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Thread: Saving all beings?

  1. #1

    Saving all beings?

    Okay, I'm up way too late, but I'm on a tear (had open house at school tonight), so I'm getting all my postings in at once!

    One version of the Verse of the Kesa says:

    “Vast is the robe of liberation
    A formless field of benefaction
    I wear the Tathagata’s teaching
    Saving all sentient beings”

    One version of the 4 Great Vows says:

    “Sentient being are numberless, we vow to save them all.
    Delusions are endless, we vow to cut through them all.
    The teachings are infinite, we vow to learn them all.
    The Buddha Way is inconceivable, we vow to attain it.”

    I’d like to talk about the idea of “saving all sentient beings.” This seems to be an important theme in Mahayana Buddhism - the idea of the Bodhisattva saving all others before themselves. But, really, what does this mean? Does it have any meaning for you?

    I read where Zen Master Seung Sahn said something to the effect that he had already saved all sentient beings and now it was up to his students to do the same. Does this imply that because he had attained some form of “enlightenment” he had saved all beings? Or that because he had saved his “self” (which is an illusion anyway, so he got rid of his own perception of self), he had saved everyone else’s self (which is also an illusion, and got rid of his perception of others‘ selves)? In other words he realized there was no difference between himself and others - that all is One.

    Now I think that the idea of “saving” others is much different from the traditional Christian idea of saving souls from the fires of hell by accepting Jesus Christ (or perhaps to some Buddhists it IS similar - saving others from endless cycles of rebirth), but it doesn’t SOUND too much different.

    Or is this one of those “Zen things” that we’re just not supposed to ruminate on and leave it that?

  2. #2
    Hi Keith,

    I think that there are a few ways to look at "Saving all Sentient Beings" ... More than saving (which has the "saving souls" flavor), I rather prefer the terms "educating, enlightening and aiding". But, for now, "saving" is the term I will use here.

    (1) Yes, in our Zen Practice, we realize that nobody is in need of nothing no how. Everybody is already "saved", if you will. When all the universe is of "one piece", when whatever happens happens, when everything is perfectly just-what-it-is, when there's no loss no gain, when there are no separate "two's" (no separate "killer", no "victim", nothing to be harmed or lost, thus no violence that can be done) ... there is nothing in need of saving. The way things go is the way things go, all things come and go ... and that is fine. (That is true even for concentration camp prisoners about to be marched into the gas chambers ... nothing is needed, nothing can be taken away. )

    (2) Next, most people don't realize the above perspective, so we can "save" them by spreading the teachings and the perspectives of Buddhist Practice. So, people are actually (1), but they do not realize it, so we need to help them see that.

    (3) Of course, we live in this world. The perspectives of "no gain no loss" "the way things go is just how they go" etc. ... well, that is only one side of a single coin. Sometimes Buddhism stopped with (1), and was about removing oneself from the world, turning our backs on physical and material suffering in this world (e.g., because all things are impermanent, since life and death are rather states of mind ... well, no need to build that hospital. The Christian missionaries have always done a much better job of this than many Buddhists, although sometimes for their own prostelitizing reasons). Now, in the West and in many Asian countries too, Buddhism has become more socially active. We need to save people with medical care, food, education ... we need to prevent war and violence, we need to keep the prisoners out of the gas chambers because that is a tragedy!

    In other words (1)(2) and (3) are all true, simultaneously and without conflict.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    I don't believe in proselytizing. I think the best advertisement for dharma practice is simply the results of the practice. When we meet people who are balanced, we may ask them why or how they became such. Then they will tell about the practice.

    Also, you can change the world by changing yourself. You have influence around you, and, while this doesn't change people totally, it changes them slightly, perhaps letting them see that if you are good and kind, they could be as well.

    Kirk

  4. #4
    Hi Jundo,

    Thank you for your reply. I think I get what you're saying, but I'm still a little unclear.

    Re: #1: At this point in my practice, I must take this on great faith! While I have had very brief flashes of this, the real reason behind my beginning practice in the first place was probably to "feel" this on a more on-going basis. I can only say at this point that this PERHAPS is so.

    Re: #2: I'm sorry, Sensei, but this seems to smack of elitism. Who are we to say what others "need"? Others seem to have done quite fine without our practice. I am thinking of other seemingly balanced, wise people found throughout history and in various other traditions. If I have misunderstood your meaning, I apologize and welcome your correction.

    Re: #3: I heartily agree. I think it's most important to put our money where our zafus are. While saving ourselves may help save others (although I cannot say for certain), to make the world a little (whatever), we sometimes need to get our asses off our zafus and do what needs to be done. This is one thing I disagree with your dharma brother Brad about. While I think it's useful to question our motives, I think it's more helpful to actually help. I am reminded of why Jesus advised to do our good deeds in secret. But even the ones that are not done in secret are still done!

    Eager for your reply.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  5. #5

    saving all beings

    Hello Keith:
    I think one of the best things to do with these translated phrases is to let yourself encounter as many variations as you may find.
    This was one side benefit--sitting with different groups/different lineages--each one has its own translation of the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra, its own translation of the Four Bodhisattva Vows, etc. By feeling the nuances in different wordings, it is possible to better flesh out their dimentionality. They cease being a concept and assume an aspect of living-ness: they (these vows) continue because we continue them: like a fire which continues because another log is put on. We are the material which keeps them alive.
    As practicing buddhists, we each grow these vows within us.
    They start out as words, as ideas and we say them and sit with them and ....
    I could tell you what they used to mean to me and what they mean to me now but what good would that do? You plant them in your heart/mind of your body/mind and that is where they manifest themselves--they are no longer words they are very personal and they are active
    To ponder each of these vows is not dissimilar to pondering a koan. (I've only taken on koans arising naturally in daily life, I have never been 'assigned' a koan to formally study).
    It really is not necessary to understand (cognitively) everything, or to understand all of it at once. For example--you see a flower--you don't need to understand it, you and the flower commune. Saying the vows is like that: the vows act with you (internally) and you act with them, externally.

    At least this has been my experience.
    Please excuse me for using the pronoun 'you' when I guess it would be most appropriate for me to use the pronoun 'I'.
    I believe that what emerges in this practice is going to be unique to each of us, just as each of us has a unique life, a unique DNA pattern.

    As far as this and other 'zen things' I think you can both ruminate on it and leave it at that.
    Don't attach to ruminations: just let the rumination machine go to town with all those big fluffy clouds.
    Don't attach to translations--with one group, say the vows the way they word them--with another group, say the vows the way they've worded them. Your heart/mind seeks and knows these vows beyond words.
    At least this has been my experience.

    gassho
    keishin

  6. #6
    Hi Keith,

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith
    Hi Jundo,

    Thank you for your reply. I think I get what you're saying, but I'm still a little unclear.

    Re: #1: At this point in my practice, I must take this on great faith! While I have had very brief flashes of this, the real reason behind my beginning practice in the first place was probably to "feel" this on a more on-going basis. I can only say at this point that this PERHAPS is so.
    Take my word for it! Trust in this! You'll be sitting in the bathtub one day, looking where you end and the water in the tub, and the tub (and the bathroom beyond) begin, and it will all be clear. Water in the tub may come and go, but there is no loss no gain.

    Re: #2: I'm sorry, Sensei, but this seems to smack of elitism. Who are we to say what others "need"? Others seem to have done quite fine without our practice. I am thinking of other seemingly balanced, wise people found throughout history and in various other traditions. If I have misunderstood your meaning, I apologize and welcome your correction.
    I agree. Most Zen groups are not big into prostelitizing, and most Buddhist groups in general, for that matter (there are exceptions). Around here, my philosophy has been to let people know that we exist, but neither try to herd folks in the door nor chase after those who wander away. This practice is not for everyone, and others have done quite fine with other ways of living. Different strokes for different folks. (I have often discussed this topic with Nishijima, who believes our practice can and should have wider appeal to the general population).

    In fact, if there is something "elitist" about my philosophy, it is this: I believe that our form of Zen practice is best suited for those with a certain intellectual bent and a bit of book learning (even though we are supposedly anti-intellectual, and "beyond words", you need a bit of a philosophical mind to understand why and how). I think. (Another point I made to Nishijima, who is a graduate of the University of Tokyo Law Department, basically Japan's equivalent to being a Harvard law school grad, and former Ministry of Finance official. You don't need even to have graduated from school to do our practice, don't get me wrong. But you need to be of a certain cerebral nature and a bit on the mental ball. If that belief makes me a bit of an elitist, well ... )

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7
    Hi Keishin,

    Well, I have ruminated long and hard on your reply :wink:

    Seriously, thank you for the reminders (as in the "local sangha issues" thread), particularly about not getting stuck on any one translation. That actually brings up a question. It seems from your post that you may be familar with various translations of the Precepts, Verse of the Kesa, and 4 Great Vows. Do you have any particular ones with which you connect? Or, if not, can you point me in a direction where I can find various versions? That is also an open question to anyone who may have any views and/or insights on various translations.

    Jundo, will there be a "standard" translation of these for Treeleaf Zendo?

    Jundo, re: your reply:

    While I enjoy baths, I really don't take them often. Can I have that experience in the shower? Of course, I do trust you!

    I think (at least I hope) you know that I never have thought of you or your approach to Zen as elitist. I used that word to make a point. In retrospect, perhaps, it was too strong a word. I've always been a "book learning" kind of guy, and sometimes that has gotten in my way of both my Zen practice and my classroom teaching (being really inspired by something I've read, only to be disappointed by what I experience in my everyday life). However, as I find a nice balance between practice and study, I see that they are, in fact, the same. I think. :wink:

  8. #8
    Hi Jundo,

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    In other words (1)(2) and (3) are all true, simultaneously and without conflict.
    Reading your descriptions of (1), (2) and (3) I couldn't help thinking of the first 3 of Nishijima Roshi's '4 philosophies', i.e. idealism (the idea that everyone is already saved), materialism (people aren't aware of (1), so there are concrete things in the material world we have to consider) and realism (as you say "Of course, we live in this world. The perspectives of "no gain no loss" "the way things go is just how they go" etc. ... well, that is only one side of a single coin."). Was that intentional / just a coincidence / or has my brain just short-circuited and I'm reading to much into it?

    Also, re: '...simultaneously and without conflict', I think that's one of the things which, in general, makes the Buddhadharma so unique, but at the same time is difficult for some people who always want a 'yes/no', 'black/white' answer to get their head around. Just an observation.

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  9. #9
    Jundo
    In fact, if there is something "elitist" about my philosophy, it is this: I believe that our form of Zen practice is best suited for those with a certain intellectual bent and a bit of book learning (even though we are supposedly anti-intellectual, and "beyond words", you need a bit of a philosophical mind to understand why and how). I think. (Another point I made to Nishijima, who is a graduate of the University of Tokyo Law Department, basically Japan's equivalent to being a Harvard law school grad, and former Ministry of Finance official. You don't need even to have graduated from school to do our practice, don't get me wrong. But you need to be of a certain cerebral nature and a bit on the mental ball. If that belief makes me a bit of an elitist, well ... )
    I think it's important to remember that we have probably all been off "the mental ball" occasionally. I don't think this necessarily makes a person less capable of practicing such a simple practice. What it really comes down to, I think, is the will and sincerity of the student and teacher. Of course a simpleton might be able to comprehend more about their practice than someone who has read a thousand books. Or, maybe i just don't understand your meaning of "mental ball".

    I think zazen actually make a person more intelligent. Lack of intelligence is mostly made up of our misunderstandings and ways that we don't notice what's really going on.

    However, I think that some probably might have to sit for a while longer than others. And those with mental problems probably need a different form of practice to begin with. They can't be expected to just sit for 30 minutes. Maybe that's where psychology comes in.

    Gassho

  10. #10
    Hi Keith,

    Quote Originally Posted by Keith

    Jundo, will there be a "standard" translation of these for Treeleaf Zendo?
    Well, I suppose I will get around to collecting something in a binder sometime. Some chanting is good practice, and we will get around to it putting that in place.

    But Keishin's advise is very sound and beautiful. In fact, that is what I will do too for Treeleaf: look around and see all that already exists out there, maybe adjust a few things, mix and match.

    I think (at least I hope) you know that I never have thought of you or your approach to Zen as elitist. I used that word to make a point. In retrospect, perhaps, it was too strong a word. I've always been a "book learning" kind of guy, and sometimes that has gotten in my way of both my Zen practice and my classroom teaching (being really inspired by something I've read, only to be disappointed by what I experience in my everyday life). However, as I find a nice balance between practice and study, I see that they are, in fact, the same. I think. :wink:
    and Will wrote ...

    I think it's important to remember that we have probably all been off "the mental ball" occasionally. I don't think this necessarily makes a person less capable of practicing such a simple practice. What it really comes down to, I think, is the will and sincerity of the student and teacher. Of course a simpleton might be able to comprehend more about their practice than someone who has read a thousand books. Or, maybe i just don't understand your meaning of "mental ball".

    I think zazen actually make a person more intelligent. Lack of intelligence is mostly made up of our misunderstandings and ways that we don't notice what's really going on.

    I could have said what I said much better. Yes, what it really comes down to, is the will and sincerity of the student and teacher. A simple person will be able to comprehend more about many things than someone who has read a thousand books. Book learning can get in the way. All this is true.

    I just meant that our Practice will never have mass appeal, I think, and will always be most attractive to folks of a certain philosophical and cerebral bent. Other forms of Buddhism, and Religion, have much more mass attraction to folks. It is just true.

    I mean, in our practice, we are a bunch of overly thoughtful people trying to learn from various teachers on how to learn from the rocks, trees, kitty cats and birds. I just don't think that rocks, tree, kitty cats and birds would want, or need, to make the effort!

    Gassho, Jundo


    PS- Kenneth wrote

    Reading your descriptions of (1), (2) and (3) I couldn't help thinking of the first 3 of Nishijima Roshi's '4 philosophies'... Was that intentional / just a coincidence / or has my brain just short-circuited and I'm reading to much into it?
    There's some overlap, but I did not intend a one to one match. The subject is a little different.

    Also, re: '...simultaneously and without conflict', I think that's one of the things which, in general, makes the Buddhadharma so unique, but at the same time is difficult for some people who always want a 'yes/no', 'black/white' answer to get their head around. Just an observation.
    "acceptance without acceptance" "making choices of what you like/dropping simultaneously likes and dislikes" "moving forward/going no place" ... the ability to grasp life on two-levels-not-even-one is a key to our Practice, I think.

  11. #11

    saving all beings

    Hello Keith:

    From Jiyu Kennett's book Selling Water by the River this rendtion of the Four Great Vows:

    I vow to save others endlessly,
    I vow to cease from desire for eternity,
    I vow to study the Dharma for ever,
    I vow to perfect Buddhism in all lives and in all worlds.

    Quite different from other translations I've encountered!

    By the way, Keith, do you remember where you found the translations for Verse of the Kesa and the Four Great Vows you started this forum off with?
    It would be nice to know the source if you have it...

    gassho,
    Keishin

  12. #12

    saving all beings

    Hello again Keith:

    Four Great Vows again! This translation comes from the website for the Sitting Frog Sangha:

    Beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.
    Obstacles are countless; I vow to overcome them all.
    Dharma gates are limitless; I vow to enter them all.
    The Buddha Way is endless; I vow to follow it.

    (Translations from Japanese by Dogo Barry Graham)


    I think I'll start a new forum so that as others wish translations they find, we can gather them all in one place here at Treeleaf....

    gassho,
    Keishin

  13. #13
    FWIW from a rookie--
    When I sit (and when I am "sitting" off of my zafu) there arises a compassionate "desire" for others to be free of the unnecessary suffering of fear/desire.
    When I can stay out of the way there is action taken that may be saving. Sometimes, even my "I" can participate helpfully.
    Perhaps there is, probably there is given my sleeping mind, saving that goes on of which I am not aware but of which I am somehow part.
    I like the idea of saving "all" as it frees this activity from any goal beyond itself.
    -------
    Sometimes I am thanked by a parishioner for what has been nothing to me but much to them. When my actions are "nothing to me" they are closest to love. I've learned to not discount their experience by saying, "It was nothing." because it was more than nothing to them. I'm learning to say something else like simply, "I'm glad." because that's true.

    I so wish I could live this way more, longer. But it is what it is. Even my desire for it to be different!

    p.s. Where was that site for making an avatar. I have to find a picture w/o something weird on my head.

  14. #14
    I just wanted to thank Keith for asking this question. Just the other day I was wondering about the meaning of "saving all beings" for our practice.

    Gassho.

  15. #15
    Again. I might be producing some BS, but I believe that these questions get answered when you have realization. Remember (blah blah blah) we are all Buddhas. If Siddhattha realized these things through sitting, then we are just as capable of getting the answers ourselves through sitting. No?

    Gassho

  16. #16
    Will,
    Absolutely.
    What I write here has too much ego attached.
    This is etch-a-sketch not stone.
    Frisbee tossing w/words.

  17. #17

    Re: saving all beings

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    Four Great Vows again! This translation comes from the website for the Sitting Frog Sangha:

    Beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.
    Obstacles are countless; I vow to overcome them all.
    Dharma gates are limitless; I vow to enter them all.
    The Buddha Way is endless; I vow to follow it.
    Beloved others,

    Reading these words this morning, it seems to me that these could be taken as koans in addition to actual attainable vows.

    If beings are numberless how do I save them all?

    If obstacles are countless, how do I overcome them all?

    If dharma gates are limitless, how do I enter them all?

    If the Buddha Way is endless, how do I follow it?



    They seem to pose a riddle that appears unsolvable.

    Yet deep inside me, it feels like there is a way to "solve" the riddle and attain the vows.

    Wei Wu Wei said:

    "There seem to two kinds of searchers: those who seek to make their ego something other than it is, i.e. holy, happy, unselfish (as though you could make a fish unfish), and those who understand that all such attempts are just gesticulation and play-acting, that there is only one thing that can be done, which is to disidentify themselves with the ego, by realizing its unreality, and by becoming aware of their eternal identity with pure being."

    Doing this it seems could be the answer to the koan of the four vows.

    Namaste...Peace...Love...Gassho...

    Urug 8)


    PS I know I just posted this same quote in another thread. I must be dealing with this issue on some level that it keeps coming into my mind. I will go sit with this.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Martin's Avatar
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    Thank you Urug

    I like the idea of the vows as koans very much.

    Gassho

    Martin

  19. #19

    Re: saving all beings

    Hi,

    I would add one perspective here ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Urug
    Wei Wu Wei said:

    "There seem to two kinds of searchers: those who seek to make their ego something other than it is, i.e. holy, happy, unselfish (as though you could make a fish unfish), and those who understand that all such attempts are just gesticulation and play-acting, that there is only one thing that can be done, which is to disidentify themselves with the ego, by realizing its unreality, and by becoming aware of their eternal identity with pure being."
    The second road ("eternal identity with pure being") can be viewed a couple of ways, and I do not think that Wei Wu Wei (aka Terence Gray) makes that very clear (at least in this short selection of his wonderful writings). Our Practice might be seen as that of a stinky fish, who realizes it is not a stinky fish, while realizing it is a stinky fish again. It now experiences its own stink and fishiness in a completely new way, a way beyond stink/no stink or fish/no fish, although the fishiness and fishy smell remain inherent in being a fish.

    An "eternal identity with pure being" could be seen by some people as a fish escaping its stink and fishiness, which is about the same as our trying to be holy or 'always joyful' or 'perfect beings' or any other unrealistic, idealistic target.

    There may be different kinds of enlightenment, attained by different types of mystics seeking different things. However, the only one I am interested in, and the most wonderful I think, is the one that allows me to be home in being me (with one aspect of that as the realization that there is no 'me').

    Our Zen practice teaches us some things about 'just swimming,' about being fish 'at one with the ocean', about being less angry and destructive fish ... but we never escape from our own scales (at least in this life, before some bigger fish eats us).

    So, I encourage folks not to hold realization up to too high a standard, with too high expectations ... cause you will miss the part about living as a perfectly imperfect human being, in a perfectly imperfect world, even after the 'realization'. You will be a fish who dreams of being a bird or the like.

    This subject connects with several threads of discussion on the Forum, so I am going to try to continue this same theme there too: In an nutshell, "be diligent, be careful ... also know that you will not always be diligent and careful ... also know that there is no need to be diligent and careful."

    So, for example, Jundo's version of the 'Four Vows" might go something like this ... with all parts true at once (More like the '4 Vows, with many wise provisos'):

    Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.
    But many sentient beings are quite unsavable or have no wish of my butting in. That's just the fact and/or their right.
    And anyway, I'll sometimes break my vows because I am human. That's okay.
    As well, ultimately there are no sentient beings, nothing in need of saving, no 'I' to make a vow. Thus, the job is already done!
    But, anyway, I will do my best to help those who want to be helped, the problems of the world that can be helped, no matter the foregoing.


    Delusions are inexhaustable, I vow to cut through them.
    Some delusions are part of being human, I require them and vow to keep them (because this life is like a good movie ... I want to watch it until the end, and get sucked into the story, even if just a silly movie).
    Part of it is just to stop thinking of some things as 'delusions' (the ones not too harmful), whereupon those 'delusions' disappear as 'delusions'. Of course, some 'delusions' are really harmful 'delusions', and can be done without.
    And the universe is beyond delusion/enlightenment ...so the job is already done!
    But, anyway, I will do my best to keep up my Practice, and thus to realize other ways of perceiving this life.

    Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
    Of course, I cannot perceive very much of it, given the size of the cosmos and my little corner of it, and my slightly-smarter-than-an-ant-like intelligence.
    Then again, in perceiving just this grain of sand, all of Reality is perceived. So, the job is done ... that way at least!
    But, so much I can perceive of Reality through my Buddhist Practice, things otherwise to which I was blind. So, I will keep Practicing.


    The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it.
    I wonder how much the 'Buddha' actually lived 'the Buddha Way'? I bet we would find him quite human if we actually met the guy.
    Anyway, I want to live 'my way', and ultimately, every way is the Buddha Way (at least if no harm to self and others results).
    Non attaining is the attaining. Thus, the job is already done!
    But I will keep seeking to live by the Precepts and all the rest.


    Consider the above a first draft, done at 1am. Also, not so easy to chant. You wonder why the tax code looks the way it does, after the lawyers got through with all the provisos?

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - I thought the version of the vows by Ven Steve Hagen had something of the sisyphian flavor I was looking for ...


    To save all sentient beings, though they are numberless
    To end all desiring, though desires are endless (or inexhaustible)
    To learn the Dharma, though the Dharma is boundless
    To realize the Buddha Way, though it is unattainable

  20. #20
    Keishin,

    I am glad you started a new thread with the various translations.

    You asked,
    "By the way, Keith, do you remember where you found the translations for Verse of the Kesa and the Four Great Vows you started this forum off with?
    It would be nice to know the source if you have it..."

    Re: the translation of the Verse of the Kesa with which I began this thread, I actually received from Jundo when I took the Precepts with him about a year and a half ago. Not sure from where he received it.

    Some others variations:

    “Vast is the robe of liberation
    A formless field of happiness (line from "Moon in a Dewdrop", I think)
    I wear the universal teaching (line from Joko Beck)
    Harmonizing all sentient beings” (line from somewhere on the Net)

    From Nishijima Roshi & Chodo Cross:
    "How great is the clothing of liberation,
    Formless, field of happiness, robe!
    Devoutly wearing the Tathaagata's teaching,
    Widely I will save living beings."

    The version of 4 Great Vows that I wrote is the one used in the Kwan Um School of Zen.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  21. #21
    Hi Jundo,

    I love your version of the 4 Great Vows. Yes, they'd be difficult to chant!

    You wrote:
    "PS - I thought the version of the vows by Ven Steve Hagen had something of the Sisyphean flavor I was looking for ...

    To save all sentient beings, though they are numberless
    To end all desiring, though desires are endless (or inexhaustible)
    To learn the Dharma, though the Dharma is boundless
    To realize the Buddha Way, though it is unattainable"

    I second that notion. Steve Hagen's version does have a sense of: "this may be impossible, but it's damned worth trying (as you said, Sisyphean).

    Gassho,
    Keith

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