Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
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Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wizard in the Forest » Wed Nov 05, 2014 1:48 am

I have a lot of difficulty not telling lies and I want to be able to uphold musāvādā, but I am struggling because even though I know there is never a benefit to be had from telling an untruth, I keep catching myself lying, and I want better control of myself in this precept. Can someone provide for me advice on upholding my training rule? I keep trying to uphold it and I am making a conscious effort to note when it happens and I also struggle with speaking in a non-harsh way. I often find myself using combative malicious language which incites discord, and harsh vulgar speech that I shouldn't be using because it is generally considered flaws and obstructions on the way to purity.

Can someone give me advice on how to better uphold the precept against musāvādā (Lying) and also Malicious, Unbeneficial, and Harsh speech?

I have read the Suttas, and know of what the Abhaya Sutta and the Sutta to Cunda have to say about all of the wrong speech I do, but I am asking of what you do from your own experiences that helps you avoid violating the precept and the things that cause impurity in speech.

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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wri » Wed Nov 05, 2014 2:07 am

I haven't had many problems telling the truth or refraining from harsh speech, but I know of some advice that rings true for me. Perhaps it will help.

Rather than only noting when it comes up, we should investigate the root causes. This is where being constantly mindful is helpful as it allows us to see how one feeling leads to another.

So, some reasons for lying behavior may be:

1. Fear of punishment. We often fear that if we tell the truth, we will be punished. So instead, we try and say what we think others want us to say. However, this often creates further problems down the line. A solution to this could be to work on your confidence in facing punishment and appreciating your virtue, knowing that you really did the right thing in all respects.

2. Fear of being emotionally open. Sometimes we lie to cover up our true feelings, because we are afraid of the judgement that others might have for us. But in all honestly, good company will respect you for being open and honest. A lot of people will support you. It is not weak to do this. Rather, it shows courage.

As far as harsh speech goes, it would seem to be a factor of anger, underdeveloped compassion, or heavy focus on controlling others. I may be missing something but those seem the most apparent to me right now.

As with many behaviors, they are symptoms rather than issues in and of themselves. So investigate deeply. You may have to clear out the roots to see these behaviors change.

I hope this can help :hug:
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wizard in the Forest » Wed Nov 05, 2014 2:25 am

Often my problem is when I try to be honest, it comes off harsh, or displeasing to the ears even if it is true and beneficial and I think it is the right time to say so. I may be wrong about the timing, but naturally there's very little room for it.

Then there's the time I feel telling the truth will be hurtful to myself and others.

Then there's careless harsh speech I make, ones I do out of heedlessness rather than active ill will. I will become excited and use vulgar words, or I will become surprised or shocked and use vulgar words.
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wri » Wed Nov 05, 2014 3:56 am

Wizard in the Forest wrote:Often my problem is when I try to be honest, it comes off harsh, or displeasing to the ears even if it is true and beneficial and I think it is the right time to say so. I may be wrong about the timing, but naturally there's very little room for it.

Then there's the time I feel telling the truth will be hurtful to myself and others.

Then there's careless harsh speech I make, ones I do out of heedlessness rather than active ill will. I will become excited and use vulgar words, or I will become surprised or shocked and use vulgar words.
When the truth comes off as harsh I would think of a few reasons for this being so. Either it was said in an unkind or overbearing way, or the person is simply not ready to hear the truth despite the timing being right--if it was right timing. Sometimes people do not want to hear the truth and would rather cling to their own views for whatever reason. We cannot do much about this unless we really get deep in their psychology. Don't worry too much if that is the case. Let them follow their path. Enjoy your own.

When you feel that telling the truth will be hurtful, then you should likely remain silent, and you may have to explain why you're remaining silent. In a situation when you must either tell a lie or tell the truth, do what causes the least amount of harm. If you lie, tell the truth at an appropriate time and explain why you had to lie then. Have pure intentions and be honest about them. Sometimes people will be angry no matter what we do, but we must remember that change occurs from within. They must progress on the path themselves as well.

As far as the heedlessness, just practice your moment to moment mindfulness. Practice meditation as well. Habits take time to change. Patience :)

Keep going. You have already started. You're going the right way. Be gentle where need be and give yourself time.
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wizard in the Forest » Wed Nov 05, 2014 4:44 am

My fear is that I seemed to have trivialized lies and lies are actually very serious infractions upon the precepts, and I thought of things used in the movement of radical honesty, but found it to be unskillful because it allows for unbeneficial, malicious, divisive, and harsh speech to be uttered. The trouble comes from the idea in Radical Honesty is that it is correct in that people generally lie so many times per day that they give no thought to the harm of the practice. I have recognized it is harmful, and wish to abandon the practice. I pay attention and I need help perhaps beginning with mind:

How can I relax the thought formation that causes me to feel the urge to tell a deliberate lie?

How can I make my harsh speech more pleasing to the ear to the listener so that they would be willing to listen to what I have to say?

How can I use my speech to conducively mediate people to concord and harmony as opposed to maliciously causing divisiveness and pain?
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wri » Wed Nov 05, 2014 5:24 am

Wizard in the Forest wrote:How can I relax the thought formation that causes me to feel the urge to tell a deliberate lie?

How can I make my harsh speech more pleasing to the ear to the listener so that they would be willing to listen to what I have to say?

How can I use my speech to conducively mediate people to concord and harmony as opposed to maliciously causing divisiveness and pain?
As I've mentioned, I have always seemed to naturally tell the truth and refrain from harsh speech. So this will likely be as far as I will be able to give advice, seeing as how I have not had to give intense dedication to overcoming lying and harsh speech. But I will do what I can with this :)

1. Equanimity. Refrain from acting upon it, but refrain from aversion as well. Note it as it is and be willing to sit with that desire. Mindfulness during all times of the day can be tricky at first, but eventually, with enough practice, it becomes automatic and you find that your mind becomes rather self-regulating. It will think before you speak, essentially. You'll notice this happening when you catch yourself about to do something, but change your mind. Eventually, you will behave in the way you set yourself up for.

2. Different people will look for different things. However, in general, you can speak with a soft tone of voice, with a moderate degree of monotone to it. This is relaxing, gentle, and caring. Your intentions will be reflected in the manner in which you speak. You may also project your intentions through body language. People do pick up on these cues. If you are unsure that something is going to offend someone, avoid eye contact while you say it. This will show that you are unsure of what you're saying. When you need to project confidence, maintain eye contact.

3. This seems to be a question raised out of a need to control. We cannot control other people's reactions, so focus on your intention. This is where it counts. Trying to forcefully or aggressively convince someone to be peaceful and harmonious is counter-productive as you are not practicing what you're preaching. So, be the example. Be peaceful and harmonious yourself and others will likely, in time, be peaceful and harmonious around you and perhaps others. Looking back on it, your second question also indicates a need for control. You want them to listen to you. Again, we cannot control the reactions of others. Simply do your best and let the rest follow. Moment to moment, handle what arises. Whatever happens in the future, it will be handled the same as any other present moment--with mindfulness.

This is the best I can do at the time. I wish there were a way for me to give you a definitive step by step model from my own experience, but it really does come down to patience. Forcing solutions out as fast as possible can easily lead to heedlessness and slip ups from aggressiveness and frustration. Patience builds strength. Endurance is our natural shield.

Best wishes to you, may you be successful :anjali:
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May I show unconditional love to all beings.

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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wizard in the Forest » Thu Nov 06, 2014 5:00 am

Wri wrote: 1. Equanimity.
I cannot be equanimitous about this because I know:

kamma·dāyāda kamma·yoni kamma·bandhu kamma·paṭisaraṇa.Yaṃ kammaṃ karissāmi, kalyāṇaṃ vā pāpakaṃ vā, tassa dāyāda bhavissāmī ti.
All beings are owners of their own Kamma, heir to their kamma, born of their kamma, related to their kamma, abide supported by their kamma. Whatever kamma they shall do, good or evil, of that they shall be the heir.

And
[b]MN:61[/b] Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta wrote:Ven. Rahula, bowing down to the Blessed One, sat to one side.

Then the Blessed One, having left a little bit of water in the water dipper, said to Ven. Rahula, "Rahula, do you see this little bit of left-over water remaining in the water dipper?"

"Yes, sir."

"That's how little of a contemplative there is in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie."

Having tossed away the little bit of left-over water, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, "Rahula, do you see how this little bit of left-over water is tossed away?"

"Yes, sir."

"Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is tossed away just like that."

Having turned the water dipper upside down, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, "Rahula, do you see how this water dipper is turned upside down?"

"Yes, sir."

"Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is turned upside down just like that."

Having turned the water dipper right-side up, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, "Rahula, do you see how empty & hollow this water dipper is?"

"Yes, sir."

"Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is empty & hollow just like that.

"Rahula, it's like a royal elephant: immense, pedigreed, accustomed to battles, its tusks like chariot poles. Having gone into battle, it uses its forefeet & hindfeet, its forequarters & hindquarters, its head & ears & tusks & tail, but keeps protecting its trunk. The elephant trainer notices that and thinks, 'This royal elephant has not given up its life to the king.' But when the royal elephant... having gone into battle, uses its forefeet & hindfeet, its forequarters & hindquarters, its head & ears & tusks & tail & his trunk, the trainer notices that and thinks, 'This royal elephant has given up its life to the king. There is nothing it will not do.'

"In the same way, Rahula, when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do. Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself, 'I will not tell a deliberate lie even in jest.'
Refrain from acting upon it, but refrain from aversion as well.
I do not know how I can refrain from aversion in this case, but at the same time, I often carelessly do so, or do so to protect myself or in my arrogance, to protect others. I have the arrogant assumption that I can truly know another's mind and know what will hurt or help them, so I tell lies, attempting to soothe my own ego and say that 'I did it for their own good' which is obviously not true. While I feel my intentions at the time are sincerely good ones, I realize later that it was a mistake, but I do not know how to confront it.
Note it as it is and be willing to sit with that desire. Mindfulness during all times of the day can be tricky at first, but eventually, with enough practice, it becomes automatic and you find that your mind becomes rather self-regulating. It will think before you speak, essentially. You'll notice this happening when you catch yourself about to do something, but change your mind. Eventually, you will behave in the way you set yourself up for.


I am attempting to set myself up for restraint, and renunciation of lies, I obviously do feel shame in telling deliberate lies and am very harsh with myself, not out of ill will, but because I know if I do not take the proper actions for the future I am setting myself up for disaster.
2. Different people will look for different things. However, in general, you can speak with a soft tone of voice, with a moderate degree of monotone to it. This is relaxing, gentle, and caring. Your intentions will be reflected in the manner in which you speak.
I have a singsongy gentle voice, as I am a woman. I work with abused children regularly and abused women, so it is not as if I do not know how to speak with a gentle and kind tone of voice. I know at times how to speak with a kindly voice that reflects the love that I should be showering upon others with equal affection and compassion, but I have difficulties with difficult people and difficult situations. I find myself becoming tied up in my own lies and my words seem to deliberately twist it into something ugly, and then BAM! Precept broken. It's not easy.
You may also project your intentions through body language. People do pick up on these cues.
This is even worse for me, I have very difficult times hiding body language. It is very clear when I am uncomfortable which makes my lies even more transparent.
If you are unsure that something is going to offend someone, avoid eye contact while you say it. This will show that you are unsure of what you're saying. When you need to project confidence, maintain eye contact.
We live in different cultures. Direct eye contact in my culture is a reflection of being defiant and rude, and avoiding eye contact indicates respect and deference to whomever you are speaking to. I'm Hispanic.
3. This seems to be a question raised out of a need to control. We cannot control other people's reactions, so focus on your intention.


My intention is to keep things calm and peaceful so that less harmful results come from using truthful language. This is a delusion I have.
This is where it counts. Trying to forcefully or aggressively convince someone to be peaceful and harmonious is counter-productive as you are not practicing what you're preaching. So, be the example. Be peaceful and harmonious yourself and others will likely, in time, be peaceful and harmonious around you and perhaps others. Looking back on it, your second question also indicates a need for control. You want them to listen to you. Again, we cannot control the reactions of others. Simply do your best and let the rest follow. Moment to moment, handle what arises. Whatever happens in the future, it will be handled the same as any other present moment--with mindfulness.
It is difficult to be peaceful in situations I am in at times, but I strive with diligence. I need to be ever more diligent, and need to control myself more in mind and words. This is hard when delusory thoughts deceive me, and harsh and deceptive words harm me AND others. It doubly affects others which is my deep concern.
This is the best I can do at the time. I wish there were a way for me to give you a definitive step by step model from my own experience, but it really does come down to patience. Forcing solutions out as fast as possible can easily lead to heedlessness and slip ups from aggressiveness and frustration. Patience builds strength. Endurance is our natural shield. Best wishes to you, may you be successful :anjali:
:anjali: I am always thankful for guidance and help, and I hope my words above are not taken as an offence, as I can have quite brusque language that can be taken the wrong way, and quite often.
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Modus.Ponens » Thu Nov 06, 2014 5:09 am

It really is not complicated. It's only dificult to apply. What we need to tell the truth is courage.

As for harsh speech, I wish I knew a simple answer. :thinking:
He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'
(Jhana Sutta - Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation)

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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wri » Thu Nov 06, 2014 2:50 pm

To me, it seems a bit troubling the way you interpret your response to equanimity. While yes, we do have responsibility to acknowledge our good and bad kamma from the past, we will be forever trapped by it if we think we need to be subject to it. How many lifetimes must you exhaust before all the kamma from your previous lives wears out? You'd be around for a long, long time. This quote to me is really just saying that our present actions are related to our past actions. It doesn't mean we're doomed to it. We DO have the ability to CHANGE our kamma. We need to do this to reach nibbana. If you want peace, equanimity is a highly useful mindset. It is not helpful to say you cannot have equanimity as we typically do not want to try what we think is impossible.

The only advice remaining to give is to be patient. This is an extremely helpful virtue and can give us an immediate sense of peace and well-being. Worrying too much about the future, and about getting immediate results, only compounds the problem. It's a second arrow. It takes time and care to get the first arrow out. And as Modus Ponens said, courage. Be open. Accept what comes up and know that you have the capacity to handle it. Equanimity can give you this.

Best wishes!
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wizard in the Forest » Thu Nov 06, 2014 6:00 pm

I am not saying equanimity is something that is not the solution to the problem, but rather that I am lacking in it!

If I had it sufficiently, this would not be an issue, would it? :cry: I am still quite vexed and troubled with an aversion for actions that I have taken, which is from my shame of wrongdoing, and yet I am often too cowardly to handle myself in an unblameworthy way because I am beset by fear and arrogance that I cannot check easily. (I am seeing a doctor and I meditate for the former, the latter is something I have to work out with my therapist and meditation)

I do not have courage, thus by my cowardice and arrogance I often do not exercise proper restraint. Thus, I ask for help in cultivating what would be the solution to the problem, and the reason I push myself hard is that I recognize that there needs to be fervent zealous energy on my part to renounce the practice of lies, divisive, malicious, and unbeneficial speech. This is the chip on my shoulder that I need to try and overcome to relieve some of my suffering in the here and now.

While it is simple to say 'courage' and ' equanimity' and 'good will' would be simple solutions, actually applying them is difficult.

How do you overcome your fear?

I sense this as a danger coming from all sides. One one side there is the kamma that one gets from telling a deliberate lie, which is wholly blameworthy and leads to hell or problematic circumstances. On the other side there is the kamma for telling a truth that is nice for the listener but an unbeneficial one (Flattery) which is blameworthy, but it leads to concord with that person or positive relations, but it is ultimately based on deception. Then there is the kamma from telling a harsh beneficial truth at a proper time which is unblameworthy, but it is HARD and hurts relationships with others, it is divisive and leads to division at times. Then there is a nice beneficial truth at the proper time, which is easy for me to do. Then there is harsh unbeneficial untruths which I don't do. Then there's unbeneficial untruths that are pleasing to the listener ('white' lies). For me, telling a harsh beneficial truth at a proper time is more difficult than just telling a lie which is pleasing to the listener. While I do not wish to control others' reactions, I wish to control what kamma I commit so that I produce the least amount of harm for the least amount of people.

The delusion I have is that white lies and flattery lead to concord and unity, and superficially it does, but in reality it increases delusion all around. I also have the delusion that a harsh beneficial truth leads to divisiveness and is merely viewed as malicious speech. While superficially it may be viewed as such, in reality it isn't. This doesn't mean I am unmoved emotionally to fear by all of these things. Fear of wrongdoing which prevents me from just acting rightly.
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Modus.Ponens » Thu Nov 06, 2014 6:31 pm

Well, I think you are overthinking it, really. :) First and foremost, the truth. Then, you learn the timing of right speech with experience.

I think a good rule would be to save the truth for later if the truth may put someone in risk of being physically hurt, or die, or if it's really harsh emotionaly. Otherwise we can only learn the timing with experience. The 5 precepts are precepts, not rules. That's because following them involves ocasional mistakes. That's being human.

So summon the courage to tell the truth. Good people around you will apreciate that.
Just don't let people take advantage of that. You have to claim your right to not respond to things you find inconvenient. Otherwise, people will put you in a bad spot by asking all kinds of stuff.

Be well. :)
He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'
(Jhana Sutta - Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation)

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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wri » Thu Nov 06, 2014 9:40 pm

I agree with Modus.Ponens that you are overthinking this. You don't need to worry about this kamma or that kamma, or how every little detail interacts. These are concepts. They are constructions. The heart of the matter is indeed courage and practice. What are you doing by going over these concepts over and over, trying to have every detail just right? Creating fear, stress, and heavy burdens on the mind. More and more arrows being piled right up on top of the first arrow. You are trying to escape the bad kamma of lies and guilt, but create more bad kamma of fear in the process!

Alright, so let's simplify it down to three things: courage, mindfulness, and equanimity. Work on developing these; you don't necessarily need to work on them in relation to lying. Indeed, the lying here may be a symptom of other problems.

1. Courage. While it may seem counter-intuitive, courage can arise by not thinking about the outcome. Rather, focus on what you're doing. It seems here that you are confused on what the most virtuous action would be and get stuck on the outcome. Perhaps ask yourself, "what's the best that I can do here?" If it needs to be done, do it! It needs to be done! The more and more you learn to focus on what you're doing, and allowing yourself to do it, the easier it will become. The precepts are to "refrain" from certain things, not be punished to hell for breaking them! It takes practice. You'll get there :)

2. Mindfulness. Again, be aware of every moment the best you can. Your thoughts, feelings, and how they interact. This will help you gain wisdom on what thoughts lead to other thoughts, feelings, and actions.

3. Equanimity. Try looking for the middle ground. Am I too attached to the pleasant? Am I too averse to the unpleasant? What can I do right now to find peace between these? Return to the breath for a moment. Let yourself feel the feeling. Notice it until it naturally vanishes. Notice what remains: peace.

Just keep trying your best. You will get there! You've started, that's good enough. Keep it up :jumping:
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by SarathW » Thu Nov 06, 2014 10:07 pm

:goodpost: Wri

ie: Control your action. Result will look after it self. :)
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by lonewolf » Fri Nov 07, 2014 4:38 am

I think what you are asking for is a practical advice. You already know what the right speech is, and others gave you the advice along those lines so I am not going to bother to repeat that which you already know. Techniques I find very helpful in curbing the loose tongue. Never miss a good opportunity to shut up. Speak only when absolutely necessary. Keep silent, this is not as hard to do as it seems. Enjoy being quiet. Realize, it's not essential to voice your opinion, as you know like some other things everybody has got one. We have two ears, and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. Apply 3 seconds pause before you speak, never say the first thing that comes to your mind, in other words give yourself some room for reason to evaluate what you are about to say. Don't try to be witty, that's a mind's silly game, don't engage in it. Most of all remember words have a lot of power, unskillful speech can cause you a lot of suffering. In short an once of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Talking a bunch is for lightweights anyhoo. I know this was me attempting to be witty. See what I mean? :tongue:

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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wizard in the Forest » Fri Nov 07, 2014 4:19 pm

This sounds to me like good advice, as sometimes just not answering is a better thing to do in these instances.


The question is... are lies of omission in line with Dhamma? :shrug: :thinking:
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Re: Right Speech and abstaining from Lies (Advice)

Post by Wri » Fri Nov 07, 2014 6:21 pm

Yes, they clearly are as the Buddha refused to answer certain questions. Further, it is not the fact that you lied or withheld information, but your intention behind doing so. Pure intentions lead to good kamma. The precepts are meant to have you refrain from certain things, so you don't go around heedlessly killing, lying, stealing, drinking, and having harmful sex. You're not really gaining "hell points" for breaking them. It's just about your state of mind. If you refrain from lying, but can't help but lie every now and then, you still have your pure intention. Your mind is still protected. What is damaging is the guilt we feel over breaking a precept here and there as this defiles our mind further. So practice, and gradually improve. This is the best we can do as humans.

This is how I have learned the Dhamma. Perhaps it doesn't fall in line with certain traditions. But it has brought me a lot of peace. Best wishes :anjali:
Keep your mind steady and rest within the winds of experience.
May I show unconditional love to all beings.

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