generosity

Can Buddhist practice make you more of a dick?

A quick thought experiment for you. You can take a pill to extend your own life by six months. Alternatively you can give the pill to a stranger who is similar to you and add five years to their life.

Which would you choose in this hypothetical test of generosity?

This question was posed to a number of groups, including Tibetan Buddhist monks, non-religious Americans, American Christians, ordinary Buddhists in Bhutan, and Hindus in India.

You’d think that becoming a Buddhist monk would make people particularly compassionate and generous, but it turned out that this wasn’t the case, and that the monastic Buddhists were less willing than any of the other groups to give the pill to a stranger.

I’m stunned. The Tibetan monastics were more likely than any of the others involved in the study to embrace the idea that the self is not fixed. The study was in fact intended to find out whether embracing this Buddhist teaching would affect the fear of death. It seems it did, but in the wrong direction, making monastics more attached to living and more afraid to dying, to the point where they would choose to live at someone else’s expense.

I’m a bit disturbed by this, although it was pointed out that these were novice monks and not people who’d been meditating for years. But this point remains that these monks were less ethical than average Buddhists with far less practice under their belts.

It makes me wonder about who is attracted to monasticism in the first place. Could it be that it attracts people who are more self-centered than average? Or does being a monk make you more selfish, perhaps because of the status involved?

In a different part of the Buddhist world, a western monk, Sravasti Dhammika, pointed out that the “excessive reverence surrounding monks” in the Theravadin world tended to make many of them “complacent and proud.” Monks in Burma have been complicit in genocide against the Rohingya people, and monks in Sri Lanka have advocated violence against the Hindu Tamil population. Things can get ugly.

Anyway, I do find this study fascinating and rather disturbing. One of my social media friends said that it shows that becoming a monk doesn’t automatically make you a better person, but the problem is that it appears that in some respects it might make you less ethical!

As for myself, I think of what it would be like to live for six months knowing that I had deprived someone of five years of life. I’d rather not have that experience. You’re welcome to my pill!

But also, there are definitely times that my practice has made me more selfish and uncaring. Sometimes the notion of having a “higher” calling can lead you to neglect important relationships, and the idea of “non-attachment” can also become an excuse for unkindness.

The main lesson I take from this study is the reminder to keep checking that I’m being kind.


PS. I wrote an email to one of the leaders of the study, suggesting another possible interpretation of the results. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Dr. Garfield.

As a Buddhist I’m very open to the possibility that at times Buddhist practice may make us more selfish — I think many of us have misused teachings on “non-attachment” in ways that have hurt others — but I have a sincere question about the “Death and the Self” study.

I gather that the monks were novices, and my question is, given that novices may have recently (how recently in this case I don’t know) left home and entered a community of which they are the lowliest members, might your findings actually be measuring the effect of what may have been a deeply unsettling change in their social connections? I can imagine that such a change might provoke an anxiety that might overwhelm impulses to generosity.

I’m assuming that the other groups were not selected on the basis of having recently gone through such a profound dislocation in their lives.

Of course I may be misinterpreting the term “novice.” Perhaps these monks have been living in a monastic context for years. Anyway, I thought I should ask the question.

Thanks for your time.

Sincerely yours,
Bodhipaksa

 


And here’s the reply I received:

Dear Bodhipaksa,

Our group included novices and fully ordained monks with a range of years in robes. And we didn’t see any effect f length of time in robes or age. The interesting question in my mind is still, what happens when we look at seriously long-term meditators; I expect a reversal of the effect.

Yours as ever,

J

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Giving is the most natural thing in the world

It’s clear that we spend a lot of time giving to others. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Most giving is small, in passing, hardly noticed, the breath and wallpaper of life. It’s not hard to overlook. And with all the attention paid in the media to images and words of destruction and horrible mistreatment, it is easy to conclude that the true home of humanity is on the dark side of the force.

Yet, while it is certainly true that we are animals atop the food chain and capable of great aggressiveness, it is even more true that we are genetically programmed to be cooperative and generous. The defining feature of human society is cooperation; notwithstanding the daily weird killing on the 6 o’clock news, harmful aggression is the exception, not the rule: that’s why it’s news.

Consider these facts about human beings – in other words, you and me:

• We evolved from a rarity in the animal kingdom: species composed of groups of individuals that routinely shared food with each other, even when they weren’t related.

• Our ancestors were unusual among animals in another way as well, in that they cooperated to gather and hunt.

• A third distinctive feature of humans is that males often stay involved after children are conceived to protect and share food with them and their mother. While we might wish this were even more common, it’s important to remember that in almost all animal species, fathers take zero interest in their young.

• Genetically, our nearest relative – the chimpanzee – has DNA that is about 98% similar to our own. That crucial 2% is largely directed at brain development, and the portions of the brain are especially affected have to do with language, expressing emotion and reading it in others, and planning – all at the heart of cooperative activity.

• Under stress, researchers have found that the fight-or-flight activations of the sympathetic nervous system are commonly channeled down “tend and befriend” channels for women. I haven’t seen a study on this yet, but probably there are comparable “fix and huddle” channels for men (sorry about the lack of rhyming for guys . . . ).

• Exotic game theory analyses have shown what’s evident in hunter-gatherer cultures, at the UN, and on the playground of the local elementary school: that there is an evolutionary advantage in being a trustworthy cooperative partner, one who gives at least as much as he or she receives. In particular, studies have shown that in an intensely harsh natural environment – such as was present on the plains of Africa – groups that have members who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group will over time come to dominate other groups that lack such altruistic and generous members.

• To quote Robert Sapolsky (Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2006): “Across the roughly 150 or so primate species, the larger the average social group, the larger the cortex [the portion responsible for higher order reasoning, communication, and social judgment] relative to the rest of the brain.”

In sum, over three or four million years, the groups of hominid ancestors that developed giving, generosity, and cooperation to a fine art were the ones that survived to pass down the genes that are our endowment today. As a result, we are “born and bred” to want to give, to contribute, to make a difference.

One way to see the centrality of that impulse in the human experience is to observe what happens when it’s thwarted:

• On the job, even well-paid workers who feel they lack ways to contribute and add value have much less job satisfaction.

• In mid-life, when the developmental task of what Erik Erikson called “generativity” (versus “stagnation”) is not fulfilled, depression and a sense of aimlessness are the result.

• In adolescence today, getting shunted off to quasi-reservations of high schools and malls – away from the world of adult work that was the natural province of teenagers throughout most human history – breeds a sense of alienation and irrelevance that in turn fosters poor motivation and a predilection for drugs and other risky behaviors. One reason so many adolescents are angry is that there’s no way for them to be useful.

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The realm of giving and generosity

The specific meaning of “dana” is giving, which is related to the quality of “caga” (in Pali), or generosity. The one involves doing, while the other involves being.

While this distinction is useful in its comprehensiveness, in actuality generosity and giving, being and doing, are intertwined and inextricable. Being is itself a kind of doing, as you cannot help but radiate certain qualities out into the world. And every doing – at each endlessly disappearing and regenerating instant of NOW – is a microscopic slice of being.

Giving and generosity can be expressive or restrained. For example, we might give to our child or someone else we love fondness and affection (expressive), and we might also give the holding of our temper or our hand in anger (restrained).

The essence of generosity is that we give outside the framework of a tight, reciprocal exchange. Yes, we may give the coffee guy $2.50 for a latte, and we may trade back rubs with our partner, but neither is particularly generous in its own right. On the other hand, tossing the change from $3 into the tip jar is indeed generous, as would be doing an extra great job on that back rub when it’s your turn.

While “dana” often means something fairly narrow and specific – alms for a monk or nun, or donation to a teacher – in the broadest sense, we are generous and giving whenever we be or do in the territory these words point to:

Serve
Contribute
Donate, grant, award, bestow, make a gift of, bequeath Praise, acknowledge
Love, care, like
Sacrifice, relinquish
Devote, dedicate
Be altruistic
Forgive
Forbear, restrain yourself for the sake of others

Let’s consider some concrete examples; you give whenever you:

Pat an arm in friendship, sympathy, or encouragement
Put money – or a banana or chocolate – in the donation bowl
Relax your position and open up to the viewpoint of another person
Offer anything out upon the internet or in a newsletter, etc.
Try to help someone
Wave someone ahead of you in line
Try to cheer someone up
Make a gift
Write a thank you note
Love
Listen patiently when you’d rather be doing something else
Cultivate qualities in yourself that will benefit others
Change a diaper – at either end of the lifespan
Give some money to a homeless person
Express gratitude or appreciation
Vote
Volunteer your time
Tell somebody about something great

In particular, you are generous whenever you “give no man or woman cause to fear you” – in other words, when you live in a virtuous, moral way. In Buddhism, the Five Precepts are the common, practical guide to ethical conduct: do not kill, steal, lie, intoxicate yourself, or cause harm through your sexuality. Quoting Bhikkhu Bodhi, referring to the Anguttara Nikaya: “By [the meticulous observance of the Five Precepts], one gives fearlessness, love and benevolence to all beings. If one human being can give security and freedom from fear to others by his behavior, that is the highest form of dana one can give, not only to mankind, but to all living beings.

Last, perhaps as an antidote to the too-common practice of treating those closest to us the worst of all, the Buddha stressed the importance of honoring and caring for one’s parents, one’s spouse and children, and one’s employees and dependents. For example, in one sutta (discourse), offering hospitality to one’s relatives is one of the great auspicious deeds a layperson can perform.

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Paying the Dharma forward

walking-buddha-1The Buddha really emphasized giving. In fact in you think about it we wouldn’t have any Buddhism today. The Buddha’s life, after his Awakening, was a life of giving. His time and his talent in communication was spent in giving people the tools they needed to become awakened. His energy was spent traveling around India, teaching.

The entire community of monks and nuns likewise gave their time and energy — their lives, really — in order to help others.

And if it wasn’t for 2,500 years of householders donating to the sangha, none of that teaching would have been passed onto us. It wasn’t just a question of lay Buddhists putting some scraps of food in the bowls of begging monks and nuns. It was a question of them donating robes, giving land to the sangha, having dwellings and monasteries built, paying for monuments to be erected, etc.

2,500 years of giving. And we’re the beneficiaries. I benefit. You benefit.

If you benefit from the work we do, please consider supporting Wildmind. Click here to make a one-time or recurring donation.

If you benefit from the work we do, please consider supporting Wildmind. Click here to make a one-time or recurring donation.

We’re asking for donations to our Free Bodhi project. The aim is to provide seed funding for a business manager for Wildmind so that I don’t have to do so much admin and can concentrate on teaching and writing. Lots of people tell me that the teaching and writing I do has made a positive difference to their lives, and I hope you’ll consider supporting us on this.

So we’re asking you to continue 2,500 year tradition, and to pay it forward. We’ve written, and continue to write, hundreds of articles on meditation. We’ve made structured guides to various meditation practices available. We run free guided meditation videoconferences and post the recordings on Youtube.

And next year we’ll be running an unprecedented year-long series of meditation events that we’re calling a Year of Going Deeper. We chose that title because the eight events we’re running will give you a complete guide to meditation practices that can take you all the way to Awakening.

Our Year of Going Deeper is going to be free. That’s our gift. What we’re asking is that you help support us — just as generations of practitioners before you have helped support other teachers — so that we can help enlighten the world.

Please donate to the Free Bodhi project on Indiegogo, and help support our work.

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“We make a living by what we make, but we make a life by what we give”

Bodhipaksa“We make a living by what we make, but we make a life by what we give.” These words are often attributed to Winston Churchill, but they appear to be the work of the prolific “anon.”

I had trouble sleeping last night, which is very unusual for me. I was rather anxious about money, since Wildmind had a very bad year financially and lost a lot of money. I’d actually expected to make a loss since we moved into a larger office and I took on an office assistant to free me up to spend more time on creative tasks. But working on the end of year accounts was rather troubling, because the losses were larger than expected and we are running seriously short of wiggle-room and are having trouble juggling our bills.

At the same time I’m optimistic! On the one hand there’s a (bad) financial cusp looming, but on the other hand what we’ve been doing on Wildmind, which is making meditation available to people throughout the world, is starting to turn into a community. On Google+ we’ve brought together meditation practitioners — from old hands to complete newcomers — and people are sharing what’s going on in their practice, whether that’s painful or blissful. They’re also giving and receiving advice, support, and encouragement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an unkind word there. It’s inspiring I’m inspired by our community. And it’s only just beginning! I hope that more and more of the many people we reach through our blog will join us. (Do join us!)

I’m inspired, and that’s why, at the very time we’re facing a financial crisis, we decided to get rid of the Google ads we’d been carrying on our website. I know that this was the right thing to do esthetically and ethically. And I’m optimistic that this was the right thing to do financially, because I have faith that the Wildmind community will continue to expand, and that it will rally around and carry us through the present challenge and into a much, much better future.

So if you value what we do here, I’m encouraging you to make a regular donation to Wildmind, so that we can not only replace the lost income from the old Google ads, but build up a stronger basis of financial support. One-time donations are great, but recurring donations are ideal because we don’t find ourselves in the situation of having to chase after money month after month.

That basis of financial support will allow me to concentrate on practicing and teaching, and that’s going to help you personally in a number of ways. The more depth there is to my practice, and the more I can focus on writing and teaching, the more I’ll have to offer you in terms of support and advice. But you can also know that your gift is percolating out into the world. Something like 2 million people read the articles and meditation guides on Wildmind’s website every year. I’d like to offer even more, and to have guides on compassion meditation and the other “divine abodes.” I’d like to expand the section on the six element practice. I’d like to have more recordings that are freely available. I’d like to have many more blog posts. I’d like to have 10 million, 20 million people visit our site every year. Heck. 100 million would be better. I’d like to help bring about a meditative transformation of modern society, by giving people the tools they need to develop mindfulness and compassion. Let’s think big.

In time I’d like to make our courses available completely free of charge, so that more people can participate. We’d then ask the participants to make donations, to “pay it forward” and allow others to benefit.

So, the tl;dr (that’s “too long; didn’t read” in the modern internet vernacular) is that Wildmind really needs regular monthly donations from people like you who enjoy and benefit from what we do. Regular donations don’t need to be large. Others will join in and the total support will build. And you’ll help not just yourself, but many, many other people.

If you feel inspired and would like to help us, please consider becoming a subscriber and supporting us with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing. Recurring donations, however small, are particularly helpful because they give us a reliable foundation. Rather than spending our time and energy scrabbling for resources to keep going, we can simply help the world become a more mindful and compassionate place:

Sit : Love : Give.





Or you can also become a one-time benefactor with a single donation of any amount:





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Sit : Love : Give (Part II)

sit : love : giveSit : Love : Give is two things.

First, it’s what we do. We believe in the power of meditation to bring more mindfulness and compassion to the world in order to make it a better place. So we sit.

Through sitting we develop love.

Out of love we offer Wildmind to the world, in order to make meditation more accessible. Google Analytics tells us that there were 2.5 million page views on out site last year. That represents a lot of learning about meditation, and hopefully a lot of practice of meditation too. That’s our giving.

And second, we encourage you to sit, to develop love, and to give to the world around you.

We invite you to give back to Wildmind, to help us provide you and other meditators with even more resources.

This is particularly important now because we decided to get rid of Google’s ads on our site. They brought in valuable income, but they spoiled the look of the site and sometimes carried messages that clash with what we’re trying to do here. This is an expensive site to run. It’s not just the web-hosting, but the time and effort put into curating, creating, and editing material for our blog and for the rest of our website.

We’d like to do so much more. We’d like to offer even more extensive guides on a variety of meditation practices. We’d like to have more recordings available on our site. Any by the end of this year we’d like to make all of our online courses available free; we’ll simply ask participants for donations at the end of the course.

If you feel inspired and would like to help us, please consider becoming a subscriber and supporting us with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, from the equivalent of a cup of coffee at $3, to a fancy dinner at $100. Recurring donations, however small, are particularly helpful because they give us a reliable foundation. Rather than spending our time and energy scrabbling for resources to keep going, we can simply create:

Sit : Love : Give.





Or you can also become a one-time benefactor with a single donation of any amount:





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Sit : Love : Give

Portrait of beautiful young woman meditatingWildmind recently went ad-free. The income from carrying ads was certainly useful — it costs a lot to run a site this size — but carrying advertising here seemed both esthetically and ethically ugly. So they’ve gone! And we feel great about it!

However, it takes about 80–100 hours a month to curate, write, edit, and post the articles you read here, and if you enjoy and benefit from what we do, we’d ask you to consider making a regular donation.

Dana, or giving, is an ancient Buddhist tradition, and we’d much rather rely on the generosity of you, our readers, than bombard you with advertising.

We’re calling this project “Sit : Love : Give.” It’s what we do. We meditate; we cultivate love; we try to influence the world for good through our website. And it’s what we hope you’ll do, too: meditate; cultivate love; give something back.

The content on Wildmind will remain free and open! This isn’t a paywall. It’s just an opportunity to show love, generosity, and solidarity with those who want to make the world a better place through the cultivation of mindfulness and compassion.

So please consider becoming a subscriber and supporting us with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, from the equivalent of a cup of coffee at $3, to a fancy dinner at $100.





Or you can also become a one-time benefactor with a single donation of any amount:





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Kinder children are more popular

Victoria Gill, BBC: Performing deliberate acts of kindness makes pre-teen children more popular with their peers, say scientists.

A team led by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, “assigned” children three acts of kindness each week for four weeks.

After the four weeks, children were happier and more liked by classmates.

The researchers say than encouraging such simple “positive acts” could help children to get along with classmates and even prevent instances of bullying.

The findings are published in the open access journal Plos One.

Cuddling and cleaning
Working with 400 school children aged between nine and 11, the team assigned whole classrooms either …

Read the original article »

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Give yourself the gift of kindness

flower in handCan you remember a time when you offered a gift to someone? Perhaps a holiday present, or a treat to a child, or taking time for a friend – or anything at all. How did this feel? Researchers have found that giving stimulates the same neural networks that light up when we feel physical pleasure, such eating a cookie or running warm water over cold hands. Long ago, the Buddha said that generosity makes one happy before, during, and after the giving.

Then there is receiving. Can you remember a different time, when someone was giving toward you? Maybe it was a tangible, something you could hold in your hands, or perhaps it was something like a moment of warmth, or an apology, or some kind of restraint. Whatever it was, how did it feel? Probably pretty good.

Well, if you are giving … toward yourself … it’s a two-for-one deal! And besides the benefits noted above, there are the implicit rewards of taking action rather than being passive (which helps reduce any sense of learned helplessness, to which mammals like us are very vulnerable), and of treating yourself like you matter, which is especially important if you haven’t felt like you mattered enough to others.

Further, when you give more to yourself, you have more to offer others when your own cup runneth over. Studies show that as people experience greater well-being, they are usually more inclined toward kindness, patience, altruism, and other kinds of “prosocial” behavior. As Bertrand Russell wrote:

“The good life is a happy life. I do not meant that if you are good you will be happy; I mean that if you are happy you will be good.”

How?

Gifting yourself comes in many forms, most them in small moments in everyday life. For example, as I write this, the gift is to lean back from the keyboard, take a breath, look out the window, and relax. It’s a do-able gift.

Less tangibly, earlier this week I was getting wrapped up mentally in wanting a friend to succeed in his business, so I gave myself the “treat” of letting go of my over-investment in things beyond my control. Sitting in a meeting earlier today and thinking about this practice, I took in the gift of appreciating how fortunate I was to learn from the other people in the room.

Not doing can also be an important gift to yourself: Not having that third beer, not interrupting a friend’s irritated account of a hassle at work, not bugging a lover who wants some space right now, not staying up late watching TV, not rushing about while you drive …

You can see how many opportunities there are each day to offer yourself simple yet beautiful and powerful gifts. Routinely ask yourself: What could I give myself right now? Or: What do I long for – that’s in my power to give myself? Then try to actually do it.

Focusing on a longer time frame, ask yourself: What’s the gift I want to offer myself today? This week? This year? Even: This life? Try to stay with the listening to the answers, letting them ring and ring again in the open space of awareness.

You could also imagine a deeply nurturing being and see what this one gives you – and then open to giving this to yourself.

Knowing your own giving heart – which is usually offered to others – can you extend that heart to yourself? Out of kindness and wisdom, cherishing and support, let your gifts flow to that one being in this world over whom you have the most power and therefore to whom you have the highest duty of care – the one who has your name.

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Very religious people may be more likely to give even when they don’t feel compassionate

“Love thy neighbor” is preached from many a pulpit. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that the highly religious are less likely to be motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics and less religious people.

In three experiments, social scientists found less religious people’s generosity was consistently driven by compassion. For highly religious people, however, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were, according to the findings which are published in the July issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The results challenge a widespread assumption that acts of generosity and charity are largely driven by feelings of empathy and compassion, researchers said. In the study, the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being non-religious or less religious.

“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study. “The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”

Compassion is defined in the study as an emotion felt when people see the suffering of others which then motivates them to help, often at a personal risk or cost.

While the study examined the link between religion, compassion and generosity, it did not directly examine the reasons for why highly religious people are less compelled by compassion to help others. However, researchers hypothesize that deeply religious people may be more strongly guided by a sense of moral obligation than their more non-religious counterparts.

“We hypothesized that religion would change how compassion impacts generous behavior,” said study lead author Laura Saslow, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at UC Berkeley.

Saslow, who is now a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Francisco, said she was inspired to examine this question after an altruistic, nonreligious friend lamented that he had only donated to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti after watching an emotionally stirring video of a woman being saved from the rubble, not because of a logical understanding that help was needed.

“I was interested to find that this experience – an atheist being strongly influenced by his emotions to show generosity to strangers – was replicated in three large, systematic studies,” Saslow said.

In the first experiment, researchers analyzed data from a 2004 national survey of more than 1,300 American adults. Those who agreed with such statements as “When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them” were also more inclined to show generosity in random acts of kindness, such as loaning out belongings and offering a seat on a crowded bus or train, researchers found.

When they looked into how much compassion motivated participants to be charitable in such ways as giving money or food to a homeless person, non-believers and those who rated low in religiosity came out ahead: “These findings indicate that although compassion is associated with pro-sociality among both less religious and more religious individuals, this relationship is particularly robust for less religious individuals,” the study found.

In the second experiment, 101 American adults watched one of two brief videos, a neutral video or a heartrending one, which showed portraits of children afflicted by poverty. Next, they were each given 10 “lab dollars” and directed to give any amount of that money to a stranger. The least religious participants appeared to be motivated by the emotionally charged video to give more of their money to a stranger.

“The compassion-inducing video had a big effect on their generosity,” Willer said. “But it did not significantly change the generosity of more religious participants.”

In the final experiment, more than 200 college students were asked to report how compassionate they felt at that moment. They then played “economic trust games” in which they were given money to share – or not – with a stranger. In one round, they were told that another person playing the game had given a portion of their money to them, and that they were free to reward them by giving back some of the money, which had since doubled in amount.

Those who scored low on the religiosity scale, and high on momentary compassion, were more inclined to share their winnings with strangers than other participants in the study.

“Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people,” Willer said.

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