I’m gonna start compiling some of my frequently asked questions (FAQ) and maybe someday someone with some technical expertise can help me assemble them into a page I can just refer people to when these questions come up.
I’m often asked how to become a Zen monk/priest/nun. My book Hardcore Zen tells the story of how I did it. So I’ll let you read that book for that answer. I think what most people want to know when they ask this is how a randomly selected Western person (generally an American) can get some sort of Zen credentials.
First off, the words “monk” “priest” and “nun” come from the Catholicism and do not really fit with the Zen tradition. Some Western Zen schools try to make them fit. But generally speaking a so-called “Zen monk” does some of the things a Catholic priest does, some of the things a Catholic monk/nun does, some of the things a Protestant minister does, and lots of things none of those people do. For the sake of answering this question, I’m going to use the word “monk.” Remember that in Zen, a monk can be female or male and that, in Japanese style Zen, there is no vow of celibacy involved (at least not usually, see below).
Currently, as far as I know, there are no seminaries or seminary-like institutions for Zen monks anywhere outside of Asia. That is to say, there are no institutions I am aware of that will accept students who want to do a university-style course of study at the end of which they will receive accreditation as a Zen monk. Nor is there anything along the lines of the Universal Life Church or other similar Internet-based organizations where you can get a quick, cheap (or free) Zen ordination.
There are, however, a few Zen institutions in the USA that you can join who offer training that may or may not lead to ordination. The only one I have any familiarity with at all is the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC). However, I am not part of SFZC, so I cannot speak for them officially. I only know what I’ve observed and heard. In the Soto Zen tradition, I believe that Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, Shasta Abbey in California, and the Minneapolis Zen Meditation Center may offer similar programs. Shohaku Okumura at Sanshinji in Bloomington, Indiana has a priest training program. Maybe Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico has a priest training program, I’m not sure. In the Rinzai Zen tradition, I think maybe Rinzai-ji in Los Angeles has a priest/monk training program. There are probably others as well.
My understanding of how it works at SFZC goes something like this. First you need to go to to one SFZC’s three centers (City Center, Green Gulch and Tassajara) and find out if any teacher there is willing to give you the Buddhist precepts (jukai) as a lay person. There will probably be some requirements you’ll need to fulfill in order to do this, such as courses you’re required to take and things you’ll need to purchase and make (like Zen robes, meal bowls, etc.). Maybe you’ll have to sit a sesshin or two. Once you have received the precepts as a lay person, let your teacher know that you’d like to train as a priest (I think that’s what they call it there).
To become a priest through SFZC, you will almost certainly be required to spend a few practice periods at Tassajara, SFZC’s residential monastic center in Carmel Valley. Practice periods, also known as ango, generally last about 90 days, during which you will have to live at Tassajara. You’ll be required to get up every morning at 3:50 am, follow the full monastic schedule, and do lots of duties intended to teach you how to perform the functions of a Zen priest. I don’t think any of SFZC’s teachers would ordain you as a priest after your first practice period, so be prepared to do several of them over the course of a few years.
This does not guarantee you’ll be ordained as a priest. It’s not like going to a university where, as long as you maintain a C average, you’ll get your degree. A lot depends on how your teacher feels about your training. She may feel so great about you that she’s willing to ordain you after a year. But that’s highly unlikely.
Different SFZC teachers have different requirements. For example, from what I’ve heard, Reb Anderson requires all his priest-training students to live at Green Gulch Farm with him for five years, during which time they are expected to remain celibate. Even if you do so, it’s still not guaranteed he will ordain you. He may feel you’re not ready even after all of that, and that’s his call to make.
Once you’re in at your chosen institution, there will probably be a series of ranks to go through. This Wikipedia page is pretty detailed and reliable in terms of explaining what the standard ranking procedure is and what is usually required to attain the various ranks. SFZC and Rinzai-ji follow pretty much the standard Soto and Rinzai versions of this system respectively. There are variations, though.
The other institutions I mentioned probably run their priest training programs in a similar way.
If you don’t like the institutional route, there are a few of what we might call “rogue Zen teachers” out there who do things differently. My teacher Gudo Nishijima Roshi was one of those, as was Kobun Chino Roshi. They’re both dead now, but some of their students may ordain you in ways that do not follow the usual curriculum. Although this might sound easier, there is even more of the whimsical quality to these types of ordinations than there is in the institution-based ones.
For example, I have ordained five priests. In each case, I had known the people I ordained for several years. They proved to me over those years that they were committed to the practice and capable of handling themselves in a way that would not cause me to regret having ordained them. I do not have any plans to ordain anyone else. It’s possible I may change my mind if I get to know someone well enough. That would take a long time, though and you’d have to show me very clearly that I would not end up looking like an idiot for ordaining you. I certainly do not plan on making a business of ordaining people on a large scale.
Any other “rogue Zen teachers” out there would probably have a similar approach. It’s a kind of apprenticeship system. You’d have to spend a lot of time working with such a teacher before s/he’d be willing to ordain you. There would probably be no set curriculum. What’s required could change at a moment’s notice and there would be no guarantee that simply completing the curriculum – if there even is one – would necessarily result in priest ordination.
Another way to become a Zen priest would be to go to Japan and enter one of the training monasteries over there, such as Eihei-ji or Soji-ji. This is really, really hard to do. You’d have to live in Japan and speak Japanese. The requirements are very strict and the ranking system is much more rigid. Muho at Antaiji wrote a terrific article on how the standard Japanese system works in the Soto school.
There are also “rogue Zen teachers” here and there in Japan who might ordain you in a non-standard way and may even accept you with little or no ability to speak Japanese. Good luck finding one of them. I can’t help you there.
There are a few of alternatives that aren’t exactly Zen priest training programs but may be close enough depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. You might look into the Buddhist chaplaincy program run by University of the West in Los Angeles. They’re not strictly a Zen Buddhist institution but I think maybe you can do a Zen version of the chaplaincy thing. You can ask them. You can also look into getting a Master of Divinity degree from Naropa University. That’s a Tibetan Buddhist organization, not Zen, but they tend to like Zen. Noah Levine’s Against the Stream organization offers meditation facilitator training. They’re in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, which is somewhat similar to Zen. A meditation facilitator is not the same as a priest or monk, but maybe it would work for you depending, again, on what you’re trying to do.
That’s it as far as I know. I hope this helps. Best of luck and ganbatte!
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Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
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Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
* * *
I won’t ordain you for sending me a donation but it will help me pay my rend and keep doing these FAQ things. They’ll be sent to my landlord. Thank you very much!
There’s a new comment policy: http://hardcorezen.info/why-is-my-comment-not-showing-up
Brad, it’s great that you can keep body and soul together with the donations that come in to your blog, and I admire the way you have allowed the comment thread to run its own course, even when you oftentimes felt that the conversation didn’t involve you.
mtto, I see your comment:
“You are allowed one link. If you require more than one link, please get your own blog and link to that instead. Comments must be a minimum of 60 characters and a maximum of 5,000 characters. If you require more than 5,000 characters, please get your own blog and link to that post in the comments. This blog is not tightly moderated, but if your comment is hate speech, off topic, or your jokes aren’t funny, the management may take down your previously posted comment. If you don’t like it, please get your own blog.”
You are one of the folks Brad has ordained, I realize that; I also realize from your comments on the thread lately that you feel much of what appears in the comment thread is a questioning of the faith that you feel is an essential part of Zen.
I’m guessing that you ran your “lightly moderated” ideas by Brad, and Brad said “what you feel it is now time for, Sariputta, that must you do”, or words to that effect. I’d sure that when you threw in “or your jokes aren’t funny”, you meant it as a joke.
Also, when you say, “if you don’t like it, please get your own blog”- I realize it’s Brad’s ball, but who gets hurt if you take it and go home?
“I also realize from your comments on the thread lately that you feel much of what appears in the comment thread is a questioning of the faith that you feel is an essential part of Zen.”
Mark, your realization about the way I feel is wrong.
Frequently, when a comment is automatically held for having too many links, or being marked as spam by wordpress for some other reason, Brad will get emails or Facebook messages complaining of censorship. Now there is a notice on the site: you can be censored for any stupid reason. You probably won’t be. If your comment doesn’t go through, or disappears, your civil rights haven’t been violated so don’t be such a cry baby.
I’ve been looking forward to this day. Let’s call it Cry Baby Day, babe!
Haha, religious folk always end up homogenizing their blogs.
Don’t worry, your jokes are funny!
Emperor Wu of Liang asked the great master Bodhidharma, “What is the first principle of the holy teaching?”
Bodhidharma said, “Vast emptiness, nothing holy.0123456789012345678901234567890 ”
The Emperor asked, “Who stands before me?”
Bodhidharma said, “I don’t know.45678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890”
The Emperor did not understand. Bodhidharma then crossed the Yangtze River and went on to the kingdom of Wei.
When he went to Wei did he go by Wu Wei?
Similarly, if a man or women desires to become a Zen monk/priest/nun, etc., do they go by Wu Wei? Or, do they merely change clothes?
Does the desiring to become a Zen monk/priest/nun get in the Way of holding the hand of the Absolute?
One time I was standing on a bridge over the Sengawa River, when all of a sudden I felt what I use to call myself, slip away. It was like everything opened up
and there was a huge vastness. My everyday self wasn’t there. Just the bright sky, and the joy of aliveness.
Just a little throw up in
my mouth. What to do?
Enlightenment isn’t porn, nor is its description.
Although from this side, one may take a position.
When there is just a little throw up, swallow.
Morpheus: I imagine that right now you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole?
Neo: You could say that.
Morpheus: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he’s expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: ‘Cause I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Accepting what you see, because you expect to wake up, is ironically not far from the truth. Is it?
The truth is that the bridge is flowing, and the water is still.
“When the buddha-tathÄgatas, each having received the one-to-one
transmission of the splendid Dharma, experience the supreme state of bodhi, they possess a subtle method that is supreme and WÃº wÃ©i (ç„¡ç‚º)”
[dress code: optional]
“The Sage is occupied with the unspoken
and acts without effort.
Teaching without verbosity,
producing without possessing,
creating without regard to result,
the Sage has nothing to lose. [between 61 and 4999 chars, ed.]”
Years of training is meaningful. If it wasn’t meaningful no one would do it. Meaning is the only thing that is required and acquired.
That’s exactly why years of training may or many not result in anything.
0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000 0000000000
“One should learn the backward step of turning light and letting it shine”
Thankyou Mr. Cross for this translation with a slightly different description.
Does it fit what happens to one standing on a bridge over a river, or to others in different circumstances.
mtto, thanks for the clarification.
I see there’s a FAQ tab now in the navigation, with all Brad’s favorite questions.
I guess I was confused by your remarks on the previous thread:
“Most of the commenters here are not Buddhists. Many of them are proud they aren’t Buddhists. If you’ve left Buddhism, then you’ve left what Brad is doing, and joined what the commenters are doing.”
I take the implication to be that what Brad is doing is Buddhism. Wouldn’t you say that it’s a matter of faith on your part, that what Brad is doing is Buddhism? Are you are indicating that you feel that such faith is essential, in your practice of zazen?
Has the comment thread left what Brad is doing, are we doing something other than what Brad is doing- I kinda thought we were on the same team.
“I take the implication to be that what Brad is doing is Buddhism. Wouldn’t you say that it’s a matter of faith on your part, that what Brad is doing is Buddhism?”
Is Brad’s pantheist panpsychism compatible with or the same as Zen and/or Buddhism?
Is syncretic Buddhism still Buddhism?
Is this more than 60 characters?
Shinchan, I don’t know if it will help with the tobacco cravings, but found a better article on the non-cheesy IMAO-B’s, here.
Does the licorice have Buddha-nature, or not; turns out the powdered green tea that is intrinsic to the tea cermony certainly does.
““Most of the commenters here are not Buddhists. Many of them are proud they aren’t Buddhists. If you’ve left Buddhism, then you’ve left what Brad is doing, and joined what the commenters are doing.”
I was a Buddhist in 1968, and I am practicing Buddhism now.
It’s not the Buddhism of reincarnation or karma. Those are both illusions. It is not the Buddhism of beliefs. Those are illusions. It is not the Buddhism of attachment to exterior form.
The bridge is flowing; the river is still.
There is no bridge.
There is no river.
There is no spoon.
“These two directions, lit. “with and against the hair,” i.e, with and against the flow, or with and against the grain, ironically, might both be relevant in Dogen’s backward step of turning light around and letting it shine.
Which is to say that the backward step sounds like an effort to oppose habitual end-gaining, which it is. It is an effort of turning the light of attention around and in, away from external objects (paá¹ilomaá¹). But at the same time this backward step includes a letting out, an allowing of light to shine outwards, or to reflect back out (anulomaá¹). ”
Thanks for the licorice, Mark.
ripples where the light strikes empty
wei wu wei wu wei
elastic collisions cause no friction
the wheel spins either way
“the most likely candidates were Amur Cork tree, Licorice, Psoralea Fruit and Bakuchi.” … I can get my hands on the licorice, at least 🙂
Cause and effect cannot be ignored by nonduality. Sometimes the backward step turns the light around; sometimes the MAO inhibitor turns the light off.
“Excessive consumption of liquorice or liquorice candy is known to be toxic to the liver and cardiovascular system, and may produce hypertension and oedema”
There is a type of licorice called DGL (deglycyrrhizinated) that is supposed to eliminate the blood pressure issue with regular licorice.
I have no idea if it retains all the benefits of regular licorice.
Thanks, Alan- that’s a hard one to find info on. The Armstrong site had some information, but nothing in particular about MAO inhibition with DGL (http://www.livestrong.com/article/466533-what-are-the-dangers-of-dgl-licorice/)
I did correspond today with someone who experiences high blood pressure on ingesting licorice, I guess that’s not uncommon with the untreated form.
I’m going with macha, for my MAO-B inhibition. “Whisk me another cup of macha, for it is the best in the land; put another nickle in the jukebox, and play that bum-sitter’s song.”
Sorry to hear about your crappy time quitting smoking. My wife and I have been adjusting our diet, as you may have read a while back, and part of the focus for that adjustment has been directed towards mental health. We both drank alcohol, coffee and smoked, and knew we had to have a long-term plan to avoid as much of the hangovers on our brain chemistry as we could. My wife in particular has issues which she will most likey be managing for the rest of her life and which leave her particularly vulnerable to pmt and so we had to be really careful about removing the unhealthy crutches.
I mention my wife because the difference the diet adjustment has made, we believe, has been quite significant in helping her to self-regulate and to maintain the therapeutic practices designed to help her do so. Indeed, before we decided to cut out the majority of our meat eating, we implemented certain dietary changes first which we thought would help as a buffer when stopping the other three crutches, which I’d like to share with you and which we believe has helped. (We both no longer drink alcohol or coffee, my wife has quit smoking completely! and wimpy me is down to no more than 3 very skinny roll ups per day, each of which I put out before halfway smoked (pat on back warning noted)).
Here’s the regimen, which I give in case there’s anything extra in it that’s worth considering.
1. At tea time we prepare a cup each, which have lids which we can place in the fridge for the following morning,which contain:
– 2g of organic amla powder, with just 6 strands of organic saffron, mixed together with raw honey and half an organic lemon and the grated peel shavings. We drink this with a splash of beet juice soon after we get up. And prepare the same to drink about 30-45 mins before our evening meal. Saffron has been shown to act as an antidepressant, amongst other things, and to regulate the menstrual cycle.
2. Just before we eat breakfast and evening meal we also prepare another cup which contains:
– 0.75g of turmeric with a pinch (about 0.10g) of black pepper. I heat some water to 70C and add a splash of that to the turmeric and pepper, before adding a generous teaspoon of coconut oil to the heated mixture and shake it up.
While the turmeric doesn’t dissolve in water, I’ve read that heating the turmeric to about that temp. helps with the bioavailability of curcumin, which dissolves in the oil. The pepper prevents most of the curcumin being broken down in the liver and dramatically increases the levels of curcumin that gets to the brain. We worked up gradually to our daily dose of turmeric, just in case it had some adverse effects. We add a splash of tomato juice for taste.
– for our pre-meal version of the turmeric drink we add a clove of garlic which we grate and allow to stand for 15mins for the all-important allicin to be produced and add a little extra tomato juice. This can be a bit yuck at first, but I’ve found that knocking it all right back and washing down with some warm water makes this a breeze, now. Gargling and rinsing the mouth and brushing our teeth with just water afterwards also helps with any bad breath effect.
3. For breakfast we combine fruit (blackberries/blueberries) milled flaxseed, walnuts, porridge oats, a brazil nut, with a level teaspoon of organic Ceylon (true) nutmeg (not the other kind, which has some negative indications for regular ingestion) and a mixture of almond milk and water.
4. Instead of coffee, we brew up some Sencha loose leaf green tea and also have that as our after meal beverage (or some Puerh – great for digestion and also breaks down some naughty fats). My wife believes replacing the coffee with green tea and also lemongrass & ginger tea during the day has helped to reduce cravings and also other emotional spikes. The green tea famously stimulates but also sedates, as you might already be aware of.
I’ve also found that drinking a glass of water with the onset, or in anticipation, of any craving, helps too.
5. My wife also takes some almond nuts and dates with her to nibble on during the day, the dates helping with the constipation, but both being good for cigarette-free teat times of touching base and reflection with a cuppa cha.
6. Vitamins B12 and D3
This might all be a load of snakeoil bulllshit, but at the very least, the commitment and the rituals involved (which we make a point of treating as quiet, ordinary intimate habits) in maintaining this spine of dietary adjustment have been beneficial, for obvious reasons, and we’re always checking out the latest info, in case what we’re doing is counter-indicated in any way.
I hope this provides some worthwhile thought for food for thought, at least.
“This might all be a load of snakeoil bulllshit, but at the very least, the commitment and the rituals involved (which we make a point of treating as quiet, ordinary intimate habits) in maintaining this spine of dietary adjustment have been beneficial, for obvious reasons, and we’re always checking out the latest info, in case what we’re doing is counter-indicated in any way.”
I would imagine that you could go through each supplement and find the specific effect at the neurochemical level.
“in maintaining this spine of dietary adjustment have been beneficial, for obvious reasons” Really, how so at the molecular level?
“Really, how so at the molecular level?”
I wrote that “the commitment and the rituals involved” were beneficial. I wasn’t talking about the molecular level.
“both being good for cigarette-free teat times” now, now – I meant treat! Although teat times do help me, too.
‘“both being good for cigarette-free teat times” now, now — I meant treat! Although teat times do help me, too.’
I’ll bet they do.
Thanks Andy, and others. These comments have been helpful, so glad I shared my constipation with y’all 🙂
I’m psyching myself up for my next (and final, Guanyin willing) renunciation of tobacco, in a couple of weeks. I’ll stock up on all the suggested herbal goodies in advance. And I’m cutting out coffee and white sugar as of today, as part of the preparation.
I probably shouldn’t talk about sugar, because my teeth are definitely crumbling away, but…
The gut bacteria and viruses have a role in regulating the immune system. Gut bacteria seem to like sugar, especially as an offset to things that are bitter; that’s just my opinion, based on personal observation.
I experimented with inulin briefly (extract of chicory), still have most of the jar. Lots of inulin in garlic and onions, apparently.
Andy, a lot of your herbs are specifically on the list of MAO-A and MAO-B inhibitors, so prolonging the life of dopamine, and saffron prolongs the life of serotonin; so I read. If your wife encounters headaches or PMS you might want to shift to MAO-B inhibitors only, so no tumeric-pepper, but green tea is good and if she likes licorice she could try some of that to prolong dopamine. Maybe. That’s the theory.
You amaze me, Andy; good job, IMHO! 🙂
Should have said, inulin is the favorite of one particular gut bacteria, if I remember right one of the ones involved in immune-system regulation.
mtto, I do have my own blog (and website). Sniff, whine, but nobody goes there!
Interestingly, Issho Fujita said he would, that I could always count on him, last time I saw him. Thanks, Issho, I appreciate it!
I have something new to offer, I’m still working on it but I think it’s pretty much there. I’ll add a post about it on my own blog soon, and then anyone who signs up to comment (on my blog) can do so there.
Count Dracula: This is very old wine. I hope you will like it.
Renfield: Aren’t you drinking?
Count Dracula: I never drink wine.
Thanks for the pointer on MAO-B, Mark. I’ll look into that. She’s not complained of any headaches and it appears that the monthly spikes, if any, are as much to do with self-regulation – hormonal changes being one of the many internal conditions which she used to ignore (she won’t mind me writing this by the way).
I don’t know why we discounted liquorice. I know I’m a bit cautious about piling on anything and everything that might boost brain chemistry, so that might’ve been why.
Come to think of it, I should probably add that we have Sundays and 2-3 days per month not eating anything we ingest regularly, so the body can refresh and get some variety. Not scientific, but seems sensible.
licorice seems to have a lot of side-effects for a lot of people. I’m always glad when the science seems to confirm my intution, but I have to be careful to follow my feelings instead of my head or I’m in trouble every time.
Following your feelings instead of your head:
Yes it seems to work – the edit function that is.
Ya’ll should now have a 30 minute window during which to edit your comment for spelling, grammar, additional thoughts, etc. Please someone try it and make sure it works. Thanks.
I’m typing this with lots of mistakes so I can try the edit function.
Yep – it works – Thanks! I’m sure everybody will appreciate being able to edit…
That’s about how long it takes to open the blog, open the comments, comment. Ok, I exaggerate, but seriously, it takes 3-4 min to do each, I have been opening other stuff, forgetting about Brad’s blog altogether, closing everything, and well. Now, I’ve been hanging around here for years, but I wonder how frustrating it is for new people who just want to open and read Brad’s post? Are they gonna wait 3-4 minutes for the thing to open?
Any plans to fix the wait that some of us have? Thanks, John
Thanks for letting me know the problem is still there. I’m not a real web guy, so I have no idea what the problem could be, or how to fix it, especially since the site works fine for me, and some other people. I do have a subscription to a WordPress consultant who I can ask, but I have to have the time to put in, which I don’t right now. I will look into it when I can. Sorry.
We moved the site because the previous hosting subscription was running out, and the old guy lost enthusiasm for basic maintenance, and fulfilling book orders. If DSLA didn’t step in, the blog would have died. Hopefully I’ll be able to sort out this speed issue, despite my incompetence.
It has to have something to do with how the new GoDaddy server relates to various larger “pipes” out there on the internet. For me, using Verizon Fios, it used to be instantaneous until you moved the server. Now my experience is similar to Mumbles. However, I am moving to a new place this weekend and the ISP in that area is Time Warner. It was just turned on today and…HCZ blog is instantaneous from that connection. So go figure. I don’t know what can deduced from that by a WordPress consultant, but there has to be some logical explanation…
Thanks for your efforts, mtto, and observations, mb. Not likely I’ll be moving anytime soon, so if you figure this out, I’ll be v. grateful.
Wow, didn’t know the blog was that close to folding, thanks for the rescue mission!
I can continue to slog along slowly but surely, it’s again a concern that new people might have this experience, and just not bother to come back.
Despite what people may think to the contrary, I have utmost respect for Brad and what he is doing here, always have. Thanks for all that you do.
Cool. Thanks, mtto! I make frequent errors, and I almost always wish I’d said something differently.
Just tested the edit function. If these last two sentences show up, it’s working for me.
It’s not the Buddhism of reincarnation or karma. Those are both illusions. It is not the Buddhism of beliefs.
Right on, Fred!
I haven’t believed in reincarnation for at least three lifetimes.
“I have ordained five priests.”
As Brad told us he had never finished his own priest education (lacking the stay in Eheiji and what not). Actually, I doubt that Brad is a priest in the traditional Japanese sense. What we can learn from this is: Anyone, as stated in the sutras, can take the Bodhisattva vows anywhere. And consider him/herself a bodhisattva or monk then – the phrase is not copyright protected.
The same obviously goes for a priest here (the Japanese would disagree, I am sure).
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