Dāna & the poor

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Dāna & the poor

Postby Vakkali » Sun Oct 27, 2013 6:00 am

Hey everyone,

Something's been troubling me, and I was hoping that I could get more input to help me figure it out...

People can complain about Christianity & the behavior of certain Christians all they want, but it seems like Christian organizations do a LOT to alleviate poverty and associated problems in poor communities and under-developed countries. The New Testament material that I'm familiar with seems to place a lot of emphasis on elevating impoverished and otherwise oppressed individuals in society...and I have to admit that I've been somewhat disappointed by what seems like a lack of specific injunctions to give, not just to monks, but to poor and homeless people as a means of combating inequality and relieving suffering.

Why is this? Am I not reading the right suttas? Or is giving to the poor considered a natural extension of Buddhist principles of compassion and generosity? I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia? Do Theravada monastics actively encourage efforts to fight poverty, hunger, and other things? Help me out here.

I have to admit that this question (these questions?) is/are partly motivated by accusations that Theravada Buddhism is more or less concerned with personal salvation, and doesn't encourage a high level of active and compassionate social engagement.

I hope some of you can help me with this. The opinions of current or former bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be especially appreciated!

Hopefully,
Vakkali
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby cooran » Sun Oct 27, 2013 6:10 am

Hello Vakkali,

This might be a start:

Around the world.....
Theravada Buddhist Community Welfare Organisations
http://www.parami.org/duta/buddhistwelfare.htm

With metta,
Chris
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Oct 27, 2013 7:57 am

Hi, Vakkali,
There's a related recent thread here - http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=18928

:coffee:
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:02 am

Anāthapiṇḍika’s personal name was Sudatta, but he was always called Anāthapiṇḍika — “Feeder of the destitute” — because of his munificence.

In the Dakkhiṇavibhaṅgha Sutta the emphasis is on giving to Noble Ones or to the Saṅgha to maximise merits, but it is clear from reading the Suttas and Commentaries that giving to the poor was commended and frequently practised by Buddhists.

In the Dhammapada it says that the gift of truth excels all other gifts.

Sabbadānaṃ dhammadānaṃ jināti, sabbarasaṃ dhammaraso jināti.
Sabbaratiṃ dhammarati jināti, taṇhakkhayo sabbadukkhaṃ jināti.


My view is that it is better to give knowledge than to give material gifts. We should modify the aphorism: “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for life.” As Buddhists, of course, we should not teach anyone how to fish. Rather we should say, “Give a man a cabbage and feed him for a day. Teach a man how to grow cabbages and feed him for life.”
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby lyndon taylor » Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:24 am

Are you in the UK tea party???? Because in America that's the kind of thing they say when they're railing against the welfare state, food stamps and socialism

In my understanding of Therevada temples, they often function as both homeless shelter and "soup" kitchen for down and out people, the poor buddhists can usually be able to get a meal at the temples, and within reason stay for free on the temple grounds if needed.

Most charities helping the poor will tell you you can't teach a starving person anything unless you feed him first.
Last edited by lyndon taylor on Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:42 am, edited 1 time in total.
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby chownah » Sun Oct 27, 2013 10:37 am

You don't need the teachings of a Buddha to have the kind of compassion that leads one to help those in need....all it takes is a heart.

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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby Sanjay PS » Sun Oct 27, 2013 12:02 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:Anāthapiṇḍika’s personal name was Sudatta, but he was always called Anāthapiṇḍika — “Feeder of the destitute” — because of his munificence.

In the Dakkhiṇavibhaṅgha Sutta the emphasis is on giving to Noble Ones or to the Saṅgha to maximise merits, but it is clear from reading the Suttas and Commentaries that giving to the poor was commended and frequently practised by Buddhists.

In the Dhammapada it says that the gift of truth excels all other gifts.

Sabbadānaṃ dhammadānaṃ jināti, sabbarasaṃ dhammaraso jināti.
Sabbaratiṃ dhammarati jināti, taṇhakkhayo sabbadukkhaṃ jināti.


My view is that it is better to give knowledge than to give material gifts. We should modify the aphorism: “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for life.” As Buddhists, of course, we should not teach anyone how to fish. Rather we should say, “Give a man a cabbage and feed him for a day. Teach a man how to grow cabbages and feed him for life.”


:anjali: Bhante .

To me, compassion outpours when we meditate well and diligently , understanding that the misery of life mirrors us . The poor and sick are obviously suffering , but look , the healthy ,wealthy and mighty are equally affected by the sufferings of their moment to moment reactions , which they are completely unaware of.

The poor , the sick , the injured , the aged, all get our care and attention , helping them well, and knowing that we also sail in the same boat . Hence , growing the seeds of merits of Dhamma , excels all kinds of gifts and benevolence .

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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun Oct 27, 2013 8:04 pm

lyndon taylor wrote:Are you in the UK tea party?

That must be the UK Theravādins.

The Buddhists I know regularly donate to their own Theravādin Vihāras, but they also perform other charitable work. Only last week I was invited to visit someone who was afflicted with motor neuron disease by a Burmese Buddhist who has been driving up from north London to Hemel Hempstead several times a week to care for him. On the same occasion, her mother asked me which charity was the best to donate to — cancer research, etc. I told her that the Buddha advised to donate wherever the heart is pleased to give.

Other Sri Lankan Buddhists who support me, do a lot to help those in need such as the sick and elderly — not just donating money, but actually spending their own time to help them.

The West is different to Asia. Here, welfare services are set up to ensure that the destitute are not entirely without help. In Asia, the monasteries do at least some of that work done here by Social Services. For example, in Taung Gyi I met a nun who was running an orphanage, and there were several young orphan boys as novices in the Mahāsi meditation centre in Taung Gyi where I stayed.

I don't have any money to donate to anybody, but I give my time freely to help others, not just for learning Buddhism, but also for using the software that I have used regularly for years for my own Dhamma publications and web sites.
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby greenjuice » Mon Dec 02, 2013 2:14 pm

I've been taking a look at a book about the literature of the Pudgalavadins, and they had a book called Tridharmasastra (preserved in Chinese as San fa tu lun), which begins with discussing merit (punya/ punna), naming three bases for merit, just as in the Pali Canon- dana, sila and bhavana.

Interestingly, they name three types of giving: dharmadana (gift of the teaching), abhayadana (gift of shelter), and amisadana (gift of things).

I can't find the text of the work itself to see how they define abhayadana (abhaya literally meaning "fearless"), but I know that Jain twelve lay vows include the vow of dana, which they divide into four types, one of them being abhayadana, and they define gift of shelter as protecting others from injury of attack by defending them, and protecting them from injury of elements by providing buildings.

Are there any Canon or Commentary instances concerning this question, explaining it in such manner?
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby serg_o » Mon Dec 02, 2013 6:16 pm

greenjuice wrote:...

Interestingly, they name three types of giving: dharmadana (gift of the teaching), abhayadana (gift of shelter), and amisadana (gift of things).

I can't find the text of the work itself to see how they define abhayadana (abhaya literally meaning "fearless"),
...

Are there any Canon or Commentary instances concerning this question, explaining it in such manner?

Hello greenjuice,
maybe in this sutta:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from taking life. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the first gift, the first great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & brahmans. And this is the fourth reward of merit...

"Furthermore, abandoning taking what is not given (stealing), ...

Idha bhikkhave, ariyasāvako pāṇātipātaṃ pahāya pāṇātipātā paṭivirato hoti. Pāṇātipātā paṭivirato bhikkhave, ariyasāvako aparimāṇānaṃ sattānaṃ abhayaṃ deti. Averaṃ deti. Abyāpajjhaṃ deti. Aparimāṇānaṃ sattānaṃ abhayaṃ datvā averaṃ datvā abyāpajjhaṃ datvā aparimāṇassa abhayassa averassa abyāpajjhassa bhāgī hoti. Imaṃ bhikkhave, paṭhamaṃ dānaṃ mahādānaṃ, aggaññaṃ rattaññaṃ vaṃsaññaṃ porāṇaṃ asaṅkiṇṇaṃ asaṅkiṇṇapubbaṃ na saṅkīyati na saṅkīyissati appatikuṭṭhaṃ samaṇehi brāhmaṇehi viññūhi. Ayaṃ bhikkhave catuttho puññābhisāndo kusalābhisando sukhassāhāro sovaggiko sukhavipāko saggasaṃvattaniko iṭṭhāya kantāya manāpāya hitāya sukhāya saṃvattati.

5. Idha bhikkhave, ariyasāvako adinnādānaṃ pahāya adinnādānā paṭivirato hoti.
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby greenjuice » Mon Dec 02, 2013 8:08 pm

One gives shelter by abstaining from killing. Image To take that verse as the only explanation sounds to me like when some people posit what is IMO an abominable view that one should be pacifistic in the face of unjust violence, and to abstain from defending innocent people because of concern not to do violence to their attackers. :?
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby serg_o » Mon Dec 02, 2013 10:56 pm

greenjuice wrote:One gives shelter by abstaining from killing. Image To take that verse as the only explanation sounds to me like when some people posit what is IMO an abominable view that one should be pacifistic in the face of unjust violence, and to abstain from defending innocent people because of concern not to do violence to their attackers. :?

I think the sutta says that when we do not kill, people, animals and other living beings can feel themselves comfortable near us, no danger from us. The same about stealing and other actions (see the sutta) - they know their possesions are safe - we won't steal them. There's no animosity then as sutta says etc.
I remember Dalai Lama wrote something about such things in one of his books: there's a "safe area", "comfortable area" for living beings near a person who does not kill, does not steal from them, does not lie to them etc. - does not harm them.
In short - not doing bad things to others, not harming them we give them a kind of shelter. Something like this, I think.
Last edited by serg_o on Tue Dec 03, 2013 5:31 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby SarathW » Mon Dec 02, 2013 10:57 pm

This is how I practice Dana.
I try my best to observe five precepts.
At home I look after my family and my neighbours.
When I am a commuter I look after other commuters.
When at work I look after my employer, fellow employees, customers and suppliers. Etc.
I just try to look after the people around me.

I donate my time, my unwanted belongs to the needy.
I donate to places when I can see their doing a visible service. Eg. Wekipedia, local temple etc.

I generally do not donate to large charities as they will pass on less than 10% to the needy. However I donate to Salvation Army.

By the way Bikkhu Bodhi has started a charity.
I hope they will report to public how much they have pass on to the needy.

http://buddhistglobalrelief.wordpress.c ... khu-bodhi/

Dhamma Dana is the highest gift

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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby James the Giant » Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:59 pm

Just two weeks ago, I met a devout Buddhist from Bangkok who was honestly worried that if they gave money to an orphanage, they would be reborn as a dog.
This is what they had been told by the local sangha; that giving to charities, the poor and needy, would actually lead to a lower rebirth.
And predictably they were also told in the same aDhamma-talk that they should give give give to the sangha, and they would be reborn in golden celestial realms, with a castle of gold, golden servants, jewelled clothing, etc etc.

In almost every Christian church I have been to, there is some project or collection for the poor or needy. Unfortunately, in the 5 monasteries (western monasteries too!)I have stayed at in the past few years, I have seen no such projects or concern. They gave the excess cans of food to a food-bank, and that is the full extent of their worldy involvement.


As for teaching a man to metaphorically fish, or grow cabbages or whatever, no monastery I have been to does that either.
The people who attend the teachings are middle class white folk from the comfortable suburbs, or cultural Buddhists from Asia. No hungry or helpl, and very few ethnic minorities. Reaching out to them would mean a bhikkhu would have to leave his insulated monastery, burst the bubble off peace and quiet he has manufactured for himself.
These bhikkhus actually are good people, but they just don't give priority to thinking about these things.
Sorry to say, but that's the plain truth as I see it, at the Ajahn Chah branch monasteries I have visited.

EDIT: Apologies for typos, I have a sticky keyboard.
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saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Dec 03, 2013 1:26 am

Hi James,
James the Giant wrote:In almost every Christian church I have been to, there is some project or collection for the poor or needy. Unfortunately, in the 5 monasteries (western monasteries too!)I have stayed at in the past few years, I have seen no such projects or concern. They gave the excess cans of food to a food-bank, and that is the full extent of their worldly involvement..

This actually frustrates some of the monastics I know here. The main resident of the Sri Lankan monastery (actually just a house...) told a group discussion a while ago he wished he could get his laity to donate time and money to the poor rather than to his monastery. And I know that some of the Thai monks here feel the same. One hopes that initiatives such as Bhikkhu Bodhi's encouragement of Buddhist Global Relief will encourage some changes.

:anjali:
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby dagon » Tue Dec 03, 2013 2:36 pm

Vakkali wrote:Hey everyone,

Something's been troubling me, and I was hoping that I could get more input to help me figure it out...

People can complain about Christianity & the behavior of certain Christians all they want, but it seems like Christian organizations do a LOT to alleviate poverty and associated problems in poor communities and under-developed countries. The New Testament material that I'm familiar with seems to place a lot of emphasis on elevating impoverished and otherwise oppressed individuals in society...and I have to admit that I've been somewhat disappointed by what seems like a lack of specific injunctions to give, not just to monks, but to poor and homeless people as a means of combating inequality and relieving suffering.

Why is this? Am I not reading the right suttas? Or is giving to the poor considered a natural extension of Buddhist principles of compassion and generosity? I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia? Do Theravada monastics actively encourage efforts to fight poverty, hunger, and other things? Help me out here.

I have to admit that this question (these questions?) is/are partly motivated by accusations that Theravada Buddhism is more or less concerned with personal salvation, and doesn't encourage a high level of active and compassionate social engagement.

I hope some of you can help me with this. The opinions of current or former bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be especially appreciated!

Hopefully,
Vakkali


I can understand why Christians would want to address issues of inequality and poverty. One of the things that always struck me most about Christian belief was the inequality and poverty when creation is a result of an omnipotent and loving creator god. The second thing that comes to my mind (based in part from what I have seen) is the desire to “harvest souls”.

According to my understanding of Buddhism for the perspective of a “folk Buddhist (to use the labelling applied by some) I do not feel the need to make up for what I perceive as the deficiencies in philosophy because the Dhamma clear explains the reasons for inequality.

Yes I would agree about the activities of many Christian organisations – but stop and think about the lack of centralised organisation within the Buddhist community. The only well organised sect that I can think of in Thailand would be :alien: xxxxxx. This is the first thing that came to my mind reading James-the-gaints report of the BKK Thais.

I believe that giving to the poor (i would prefer the phrase – those in need) to be a natural extension of loving kindness and compassion. However there is far more to it than this not the least of which the relationship between renunciation and giving.

I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia?


Everyone has their own issues to deal with on their journey, with unique sets of barriers and opportunities created in part by their kamma and in part by the decisions they have made in this life. The opportunities to give in the first world differ to those in traditional Buddhist countries.

Giving and generosity is expressed differently in traditional societies – the focus is on the family as is all aspects of the culture. For this reason the giving may not be as obvious as in the west. The real advantage IMO is that it allows for the giving to be in person and with discernment as we have been taught by the Buddha to give. Often along with material needs there is a need for kindness and compassion of emotional and spiritual nature. To Illustrate the issues, there are a couple of Thai kids that are not mine that I financial support just because it brings me happiness. Every payment is made separately and depends on their needs at the time. In amongst everything else, I support their education and get copies of their school reports. I discuss the reports with them online (I bought them tablets and they get free internet through a health clinic). From these interactions they know that there is someone who cares for them at an emotional level as well as financially. As far as possible I try and bring in aspect of the Dhamma to the conversation because I know that the greatest gift is the Dhamma. If we accept (as I do) that progress by the N8FP is the best use of this life; then what I receive in return are gifts that money could not buy.

My understandings of the role of the monastics in regard to giving are that there is a exchange of gifts from the laity, and in return teaching of the Dhamma to enhance the development of both. Through the teaching of the Dhamma the monks play a role in the support of those in need. In the content of material support what their teaching provides is a catalyst that promotes the support of the needy in the community by the laity.

metta
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby mahat » Tue Dec 03, 2013 3:31 pm

Buddhist monks and nuns are not like monks and nuns from other traditions. Buddha knew one of the illnesses of society was the severe lack of merit people had which made them lead horrible lives of deprivation. Someone might give a poor person some charity, a free school or hospital or a home, but the cause of his/her returning to a life of deprivation or hell still did not end since he or she still lacked understanding of the Dhamma.

The Sangha of the Buddha was created with generation of the maximum amount of merit possible. That is why they are called "The Unequalled Field of Merit" The Sangha is generally representative of the community of the people around them and they can come from poor or rich families. Giving funds to them, most families have faith that they will generate the most merit since they are bound by ethical and moral vows which derive from the Dhamma Chakra.

Generally the Sangha always used the funds not only for themselves but the Sangha served as an educational institution for the poor, retirement place for the old, helped with medicine and community service by providing the general population with moral and meditative guidance so they don't return to the cycle of deprivation and hellish states of existence.

That being said, Dana or charity is the 1st of the perfections in Buddhism.
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby Mkoll » Tue Dec 03, 2013 4:25 pm

Vakkali wrote:Hey everyone,

Something's been troubling me, and I was hoping that I could get more input to help me figure it out...

People can complain about Christianity & the behavior of certain Christians all they want, but it seems like Christian organizations do a LOT to alleviate poverty and associated problems in poor communities and under-developed countries. The New Testament material that I'm familiar with seems to place a lot of emphasis on elevating impoverished and otherwise oppressed individuals in society...and I have to admit that I've been somewhat disappointed by what seems like a lack of specific injunctions to give, not just to monks, but to poor and homeless people as a means of combating inequality and relieving suffering.

Why is this? Am I not reading the right suttas? Or is giving to the poor considered a natural extension of Buddhist principles of compassion and generosity? I'm aware of Engaged Buddhism, which seems most popular here in North America...but what about Asia? Do Theravada monastics actively encourage efforts to fight poverty, hunger, and other things? Help me out here.

I have to admit that this question (these questions?) is/are partly motivated by accusations that Theravada Buddhism is more or less concerned with personal salvation, and doesn't encourage a high level of active and compassionate social engagement.

I hope some of you can help me with this. The opinions of current or former bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be especially appreciated!

Hopefully,
Vakkali


Dear Vakkali,

The other posters in this thread have made some excellent points and I would like to add a point that hasn't been mentioned yet.

The cultural milieu in the area that the Buddha lived and teached was full of wanderering teachers and religious sects. These teachers and sects were highly respected and even supported by royalty. When the Buddha began his dispensation, he was one among many teachers. The evidence for this is found from historical work and from the Suttas themselves. In light of this historical background, I see his advice to give to the Sangha as meaning to support the Sangha rather than other sects; this is not talking about giving to the Sangha and excluding giving to the poor.

In regards to monastics, I don't remember if it was the Buddha or an arahant disciple who said this, but basically they said that the ideal monastic is an emaciated beggar with veins showing all over his body who lives in the forest. A pure person such as this would only need the barest minimum of requisites to live.

I recommend The Foundations of Buddhism by Professor Rupert Gethin for a good introduction to the historical background of Buddhism and Buddhism in general for anyone who hasn't read it.

Another lovely Buddhist charity is Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi's http://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org/

:anjali:
When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn't, that isn't.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
-SN 12.61

Ex nihilo nihil fit.

Peace,
James
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Re: Dāna & the poor

Postby jungblood » Wed Jan 08, 2014 12:58 am

Hello all,

There are some great points and insights in this thread... One of the things that most attracted me to Buddha's teachings was their acknowledgment that things change with time and even 'fundamentals' like the VInaya should be adapted accordingly in future times so as to enable people to experience the Dhamma in their own context... Today we live in a world of unprecedented wealth - a few hundred years ago it might be argued that some level of poverty was inevitable in the world, but now the continuance of poverty and deprivation can only be attributed to the way we organize our society - there's (way) more than enough money, food and other resources for everyone on the planet to live very comfortably... This is only my own opinion, but in modern times I think the principle of Dana calls on us to address the culture of selfishness and greed that creates inequality and deprivations... In today's world poverty is caused by policy choices, not any lack of resources... As the late (and very great) Nelson Mandela once said: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

:anjali:
'Renunciation' http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bl036.html
'Trading candy for gold': http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... candy.html

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