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Thread: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

  1. #1

    Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    'Sit Down and Shut Up': Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen
    The Canadian Press, Oct 20, 2007

    SHIZUOKA, Japan -- As he leads his followers through a ritual at a centuries-old temple deep in the mountains of central Japan, Brad Warner wears the flowing black robes and brown bib that identify him as a Buddhist priest.

    But Warner isn't your typical Zen master.

    He doesn't have a shaved head. Under his robes he wears baggy jeans and a "Kiss Army" T-shirt. He doesn't have the ceremony memorised - he has to read instructions off a piece of paper to help him get through it. And, unlike just about all of his Japanese counterparts, Warner doesn't do funerals.

    "There are already enough people in that business," he says.

    Warner, an Ohio native based in Los Angeles, is one of an eclectic breed of American priests who are finding a new take on the venerable Buddhist tradition of Zen, which not only has a deeply cherished history in Japan, but has taken root abroad.

    A punk rock bassist, Warner came into contact with Zen while a student at Kent State University. A stint in Japan to work teaching English, and then on the set of a Godzilla-like TV show, led to a meeting with the Japanese Zen priest who was to later become his teacher and mentor.

    Warner ended up staying for 11 years, and receiving "Dharma transmission," the Buddhist equivalent of ordainment.

    "If I hadn't been asked by my teacher, I probably would never had done it," he said. "It's not something that I wanted to do before I die."

    But it has become a way of life.

    Along with his day job, for the same Japanese production company, Warner runs a meditation centre in Santa Monica, Calif., joins in annual retreats in the hills near Mount Fuji and has written two popular books - "Hardcore Zen" and "Sit Down and Shut Up." They are about his experiences with punk rock, monster movies and Zen.

    The books have done well, selling in the tens of thousands of copies, and a third is on the way. But getting people to actually come for his sittings is another story altogether, he says.

    "Many people are interested in reading about it, but not in actually practising it," he said.

    Being outside of the mainstream, however, has given American Zen some breathing room.

    Unlike their Japanese counterparts, American Zen teachers are all over the Internet, advertising their meetings, writing blogs and loudly debating everything from the war in Iraq to the involvement of Buddhist monks in the recent unrest in Myanmar.

    Warner's own brand of Zen is a stripped-down, almost secular version of Buddhism that de-emphasizes almost all things religious. Gods, demons and hells, which are commonly referred to in many other Buddhist sects, are looked at not as real or other-dimensional, but merely as "mental states."

    His message, however, is traditional: just sit. The rigorous practice of zazen, sitting meditation, is at the heart of Zen teachings.

    Participants in a four-day retreat Warner recently led at the Tokei-in Temple, about an hour's bullet train ride from Tokyo, were expected to wake at 4:30 a.m., meditate from 5:00 to 5:45, take breakfast, do light work around the temple, meditate again from 10:00 to 11:10, have lunch, then meditate again in the afternoon and evening. Another optional meditation sitting was thrown in on the third day for those who wanted it.

    While meditating, practitioners are expected to fold their legs and remain still while sitting on a hard, round mat and facing a wall. The meditation begins, and ends, with the ringing of a bell.

    "You try to just sit," Warner said. "Let the mind just shut off."

    That's easier said than done.

    Research indicates that people, on average, have somewhere around 20,000 thoughts a day, and for most people the internal monologue is constant.

    But with training, you can quiet it down.

    "I'm reminded of software that says you must close down all other programs before downloading," said Robert Gumley, a former Australian diplomat who joined in the retreat. "It's a lot like that."

    In Japan, where Buddhism is the main religion along with the native animistic faith of Shinto, priests are part of a deeply traditional clergy, replete with colourful robes, golden slippers, elaborate rites and a wealth of chants and sutras. One of the main duties of Buddhist priests in Japan today is performing funerals.

    Warner sees himself more as a follower of the earlier Zen priests, who tried to remove much of the pomp that had accumulated over the years and restore the focus on simplicity and meditation.

    "Zen was founded as a sort of reform movement," Warner said. Other priests probably view him, privately, as a "weirdo," he said.

  2. #2
    I've never heard of him. I'll try to find some information.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3
    Bass player? Well that explains everything...

    I kid........

    There are tons of holds on my library's copies of his books so good for him on getting the word out there.

    Skye

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Skye
    Bass player? Well that explains everything...

    I kid........

    There are tons of holds on my library's copies of his books so good for him on getting the word out there.

    Skye
    The word, or his word?

  5. #5
    @Jun: Many fingers pointing to the same moon, perhaps?

    @Skye: My practice was beginning to stagnate when I stumbled on Brad's writings. His pull-no-punches style was just the talking to I needed to step away from the books and the chatter and, well, sit down and shut up. I agree that this could be (and is) appealing to many.

    His stance is unorthodox, to be sure, and he certainly raises a few eyebrows (mine included), but how many teachers before him have done the same? Brad helps add a bit of spice to the stew, but his is not the only flavour.

    Gassho,
    Dave

  6. #6
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    thanks for this article.. may be old but very perinent, as most of what i have read has been in his books..
    gassho

  7. #7

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Who is Brad Warner?
    Don't know.

  8. #8
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    Who is Brad Warner?
    Don't know.
    author, punk rocker, blogger, buddhist.. he studied with gudo nishijima.. gogle his name tons of stuff should come up.. hes got some vids on you tube too..
    gassho

  9. #9

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by bayamo
    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    Who is Brad Warner?
    Don't know.
    author, punk rocker, blogger, buddhist.. he studied with gudo nishijima.. gogle his name tons of stuff should come up.. hes got some vids on you tube too..
    gassho
    Hmmm. Sounds like an interesting fellow. I will try to google him.

  10. #10

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by bayamo
    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    Who is Brad Warner?
    Don't know.
    author, punk rocker, blogger, buddhist.. he studied with gudo nishijima.. gogle his name tons of stuff should come up.. hes got some vids on you tube too..
    gassho
    LOL.

    I know who he is. :twisted: I have two of his books.

    It's my Seung Sahn joke.
    :wink: :mrgreen:

  11. #11

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Hmmm. Sounds like an interesting fellow. I will try to google him.
    They say he has has videos up to! :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

  12. #12
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    guess i walked into an inside joke, sorry guys.. i did kinda figure Jundo may know him since they both studied with Nishijima..

    as far as punks go, there is also noah levine, who has a book or two of his own out there..
    gassho

  13. #13
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    "Turning rebellion into money." Exactly what I thought the first time I heard about Warner. Posturing as some kind of "punk" as if that label (I thought Buddhists didn't like labels) would help get him more recognition...

    Personally, I think he's a hack and a fraud, and he's an arrogant person as well, full of anger and hatred. (Just read his blog.) But some say that he has introduced a lot of people to Buddhism. Do the ends justify the means?

    (And, BTW, I don't think anyone can qualify as "punk" after the end of The Clash... But that's just from a musical standpoint. I was into that music back in the 70s; people like Warner just saw it on MTV documentaries.)

  14. #14

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    We have some interesting topic under discussion in the Jukai forum ... worth taking to heart ...

    PRECEPTS VIII - To Refrain from Discussing Faults of Others
    viewtopic.php?p=29666#p29666

    PRECEPTS IX - To Refrain from Self-Praise & Judging Others
    viewtopic.php?p=30011#p30011

    ... and who is a teacher, and what is a teaching, may not be so obvious on first glance. Positive, constructive criticism of the benefits and demerits of a certain teacher or teaching can easily turn into something else, ad hominem attacks, personal prejudices, intolerance, deafness (to the message as opposed to the wrapping paper it comes in) and such.

    We should be cautious.

    Gassho, J

  15. #15
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    We should be cautious.
    Yes, I agree, but sometimes we need to call things as they are. If anyone used even one tenth the anger and spite that Warner uses on his blog, they'd be out of line here.

    Not saying such things, under the idea that one shouldn't criticize, ends up, sometimes, with situations such as the ones you describe here:

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2074

  16. #16
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    That's just what this "punk" stance Noah and Brad are posturing themselves in an attempt to turn their zen infamy into some kind of fame and fortune. Turning rebellion into money.
    interesting view to keep in mind.. i havent read levines books, but i have heard a few of his talks.. i have read warners books and they are certainly what has introduced me the most to the zen view, dohen's shobogenzo, and just sitting..

    even the bible says "test the spirits" so i dont just take anything warner writes or says as undisputed fact.. no ones perfect and you cant please everyone, but so far i have found his books helpful..
    gassho

  17. #17

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    I posted this today on a ZFI thread about the whole topic of Genpo Roshi, Big Mind, Brad ... and it seemed appropriate to post it here too. I hope I am "Right Speeching" ...


    So, let me say this ...

    I think Brad is a vibrant, gifted teacher (I sometimes compare him to one of those firey Tibetan "Dharma Protecting" dieties who turn their anger and wrath and lighting toward fighting ignorance.) who tries to find his own voice to speak the Dharma in modern terms, and who gets a lot of new butts on Zafus ... yet who sometimes says too much, occasionally ill chosen or going to extremes.

    I think Genpo is a vibrant, gifted teacher who tries to find his own voice to speak the Dharma in modern terms, and who gets a lot of new butts on Zafus ... yet who sometimes says too much, occasionally ill chosen or going to extremes. (For the life of me, I do not know what that talk was about with Trungpa grabbing his crotch and turning his Yang into a little girl!) :shock: {note from Jundo: referring to a strange story that Genpo told in a video a Makyo experience he had}

    I think Nishijima Roshi is a vibrant (for a 90 year old guy), gifted teacher, who tries to find his own voice to speak the Dharma in modern terms, and who gets a lot of new butts on Zafus ... yet who sometimes says too much, occasionally ill chosen or going to extremes. (He has introduced some brilliant, original perspectives on understanding Dogen ... he was one of the first teachers to say that there are physiological/neurological aspects to Zazen ... and he gets a bit carried away with both sometimes, but heck, he's old. Like the rest of us, he is just trying to express in words and ideas some things hard to express in words and ideas, nailing jello to the wall)

    I think Jundo Cohen is a (not-so-)vibrant, (sometimes-)gifted teacher who tries to find his own (verbose) voice to speak the Dharma in modern terms, and who gets a lot of new butts on Zafus ... yet who sometimes says too much, occasionally ill chosen or going to extremes.

    Heck, I think Bodhidharma and Eno, Hakuin, Rinzai and Dogen ... Maezumi and both Suzukis and Trungpa and Seung Sahn and all the rest ... all the Ancestors, ancient and modern ... the Buddha too!! ... were each vibrant, gifted teachers who tried to find their own voice to speak the Dharma in terms of their times, and who got a lot of new butts on Zafus ... yet who sometimes said too much, occasionally ill chosen or going to extremes.

    And that is more than I should have said on this topic ... in words probably too much, ill chosen and going to extremes.

    Gassho, J

  18. #18
    Stephanie
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Our judgments of others are nearly always wrong because we never have the full story.

    If people are deceived by false teachers (something I do not believe Brad to be), it will only be their own will to the truth that will wake them up from the deception. We can share information about how we ourselves were deceived (which I think is a good thing to do), and challenge those who are placed or place themselves in positions of authority, but at the end of the day, it is only a will to the truth that will wake us up from the deceptions of others and our own self-deceptions. The latter are always much more insidious and I believe more people would be awakened if we took on our self-deceptions as vehemently as we take on the deceptions of others.

    Wrathful and harsh words have the power to wake people up, just as kind and gentle words do. I think it's foolish to judge a teacher by the "flavor" of their teaching. Vanilla is not more enlightened than chocolate (and vice versa). All this is what Dogen might have called "the colors of the mind." The color of the panel on the stage light is not the issue in question. The issue is the light behind the panel that projects the color onto the stage. As they might say on the streets of New York, "Don't get it twisted."

    All that matters on this path is, Are you awake? Do you really know the things you think you know? I have a real bad "knowing problem"--I think I know a lot of shit. But I really don't. None of us do. Most of the things we say to ourselves or others, we don't really know.

    What do you really know, with absolute certainty?

    Are you sure?

  19. #19
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    All that matters on this path is, Are you awake? Do you really know the things you think you know? I have a real bad "knowing problem"--I think I know a lot of shit. But I really don't. None of us do. Most of the things we say to ourselves or others, we don't really know.
    stephanie
    that comment in blod really helped me.. i think that is what it comes down to in most any situation..

    jundo
    good post..

    gassho

  20. #20
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by chugai
    I think there is a duty to warn.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    We have some interesting topic under discussion in the Jukai forum ... worth taking to heart ...

    PRECEPTS VIII - To Refrain from Discussing Faults of Others
    viewtopic.php?p=29666#p29666

    PRECEPTS IX - To Refrain from Self-Praise & Judging Others
    viewtopic.php?p=30011#p30011

    ... and who is a teacher, and what is a teaching, may not be so obvious on first glance. Positive, constructive criticism of the benefits and demerits of a certain teacher or teaching can easily turn into something else, ad hominem attacks, personal prejudices, intolerance, deafness (to the message as opposed to the wrapping paper it comes in) and such.

    We should be cautious.

    Gassho, J
    I think the concern is when a particular teacher or teachings may be dangerous, to cite an extreme example, Aum Shinrikyo

  21. #21
    Stephanie
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by chugai
    Als sie mich holten,
    gab es keinen mehr, der protestierte. ---- Martin Niemöller

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    What do you really know, with absolute certainty?

    Are you sure?
    What's the implication here? That holding back from judging another person's spiritual realization, when lacking the knowledge and wisdom to make such a judgment accurately, is akin to refusing to stand against the Nazis? I hope you're kidding...

    I am the last one to say we shouldn't criticize teachers. For one, teachers should not be given exceptions to social laws and standards. Also, a teacher who lies should be called out as a liar. But I find it supremely foolish when the peanut gallery starts going on about how a teacher is "false" because his or her personality doesn't fit into a naive spiritual ideal of a calm, blissful Buddhist floating two inches above the ground. I believe people should be able to air foolish opinions, but I am also going to challenge them when I hear them.

  22. #22
    Stephanie
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    My issue is not with people saying, "This teacher expresses anger in his/her words." My issue is with people going from there and saying, "So they are obviously not a 'true' teacher." The most help I have gotten along the Way has come from very unexpected and surprising places and people, most of whom have sported some obvious imperfections. A good teacher can be rude and aggressive; these traits are not required, any more than being "nicey nice" is required, but they do not negate the possibility of good teaching. Along the path, I've needed and been helped by a slap in the face more often than kind, gentle speech. We all need kindness and gentleness but perhaps not from our spiritual teachers, whose first and foremost duty is to the truth. Most notable Zen teachers in the lineage were not "lovey dovey." A lot of them were aggressive with students and went off on what could only be called rants about false Buddhism, etc.

  23. #23
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by chugai
    The implication is -- when it flies, walks,talks,shits,eats,reproduces,swims, etc like a spade is just call it a spade and don't play games with semantics and intellectual musings -- because in the meantime somebody might get hurt. I've been around the elephant enough times to draw a picture. Which brings me to a whole new subject -- how did the one blind guy touch an elephants side and think it was a wall or even like a wall? I touched an elephant when i was five and it was nothing at all like a wall.
    i can totally deal and agree with calling a spade a spade, no problems there..
    but i have no idea what the elephant story has to do with this..
    gassho

  24. #24
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    I have no opinion of Brad or Noah, never read them. But how can I know someone's experience? What to me may look like a "pose" might be that person's real experience. Such a mistaken perception has happened to many of us, if not all, on both sides: perceiver and the one being perceived. So with that possibility of mistaken perceptions, maybe sometimes a duty to caution is more appropriate than a duty to warn.

  25. #25

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    by chugai on Mon Nov 23, 2009 2:44 pm

    Hot Topic is not rebellion against the status quo of American culture ... it is an accepted kid tested mommy approved "brand" of American culture ... "branding" is posing ... look at any weekend warrior riding a Harley and wearing his leathers on Saturday and driving his Prius (or insert whatever four wheeled cage) and wearing his monkeysuit to work Mon-Fri ... same/same ...
    Yea...the marketing & branding of Sit Down and Shut Up seemed to trivialize the subject...much like TV images of the war in Iraq are trivialized by being sandwiched in between ads for Viagra and Chevys. The cover screamed consumerism...but that's the American way...any path to an end? The mall as monastery? Perhaps...

    Tom

  26. #26

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    "hardcore zen" brought me to soto zen. just made it seem more relatable to me. i've since read and enjoyed (to varying degrees) all of brad warner's books.

    read noah levine's books, but didn't really care for them as much. the 1st one seemed really preoccupied w/ self promotion. but he does seem to be doing some good work though. a friend (whose opinion i respect) knows him and maintains that he's sincere.

    publishers are probably hustling an image more than those guys are - they do want to sell books...that's kinda the point. the difference seems that there might be something beneficial and sincere behind what they're selling, whereas hot topic seems fairly hollow. i dunno...

  27. #27
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Is Brad's and Noah's "branding" inconsistent with right livelihood? At first glance it doesn't seem that way to me, but I haven't spent much time investigating it.

    As for the weekend Harley analogy, I have a friend that really likes motorcycles. As an owner of a Suzuki he always bad-mouthed Harleys, and then one day his brother gave him a Harley touring bike. Suddenly he was a big Harley fan. On his birthday he got tons of Harley gifts, lots of Harley clothes and accessories. So now he wears lots of Harley stuff on the weekends when he rides his bike for pleasure. I'm sure there are "True" Harley guys out there that have been into it longer and deeper that would find it easy to look at him and call him a poser, but is he supposed to not ride his motorcycle, not wear his Harley gear? He isn't trying to be a Harley poser. He's just being the same guy he always was, only now with lots more Harley stuff. Was he a "victim" of branding? How so? What harm has it caused to him or anyone else? Which was the "pose," him liking or disliking Harleys, or maybe both? What does it matter? How can we judge his sincerity? What is the point of trying to judge anyone's sincerity?

    I am sure there are "True" punk rockers out there that have been into it longer and deeper than Brad/Noah, but does that give them the moral authority to judge someone else's punk rocker-ness?

  28. #28
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    Is Brad's and Noah's "branding" inconsistent with right livelihood? At first glance it doesn't seem that way to me, but I haven't spent much time investigating it.

    As for the weekend Harley analogy, I have a friend that really likes motorcycles. As an owner of a Suzuki he always bad-mouthed Harleys, and then one day his brother gave him a Harley touring bike. Suddenly he was a big Harley fan. On his birthday he got tons of Harley gifts, lots of Harley clothes and accessories. So now he wears lots of Harley stuff on the weekends when he rides his bike for pleasure. I'm sure there are "True" Harley guys out there that have been into it longer and deeper that would find it easy to look at him and call him a poser, but is he supposed to not ride his motorcycle, not wear his Harley gear? He isn't trying to be a Harley poser. He's just being the same guy he always was, only now with lots more Harley stuff. Was he a "victim" of branding? How so? What harm has it caused to him or anyone else? Which was the "pose," him liking or disliking Harleys, or maybe both? What does it matter? How can we judge his sincerity? What is the point of trying to judge anyone's sincerity?

    I am sure there are "True" punk rockers out there that have been into it longer and deeper than Brad/Noah, but does that give them the moral authority to judge someone else's punk rocker-ness?
    gassho

  29. #29

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    I am sure there are "True" punk rockers out there that have been into it longer and deeper than Brad/Noah, but does that give them the moral authority to judge someone else's punk rocker-ness?
    Yes, it does.










    :mrgreen:

  30. #30

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    My main disagreement with Warner's outlook is his approach to Genpo and his Big Mind (tm) classes. Overall, I agree with this take, but do wish he used different approach to his disagreement.

  31. #31
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    as if his detractors needed more ammo on brad's criticism of other teachers, it seems brad has fired another volley at his favorite target and has turned comments on his blog back on, for now..
    gassho

  32. #32

    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Hello to those posting here!

    I had a few things to say about Brad, I said it on the other Brad thread "Brad Warner insists..." I saw no need to say it all over again. Once is enough already!

    in gratitude to all teachers: past, present and future

  33. #33
    Senior Member bayamo's Avatar
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    Re: Punk priest takes on tradition-bound world of Zen

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    Hello to those posting here!

    I had a few things to say about Brad, I said it on the other Brad thread "Brad Warner insists..." I saw no need to say it all over again. Once is enough already!

    in gratitude to all teachers: past, present and future
    and a great post it was!! gassho..

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