The Great Jhana Debate

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
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aflatun
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Re: Monks Average Meditation Routine

Post by aflatun » Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:43 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 2:09 am

You seem to have missed my observation that a number of EBT enthusiasts (Analayo, Sujato, Brahm, etc) have a definition of jhana, derived from the suttas, that is similar in depth to the VM definition (not being able to hear when in jhana, and so on).
I'm not nit picking you Mike, just sharing my current thoughts on this. Perhaps the notion that depth = intensity of cognitive black out at the five "external" senses is itself a problematic measuring stick to use.

What I find hard to swallow (I'll be honest, unbelievable actually) is the notion that the pinnacle of the path is a trance that is attainable with sufficient proficiency at manipulation of one's mental continuum, e.g. a technique devoid of insight. In the suttas we see, I think, different things leading to jhana, including faith, reflection on the dhamma, brahmaviharas, and some insight-type contemplations, the latter seemingly taking one as far as the 7th.
Aneñja-sappaya Sutta wrote:"Then again, the disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'Sensuality here & now; sensuality in lives to come; sensual perceptions here & now; sensual perceptions in lives to come; forms here & now; forms in lives to come; form-perceptions here & now; form-perceptions in lives to come; perceptions of the imperturbable: all are perceptions. Where they cease without remainder: that is peaceful, that is exquisite, i.e., the dimension of nothingness.' Practicing & frequently abiding in this way, his mind acquires confidence in that dimension. There being full confidence, he either attains the dimension of nothingness now or else is committed to discernment. With the break-up of the body, after death, it's possible that this leading-on consciousness of his will go to the dimension of nothingness. This is declared to be the first practice conducive to the dimension of nothingness.

"Then again, the disciple of the noble ones, having gone into the wilderness, to the root of a tree, or into an empty dwelling, considers this: 'This is empty of self or of anything pertaining to self.' Practicing & frequently abiding in this way, his mind acquires confidence in that dimension. There being full confidence, he either attains the dimension of nothingness now or else is committed to discernment. With the break-up of the body, after death, it's possible that this leading-on consciousness of his will go to the dimension of nothingness. This is declared to be the second practice conducive to the dimension of nothingness.

"Then again, the disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'I am not anyone's anything anywhere; nor is anything of mine in anyone anywhere.' Practicing & frequently abiding in this way, his mind acquires confidence in that dimension. There being full confidence, he either attains the dimension of nothingness now or else is committed to discernment. With the break-up of the body, after death, it's possible that this leading-on consciousness of his will go to the dimension of nothingness. This is declared to be the third practice conducive to the dimension of nothingness.
MN 106

Can insight, and understanding, lead to jhana, rather than only the other way around? My current understanding is, yes.


This is not likely to be persuasive to anyone on a theravada board, so I hesitate to even say it, but in Chan and Tibetan Buddhism absorptive trances, while having their uses, are considered inferior to other approaches which emphasize the conjunction of insight and samadhi in the context of all six senses being wide open. We get the impression that "meditation" is not about modulating experience but rather about penetrating experience. Of course this is sometimes couched in obnoxious supercessionist rhetoric (e.g. this approach is superior to the hinayana absorptions) but perhaps those "hinayana absorptions" where never even that to begin with...

Or we might consider this off the wall idea from Ven. N. Nanamoli
In other words, by understanding what jhāna is, one enters it, not by performing a set of prescribed motions that somehow make it “happen” to one.
I don't pretend to have any definite answers here, just thinking out loud. Thanks for listening!
Last edited by aflatun on Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Mkoll
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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by Mkoll » Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:44 am

Just replace "mental process" in what I said earlier with "mechanism of the mind" and you have my answer:
Mkoll wrote:I read the texts as saying that right concentration (sammasamadhi), i.e. the 4 jhanas, is distinctly Buddhist because it is dependent upon the other limbs of the path—see MN 117. The means by which the mind does or experiences anything can be seen as a mental process, so saying jhana is a mental process is essentially a meaningless statement.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:02 am

Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:44 am
[...]
Āḷāra Kālāma was one of the Buddha's teachers before he discovered the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha left because what he taught was only the base of nothingness, which is reached only past (or part of) the fourth jhāna.

How is it possible that a non-Buddhist—and even more so, when "Buddhism" didn't even exist—was able to reach all four jhānas?
MN 26 wrote:Bhikkhus, before my enlightenment, while I was still only an unenlightened Bodhisatta, I too, being myself subject to birth, sought what was also subject to birth; being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I sought what was also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement. Then I considered thus: ‘Why, being myself subject to birth, do I seek what is also subject to birth? Why, being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, do I seek what is also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement? Suppose that, being myself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, I seek the unborn supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna. Suppose that, being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, having understood the danger in what is subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I seek the unageing, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna.’
[..]
“I considered: ‘It is not through mere faith alone that Āḷāra Kālāma declares: “By realising for myself with direct knowledge, I enter upon and abide in this Dhamma.” Certainly Āḷāra Kālāma abides knowing and seeing this Dhamma.’ Then I went to Āḷāra Kālāma and asked him: ‘Friend Kālāma, in what way do you declare that by realising for yourself with direct knowledge you enter upon and abide in this Dhamma?’ In reply he declared the base of nothingness.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by Mkoll » Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:32 am

samseva wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:02 am
the base of nothingness, which is reached only past (or part of) the fourth jhāna.
Just because the Buddhist texts teach the way to the formless attainments via the jhanas, doesn't mean that's the only way one can attain them. If someone gives you directions on how to get from New York to Chicago, that doesn't mean that's the only way to get from New York to Chicago.

And they never say that the formless attainments are "part of" the fourth jhana.
How is it possible that a non-Buddhist—and even more so, when "Buddhism" didn't even exist—was able to reach all four jhānas?
Where does it say a non-Buddhist reached all four jhanas?
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

Saengnapha
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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by Saengnapha » Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:51 am

Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:44 am
Just replace "mental process" in what I said earlier with "mechanism of the mind" and you have my answer:
Mkoll wrote:I read the texts as saying that right concentration (sammasamadhi), i.e. the 4 jhanas, is distinctly Buddhist because it is dependent upon the other limbs of the path—see MN 117. The means by which the mind does or experiences anything can be seen as a mental process, so saying jhana is a mental process is essentially a meaningless statement.
How can jhana be anything other than a mental process? It is still in the subject object realm and is not the cause of cessation.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:04 am

Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:32 am
samseva wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:02 am
the base of nothingness, which is reached only past (or part of) the fourth jhāna.
Just because the Buddhist texts teach the way to the formless attainments via the jhanas, doesn't mean that's the only way one can attain them. If someone gives you directions on how to get from New York to Chicago, that doesn't mean that's the only way to get from New York to Chicago.

And they never say that the formless attainments are "part of" the fourth jhana.
How is it possible that a non-Buddhist—and even more so, when "Buddhism" didn't even exist—was able to reach all four jhānas?
Where does it say a non-Buddhist reached all four jhanas?
In the same Sutta, bottom of the page:
MN 26 wrote:“Again, with the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the fourth jhāna, which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra…

“Again, with the complete surmounting of perceptions of form, with the disappearance of perceptions of sensory impact, with non-attention to perceptions of diversity, aware that ‘space is infinite,’ a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of infinite space. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra…

“Again, by completely surmounting the base of infinite space, aware that ‘consciousness is infinite,’ a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of infinite consciousness. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra…

“Again, by completely surmounting the base of infinite consciousness, aware that ‘there is nothing,’ a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of nothingness. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra…

“Again, by completely surmounting the base of nothingness, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra, to have become invisible to the Evil One by depriving Māra’s eye of its opportunity.[/b]

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by Mkoll » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:16 am

Saengnapha wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:51 am
Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:44 am
Just replace "mental process" in what I said earlier with "mechanism of the mind" and you have my answer:
Mkoll wrote:I read the texts as saying that right concentration (sammasamadhi), i.e. the 4 jhanas, is distinctly Buddhist because it is dependent upon the other limbs of the path—see MN 117. The means by which the mind does or experiences anything can be seen as a mental process, so saying jhana is a mental process is essentially a meaningless statement.
How can jhana be anything other than a mental process? It is still in the subject object realm and is not the cause of cessation.
I'm not denying that jhana is a mental process. I'm saying it's brought about via a specific set of conditions, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is only taught by a Buddha. Therefore, it is distinctly Buddhist.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:18 am

Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:16 am
I'm not denying that jhana is a mental process. I'm saying it's brought about via a specific set of conditions, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is only taught by a Buddha. Therefore, it is distinctly Buddhist.
I think you are confusing sammā-samādhi and jhānas. Yes, sammā-samādhi is Buddhist and is conjoined to the other factors of the path. Sammā-samādhi is also defined as the jhānas.

However, in no way does that mean that jhānas and samādhi are in and of themselves "Buddhist." They both are simply functions/mental processes of the mind. The Buddha didn't invent jhānas or samādhi. Jhānas were practiced by many Jains and ascetics even before the Buddha.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:22 am

Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:16 am
I'm not denying that jhana is a mental process. I'm saying it's brought about via a specific set of conditions, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is only taught by a Buddha. Therefore, it is distinctly Buddhist.
The Eightfold Path is not a prerequisite for jhāna. You made that up.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by Mkoll » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:23 am

samseva wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:04 am
Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:32 am
samseva wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:02 am
the base of nothingness, which is reached only past (or part of) the fourth jhāna.
Just because the Buddhist texts teach the way to the formless attainments via the jhanas, doesn't mean that's the only way one can attain them. If someone gives you directions on how to get from New York to Chicago, that doesn't mean that's the only way to get from New York to Chicago.

And they never say that the formless attainments are "part of" the fourth jhana.
How is it possible that a non-Buddhist—and even more so, when "Buddhism" didn't even exist—was able to reach all four jhānas?
Where does it say a non-Buddhist reached all four jhanas?
In the same Sutta, bottom of the page:
MN 26 wrote:“Again, with the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the fourth jhāna, which has neither-pain-nor-pleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra…

“Again, with the complete surmounting of perceptions of form, with the disappearance of perceptions of sensory impact, with non-attention to perceptions of diversity, aware that ‘space is infinite,’ a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of infinite space. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra…

“Again, by completely surmounting the base of infinite space, aware that ‘consciousness is infinite,’ a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of infinite consciousness. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra…

“Again, by completely surmounting the base of infinite consciousness, aware that ‘there is nothing,’ a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of nothingness. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra…

“Again, by completely surmounting the base of nothingness, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. This bhikkhu is said to have blindfolded Māra, to have become invisible to the Evil One by depriving Māra’s eye of its opportunity.[/b]
He's teaching and talking to bhikkhus, i.e. disciples of the Buddha, i.e. Buddhists.

Again, where does it say a non-Buddhist reached all four jhanas?
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:31 am

Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:23 am
Again, where does it say a non-Buddhist reached all four jhanas?
The stock passage (not only MN 26) of the formless attainments is described as first passing through the first jhāna to the fourth jhāna. The fourth jhāna is considered the foundation for the formless attainments (hence, why they are sometimes considered part of the fourth rather than individual jhānas in and of themselves). Āḷāra KālāmaI based his understanding on the base on nothingness. The Buddha hadn't yet discovered the Four Noble Truths and "Buddhism" didn't even exist.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by Mkoll » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:37 am

samseva wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:18 am
Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:16 am
I'm not denying that jhana is a mental process. I'm saying it's brought about via a specific set of conditions, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is only taught by a Buddha. Therefore, it is distinctly Buddhist.
I think you are confusing sammā-samādhi and jhānas. Yes, sammā-samādhi is Buddhist and is conjoined to the other factors of the path. Sammā-samādhi is also defined as the jhānas.

However, in no way does that mean that jhānas and samādhi are in and of themselves "Buddhist." They both are simply functions/mental processes of the mind. The Buddha didn't invent jhānas or samādhi. Jhānas were practiced by many Jains and ascetics even before the Buddha.
You say sammasamadhi is equivalent to jhana. And then you say Jains and ascetics practice jhana. So that means you think Jains and ascetics have sammasamadhi then?

:rolleye:
samseva wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:22 am
Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:16 am
I'm not denying that jhana is a mental process. I'm saying it's brought about via a specific set of conditions, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is only taught by a Buddha. Therefore, it is distinctly Buddhist.
The Eightfold Path is not a prerequisite for jhāna. You made that up.
Sorry, I meant to say "the preceding limbs of the Noble Eightfold Path." Sammasamadhi depends upon them.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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samseva
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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by samseva » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:40 am

Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:37 am
samseva wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:18 am
Mkoll wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:16 am
I'm not denying that jhana is a mental process. I'm saying it's brought about via a specific set of conditions, namely the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is only taught by a Buddha. Therefore, it is distinctly Buddhist.
I think you are confusing sammā-samādhi and jhānas. Yes, sammā-samādhi is Buddhist and is conjoined to the other factors of the path. Sammā-samādhi is also defined as the jhānas.

However, in no way does that mean that jhānas and samādhi are in and of themselves "Buddhist." They both are simply functions/mental processes of the mind. The Buddha didn't invent jhānas or samādhi. Jhānas were practiced by many Jains and ascetics even before the Buddha.
You say sammasamadhi is equivalent to jhana. And then you say Jains and ascetics practice jhana. So that means you think Jains and ascetics have sammasamadhi then?

:rolleye:
Yes. Why is this difficult to understand?

Jhānas were there before Right Concentration (sammā-samādhi).
The Buddha created/defined Right Concentration (sammā-samādhi).
The Buddha defined Right Concentration (sammā-samādhi) as being the four jhānas.

And :rolleye: yourself.

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Re: The Great Jhana Debate

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:51 am

samseva wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:17 am
Sutta jhāna is what is described in the Suttas (obviously). This is still deep concentration where sounds and other external perceptions aren't present—but it isn't 1 in one million meditators who can reach jhāna, like described by Buddhaghosa regarding Visudhimagga jhānas. From this, I consider Sutta jhānas being like how you have been describing jhānas with Ven. Anālayo, Ajahn Brahm and Sujato, Zom, Sylvester and so on. I have no idea why Leigh Brasington classed the Sutta-style jhāna of Ajahn Brahm in Visuddhimagga-style jhānas—which is in itself contradictory.
Oh, OK. But the "sutta jhanas" in Leigh's list sound much lighter than the jhanas described by Ven. Anālayo, Ajahn Brahm and Sujato, Zom, Sylvester and so on. And I've heard recordings of Thanissaro Bhikkhu where he makes jokes like: "Some people accuse me of teaching jhana lite." He certainly doesn't subscribe to the definition where external perceptions are not present.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes the absorption in the Jhanas as not so total that one loses awareness of the body: "To be in Jhana is to be absorbed, very pleasurably, in the sense of the whole body altogether." He instructs his students to practice insight meditation while still in the jhanic state - again as described in MN 111 - One by One as They Occurred. See his article The Path of Concentration and Mindfulness.
Contrast with:
Ajahn Brahmavamso is a Theravadan Buddhist monk who lives in Western Australia. He studied extensively with Ajahn Chah in Thailand as well as in other places before settling in Australia. His definition of exactly what constituted a Jhana seems close to the depths indicated in the Visuddhimagga, but he says he teaches from the suttas and from his experience. His essays The Basic Method of Meditation and Travelogue to the four Jhanas outline his Jhana teaching. The primary access method he teaches is Anapanasati, which he refers to as "experiencing the 'beautiful breath'." His main emphasis is about the attitude of not getting the 'doer' or 'craving' or 'will' involved. He emphasizes finding happiness and joy in stillness. His main teachings are now to 'make peace, be kind & be gentle' which are the right intentions of the Noble Eightfold Path. So no matter what method or object of meditation one uses, one has to make sure to have the 'right intentions' of it. His dharma talks here explain this in more detail.
Since I'm not an expert on jhana, I don't know what the "correct" definition is. I really have no vested interest in this, beyond pointing out that different teachers have very different definitions, and that, therefore, the term "sutta jhana" is essentially meaningless (or, to be charitable, the meaning is dependent on the particular teacher).

:heart:
Mike

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Re: Monks Average Meditation Routine

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Oct 21, 2017 6:00 am

aflatun wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:43 am
mikenz66 wrote:
Sat Oct 21, 2017 2:09 am

You seem to have missed my observation that a number of EBT enthusiasts (Analayo, Sujato, Brahm, etc) have a definition of jhana, derived from the suttas, that is similar in depth to the VM definition (not being able to hear when in jhana, and so on).
I'm not nit picking you Mike, just sharing my current thoughts on this. Perhaps the notion that depth = intensity of cognitive black out at the five "external" senses is itself a problematic measuring stick to use.

What I find hard to swallow (I'll be honest, unbelievable actually) is the notion that the pinnacle of the path is a trance that is attainable with sufficient proficiency at manipulation of one's mental continuum, e.g. a technique devoid of insight. In the suttas we see, I think, different things leading to jhana, including faith, reflection on the dhamma, brahmaviharas, and some insight-type contemplations, the latter seemingly taking one as far as the 7th.
...
Well, again, speaking as a non-expert, the "deep jhana" teachers say that it is impossible to do insight in jhana, and that those that interpret, for example, MN111, as saying that have a poor understanding of Pali tenses. [Again, I'm no expert, but I will say that the same tense issue applies in some arguments about nibbana.]

I don't think those that subscribe to a deep-jhana model (the teachers mentioned above, and the Theravada commentaries such as the Visudhimagga) would say that jhana is "the pinnacle of the path. They would, instead, say that the purpose of attaining the jhanas is to purify the mind (from hindrances such as lust). After emerging from jhana the mind is in a suitable state for the insights that lead to final liberation.

:heart:
Mike

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