Enlightenment and Insanity

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Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby Vidyaraja » Mon Aug 26, 2013 4:39 pm

What is the relationship if any between enlightenment and insanity? There is a quote that I often see floating around on the net on spiritual related forums by some psychiatrist that goes something like, "The schizophrenic and the mystic swim in the same sea, but whereas the schizophrenic sinks the mystic swims."

I am not sure I agree with this statement, but it makes one wonder what the relationship between schizophrenia, insanity, and enlightenment are. Within the same spectrum, is it possible for people to go crazy while seeking enlightenment, even if they never reach higher states of consciousness?

What about fear that becoming enlightened will make one go crazy? Is this a defense mechanism of the ego when faced with the possibility of its destruction? I myself have had moments where I feel like I am on the verge of some sort of breakthrough after meditating or contemplating on the common spiritual inquiry of "Who am I?", which of course is used as a hua-tou/hwadu in the Zen tradition, but then suddenly become gripped with fear. Huang Po describes the situation I believe:

Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma.


Similar notions exist in other mystical traditions, such as the Christian notion of the "dark night of the soul." How is this related to insanity and is there any danger of falling into insanity when facing dilemmas like this on the path? How can one overcome such fears and "take the plunge" as it were? (Just to note, I have no mental illnesses, this is just a fear that occasionally manifests during the experiences I just spoke of.)

Finally, is there any traditional literature by Buddhist masters or even scripture which touches upon these issues that anyone knows of?
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby Derek » Mon Aug 26, 2013 5:41 pm

I believe that enlightenment is simply the removal of conditioned mental habits, and in particular, the removal of the defense mechanisms.

If this happens too rapidly, it is possible that the normal functioning of the mind will be disrupted, probably only temporarily.

This disruption will share some features with a temporary episode of psychosis, but not with schizophrenia, which is something else entirely.

Schizophrenia, in the clinical sense, is a mental illness. In particular, the onset of schizophrenia above the age of 30 is very rare and above the age of 40 is unknown.

As for literature, I wrote a longer description of the relationship between spiritual awakening and the defense mechanisms in chapter 1 of my essay "The Phenomenon of Awakening," which is available from all the usual sources.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby wisdom » Mon Aug 26, 2013 9:23 pm

Enlightenment is ordinary and completely sane. It sees things as they are, without error or obscuration, and therefore has no relation to insanity, where one does not see anything correctly, and there is a lot of obscuration and strong conceptualization about the way things are. This is why insanity produces so much suffering for oneself and others, whereas Enlightenment becomes an endless source of benefit for oneself and others. Although I myself am not enlightened, this is my understanding based on the texts and I have seen this wellspring of blessings come from those who are enlightened. I have never seen such a wellspring arise from the mind of an insane person, though.

As for the fear of insanity, or the fear of breaking through concepts, this is difficult to describe. There is fear because deep down you already know the truth, deep down you are already Buddha. Therefore, your conceptual mind that attaches to concepts which obscures the Buddha nature is somewhat aware of this fact and knows that realizing it means its end. However, due to ignorance, one continues to cling to the self as a real, permanently existing object since one has become very attached to ones beliefs, ideas, knowledge, hopes, fears, aspirations and so forth. Although at your core you are groundless and selfless, the attachment to the concept of self remains strong and so there is a fear associated with losing that concept due to the uncertainty of what will happen next. This uncertainty arises as a result of the activity of the mind, which produces the three times, and is associated with hope and fear which are the two ways our perceptions of the past, present and future manifest.

Its like sitting in a room and knowing that if you leave it, not only can you never return but nothing will be the same again. However, nobody can tell you what that is like, everyone says it is indescribable, and so there is a lot of fear and uncertainty regarding it. Thus, we study and cultivate faith in the Dharma and the goodness of our teachers and the Buddha, and we look to them as examples of individuals who took that leap. Through faith, study and practice, we learn to relax into the experience of groundlessness and slowly become acquainted with the way things really are, leaving our deluded attachments behind. Its a gradual process, but there are definite points of emergence wherein the ego will take massive blows. These blows can have side effects that appear detrimental at first, but if your Bodhicitta is strong and you really believe in the path of Dharma and continue to practice, even the Dark Night of the Soul will be overcome and pass in time.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby KeithBC » Mon Aug 26, 2013 9:52 pm

Vidyaraja wrote:is it possible for people to go crazy while seeking enlightenment?

Whatever else the relationship between enlightenment and insanity may be, this is definitely true. I have met more than a few such people. Whether the search for enlightenment made them crazy or whether it helped them and they would have been much worse without it, I cannot say.

I do believe that there is something about the Dharma that attracts people with mental instabilities. Perhaps the promise of the end of suffering? Or perhaps it is something else.

Om mani padme hum
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby zangskar » Mon Aug 26, 2013 10:17 pm

Vidyaraja wrote:What is the relationship if any between enlightenment and insanity? There is a quote that I often see floating around on the net on spiritual related forums by some psychiatrist that goes something like, "The schizophrenic and the mystic swim in the same sea, but whereas the schizophrenic sinks the mystic swims."

I am not sure I agree with this statement, but it makes one wonder what the relationship between schizophrenia, insanity, and enlightenment are. Within the same spectrum, is it possible for people to go crazy while seeking enlightenment, even if they never reach higher states of consciousness?

I think it's a fairly common assumption in tantric or kundalini style practices and indeed in many mystical/initiatory traditions all over the world that going ahead without following proper guidance and having right intentions and so on, one could potentially go completely nuts, or worse. To illustrate, take some dramatic practice, remove meaning and context, add some paranoia and confusion, etc, the result could be scary and from one point of view perhaps not much different than the symbolic interactions of some people with a pathological condition. I think as KeithBC suggests it may be difficult to say with certainty what the cause is when everything goes down the drain, since it's rarely singular.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby Vidyaraja » Mon Aug 26, 2013 11:28 pm

Thanks for the replies. I no worries about mental instability personally, but encountering information on the association of mental illness with the spiritual search piqued my curiosity. It's also interesting to compare concepts like depersonalization and derealization with enlightenment. It also makes you wonder if people have become enlightened and wrongly labeled insane or become insane and wrongly labeled enlightened.

KeithBC wrote:Whatever else the relationship between enlightenment and insanity may be, this is definitely true. I have met more than a few such people. Whether the search for enlightenment made them crazy or whether it helped them and they would have been much worse without it, I cannot say.

I do believe that there is something about the Dharma that attracts people with mental instabilities. Perhaps the promise of the end of suffering? Or perhaps it is something else.

Om mani padme hum
Keith


Not sure if this is a global phenomena or more of a Western phenomena. I've met quite a few people who have had mental health issues in the past and their psychiatrists or friends may recommend Buddhism to help them. Perhaps Buddhism may be able to help them, but such referrals and reasons for becoming attracted to Buddhism might account for the amount of people with mental instabilities rather than some intrinsic magnet in the Dharma itself. There could also be people who may misunderstand Buddhism as a sort of nihilism through misunderstanding anatta and emptiness who have mental health issues and who find resonance in such misinterpretations due to preconceived biases resulting from said mental problems.

Interestingly enough, as you say many people are attracted to Buddhism based on learning of the possibility of the cessation of suffering. I'd have to say it was different for me. While the ending of suffering may be part of it, I was attracted to Buddhism due to some transcendent experiences I had and thereafter being inspired by the Buddha's awakening, with the qualities that go along with such awakening like jnana/gnosis/wisdom, inner freedom, conquest of fear, conquest of death, self-mastery, and bliss. Ending suffering falls under that of course, but initially and until today I have tried to focus more on the positive aspects of Buddhism while keeping in mind impermanence and the reality of suffering. I have aspirations of eventually becoming a monastic/yogi, but my inspiration is less "Man this world is full of pain and suffering, I gotta get out of here" so much as "I am convinced of the potential to trannscend the limited state I find myself in and to achieve the ultimate goal of life, becoming free, wise, and conquering suffering and death thereby, and also being able to help others if I reach such an awakening."
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby Karma Dorje » Mon Aug 26, 2013 11:35 pm

Vidyaraja wrote:What is the relationship if any between enlightenment and insanity? There is a quote that I often see floating around on the net on spiritual related forums by some psychiatrist that goes something like, "The schizophrenic and the mystic swim in the same sea, but whereas the schizophrenic sinks the mystic swims."


Well, for example, here on Dharmawheel we have enlightened moderation, which would seem like sheer insanity on any other civilized forum. It's largely a matter of euphemistic expression in polite company.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby Koji » Mon Aug 26, 2013 11:46 pm

Derek wrote:I believe that enlightenment is simply the removal of conditioned mental habits, and in particular, the removal of the defense mechanisms.

If this happens too rapidly, it is possible that the normal functioning of the mind will be disrupted, probably only temporarily.

This disruption will share some features with a temporary episode of psychosis, but not with schizophrenia, which is something else entirely.

Schizophrenia, in the clinical sense, is a mental illness. In particular, the onset of schizophrenia above the age of 30 is very rare and above the age of 40 is unknown.

As for literature, I wrote a longer description of the relationship between spiritual awakening and the defense mechanisms in chapter 1 of my essay "The Phenomenon of Awakening," which is available from all the usual sources.


But then some would object that enlightenment is only the suppression of certain behaviors. Personally, I don't read this in Buddhism. The attainment of nirvana goes beyond the conditioned, being spiritually independent of it since it is unborn.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby Derek » Tue Aug 27, 2013 12:11 am

Koji wrote:The attainment of nirvana goes beyond the conditioned


Yes, that is what I am saying.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby seeker242 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 12:22 am

If you really look into it, an enlightened person is crazy! They don't grab onto pleasure or run from pain. According to what is considered "normal", that is completely crazy! They don't regard their body or mind as "I, my me". That is completely crazy! They have no fear of anything. That is completely crazy!

Huang Po was completely crazy. The guy who just put a shoe on his head and walked away. Yup, a crazy person. :rolling:
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby lobster » Tue Aug 27, 2013 12:27 pm

wisdom wrote:Enlightenment is ordinary and completely sane.


Exactly so. :smile:
How could it be otherwise.
There is a potential to facilitate unravelling in others that produces an operational mode that appears crazy. However this is not contrived but dependent on need and situation. As the enlightened person is not attached to reputation or appearance, they can manifest independent of convention, when required.
A crazed person is not master of the option but dependent on irrational and unskilful personal attachments and/or limitations. Just as are the blinkered, sleeping, delusionists we know and imagine to be [insert favourite dream] . . .
It is a question of engaging the appropriate skill, at the right time in the right way. Quite spontaneously and naturally.

Mad eh? :woohoo:
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby jeeprs » Tue Aug 27, 2013 3:04 pm

I see normality as being a bell-curve. The following model is based on Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. Those with mental illnesses and who are poorly socialised and not integrated, are on the left side of the curve - they fall short of normality. But on the right side of the curve are those who surpass the normal condition - the 'Realised Being' in the sense defined by the non-dualist schools of Indian philosophy. Such Realisation is definitely not part of the normal condition of humanity.

Image

But such beings are not sub-normal. They are actually super-normal, they are outside the scope or realm of what we call 'normality'. Yet they are not mad, or psychotic, or degenerate. My thesis is, that if degrees of normality can be represented on the Bell Curve, then the self- realised individual is on the extreme right side of the curve.

Part of materialism is to believe that normality is the summum bonum. You could almost say that materialism is the determined belief that Normal is Ultimate, and that there is nothing beyond it. So they have to believe that self-realised individuals are injured, psychopathic or damaged, because if they are not, their whole thesis is undermined.

Well - sorry. For those that have seen beyond it, normality is simply a set of shared conventions and beliefs, a familiar milieu within which we can all pursue our limited aims. And nothing wrong with it, as far as it goes. Normality beats schizophrenia and alienation any day. We do not want to fall short of normality.

But normality can also be surpassed. As far as the self-realised individual is concerned, our 'normality' is very similar to what us 'normal' people understand as the reality of psychopaths and schizophrenics. However, self-realised individuals are generally exceedingly compassionate and kind, and they generally won't cast aspersions on normal people or look down on us in any way. Rather, they will, as they have throughout history, gently, persistently, unfailingly, ceaselessly, remind us 'Normal People' that all the stuff we think is real, all the things we take for granted, are empty, unreal, phantasmagorical. They will attempt to help us, in exactly the same way that we attempt to help those among us who need guidance.

And so we all move along, through the bell curve of normality.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby shel » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:03 pm

jeeprs wrote:I see normality as being a bell-curve. The following model is based on Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. Those with mental illnesses and who are poorly socialised and not integrated, are on the left side of the curve - they fall short of normality. But on the right side of the curve are those who surpass the normal condition - the 'Realised Being' in the sense defined by the non-dualist schools of Indian philosophy. Such Realisation is definitely not part of the normal condition of humanity.

Image


I don't know where you got this graphic from or how it relates to Maslow's hierarchy but sociopaths are normal and socialized, in the sense that they are all but undetectable in society. Their needs are not normal of course, there are apparently gaps in some areas, but they span the length of Maslow's heirchy.

Because the word "sociopathic" is used in the graphic it seems you are talking about moral development.

But such beings are not sub-normal. They are actually super-normal, they are outside the scope or realm of what we call 'normality'. Yet they are not mad, or psychotic, or degenerate. My thesis is, that if degrees of normality can be represented on the Bell Curve, then the self- realised individual is on the extreme right side of the curve.

We don't need a bell-curve graph to help realize that highly moral people are the exception rather than the norm.

Part of materialism is to believe that normality is the summum bonum. You could almost say that materialism is the determined belief that Normal is Ultimate, and that there is nothing beyond it. So they have to believe that self-realised individuals are injured, psychopathic or damaged, because if they are not, their whole thesis is undermined.

It's not clear how the philosophical position of materialism relates. It's not even clear that Maslow's 'self-actualization' is unusual in any way. I don't see why it would be considered unusual to a materialist. Can you explain?

Well - sorry. For those that have seen beyond it, normality is simply a set of shared conventions and beliefs, a familiar milieu within which we can all pursue our limited aims. And nothing wrong with it, as far as it goes. Normality beats schizophrenia and alienation any day. We do not want to fall short of normality.

Again it's not clear if you're talking about self-actualization (self-realization?) or moral development. If you are talking about moral development and something like Kohlberg's stages of moral development then yes of course, there is literally a "conventional" stage. However I don't know how accurate or sensical it would be to construe the conventional stage as 'normal'. Indeed the norm may be pre-conventional.

But normality can also be surpassed. As far as the self-realised individual is concerned, our 'normality' is very similar to what us 'normal' people understand as the reality of psychopaths and schizophrenics.

I suggest that these self-realized individuals take a basic course in psychology to better understand schizophrenia and psychopathy.

However, self-realised individuals are generally exceedingly compassionate and kind, and they generally won't cast aspersions on normal people or look down on us in any way.

They are generally kind and compassionate? I suppose everyone gets moody at times. :jedi:
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby oushi » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:34 pm

Vidyaraja wrote:What is the relationship if any between enlightenment and insanity? There is a quote that I often see floating around on the net on spiritual related forums by some psychiatrist that goes something like, "The schizophrenic and the mystic swim in the same sea, but whereas the schizophrenic sinks the mystic swims."

I am not sure I agree with this statement, but it makes one wonder what the relationship between schizophrenia, insanity, and enlightenment are. Within the same spectrum, is it possible for people to go crazy while seeking enlightenment, even if they never reach higher states of consciousness?

What about fear that becoming enlightened will make one go crazy? Is this a defense mechanism of the ego when faced with the possibility of its destruction? I myself have had moments where I feel like I am on the verge of some sort of breakthrough after meditating or contemplating on the common spiritual inquiry of "Who am I?", which of course is used as a hua-tou/hwadu in the Zen tradition, but then suddenly become gripped with fear. Huang Po describes the situation I believe:

Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma.


Similar notions exist in other mystical traditions, such as the Christian notion of the "dark night of the soul." How is this related to insanity and is there any danger of falling into insanity when facing dilemmas like this on the path? How can one overcome such fears and "take the plunge" as it were? (Just to note, I have no mental illnesses, this is just a fear that occasionally manifests during the experiences I just spoke of.)

Finally, is there any traditional literature by Buddhist masters or even scripture which touches upon these issues that anyone knows of?

Huang Po was a very wise man. Also, if you have nothing against reading christian mysticism, I strongly advice "The Cloud of Unknowing" by anonymous. I never found anything as good as this guide. Written in simple words (you will need to find a good translation into modern English), detailed and easy to comprehend. And what is important, this path will skilfully bypass the cliff of fear. You will not even have face it.

good luck.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby undefineable » Fri Aug 30, 2013 4:21 pm

jeeprs wrote:I see normality as being a bell-curve. The following model is based on Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. Those with mental illnesses and who are poorly socialised and not integrated, are on the left side of the curve - they fall short of normality. But on the right side of the curve are those who surpass the normal condition - the 'Realised Being' in the sense defined by the non-dualist schools of Indian philosophy.
So no progress on the Path for those with mental disorders? :shrug:
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby jeeprs » Fri Aug 30, 2013 5:30 pm

Every properly-organized meditation retreat I have been on has requested a signed statement to the effect that you're not recieving medication for psychiatric disorders or are under treatment for same. So I would think that mental disorders such as bi-polar or schizophenic states would be at least 'major hindrances' that would need to be dealt with before really being able to commit to a practice.

Although, interestingly, there is also the phenomenon of 'holy madness' which is particularly prominent in Russian folklore and also not unknown in Indian tradition. It is characterised by wandering religious mendicants who often appear completely mad but who also have some special grace or light about them. So none of this is clear cut, but I still think the bell-curve model has some relevance.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby shel » Fri Aug 30, 2013 7:29 pm

"Holy madness" is not necessarily indicative of mental disorder. But in regard to the "sociopathic" end of the bell-curve, there is no known cure for sociopathy, and worse it is highly unlikely that a sociopath would seek any sort of treatment. A sociopath is likely to consider the un-sociopathic mind disadvantageous.

Sociopaths are not all serial killers, the vast majority are undetectable in society and are said to comprise some 4% of the population. Indeed, it may be difficult for some to wrap their heads around this, but the position of a religious leader (like a Zen master, for instance) may be ideal for a particular type of sociopath. Sociopaths can be very charismatic and religious followers can be very easily manipulated (for sex, money, or whatever).
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby undefineable » Sat Aug 31, 2013 1:28 am

jeeprs wrote:Every properly-organized meditation retreat I have been on has requested a signed statement to the effect that you're not recieving medication for psychiatric disorders or are under treatment for same. So I would think that mental disorders such as bi-polar or schizophenic states would be at least 'major hindrances' that would need to be dealt with before really being able to commit to a practice.

Although, interestingly, there is also the phenomenon of 'holy madness' which is particularly prominent in Russian folklore and also not unknown in Indian tradition. It is characterised by wandering religious mendicants who often appear completely mad but who also have some special grace or light about them.
I wonder if you're really just trying to get away from a slightly outdated image of oriental religions as havens for 'headcases'. Many at Dharmawheel, though, have autism -a disorder that has been said (by an author whose relevant quote seems to have fallen off the back end of the internet) to have informed the Russian folklore (i.e. yurodivy/'holy fools') you mentioned- and while this certainly shapes the mind, the direction is towards an alternative order rather than a disordering of anything, atleast in less severe cases. Here, the term 'disorder' instead describes the relationship between the autistic and the outside world -particularly human society- though I'm unsure whether this still falls within your criteria for 'mental disorder'.

Given the complexities of the human brain, it really isn't logistically feasible for such profound mental disorders as schizophrenia/'bipolar'/autism etc. to be 'dealt with' except by death; this is common knowledge for anyone affected by -or in the business of trying to affect- these kind of circumstances. While lacking the freedom to practice Buddhism is all very well if it applies to schizophrenics, bipolar depressives, and whoever else, I think it's fair to query what you mean and understand here, since if you're wrong but still manage to convince anyone affected by those disorders otherwise, you might end up permanently delaying their enlightenment :(

Having said all that, it takes little imagination to picture the kind of thing that might come out of the woodwork for psychiatric patients on retreat :rolleye: Half an hour's meditation a day is a different kettle of fish :P
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby undefineable » Sat Aug 31, 2013 1:49 am

shel wrote:"Holy madness" is not necessarily indicative of mental disorder. But in regard to the "sociopathic" end of the bell-curve, there is no known cure for sociopathy, and worse it is highly unlikely that a sociopath would seek any sort of treatment. A sociopath is likely to consider the un-sociopathic mind disadvantageous.

Sociopaths are not all serial killers, the vast majority are undetectable in society and are said to comprise some 4% of the population. Indeed, it may be difficult for some to wrap their heads around this, but the position of a religious leader (like a Zen master, for instance) may be ideal for a particular type of sociopath. Sociopaths can be very charismatic and religious followers can be very easily manipulated (for sex, money, or whatever).
It looks as if jeeprs used the term sociopath to mean the opposite of what it's come to mean among some researchers. The people you describe are presumably asuras with human bodies -super-normal beings if you will- and an un-sociopathic mind IS disadvantageous from the point of view of ego's natural aim of fully structuring and integrating the mind into the rest of reality (self-evidently a task every being must commit to whether the aim is to dominate reality or to reach enlightenment). Sociopaths do seem to have a low boredom threshhold, but no-one ever sought treatment for boredom as long as there was no impediment -a full range of human feeling for example- to other options.
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Re: Enlightenment and Insanity

Postby greentara » Sat Aug 31, 2013 2:12 am

jeeprs, I sort of see where you're coming from..... but trying to show enlightment on a graph to give it legitimacy? 'Beyond, totally beyond the other shore!'
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