Vajrayana for Beginners

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Dharmakid
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Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Dharmakid »

Hello all,
Some of you may know me as Dhammakid from the Dhamma Wheel forum. I was also Dharmakid on ES ( :crying: ).

I currently am studying Theravada, but I've been back and forth between it and Zen ever since I first came across the Dharma nearly four years ago. I always think I'm settling in, but then my mind takes off and gets interested in other schools.

I'm often interested in Tibetan traditions and I've always wanted to gain a better understanding, whether or not I end up practicing. I think there's a slight chance I could end up exploring deeply, particularly since there's a big practice center here in Atlanta (actually about 30-40 minutes from where I stay) I could attend - the Emory University site of Drepung Loseling Monastery. Though I don't have my own transportation and asking my parents to take me is kinda out of the question since they aren't friendly to Buddhism...

Anyway, let's say I wanted to begin studying in the Tibetan tradition. Where do I start, assuming I'm lacking a teacher and practice center? I'm fairly well-versed on Buddhist basics, but I could use a brush up on Mahayana foundations. I'm aware of the idea of the graduated path and that there are teachings intentionally hidden from beginners since you need empowerment to practice them.

Any help is appreciated.

:namaste:
Dharmakid
SonamZangpo
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by SonamZangpo »

An excellent beginner book is "Dharma Paths", by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. Also, certain teachings will vary widely from lineage to lineage, so that's something to take into account.

I also use this page to access a lot of reading materials for all schools of Buddhism:

http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhis ... 20page.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;


Also, it is important to find one school you feel comfortable in, and devote yourself to it. Learning from the other schools is great, but in the beginning, it's important to be focused on your school's beliefs and practices, so you aren't torn between this and that. Also, certain schools may have conflicting views that will confuse a practitioner. In absolute understanding they are all dharma beliefs and the same, but in a relative sense they can be very, very different.

As I recall, Zen and Vajrayana have a history of not getting along :rolling:
http://www.facebook.com/szangpo" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

http://www.facebook.com/kyle.labonte" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; <- This is my more active facebook, if you want some real discussion

OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SOHA

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"It is more important to be kind than to be right."
(I acknowledge I do not follow the quote above this, that is why it is there! so I will be reminded every time I post! :) )
Nicholas Weeks
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Nicholas Weeks »

You say you are aware of the graduated path - lam rim. Not sure if you mean "aware" and past it or "aware" but need to practice it. Since lam rim is a needed foundation for tantra, try this old classic (with a new title) by Geshe Wangchen:

http://wisdompubs.org/Pages/display.las ... n=&image=1" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
May all seek, find & follow the Path of Buddhas.
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ground
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by ground »

Will wrote:... lam rim is a needed foundation for tantra...
I second that. Lama Tsongkhapa in his "The three principal aspects of the path" clearly taught that renunciation, bodhicitta and wisdom are the prerequsite for tantra.
Since you are familiar with Theravada you should be familiar with the methods of renunciation - at least in theory, but of course these have to be realized. This actually is covered by the "lower" and "medium" path aspects taught in Lamrim.
As to bodhicitta this is covered by the "highest" path aspect of Lamrim. However renunciation is a prerequisite for authentic bodhicitta. But in order to avoid actually practicing non-Mahayana when practicing the "lower" and "medium" aspects one should initially start with the portion of the "highest" aspect that comprises great compassion and and the training in the thought to achieve buddhahood for the benefit of other beings and combine these practices with every practice of the "lower" and "medium" aspects.
As to wisdom you should become familiar with Madhyamaka thougth and apply it in vipassana meditation.

Only after practicing this and the attainment of significant results like a stable bodhicitta which finds the suffering of other beings unbearable should one start with tantra/vajrayana.

Kind regards
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mudra
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by mudra »

There are several Lam Rims, in the Gelug tradition there are 8 or 9 depending if you include Liberation in Our Hands as part of the classic Lam Rims (which HHDL does) and most are translated. A couple are specifically only sutric (e.g. the southern lineage derivative of Jamphel Shelung, or Manjushri's Oral Instructions, by the Great 5th Dalai Lama this latter has not been fully translated yet) but most have elements of preparation for tantra from the beginning.

The source of all these is Atisha's Lamp of the Path. His Holiness' book is excellent. Taken from his teachings, it takes you through Lamp of the Path and also refers to Lines of Experience (Je Tsongkhapa's very pithy version of the Lam Rim)

But:
1. I would go for Three Principal Aspects of the Path to get oriented, it is short but depends of course which commentary you go with. I recommend Geshe Sonam Rinchen's.

2. Then I perhaps would move on to "Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment",
and also

3.the Third Dalai Lama's "Essence of Refined Gold". Both are very readable.

(Now for these last two coming up I would recommend perhaps getting some kind of instructor with experience):

4. An option after that would be Liberation in Your Hands, which is essentially notes done by Khyabje Trijang Rinpoche of a experiential teaching given by Kyabje Phabongka Rinpoche in the early part of last century.

5. By the time you have done that you would be primed for Je Tsongkhapa's Lam Rim Chen Mo. This is the big one. The initial chapters are not so difficult but when it comes to the section on Calm Abiding and the View you will need some guidance. The English translation is in 3 volumes.

There are of course a couple of other Lam Rims but they haven't been published in English although there are translations. The "Gomchen" Lam Rim is an excellent practical instruction on how to meditate the path, and then there is Je Tsopngkhapa's "middle length" Lam Rim. Again, these I would only tackle with an instructor of some kind.

After a thorough study of Lam Rim, you might be lucky enough to get teachings on Ngak Rim, the stages of Tantra. Je Tsongkhap was hugely prolific. Not available in English, and only very occasionally taught, mainly to those who have a very solid base in their studies and have received appropriate initiations.
Dhondrub
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Dhondrub »

The practice of Lamrim while being a beautiful practice and an absolute requisite for getting into Vajrayana in the Gelug tradition, it is generally only peripheral practiced in the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages( which is quite funny as Gampopas "Jewel Ornament of Liberation" is argueably the first Lamrim text in history).

As you are already familiar with the sitting practice of meditation I believe a more experiential approach could be sufficient for you. I can very much recommend for a beginner "the Heart of the Buddha" by the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Buddha-Dhar ... 912&sr=1-1" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
and "Repeating the Words of the Buddha" by Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
http://books.google.de/books?id=c59FlWI ... &q&f=false" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

These books give a good impression of the essential way of the Nyingma and Kagyu practice lineage.

I dont think that "zen and Vajrayana have a history of not getting along" as has been stated. There is a book by CTR (who was friends with Suzuki Rosshi) on Zen and Vajrayana http://www.amazon.com/Teacup-Skullcup-C ... 1550550241" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; if you are interested.

After you made your mind up if you really want to get into the Vajrayana after some reading, you will have to find a teacher as there is no way to get into Tantra without a Guru.

All the very best

Tashi
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Luke
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Luke »

Howdy Dharmakid!

I'm going make my suggestions very simple:

- read Shantideva until you get really pumped up about Bodhichitta:
http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/x/nav ... 05749.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

- Do shinay (shamatha)

- Reflect on the Four Thoughts:
http://www.kagyu-asia.com/t_four_thoughts.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

- Read anything by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche or which has a foreward by him.

But my opinions aren't so important. I saw the Dalai Lama a few weeks ago and this is what he recommended to the audience (who were mostly non-Buddhists) for a daily practice:
1) Meditate on compassion.
2) Meditate on emptiness (think about how you and all phenomena lack inherent existence). He mentioned that this is how one attains enlightenment.
3) Recite OM MANI PEME HUNG at least 21 times.

:anjali:
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mudra
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by mudra »

Dhondrub wrote:The practice of Lamrim while being a beautiful practice and an absolute requisite for getting into Vajrayana in the Gelug tradition, it is generally only peripheral practiced in the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages( which is quite funny as Gampopas "Jewel Ornament of Liberation" is argueably the first Lamrim text in history).
Tashi
I think you would end up with some argument on your hands, as in fact Gampopa had studied the Kadam tradition prior to writing Jewel Ornament of Liberation. He was heavily influenced by Jowo Atisha's Lamp of the Path, which of course is the 'ur'-Lamrim. The Kadam tradition started by Atisha>Dromtonpa was in fact a Lam Rim tradition from the outset under Dromtonpa (another influence on Gampopa).
In fact, of the three main branches of Kadam handed down by Dromtonpa one was called the Kadam Lamrim branch.

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is a wonderful text. The order it presents is slightly different from other Lamrims in that Gampopa's first chapter deals with Buddha Nature. This is obviously the influence of the then equally nascent Kagyu school.

As to the different emphasis in each school these are simply a matter of approach. But if you analyse objectively, essentially the study of Lam Rim and its corresponding meditations, along with associated practices, then it isn't really so far off from Ngöndro just done continuously and more gradually. For example elements of the 7 limb prayer - homage, offering, confession, etc, are part of the daily six preliminary practices.
plwk
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by plwk »

And then there's the ....
100,000 prostrations, 100,000 water offerings, 100,000 of a chosen mantra, 100,000 of this and that... :tongue:
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Dharmakid
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Dharmakid »

Wow, thanks so much everyone :-)

It seems like there's soooo much to learn, I don't really know where to begin. I guess I'll just start with some of the web links provided as I have no means of acquiring the books as of right now.

I also need to look up some guidance on the meditation techniques you all mentioned (samatha, compassion and emptiness). I've only done loving-kindness a handful of times, including a couple with a teacher, but I'm still pretty rough with it. My main practice is simply anapanasatti since it's all I know how to do when by myself. If anyone can point me to some online sources for samatha, bodhicitta and emptiness meditation, that would be great. I'll do a bit of my own research as well.

Thanks again everyone.

:namaste:
Dharmakid

(EDIT: I just checked out the first link recommended and there seems to be a good number of links on samatha. So I'll check those out, but of course any other recs are appreciated.)
Last edited by Dharmakid on Wed Oct 06, 2010 6:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Dharmakid
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Dharmakid »

plwk wrote:And then there's the ....
100,000 prostrations, 100,000 water offerings, 100,000 of a chosen mantra, 100,000 of this and that... :tongue:
Ahh, yes, I've read about all of those! Haha. Sounds daunting but I can see how it leads to selflessness and humbleness.

:namaste:
Dharmakid
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Luke
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Luke »

Hi Dharma Kid,

You might find these introductory teachings by Mingyur Rinpoche helpful:
http://mingyur.org/teachings/index.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Here's a really deep teaching by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It might be more than you're looking for right now, but it's pretty awesome:
http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2 ... entse.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Dharmakid
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Dharmakid »

Luke wrote:Hi Dharma Kid,

You might find these introductory teachings by Mingyur Rinpoche helpful:
http://mingyur.org/teachings/index.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Here's a really deep teaching by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It might be more than you're looking for right now, but it's pretty awesome:
http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2 ... entse.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Thanks Luke, I'll definitely check them out.

:namaste:
Dharmakid
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Dharmakid
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Dharmakid »

Hey everyone,
I've been checking out the links and book descriptions and they all sound great. I'm hoping to get a practice going soon but I'm finding it difficult to decide what to do.

Can anyone recommend a very simple, straight-forward practice schedule? Like, what did you do when you first started (as far as devotion prayers, visualizations, meditation, tonglen, etc). Since at the moment I'm not working, I have quite a lot of free time during the day, so there's some flexibility as far as what I can do and how much/how long I can do it.

Any advice is appreciated.

:namaste:
Dharmakid
lisehull
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by lisehull »

plwk wrote:And then there's the ....
100,000 prostrations, 100,000 water offerings, 100,000 of a chosen mantra, 100,000 of this and that... :tongue:
My question about this is, how does one keep track of the number of mantras or whatever one does?
Use a notebook?
:namaste:
Lise
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Luke
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Luke »

Dharmakid wrote: Can anyone recommend a very simple, straight-forward practice schedule? Like, what did you do when you first started (as far as devotion prayers, visualizations, meditation, tonglen, etc).
There are many ways to do this, but here is one suggestion:

Morning:
-Do shinay for 20 to 30 minutes followed a meditation on compassion for 10 to 20 minutes.

Evening:
-Do tonglen (perhaps preceded by 5 to 10 minutes of shinay if you need to calm your mind down) for 30 minutes.
-recite OM MANI PEME HUNG for as long as you feel inspired

If you want to do more, you could try this simple meditation on Guru Rinpoche which I learned from a Jonang lama:
http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=1422" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

If you can find the text for it, you could do the 21 Praises to Tara puja. Most sanghas do this early in the morning. Basically, it consists of preliminary prayers and offerings and then there is the praise section which is repeated 2+3+7 = 12 times. During the last 7 repetitions, you can do prostrations. You don't need an empowerment to practice this. However, you might not want to visualize yourself as Tara until you have an empowerment. If you visualize Taras in front of you, that's okay though.

Here are some links for one version of it:
http://www.iloveulove.com/spirituality/ ... prelim.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://www.iloveulove.com/spirituality/ ... raises.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Or you could do a Chenrezig puja.

Perhaps, you could add another meditation on compassion, followed by a meditation on emptiness.
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Dharmakid
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Dharmakid »

Luke wrote:
Dharmakid wrote: Can anyone recommend a very simple, straight-forward practice schedule? Like, what did you do when you first started (as far as devotion prayers, visualizations, meditation, tonglen, etc).
There are many ways to do this, but here is one suggestion:

Morning:
-Do shinay for 20 to 30 minutes followed a meditation on compassion for 10 to 20 minutes.

Evening:
-Do tonglen (perhaps preceded by 5 to 10 minutes of shinay if you need to calm your mind down) for 30 minutes.
-recite OM MANI PEME HUNG for as long as you feel inspired

If you want to do more, you could try this simple meditation on Guru Rinpoche which I learned from a Jonang lama:
http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=1422" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

If you can find the text for it, you could do the 21 Praises to Tara puja. Most sanghas do this early in the morning. Basically, it consists of preliminary prayers and offerings and then there is the praise section which is repeated 2+3+7 = 12 times. During the last 7 repetitions, you can do prostrations. You don't need an empowerment to practice this. However, you might not want to visualize yourself as Tara until you have an empowerment. If you visualize Taras in front of you, that's okay though.

Here are some links for one version of it:
http://www.iloveulove.com/spirituality/ ... prelim.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://www.iloveulove.com/spirituality/ ... raises.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Or you could do a Chenrezig puja.

Perhaps, you could add another meditation on compassion, followed by a meditation on emptiness.
Thank you so much Luke. This really helps.

Funny - I found some websites that offered pretty much the same recommendations. So it sounds like this is a very basic standard beginner's practice. I'll get started right away.

:namaste:
Dharmakid
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mudra
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by mudra »

Dharmakid wrote:
Luke wrote:
Dharmakid wrote: Can anyone recommend a very simple, straight-forward practice schedule? Like, what did you do when you first started (as far as devotion prayers, visualizations, meditation, tonglen, etc).
There are many ways to do this, but here is one suggestion:

Morning:
-Do shinay for 20 to 30 minutes followed a meditation on compassion for 10 to 20 minutes.

Evening:
-Do tonglen (perhaps preceded by 5 to 10 minutes of shinay if you need to calm your mind down) for 30 minutes.
-recite OM MANI PEME HUNG for as long as you feel inspired

If you want to do more, you could try this simple meditation on Guru Rinpoche which I learned from a Jonang lama:
http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=1422" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

If you can find the text for it, you could do the 21 Praises to Tara puja. Most sanghas do this early in the morning. Basically, it consists of preliminary prayers and offerings and then there is the praise section which is repeated 2+3+7 = 12 times. During the last 7 repetitions, you can do prostrations. You don't need an empowerment to practice this. However, you might not want to visualize yourself as Tara until you have an empowerment. If you visualize Taras in front of you, that's okay though.

Here are some links for one version of it:
http://www.iloveulove.com/spirituality/ ... prelim.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://www.iloveulove.com/spirituality/ ... raises.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Or you could do a Chenrezig puja.

Perhaps, you could add another meditation on compassion, followed by a meditation on emptiness.
Thank you so much Luke. This really helps.

Funny - I found some websites that offered pretty much the same recommendations. So it sounds like this is a very basic standard beginner's practice. I'll get started right away.

:namaste:
Dharmakid
Shiné means calm abiding. To get to calm abiding is quite some task. Perhaps you meant concentration meditation. And to do tonglen properly depends on realizations of your own suffering.

This why the graded path is set out as such. However there are different ways of peeling an apple no doubt.

In the end setting out on an actual formal practice as told to you by someone on the internet is silly and will only get you into trouble. You can listen to our suggestions, weigh them etc. But in the end in order to actually engage in a path that will lead you to the correct practice of vajrayana, whichever path you decide to follow, you must seek out a real life teacher. Be careful, really use your intelligence, judgement etc before you commit to one. But in the end if you are serious about traveling this path it is the only way. That's why it is also called Guru Yoga.
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by Luke »

mudra wrote: In the end setting out on an actual formal practice as told to you by someone on the internet is silly and will only get you into trouble.
Really? I thought things like shinay and the mani mantra weren't too controversial. I simply tried to list practices which don't require any empowerments.

Then what is your suggestion for someone who has no lama? Doing absolutely nothing except for reading and praying to find a teacher? Many people without teachers would like to do something positive in the meanwhile. And before one has started Ngondro, the difference between a person with a lama and a person without a lama doesn't seem to be too great.
mudra wrote: You can listen to our suggestions, weigh them etc. But in the end in order to actually engage in a path that will lead you to the correct practice of vajrayana, whichever path you decide to follow, you must seek out a real life teacher.
Yes, of course, and it wasn't my intention to suggest otherwise to him, but it's not like he shouldn't recite even one mani mantra until he finds a lama. It's not like Chenrezig is thinking, "Oh, someone who doesn't have a lama is reciting my mantra--how repulsive!"

And to be honest, even though I've had a lama for two years, I could never get a direct answer about what my practice schedule should be from him. He told me which meditations to practice (shinay and lojong meditations), but he never commented on how to schedule them. Once he said, "You can create a daily meditation schedule," but never elaborated. Nor have I heard any visiting Tibetan lama ever talk about how to schedule one's practice. Outside of retreat, this seems to be just a personal thing which people figure out for themselves.

So often lamas can be cryptic and they don't always make things more clear.
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ground
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Re: Vajrayana for Beginners

Post by ground »

Dharmakid
Dharmakid wrote:I also need to look up some guidance on the meditation techniques you all mentioned (samatha, compassion and emptiness). I've only done loving-kindness a handful of times, including a couple with a teacher, but I'm still pretty rough with it. My main practice is simply anapanasatti since it's all I know how to do when by myself. If anyone can point me to some online sources for samatha, bodhicitta and emptiness meditation, that would be great. I'll do a bit of my own research as well.
I would recommend to continue your meditation practice while beginning to study tibetan buddhism. I think it is not good to drop everything and start from scratch. If your teacher in Theravada was not appropriate then this might be the reason for your motivation to change. So to change to tibetan buddhism without a tibetan teacher may not improve things.
Why don't you apply anapanasatti as a method for shamata/calm abiding meditation if you are used to it? breath meditation is also applied in tibetan buddhism for this purpose. Thus you might combine shamata with insight meditations taught tibetan buddhism, i.e. meditation topics of the Lamrim.


Kind regards
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