation of many merit. Like "I have practiced for three years, four years, ten years." "How many years" comes first. It doesn't make sense. And you will be regretful later. "I have been practicing zazen so many years," [laughs] "but, nothing happen." That will be how you feel after accumulating your practice—its merit of practice. And actually, from Buddhist viewpoint, it is just a speck of dust. Even though you say, "For my whole life I have been practicing zazen." But whole life just a speck of dust, just one moment.
So maybe when you become old or when you are dying—your one life—you are sixty or seventy or one hundred years of life—is just one moment. So accumulation of many doesn’t make sense.
Only when everyday practice makes sense, you will not regret of your practice later. This is very important point. Even though I say so, you may think it may be difficult for you to accept it. But anyway, I have to explain it. If every day of your many days' practice is directly related to the somethingness or emptiness which exist forever, then everyday practice makes sense.
I'm not talking about something very unusual. I know some of our students are practicing very hard, sacrificing without doing something he should do. He will stay here without helping his mother or his father because he think it is necessary for him to stay here and practice our way. So naturally his practice will be very sincere. But if his practice is based on the idea of accumulation of many good practice or accumulation of merit—it doesn’t make sense.
And some of you may think "I want to practice, true practice. And I want to see some great teacher and practice with him," but, it is difficult for you to know who is a great teacher and who is not, unless you have eyes to see or eyes to tell who is great and who is not. Maybe you feel "I know if I see him—I may know who is great and who is not," [laughs] but I wonder.
Why do I wonder is—because of his eyes, his way of thinking. His eyes is not clear enough. His way of understanding is not clear. For him, if someone looks like [laughs] a great teacher, he is a great teacher. But if you have eyes to see, even a common teacher who doesn’t know much about Buddhism could be a great teacher. And actually there is that kind of really good teacher, but you cannot see them—how good they are.
So as long as you have arrogance, it is impossible to have good practice and it is impossible to have a kind of life you will not regret later about what you have been doing.
Why I give lecture every night like this is to help you to have good eyes and good understanding and good confidence in your eyes to see what is teacher—what is Buddhism. If Buddhism is something written up in a book like this [probably holds up a book], Buddhism is already waiting for you.
But actually it is not so. The most important point is to have good confidence in your eyes—dharma eyes. When you trust your eyes' understanding of Buddhism, then that will eventually bring you good practice—good confidence in you—and more and more, your dharma eye will open. Dharma eyes is not something which someone will give you. You yourself should open your dharma eyes. Actually, I am talking about how to open your dharma eyes, and how you can practice your way in its true sense wherever you go. That is what I am trying to do.
I am always telling you that intellectual understanding doesn't take so much—intellectual understanding and real practice. The difference between them is very great. Intellectual understanding cannot be actual enlightenment. But we can open our dharma eyes even though it is impossible to attain enlightenment by some other. Unless you yourself attain enlightenment, no one can—maybe someone can help you, but no one can give you real attainment.
So you yourself should attain enlightenment. But if you want to attain enlightenment, you will not have right practice, and you will not have right dharma eyes. That is why I am continuing this kind of lecture.
As it is—as Bodhidharma said, I think I must explain some more about his question—question and answer between Bodhidharma and the king. As I said, Bodhidharma—the king asked him, "What is the first principle?" Bodhidharma said, "In the realm of clear"—it doesn’t say dharma world, but—"In realm of clear dharma world, there is no sage or no common people." That is Bodhidharma's answer. And the king asked him again, "Who is you in front of me?" And Bodhidharma said, "I don’t know." But the king couldn’t understand what he meant by "no sage or no common people," or "I don’t know who—who I am." He couldn't understand.
So Bodhidharma crossed the river—Yangtse River, and went to northern country. And he stayed at Shao-lin Mountain Sūzan—Shao-lin Mountain in Sūzan and practiced hard for nine years, facing to the wall [laughs]. [Shao-lin Monastery was founded on Sung Mountain, Henan Province, in 477 by Emperor Hsiao-wen of the Northern Wei dynasty. Sung Mountain is the central peak of China's Five Peaks.] That was the old story. The vast dharma world of no sage or no common people is the world of emptiness—the world of first principle. That is first principle. That is answer—no sage, and no mountain, and no river. Nothing exist. All those things exist, but nothing exist. It is the actual reality of the world or—of dharma world.
It looks like the mountains and rivers and animals and human beings and everything—it looks like so, but actually nothing exist in its true sense because, as I explained intellectually, everything is changing.
Tentatively I exist here, but—they say, everything is changing. Six million [laughs]—six million—more than six million Buddhist scripture says. So six million and it is—nine million, or six million nine hundred and sixty—oh—ninety-six hundred thousand—oh, I don’t know how to count [laughs]. I am already lost [laughs, laughter]. And nine hundred eighty thousand [laughs] in one day can change so many times, scripture says. So if we change so many times in just in one day, we cannot exist in the same way. We haven't exist in the same way.
But anyway, it looks like I am here. But in its strict sense, it is changing rapidly like a electric light bulb. In it, electric current going back and forth like this. I don't know how many times it goes. It looks like one place, but it not so actually.
And same is true with us. So it looks like there is sage and there is common people, but in reality, nothing exist. But something is changing, we say. Change— Change exist, but nothing exist. If we can say is—really is not existent. That is what you said.
Bodhidharma said: "It looks like I am here and you are there. You are king and I am a priest or monk or Zen master. But it is not actually so. You are very proud of your merit of building temples and observing various ceremonies and help be instructed in zazen. It looks like so, but actually what did you do? No sage, no common people, or no priest. That was what he said.
It is so, but that is not all. Even if it is so, as we discussed last night, even it is so, as long as you are here, if you do not get up for zazen, you don’t feel good, knowing there is no practice, or no Tassajara, or no monk. Whatever you do it is nothing but... Even though you understand in that way, actually what you feel is different. How we can change our feeling from this kind of confusion—confused mind or suffering to joy of practice is the point.
So purpose of practice, actually, to change this kind of ignorance to the wisdom, or to be enlightened of those ignorance is our purpose of practice. Unless you reach Bodhidharma already... But if I say so, it is—I help you. Crazy [laughs] crazy monk. I cannot say so. I cannot open such a big mouth. I can explain it, but I myself do not feel in that way.
But I am very much encouraged about this way of thinking and way of practice that is for us, and continuing this kind of practice. When you open this kind of dharma eyes, then wherever you go, you will see your teacher. You will have eyes to see your teacher. And even though you find a good teacher you will not stick to the teacher. You will not rely on your teacher completely. And you will continue your own practice by aid of the teacher. Then what you will find out through teacher—there is some possibility for you to find good teacher.
If you think there must be some good teacher somewhere [laughs], that is already idea of existence which is not Buddhist way of thinking. No teacher—no true teacher exist as long as your dharma eyes stick to the idea of existence.
And there is two heresy to misunderstand it. One is idea of non-existence, and the other is idea of existence. If you say "I exist," that is idea of existence. And if you say, "I don’t exist, actually, because things are changing," that is also heresy. That is idea of non-existence. What is real understanding is the understanding which goes beyond existence and non-existence. That is real understanding.
So real understanding is—if you ask what is real understanding, I may say existence—idea of existence. And sometime someone ask me again, what is Buddhist idea of life? And I say "non-existence." [Laughs.] My emphasis is sometime existence and sometime non-existence. And there is no contradiction even if you intellectualize, if you understand what is reality.
Idea of existence and idea of non-existence. Jōken and danken. [jō (eternal); dan (stop); ken (style of looking at the world; view; philosophical school). Jōken: the doctrine that the world is eternal. Danken: the doctrine that nothing survives death.] [Next sentence essentially sung by Suzuki-rōshi in Japanese.] Danjō no niken gyōnen to shite shōzu. [danjō (danjō-niken: the two extreme views of jōken and danken); no (as); ni (two); ken (views); gyōnen (concentrate); to shite (become); shōzu (appear). That is, "It is easy for us to formulate danken or jōken, but it is difficult to keep to the middle way and avoid the two wrong views." Or "It is easy for danken and jōken to appear as opposite extremes."] That is a way of our life. Danjō. We don't stick to idea of existence or idea of non-existence. Our mind is very clear. No cloud. Cloud is—idea of existence or non-existence is cloud. No cloud whatsoever. It is like a clear sky. That is Buddhist way of understanding. I already repeated this point over and over again—idea of contradiction. Reality is always in contradiction.
Maybe it is better to have question and answer so that you can fully participate in this kind of discussion. Hai.
Student A: You're left with … whereas if you … another … in fact … encouraging … The practice is an inheritance. The difficult thing is what do you do with the form. Or how do you do the practice …?
Suzuki-rōshi: How you use is you can—how I try to encourage you is to encourage you to have confidence in your practice. Every night you come to zazen you repeat some words: Nanzo gikano gassho bozatsushite. Nakokono jinsho [all phonetic]—I try. "How can I give up my rakusu and go wandering about?" That is how I encourage you. It does not mean you should stay here. But wherever you go, you must have full spirit in your practice, because if you cannot practice right now, here, there is no time for you to practice true way. If you think, "If I go somewhere else, then there will be some good teacher." That is already, "I'm afraid. I'm afraid." Your way of thinking is involved in idea of existence, which is one-sided view which is not true. Why good teacher is … [Sentence not finished. Tape turned over.]
Student B: Will one's teacher appear when one is ready? Will this happen or must one seek a teacher?
Suzuki-rōshi: Look for teacher? Excuse me, I am very—
Student B: When the student is ready to be taught, will the teacher appear, or must the student go and seek a teacher?
Student B: When the student is ready—
Student B: —the teacher is—
Suzuki-rōshi: I understand. When you say "when student is ready," it means that when you are ready, you can tell whether your teacher is right teacher or not because of your dharma eyes. If he is involved in one-sided view of existence or non-existence, he is not right teacher.
And another point is, whether what he says and what he actually does, to some extent it should be well-balanced. Not completely—it is impossible to have complete balance, as we are human being. But to some extent there must be some balance. That is another point.
Dharma eyes can tell whether his understanding is right or wrong. And another point is whether his practice is really good or bad. I'm sorry to criticize. You can easily see what he says and what he does. There must be some balance—understandable balance.
So, you cannot tell by a book who you love. You cannot tell by his speech. Or you cannot tell just by his zazen practice. The point is whether his zazen practice is extended in his everyday life. That is very important. So your dharma eyes—like your eyes to see which way to go, which teacher you should choose.
And your practice, understanding of practice is another, something like your foot. You should walk by your foot. So it is necessary to have two points: this and this [presumably points to two things]. Actual, some actual cut [?]: not just eyes or knowledge or intellectual understanding or philosophy. Even though he knows he has a big knowledge about Buddhism, he cannot be always good teacher for you. If you want to be the same kind of teacher, it is okay. But if you want to practice our way as a part of your life, then you cannot follow that kind of teacher. Okay? Hai.
Student C: … thinking mind and … if you don't know what to do and you don't feel that the behavior … let you know, is it because you don't really know … or is the being not necessarily the same as the knowing?
Suzuki-rōshi: Mm-hmm. Being and knowing should be same, but it is difficult to be same. Knowing is something different than doing [laughs]. I am sorry. [Laughter.] Yeah. That is very much so, but even though many Buddhist teachers are like that, but there is no reason why you should follow their example [laughs]. You cannot criticize them as they are also—they have karmic life too, because it is difficult to be free from its own karmic life. It is difficult. So we cannot criticize.
But you should know that it is his karmic life and that is his practice and that is his understanding. That is what it means to have dharma eyes. If you have that kind of eyes, then your teacher could be anyone. But the point is you will receive little encouragement [laughs] if his style of practice is not so strong, he will not help you so much. But he is good teacher, even though he has not much encouragement for you. But if your situation of practicing Zen is very immediate, difficult situation, then that difficulty will help your practice—that difficulty will encourage your practice.
Difficulty exist when you want to do—for an instance, Tōzan-daishi was one of the maybe greatest scholars in Chinese Buddhist history. [Tōzan Ryōkai (Dongshan Liangjie), 807-869. The story of Tōzan's mother can be found in Transmission of Light (Denkō-roku), translated by Thomas Cleary, San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990, p. 165.] His parents were very poor, and he had six elder brothers. But he was not so good. So his mother couldn't depend on him so much, so it was he who could help his mother. But Tōzan—for Tōzan, Buddhism is everything, and he had great confidence in study of—in practice of Buddha's way.
So eventually he became a great Zen master after all. And he became a master of Sōzan. [Sōzan Honjaku (Caoshan Benji), 840-901.] So hearing about this, his mother wanted to visit him, but she was so fevered and so old and so poor, and she became blind. She couldn't eat so much. Blind—she became a blind beggar, but she thought before she die, she must see her son who became a great Zen master already.
His students said, "Your mother came." But Tōzan said she cannot enter. She should stay out! [Laughs.] And you may think he is very vicious. But everyone thinks Tōzan will be the most kind-hearted man for his mother. He wrote many letters to her about Buddhism and how to practice Buddhism and how to help her by practice of Buddhism. He did every possible way to help his mother. There is no such Zen master—so kind Zen master for his mother.
But he didn't see her, and at last his mother died outside the monastery. And so he told children to have funeral for her. And when he saw her, he found a little rice on her back, so he pulled out the rice and said, "This rice is less than an orphan has."
So he took it for next morning's breakfast. He asked his student, "This is her last offering for us. Please accept it." What is big is very simple. And way he helped her is very simple—just write letter. But he couldn't help his blind mother even. But everyone acknowledged that he will be the most kindhearted Zen master we ever had in China or in Japan.
Student D: … my theory that … that relationship … and the relationship … they always have … a part of the message. And it seems to me that whatever else she could do for them she already did.
Suzuki-rōshi: What in that story—some of them are just story; some [laughs]—some of them is real stories—not stories [laughs]. And there is some meaning, each—
Student D: …. And it seems to me that—
Suzuki-rōshi: It is not truthful. Again, that is your way of thinking. Thinking mind does not solve this kind of problem in our heart. If your way-seeking mind—if your confidence in your teaching is very strong, that will happen, I...
But that doesn't happen to everyone [laughs]. It didn't happen to me—only for one or two lay people. The mind will show our teaching. It shows us the depth of the teaching, that's all. He [Tōzan] cannot be your example, and there is no need for you to follow his example. I am not encouraging you to follow his example.
Student D: ... why you ... why do you ...?
Suzuki-rōshi: You don't understand the depth of wisdom and real practice of Zen, that's all. And you will say "Why? Why? Why?" [Laughs.] That doesn't make sense. And after you understand what is Buddhism, and after you practice very hard, then that kind of thing could you understand after a long long practice or great great teacher. I cannot understand, actually.
Student E: Why do you call it [1 word]?
Suzuki-rōshi: Why do I—?
Student E: [Entire question unclear.] [Laughter.]
Suzuki-rōshi: That is your way. Most people are like that. So your practice is easily like this. If it is necessary, if it is good I listen to you, and if it is something which I cannot understand, it is waste of time to listen to that kind of lecture. That kind of question is the most discouraging question for me. Instead of being encouraged by Zen story you think it is not—you say, "I cannot understand." Something you cannot understand is no good—no use. That is [pragmatist?]. That is the most materialistic attitude toward the truth. Do you understand?
So your way—even though your way of life looks like maybe Buddhist life, but in its true sense, you have no backbone! How can you find yourself something which is different you don't take? You don't grow in that way. Your practice is not strong enough, and you do not have spine. So wherever you go, even though you meet great teacher, it doesn't make sense to you. Great teacher has—all the great teacher has that kind of spine. In one way, he is very gentle, but on the other hand he is very strict with you. And his backbone is always straight [laughs]. That is Buddhism. That is the difference between city way and Zen way [laughs]. Don't you think so? Doesn't work. Only that way doesn't work. You will need—I don't say you will [laughs], but—you will need some backbone.
Because Tōzan had that kind of backbone, he could be a good example. He could support Zen Buddhism in China. We don't need such a great teacher—so many. But one is enough. If he was really kindhearted person, on the other hand, which has been devoted himself completely to the Buddha.
What he is saying is "nothing whatsoever..." He completed the teaching of mujō seppō. [mujō: insentient beings; seppō: to preach orally or by other means. "Mujō Seppō" is the 53rd fascicle of Dōgen-zenji's Shōbōgenzō: "Insentient Beings Speak Dharma."] Mujō seppō means... teacher of mountain and river. Many good teachers discuss about it, and think about it, practice about it. That was not enough. But he completed that practice. When he has no tainted mind. When his mind become very clear, even free from—when his mind is like a mirror, without any doubt, then he can talk about—he can listen to the speech of mountain and river. We say, "Wherever you go if you see flower, that is the teaching." If you go to the mountain, that is teaching. That is not mujō seppō—teaching of mountain and river. Only when your mind become like a mirror. Everything reflect on the mirror is teaching. As long as your mind is self-centered mind: "This is good. This is bad. Human beings should be like this or like that." Then you cannot listen to the voice of nature.
It is possible to listen to the mountain or river. When your way of life is so selfish, so self-centered, so idle, that is big mistake for us. How long time it takes to accomplish—to listen to the teaching of mountain and river? There were disciple of the Sixth Patriarch named Echū—Nanyō Echū. [Japanese name for Nanyang Huizhong (675?-775?), early Chinese Chan master and student of Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch. Also known as Chū-kokushi (Jap.).] He started to talk about the teaching of mountain and river—mujō seppō. And it took more than hundred years before he—Tōzan completed that study. Not many teachers can accomplish that kind of study.
But in America, how many people talking about teaching of nature? The meaning is completely different. But I am interested in what you say, because it makes some sense. But if you think this is Buddhist way—that leads to mistake. If you think [thumps table with each of the next six words for emphasis] this is—should be—human way, then it means that all [thumps table for rest of sentence] the ... way is human way. I cannot accept. But how you feel is good. And try to be free from our framework of society makes sense. Maybe one step toward the real practice.
If you—if all the students in Tassajara stick to this idea and having Tassajara, [thumps table five times] we have Zen Center here. If you say so, I couldn't stay here. If you do not say so, I am trying to listen, to welcome teachers and mountains and rivers at Tassajara. I can accept it... But if you say [thumps for each word] I am hearing every day, I am helping you, and nature helps you, and we are helping you—that is Buddhist way. If you say so, without [laughs] knowing what kind of effort you are making, I cannot accept it.
In human life we have enough difficulty. It is big mistake [to think?] if you can escape from our human difficulty unless we make big effort to establish real way—real non-human-centric culture. That is our duty. If you are really involved in this kind of big duty, your mother will be actually happy to have that—that kind of boy who is strong enough and good enough to support all the human being. And without this kind of confidence, you cannot understand what is Buddhism. If you understand something which is good only, avoiding which is difficult, then you cannot enter from Tassajara gate, [laughs]—you will be outside the gate we have [laughs]. But you cannot enter, even though you think you are inside of the gate, but you are not. And so you are a little bit [laughs] angry with you.
But I am very happy to be angry with you [laughs]—to be able to be angry with you, because I feel some support from you. So I am able to be angry with you. I think if I say this much, some of you will agree with me. And some of you will accept the real spirit of Buddhist. Do you understand how difficult thing it is to talk about—even to talk about Buddhism?
I know several student who are practicing hard. So as long as we have some students, I am happy to stay here. Okay? [Laughs.] Still, you don't have to explain what is Buddhist to your friend in this way. "Buddhism is some teaching." Another example of Buddhist is to get serious guy out the monastery [laughs, laughter]. Maybe that is very bad example [laughs, laughter], but that kind of thing is possible to happen here [laughs]. Okay?
You have got much fever. That much possibility in your practice. So you don't have to be always good or a good son. If you are really trying to be a good Buddhist, you don't have to be confined in the framework of usual society. You have big freedom [laughs]. Bigger is waiting for you. You will have very good. Don't cry, even though teacher didn't understand you. "It's okay, come here," Buddha may say. That is what—I think you have big advantage in your practice because of this.
When I was young, my master was very strong person [laughs]. So wherever—as long as I am in [temple] I could do anything I like. I could say anything I want to say. Whatever they say, it was okay with me because strong master was there. And if I do something wrong, my master will scold me, but not my neighbors. If I am wrong—"Tell my master what I did," I said. "My master will scold me if I am wrong. And tell my master exactly what I did." You see? Exactly what I did. You don't have to protect him. If I am wrong, my master will scold me. I am quite sure about it.
So as long as I say something from bottom of my heart, it was authentic. It was [...] because he is responsible for what I did—what I do. And if I am wrong, I should say "excuse me." And I should say, "Excuse me" to him. That's all.
So Zen master should be very strong on one hand. Without this kind of spirit—truthful spirit to the truth or strong confidence in our mind—pure mind, we cannot practice [1 word: "here"?]. That is why you have big freedom [laughs]. You should [...] to be a Zen monk. That is true. But we shouldn't mix up usual Zen [...] with true mark of master.
I wanted to have new questions [...]. I continued thanks to ask good question [laughs]. I am very sorry. But now is not much schedule for us, so we give up.
Thank you very much.
Source: Original City Center tape. Verbatim transcript by Bill Redican (2/23/01). Miyagawa Keishi-san kindly provided assistance with the translation of Japanese terms. Lightly edited for readability by Gordon Geist (08/30/07).
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