Systematic and Practical
THE HIGHEST MEDITATIONS IN THE TANTRA--MAHAMUDRA AND THE GREAT
A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi
C. M. CHEN
Written Down by
REVEREND B. KANTIPALO
First Published in 1967
THE HIGHEST MEDITATIONS IN THE TANTRA—MAHAMUDRA AND
THE GREAT PERFECTION
The clouds of war,
mentioned in the introduction to an earlier chapter, had become more ominous,
and threatened to blot out even more of the lands where the sun of the Buddha's
Dharma shines. A knock on the door, a request to pack—in this way the Chinese
population of Kalimpong, at one time of considerable
size, was very rapidly being whisked away.
Bhante and the transcriber set off briskly from their vihara, fearing lest the
book's source might disappear before completion of the work. As they approached
Mr. Chen's hermitage, they saw with relief that his windows were open. Bhante said, "This may be our last meeting." Mr.
Chen, however, was overjoyed to see the two bhiksus.
He said, "I thought you might be afraid to come," at which the
listener protested. The yogi, purely a Buddhist hermit and quite uninterested
in political activities, seemed quite unperturbed by the threatened break in
his seclusion. Indeed, judging by his composure, he might well have expected
another thousand years of hermit-life in Kalimpong!
As a precaution, Mr.
Chen admitted, "This may be our last chapter, so I have condensed the
material for the last three chapters into tonight's talk." Then, more
confidently, he said, "When you come next time, I shall then expand on
these topics." (This condensed chapter and the Supplementary Details have
later been edited to form the present two chapters, one on the Highest Meditations
in the Tantra and the next on Chan alone.)
We quickly got down to
work. The yogi began by saying:
Our homage is
already perfected, so one is not offered at the head of this chapter. An homage presumes a subject who worships and an object of
worship, but in the meditations presented here subject and object are perfectly
identified. Because these highest samadhis are
non-dualistic by nature, there is no homage to offer.
should conclude our chapter dedications. We have honored three great teachers in different chapters and for different reasons, though
they were all adepts of the Tantras: Tsong-Khapa, Milarepa, and Padmasambhava. We explained how each of them emphasized
some particular part of the Buddhadharma. Now we can
see that taken all together, they are patriarchs respectively of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.
Knowing that they are all Vajrayana masters, who have
each propagated a different aspect of Dharma, then they are three-in-one; but
seeing the unity between them (for the Vajrayana includes the other vehicles), then they are one-in-three.
remembered the unity in diversity and the diversity in unity of our Teaching,
we should tonight first say something about the Mahamudra.
A. Mahamudra Meditation
There are two
ways to attain this practice, as we have already described: either through the
third initiation's practice, as the Yellow Sect says is necessary; or else
without the vajra-love methods, coming directly to
the fourth initiation, as the Red Sect holds. First, we will give an outline of Mahamudra, and follow that with detailed
descriptions. In the practice of Mahamudra there are
the concentrated yoga of Mahamudra.
yoga of renouncing false theory: all theory is false talk.
the yoga of identification. This is the practice of Mahamudra in daily life.
"I have written a
short poem in English to illustrate this," said Mr. Chen, and he produced
a notebook from which he read the following:
In single mind
Do single thing
At single time
No other mean.
In single mind
At single time
Do single thing
No other mean.
At single time
Do single thing
In single mind
No other mean.
the yoga of non-practice.
written a book in Chinese called "Distinguished Determinations of Mahamudra," which corrects certain misconceptions in
original Tibetan Mahamudra books which have been
translated into Chinese, including the works which Evans-Wentz edited, which
have been translated from English into Chinese. A common mistake among many of
these books is to assume that the first of the above steps is the same as samatha, while the second is samapatti.
This is quite wrong. The Tantric Mahamudra distinctly
differs from the exoteric meditations of the Mahayana, but people with false
ideas try to make these two resemble each other as though they were two eggs!
have written in this way should know that there is one prerequisite to the
practice of Mahamudra: before one can practice, it is
necessary to have obtained the realization of the Enlightened Entity through
initiation (Enlightened Entity is the light of Tathata or suchness). If one has not attained this, then one
is still practicing the sunyata meditations of the
Mahayana. This realization of Enlightened Entity one does not attain either
through samatha or samapatti;
one knows it through the bestowal of the guru. Without this, one cannot
practice Mahamudra. This fact is very important, and
it is because of this that the first step is called "Conception of
Enlightened Entity." In this practice, samatha and samapatti are always identified in the non-dual samadhi—they are never different.
The yogi emphasized,
"To understand this is most essential."
Bhante remarked rather dryly: If one does not receive
this before practice, what is the use of reading books about it? And if one
does receive it, why read books anyway? Mr. Chen laughed and passed on to more
Most of our
readers will probably have read "Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines,"
edited by Evans-Wentz, while those who have not may use our book to correct
certain details and supplement the information therein.
Turning to page 122 of
this work, the yogi explained:
First of all,
we must understand that the mistakes are in the original Tibetan text and are
not the fault of either the translator or the editor. To begin with, we shall
see what these mistakes are and then follow this with some positive
Concentrated Yoga of Mahamudra—the First Yoga
The first error is to make a division of the four steps or yogas of Mahamudra into two parts; this is, the "ordinary" practices and those called "extraordinary."
This is a mistake because all four Mahamudra yogas are in the highest samadhi.
The division into two seems to indicate that the first two are exoteric while
the second two are esoteric. This is false, for all of them are in the most
exalted samadhi, and are quite beyond the exoteric.
Mr. Chen pointed out
that in the first yoga there is one-pointedness on
the final truth, and even after this three more yogas are given, which cannot possibly go beyond the first, as there can be nothing
extra to the "final truth."
b. Objects of
Meditation. The text mentions in paragraph 24 that non-breathing and breathing
objects may both be used. But if such objects are used, this is not the yoga of Mahamudra at all. Whereas the text gives as objects
of meditation a "small ball or bit of wood" in the same paragraph,
such devices are shared even by non-Buddhists, what to speak of Mahamudra! All that follows is the same as common
As to the
breathing objects being accompanied by dorje (Sanskrit, Vajra = prajnaparamita here) recitation (para. 35), this implies a
realization of sunyata; still this only makes it a
Mahayana practice. It is true that the dorje recitation of OM AH HUM is used in the esoteric teachings, but only at the
level of the first initiation.
text mentions the pot-shaped breathing practice, and this belongs not to Mahamudra but to the second or secret initiation.
These are the
various mistakes found in the account of the first yoga. How then is one to
First it is essential to receive during the Mahamudra initiation an outline of the Enlightened Entity given by the guru. This outline
must be altogether perfect, though still only an outline. Nothing can be
practiced in Mahamudra before one receives this.
How can one
get this from one's guru? First, find out if there is an accomplished guru who
has himself passed this stage and is thus able to give effective initiation.
everything to that guru—house, money, wife, possessions, children, property—everything,
without keeping anything for oneself. Then prepare to receive any treatment,
even harsh words and blows, just as many patriarchs of the Kagyupa experienced. For instance, Tilopa gave cruel
treatment to Naropa, and such seem to be examples of
the saying which stresses: "Great sufferings eighteen times and little
sufferings twenty-four times," as a necessary preliminary to Mahamudra initiation.
There are many
stories concerning Tilopa and his disciple Naropa. Once, when they were together on a precipitous
mountain, Tilopa said to his disciple, "If a
person can cast himself over this cliff, then why should he not get the Mahamudra?" Immediately Naropa jumped from the precipice and fell down the mountain, breaking his bones and
tearing his flesh. Tilopa, seeing this great devotion
of his disciple, by his own great powers dived after him and by breathing once
upon the shattered corpse, he restored Naropa to life and at once gave him the Mahamudra.
time, Naropa had been a great scholar of much
learning and worldly wisdom, but he had not obtained any concentration. After
this experience and his initiation, he attained perfect one-pointedness.
Even though Naropa had given away his very beautiful young wife to his
guru, he still desired to have sexual intercourse with her, at one time,
meeting Tilopa, he had an erect organ due to his
desire. Taking a large stone, Naropa gave his own
organ many crushing blows, and as a result obtained the first bodhisattva stage
(see Ch. X, Part Two).
there are very few gurus with such degrees of realization as these ancients.
Nor are there many disciples who are willing to suffer much for their spiritual
growth. Further, teachers of the present day are unwilling to inflict much pain
on their pupils, but in Tantric practice this is sometimes necessary, as in Marpa's treatment of Milarepa.
The yogi then asked, as
though on behalf of the readers:
How then did
I get this Mahamudra? Although my guru never treated
me badly, I was always humble and made a point of constantly attending on him.
This guru, Gangkar Rinpoche,
was an emanation of Avalokitesvara. Before I met him,
I had a dream in which an image of Guan Yin appeared which was then transformed
into Gangkar Rinpoche. When
I met him, therefore, I knew at once that there was no difference between the
great and merciful mahasattva and this teacher.
At that time
I was a professor at the
, but when my
guru moved away from that place, I decided to follow him, and leave everything.
My colleagues and students tried to persuade me to stay, but my mind was firm,
though they were a little displeased. My father and mother were very old,
without work, and unless I provided for them, they would have no food. My wife
was young and there were other members of the family to support. But despite
all this, I was determined to follow my guru. Moreover, he knew the strength of
my determination: when some of my students asked him about me, my guru said,
"Mr. Chen's mind is like a rock!" As a result, the guru gave me the
Seven Days' Great Perfection.
relate one event which occurred while I was with him. One winter we were living
on a mountain and the snow was very deep. Due to this, the sweeper had not come
to remove the teacher's daily excrement. It did not seem as though the snow
would cease and although my guru had many monk-disciples and attendants, not
one thought of removing his excrement. So I took it out; it did not seem an
unpleasant task for me to do at all. For this my teacher was very pleased with
Because I had
done this, I received great bestowals from the guru and he it was who caused me to attain the Enlightened Entity. After
experiencing this, I have always said that Mahayana sunyata is different from Mahamudra because the former only
follows theories and abstract principles which through samatha are made concrete (see Ch. X, Parts One & Two), but the final realization
is still very far away. In esoteric Buddhism, however, there are many powerful
methods in the position of consequence. These, by the grace of the guru, show
one very exactly an outline of the Enlightened Entity. Even if it is not
perfect, still it fills the entire Dharmadhatu.
as used in a Mahamudra text, means on this
Enlightened Entity, not upon breathing or non-breathing objects. We have to
remember that even at the beginning, Mahamudra is not
a simple samatha but begins with the identification
of samatha and samapatti. Therefore, if the division is made into two (as though the first
were samatha and the second samapatti),
then the teaching is exoteric, where samatha and samapatti are always distinguished, and not Mahamudra at all.
If one cannot
obtain the Enlightened Entity, then be diligent in prayer and meditation and
humbly serve one's teacher. Two things are necessary to obtain this teaching:
first, the guru must be enlightened; and second, the disciple must do
everything to please him.
3. Yoga of
Renouncing False Theory
In Tibetan Yoga this yoga is at paragraph 77 entitled "the Yoga of the
Uncreated," but this is not the exact meaning; it should be understood as
we translated above! False upadesa (doctrine) is to
Terminology. In this same paragraph, the mention of "realizing supermundane consciousness" and the analysis of the
"Moving and the Non-moving" show that this is not Mahamudra,
for such talk is found in the exoteric schools. "Supermundane consciousness" is not a good name for Mahamudra,
for as we saw in the definition chapter (Ch. III) "xin"
or "heart" (a Chinese equivalent of the Sanskrit hrdaya)
has many meanings and here should take the meaning "essence" or
"truth." "Consciousness" is not a wide enough term; it
covers only the mental aspect, as used by the
whereas the proper terms used in Mahamudra (essence,
truth) include both mentality and materiality.
Coming now to positive instructions, we should ask ourselves, "What is to
Mr. Chen then related
that he had just published a book on Mahamudra in
Taiwan, in which he had criticized Tibetan gurus. He said, "In that work I
have commented quite extensively on this matter."
What is the
object to be renounced? False ideas. What are false
ideas? In Mahamudra, a false idea has this meaning:
when you are in the first yoga (of the Enlightened Entity), you may think:
"I have got it! This is the very truth of Mahamudra;
I must hold on to this." This is the illness of the first yoga; it is only
a false idea about the Enlightened Entity. To make progress, one must abandon
such inclinations and the Holy Light which accompanies them. Now, how is this
d. Even after
this method has been used, still some such inclination may remain. How can this
subtle grasping be cut away? "You should not abide here—go!" In this
way, one should command the inclination to depart, and even though no
subject-object is distinguished here, the inclination will end. One has to
experience the enlightened position as void of even the finest volitions. This
is called "really abandoning false ideas." This is really the second
Mr. Chen again turned to
the book in his hands and said, "There are many mistakes in each
paragraph. For instance, the 'Analysis of Moving and Non-moving' given in
paragraphs 78 following, is just a samapatti of the
Mahayana. Remember, in the sunyata meditations, we
mentioned the four pairs of negatives (see Ch. X, Part One, D), if yogis have
already passed through the stage of Mahayana practice then they will be able to
distinguish exoteric analysis from the true Mahamudra,
and they will no doubt choose the ways set forth here." Another passage
caught the yogi's eye. "In paragraph 93, there is mention of 'Analyzing
the Standpoint of the Three Times,' but these are also
found in the Mahayana. Does not the Diamond Sutra discourse on the unattainability of the mind in the past, present, and
X, Part One, D, 1, d.)"
4. The Yoga
Again the yogi pointed
out an error in the title of the translation:
does not mean bringing things together in an "At-one-ment,"
it means identification.
Regarding the three similes given, sleep and dreams, (
), water and ice (
) and water and waves (
), are already found in the Mahayana, but whereas
the subject is the same, here the object of the similes is different. In Mahayana,
they are used to illustrate sunyata, while here their
object is the Enlightened Entity itself, and not merely theory. They do not
here refer to the sunyata of the mind (as followers
of the exoteric schools might suppose), they indicate that everything must be
identified with the Enlightened Entity, and when one truly knows this, then one
will understand properly what these similes mean.
i. Sleep and
dreams. Sleep is analogous to the Enlightened nature
and dreams to the manifestation of that Enlightenment. Thus, all three similes
depend on the truth of Enlightened Entity and not only on the theory of sunyata.
ii. Water and
waves. Here the waves are the function of Enlightened Entity and the ocean is
With the help
of such similes we come to see how the Enlightened Entity is vivid and present
on any occasion in daily life. The great guru Gampopa pointed this out in detail and the methods that he so mercifully introduced are
excellent. A personal disciple of the even greater Milarepa,
he obtained many wonderful teachings and much deeper wisdom from his yogi-guru.
Venerable Gampopa instructed that if one has attained real progress,
then there is no need to live as a hermit in a remote cave, but instead one
should go live in a graveyard. Why? In such a place there will be frightening
spirits and terrible ghosts. It is a good chance completely to identify one's
terror of such demons with the Enlightened Entity: in this way, the power of
one's practice is increased. Furthermore, one may sometimes purposely make
sorrows arise, to complete this same process of thorough identification. One
should take advantage of illness and meditate on the identification of pain and
disability with the Enlightened Entity.
opinion," said the yogi, "an advanced layman could conceivably even
go to prostitutes or shows and practice the yogic identification of lust with
the Enlightened Entity, or gamble for money at high stakes, which also produces
a highly excited mind to be well identified."
opportunity for the yogi is to sit under an old tree, angering the tree-spirit
living there. Then, in the heat of anger, make perfect one's identification
with the Enlightened Entity. These examples are not in the Tibetan books edited
by Evans-Wentz; their implications for Tantric meditation should be well
These are the
marks of the third yoga.
5. The Yoga
there is no practice, one practices. However, first the third stage must have
been thoroughly practiced—it cannot be omitted.
As we have
seen, identification is the mark of the third yoga, but in the fourth, if any
desire to identify remains, then this Mahamudra yoga
as a whole cannot be perfected. The aim of the yoga must be to make the
identification perfect at all times and in all places, but without using any
force or effort; it must be done completely, naturally, and quite purely.
If one has
attained this stage of non-practice, the fourth yoga, then all functions flow
forth naturally and freely.
B. Meditations of the Great Perfection
doctrine, a very ancient, high teaching for the wise, is only available in the Nyingmapa tradition. In olden times in
were wiser than now and not so badly distracted by sense-desires, so it was an
effective teaching for them. Now that people have deteriorated to such low
wisdom, this teaching is less useful. The Yellow Sect does not believe in its
efficacy at any time.
There is a
difference between Mahamudra and the Great Perfection
doctrine. The former is the highest samadhi in the Tantras—by the gradual way—but the Great Perfection way is
much quicker. Why? One reason is that it is not divided into four steps, as is
the preceding yoga.
the Great Perfection view at first from the guru's grace; not attained from a
common samapatti, but in realization. Essentially, it
has the force of Mahamudra but there is no practice
attached to it.
exclaimed Mr. Chen suddenly, "why should one practice? It's already here!
No man lacks it; no place lacks it."
practice according to the degree of one's mental disturbance. For those with
much mental turmoil, the Hinayana practices are
given; for those with a lesser degree, the Mahayana meditations on sunyata are the correct medicine; while for those who have
but little "dust in their eyes" may follow the Vajrayana Path. The Great Perfection, however, is here and now: continually and quite
naturally one experiences samatha directly upon this realization, and this is why it is called a "very
If one has
not really attained the view of this yoga, one should not deceive oneself that
it is already realized!
Many of the
Tibetan Great Perfection books have been translated into Chinese, but often
their teaching has been mixed with Mahamudra. To
disentangle these two yogas, and to try to give the
true idea of the Great Perfection, I have written a long essay in Chinese.
aspect of the Great Perfection is called "Qie Que (tregchod)" or natural
purity, a practice of non-practice. Since it seems to resemble Mahamudra, it has actually been confused with it in many
books of the Red Sect in
It is in fact quite different.
difference is that the Great Perfection is not divided into four steps. The
four are all taken together, as a whole. It is perfect view, perfect
view-practice, perfect view-conduct, and perfect view-fruit. The Great
Perfection is perfect, so that all things seen with it are also perfect.
should here distinguish five different right views in Buddhism:
a. Right view
of the non-self of living beings. This is the Hinayana doctrine of the Four Noble Truths and the twelvefold links of the causal chain.
Those with this view think all dharmas exist as
realities, so for such people complete realization is impossible.
b. Right view
of consciousness-only. This is held by the Idealist school (Vijnanavada)
and with their view they can reject both the Hinayanists and non-Buddhists. The reality of mental dharmas and
the reality of material form (held by Hinayanists) is rejected by the Idealists, who claim that the real is
mind. However, they cling to an ultimate consciousness (the eighth or
store-consciousness). Even the final consciousness must be renounced and seen
to be sunyata.
c. Right view
of the middle way (Madhyamika). This is sometimes
called the "view of the non-born." Those who have realized it surpass
both the Hinayana and Vijnanavada adherents. By sunyata introspection, every dharma of
mentality and materiality is revealed as naturally non-born. This right view is
quite perfect regarding sunyata.
d. Right view
of the Dharmakaya (or the spontaneously arising
wisdom). This is the right view of Mahamudra, which
emphasizes the Enlightened Entity of the non-born. If one continues to
stabilize this right view, then without any method or medicine one will
directly gain the Dharmakaya.
e. Right view
of natural purity. Every dharma is realized to be quite naturally purified.
Fundamentally there is no bondage, no liberation, no practice, no realization;
everything naturally appears, naturally manifests, and naturally reveals
itself. There is no choice to make at any time. From beginningless time to the infinite future, there, without any practice, is the Great
Perfection. The Great Perfection contains everything—so why practice?
What place lacks it? What time lacks it? Who does not already occupy the Dharmakaya?
Said the yogi quite
If you do not
trouble yourself, the Great Perfection is vividly revealed. Coal is always
black; it can never be white, even if you scrub it.
If the view
of the Great Perfection is attained, then within that view there is practice,
conduct, and fruit. These are all the same, both in persons and places. There
is no gradual practice here—if that is followed, then instead of getting the
whole, you have only got a piece of it. One cannot practice it, as the Great
Perfection is naturally perfect. If one tries, then nature is made unnatural,
and one only brings oneself trouble.
Such talk may
be found also in Hindu yoga but readers must realize that there is a
difference. In Buddha-dharma, there is the central "furnace" of sunyata sublimation, following Hinayana purification and coming before the Vajrayana function. There can be no talk of "Great" or "Higher
Selves," as in Hinduism. If one has not passed through the Mahayana, talk
"about" Great Perfection or talk among non-Buddhists must necessarily
be untrue, lacking the base upon which it must stand—sunyata.
Although certain non-Buddhists' words concerning yogas may appear the same, they have a different meaning, since only in Buddhadharma do we find the sublimation process in voidness taught. Once again, the great importance
of the sunyata meditations become apparent in
their central position in Buddhist mind-training. (See the two diagrams in Ch.
X, Part Two.)
2. Torga (Thodgal) Instruction
aspect of the Great Perfection is also quite different from Mahamudra: Torga, or the Excellent Transcendental. This utilizes
the Holy Light to make the body become light, like a rainbow. Torga is among the highest instructions and usually it is
not imparted to common persons. However, to show the reader that I will not
keep matters concealed, I give an outline of this technique. It is a teaching
for which even many rinpoches have not received the
instructions are written in gold on black paper and are only three pages long.
They are known as the "Golden Instruction" and are meant, of course,
to be supplemented by the personal teachings of a guru. I will discuss the
highest tradition of torga, which guarantees that
within seven days Full Enlightenment is gained, and that in the process the
body is transmuted into a light-body.
ALTHOUGH AN OUTLINE OF THIS MEDITATION TECHNIQUE IS GIVEN HERE, NO ONE SHOULD
THINK OF PRACTICING IT WITHOUT AN ACCOMPLISHED GURU.
PRACTICE THIS AND OTHER TANTRIC MEDITATIONS WITHOUT A GURU'S AUTHORIZATION MAY
LEAD TO MENTAL DERANGEMENT.
a. First day.
A special samapatti, always identified with samatha, is prescribed as the opening practice: the outside
of the skull is visualized as a limitless palace, seemingly as vast as infinite
space. (Of course, the physical skull remains, but that is irrelevant.)
palace, there are eight points to be noted. Each one is round,
tablet-shaped like a pill, containing a wisdom-eye from which radiate the five
wisdom-lights. The first eye is visualized inside the skull as being in the
position corresponding to the point between the eyebrows outside. It is a
wrathful wisdom-eye, blue in color. The meditator uses this eye to look up at the palace.
day. Visualize two eyes inside the skull, whose inner positions correspond to
the two outer eyes. These inner eyes are also wrathful and, radiating many colors, stare at the back of the skull where two more eyes
are visualized. The two in the back of the skull are like caves or openings and
seem very bright and transparent.
c. Third day.
Visualize the eyes mentioned in the above two days' samapatti;
that is, the three eyes in the front staring across the palace to the eyes in
the back. An extra eye in the back should be visualized to make up three pairs.
day. The three eyes in the front and those in the back are seen to be turning
to look at each other and from each one come rays of light. This visualizing
process completes the first stage.
begins when the light rays from each pair of eyes meet. Then the whole body is
filled with light as if from a rainbow.
e. Fifth day.
Visualize a purple-colour mani (jewel) in the heart. Over this jewel is a protecting glass-like covering with
a small door. In this door, one eye, entirely red in color,
is set and this stares upwards to the six eyes in the palace while they stare
down, looking only at this eye in the heart.
f. Sixth day.
Visualize a white, powerful wisdom-eye in the center of the palace (at the top of the skull). This gazes down on the red eye in the
heart. The top eye and the heart eye perform an action with each other like the
clashing of cymbals, so that when the red one rises, the white one descends and
strikes it. The eyes are visualized as sometimes moving from the bottom to the
top; at other times the top ones clash with the bottom. Much light and many
sparks are produced by this action. Each spark becomes an eye, so that the
whole body is full of light and eyes.
day. The meditator must now sit as a golden Buddha in
the samatha of the Great Perfection (Qie Que (tregchod)).
this for the prescribed time, one's body is completely transformed into a
wisdom-light body. I have often explained this practice in works I have written
in Chinese, but we have not the space in this book to list them all.
As a summary of the
Great Perfection, Mr. Chen then said:
practice, one must attain a right view of natural perfection, not only in
thinking, but also in realization. The disciple must realize here in the same
way as in Mahamudra. The Great Perfection has no
practice but the mind should not leave the view of the Great Perfection even
for a moment. In this way samatha and samapatti are identified and one does not leave this Great
Perfection; the mind is naturally maintained upon it.
have not practiced.
I not practice?
is my disturbed mind?"
When one does
not leave the Great Perfection view even for the smallest instant, and one
therefore keeps the fifth right view, then what need is there of practice?
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