To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Wed Nov 25, 2009 3:10 pm

chownah wrote:Nowheat,
It seems that your main concern is whether we should question the Canon because it might not be perfectly transmitted. I think that putting aside the transmission issue one should still question the Canon since the Buddha taught that one should not accept what the Buddha teaches just because the Buddha teaches it.....he taught that one should find out for oneself if his teachings work or not....and for some this process of finding out involves alot of questioning.

Also, it doesn't matter if the Canon is perfectly transmitted or not if it works....and in my experience it does work....even if you don't accept some of it but merely withold judgement on the parts which seem unlikely in your view.

chownah

Thank you, chownah, in essence I agree but I have a couple of caveats. One is that you have only this life in which to test (if you have another life following, it will be a "clean reboot" and you won't have the information garnered in this life). You cannot, therefore, say if this understanding of the dhamma gets you to insight more quickly than that understanding of the dhamma. You can see progress, but can't know until you reach liberation (or don't) whether it's progress that will get you liberated or not. So while I agree with you -- and with Ben who says that practice is the ultimate test -- in a sense it can only be a really good test of what is not the dhamma, that is, we can most easily discard what does not work.

My other caveat is that I believe that what the Buddha taught has more internal consistency and coherency than any other system I have ever seen. This being the case, it is helpful to put together a good understanding of what he taught, just because he taught it. On the other hand, of course, he did not have our more advanced science and technology to (for example) see exactly how the mind works and the senses work, being two different systems, one "over" the other, so there you are quite right that just because the Buddha taught it doesn't make it so.

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Wed Nov 25, 2009 3:32 pm

enkidu wrote:Pardon my Gelug perspective, but am I correct to assume that the concept of teacher-to-student transmission lineage is de-emphasized or non-existent in the Theravada? Perhaps this accounts for individual boldness in seeking creative/non-canonical reinterpretations, without regard for the prior work of or advice from authority (those gone before who have attained realizations)?

I find it remarkable that any may possess such confidence as to reject the advice of realized masters. My reasoning is as follows: if the Buddha's teachings function as is claimed, then many realized masters have been produced during the time of the Buddha's discourses. These masters taught their students from their experience and so on, preserving the lineages. The lineages have preserved the teachings of the Buddha, along with commentaries for their students, bridging the gaps across generations of cultural changes. The lineages continue to produce masters, who teach and write commentaries, and so on.

So, to reject the collected commentaries of the lineages is to deny that the authors are realized masters, which is to deny that the Buddha's teachings produce realized masters, which is to reject the Buddhadhamma as a true path of realization, which is to make one's own practice meaningless.

It is a special kind of confidence that one must possess to trust oneself over the lineages to glean truer meaning in 2500-year old retranslated words intended for those living 2500 years ago.

In my opinion.

I am not sure it is all coming out of Theravadin tradition; those who question have sometimes studied with one tradition, a variety of traditions, or have never identified with one tradition and simply bring the scholarly approach of reading widely.

The confidence I have here was instilled in me by the Buddha, on his deathbed, when he told his followers to be their own refuge. And all his teachings about going on direct evidence. I have no direct evidence that any teacher that ever came along ever "fully realized" the Buddha's teachings. All I have is hearsay. I'm not saying that there never were, only that I can't know it nor exactly what the final bit of understanding was that got them there if they did achieve full realization. If I follow the Buddha's instructions, I am obliged to question.

That does, of course, leave you free to question as well, and come to the conclusion that following the Traditions without further questioning is the correct path; and I would say you are doing what is right within your understanding.

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Wed Nov 25, 2009 3:35 pm

Manapa wrote:http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an08/an08.053.than.html
AN 8.53 Gotami Sutta: To Gotami wrote:"Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher's instruction.'

Thanks so much for that, Manapa.

I wonder what is meant by "to accumulating, not to shedding" here?

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Wed Nov 25, 2009 3:46 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:...new age ideas were liberally strewn through its threads unremarked on, and as you have said Dan74 the most basic of Buddhist ideas were either grossly misunderstood or dismissed by a series of well rehearsed one-liners. I do know a number of Zen students personally and I suspect that this website is an unfortunate misrepresentation of the majority of Zen Practitioners.

I think this is why forums like this one are so valuable. As I mentioned a few posts above, in judging our own understanding of the dhamma just by our lives, we use a very unscientific basis (no control to measure against). It's really valuable to go outside oneself for a "reality check" against others' experiences, and this would include, preferably, going outside one's own insular little group. Of course, one does have to make wise choices in the people one measures one's thoughts against even when they are outside one's comfort zone.

It's a problematic feature of modern life that we have so many "channels" of information and so little time that there's a strong tendency to become insular and converse only with those who support one's view. It can be a painful practice to expose one's theories to outsiders -- but it is a beneficial practice.

This brings us back, of course, to the dhamma and the Traditions.

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Wed Nov 25, 2009 4:07 pm

Paññāsikhara wrote:...we can compare these various traditions. On comparison, we can often identify errors in one or other tradition, and thus identify something which is probably what was being transmitted at the point of the split. Moreover, there are still some cultures which largely follow these traditions, and have not really been influenced by various western religions or scientific ideas to the degree that those of us sitting here typing on PCs have most likely been.

So, with the willingness to investigate these various traditions, I don't think that it is quite as obscure or "corrupted" as you seem to imply.

You can check one written tradition against another, but the texts you're comparing are from (if I recall) about 400 A.D., most of a millennium after the Buddha lived. Even if there were no disagreements between all extant versions, that doesn't mean that there were no errors introduced before they were written down. I agree with the scholars accustomed to studing transmitted written texts, that the process of writing it down reduces the number of errors. My understanding is that the first writing-down occurred about 100 A.D. (on fragile palm leaves) which gives about half a millennium for verbal transmission to have been corrupted before the teachings and rules were codified. That's a long time for misunderstanding to creep in.

And we have evidence that the Buddha's teaching was misunderstood in his own lifetime: there are frequent stories in the suttas about him correcting such misconceptions among his own monks and others. His closest personal assistant, his cousin Ananda, wasn't even able to understand what was being said well enough to become an arahant himself during the Buddha's lifetime -- and this is the man whose prodigious memory brings us the suttas. Even keeping the same exact words is no guarantee that the underlying meaning will be preserved, since words are the shiftiest of impermanent things out there.

If misunderstanding was introduced early -- which I would guess it was -- no matter how good written transmission was afterwards, no matter how faithful the Traditions' handing it on, the corruption of meaning would also be faithfully handed on, even with the best of intentions by every hand applied to the canon.

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Nov 25, 2009 4:18 pm

nowheat wrote:
Manapa wrote:http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an08/an08.053.than.html
AN 8.53 Gotami Sutta: To Gotami wrote:"Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, 'These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome': You may categorically hold, 'This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher's instruction.'

Thanks so much for that, Manapa.

I wonder what is meant by "to accumulating, not to shedding" here?

:namaste:

If we look at the context t ould possily be the Accumulation of attachments, or tachings and ways of prctice hich are non-dhamma, not the shreading of attachments, the teachings and way of practicewhich is non-dhamma?
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Nov 25, 2009 5:07 pm

nowheat wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:...new age ideas were liberally strewn through its threads unremarked on, and as you have said Dan74 the most basic of Buddhist ideas were either grossly misunderstood or dismissed by a series of well rehearsed one-liners. I do know a number of Zen students personally and I suspect that this website is an unfortunate misrepresentation of the majority of Zen Practitioners.

I think this is why forums like this one are so valuable. As I mentioned a few posts above, in judging our own understanding of the dhamma just by our lives, we use a very unscientific basis (no control to measure against). It's really valuable to go outside oneself for a "reality check" against others' experiences, and this would include, preferably, going outside one's own insular little group. Of course, one does have to make wise choices in the people one measures one's thoughts against even when they are outside one's comfort zone.

It's a problematic feature of modern life that we have so many "channels" of information and so little time that there's a strong tendency to become insular and converse only with those who support one's view. It can be a painful practice to expose one's theories to outsiders -- but it is a beneficial practice.
quote from Nowheat.

In fact the website that I am referring to is quite extraordinarily insular. It promotes one very limited type of western zen, pours scorn on ( or allows a pouring on ) any expression of Buddhism which does not share its own position, and is dominated by one or two voices. One of which seems to post only to dismiss all views of Buddhism but his own, which he does by heavy handed and self referencing " humour". Great care is taken not to engage with any other views. A virtue is made of ignorance of even the most basic Buddhist concepts.
The point that I am trying to make is that an insular view is not confined to more traditional expressions of Dhamma.
This brings us back, of course, to the dhamma and the Traditions.

:namaste:
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Nov 25, 2009 5:12 pm

Apologies, I made a complete mess of quoting in my post above.
The point that I was trying ( badly) to make is that insularity can come in many forms. Including an apparent iconoclasm which is in fact a defence against showing a dirth of basic knowledge.
:anjali:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby nowheat » Wed Nov 25, 2009 6:44 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Apologies, I made a complete mess of quoting in my post above.
The point that I was trying ( badly) to make is that insularity can come in many forms. Including an apparent iconoclasm which is in fact a defence against showing a dirth of basic knowledge.
:anjali:

Yes, I got that, from your original post, too. And I was agreeing with you. That it's easy to stay in one's insular little channel, develop in-jokes and quick one-liners as you point out, crowd out outside thought, and not let "your way" (whatever it is) be challenged. I could just stay in Facebook's Skeptical Buddhist Group and be one happy clam having my notions constantly reinforced. I come here to have my notions challenged and to learn something new -- and I am deeply grateful for a traditional forum that allows the cross-understanding discussions.

:namaste:
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Nov 25, 2009 7:14 pm

:anjali:
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Nov 25, 2009 8:04 pm

Hi enkidu,
enkidu wrote:I find it remarkable that any may possess such confidence as to reject the advice of realized masters.

I do too...

I'm all for investigation, but I sometimes get the impression from people that they are saying: "I'm much smarter than those old like Ven Buddhaghosa, and the other people who assembled Tipitika and Commentaries...".
enkidu wrote:My reasoning is as follows: if the Buddha's teachings function as is claimed, then many realized masters have been produced during the time of the Buddha's discourses. These masters taught their students from their experience and so on, preserving the lineages. The lineages have preserved the teachings of the Buddha, along with commentaries for their students, bridging the gaps across generations of cultural changes. The lineages continue to produce masters, who teach and write commentaries, and so on.

Though Theravada doesn't emphasise a single guru sort of relationship, I think that many of us do value strong relationships with live teachers, and take much of their confidence from the lineages that have been preserved, seeing the evidence with their own eyes.

Metta
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby cooran » Wed Nov 25, 2009 8:26 pm

hello enkidu,

When you say "realized masters" .. do you mean contemporary ones? And, if so, how do you truly know they are "realized" and what, exactly do you mean by the term? And how would you differentiate this from a 'fan club' forming around a contemporary teacher?

metta
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby pink_trike » Wed Nov 25, 2009 9:08 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Apologies, I made a complete mess of quoting in my post above.
The point that I was trying ( badly) to make is that insularity can come in many forms. Including an apparent iconoclasm which is in fact a defence against showing a dirth of basic knowledge.
:anjali:

Hi Sanghamitta,

I agree with you. The point of my post was to challenge a particular form of insularity that is widespread among Buddhists - the belief that the suttas are "what the Buddha said" and that they can be taken at face value - which can only be true in a very limited, undefined, inprecise sense. I'm not advocating a rejection of the suttas as a source of information, just that they be seen clearly for what they are - bundles of information that have been at the same effects that cause any information to change over time - cultural views (including our own unconscious cultural views), syncretic influences, religious boundaries, translations, time, etc...especially over vast periods of time. I believe, coming from an academic background, that information must be constantly deconstructed in light of current knowledge about how information was preserved and how it deteriorates. I also believe that if we're interested in a clear view of the The Dharma, then we must constantly scrape away the overgrowth and encrustations that build up on information like plaque and that become institutionalized. Blind faith in "face value" serves to reify our own insular comfortable delusions. This is messy and inconvenient, but there is no solid ground to be found in Buddhism.
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby enkidu » Wed Nov 25, 2009 9:41 pm

Chris wrote:hello enkidu,

When you say "realized masters" .. do you mean contemporary ones? And, if so, how do you truly know they are "realized" and what, exactly do you mean by the term? And how would you differentiate this from a 'fan club' forming around a contemporary teacher?

metta
Chris


I was specifically referring to the lineage masters of old in particular, like Mike mentioned, those who had assembled the Tipitaka and its commentaries.

When I say "realized masters" if referring to more contemporary times, what comes to mind is actually Maitreya's 10 Qualities of a Mahayana Guru, but I believe these qualities are expressed by Theravada masters as well--there's nothing strictly Mahayanist about this list of 10 qualities as far as I can tell.

10 Qualities of a Mahayana Guru
Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote:1. Discipline as a result of his mastery of the training in the higher discipline of moral self-control;
2. Mental quiescence from his training in higher concentration;
3. Pacification of all delusions and obstacles from his training in higher wisdom;
4. More knowledge than his disciple in the subject to be taught;
5. Enthusiastic perseverance and joy in teaching;
6. A treasury of scriptural knowledge;
7. Insight into and understanding of emptiness;
8. Skill in presenting the teachings;
9. Great compassion; and
10. No reluctance to teach and work for his disciples regardless of their level of intelligence.

Most loosely, "realized" refers to having more realizations than me, which is to say, any. Most strictly, "realized" refers to having attained the ultimate fruit of the Path.

So, can there be contemporary teachers with these qualities? Yes. There must, otherwise, the Buddhadhamma is no longer functioning.

If there can be no contemporary teachers with these qualities, what hope have I of developing such qualities, what hope have I of achieving any progress on the Path? If it is possible for me to make any progress, then it is necessarily so that others have the potential to assist me, having gone before, and are eager to relate their experience.

How do we judge a teacher? Firstly by measuring them against the 10 qualities listed above, and secondly by measuring their teachings against at minimum these reasonable criteria set by Dharmakirti and elaborated by Maitreya:

Alexander Berzin wrote:The Four Sealing Points for Labeling an Outlook as Based on Enlightening Words
1a) All affected (conditioned) phenomena are nonstatic (impermanent).
1b) All phenomena tainted (contaminated) by confusion entail problems (suffering).
1c) All phenomena lack nonimputed identities.
1d) A total release from all troubles (Skt. nirvana) is a total pacification.

2) Correct implementation of its instructions by qualified practitioners must bring about the same results as Buddha repeatedly indicated elsewhere.


I'm not sure if fan clubs are problems in and of themselves. But you should be able to observe the fruits of the Path in the students of a qualified teacher.

Again, please pardon my Gelug perspective, but I am not so sure these assumptions are unique to the Mahayana lineages, and assume these qualities and criteria may be equally applied to the Theravada lineage masters and their commentaries.
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby enkidu » Thu Nov 26, 2009 12:08 am

mikenz66 wrote:Though Theravada doesn't emphasise a single guru sort of relationship, I think that many of us do value strong relationships with live teachers, and take much of their confidence from the lineages that have been preserved, seeing the evidence with their own eyes.


Ahh, thanks for the clarification. I'm not sure why, but I felt an odd kind of anxiety over the possibility that lineage weren't important in the Theravada. But I should have known intuitively that this would be nonsense, for such a thing would mean that the Theravada hold no Sangha jewel in which to take refuge, which would be absurd.

Thanks again,
-eric
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Nov 26, 2009 4:39 am

Greetings edkidu,
enkidu wrote:Ahh, thanks for the clarification. I'm not sure why, but I felt an odd kind of anxiety over the possibility that lineage weren't important in the Theravada. ...

Of course, it would depend on who you talked to. For me, visiting a Monastery and talking to the monks and lay people was how I was introduced to Buddhism. I didn't get started by reading - that came much later. Having started that way, I obviously see interaction with my monastic teachers as extremely important, and this definitely affects the way I approach reading Suttas, and how I view this whole question of "questioning". In fact, I think that my underlying motivation is more to "figure it out" than to "question". If something seems confusing I generally assume that I don't understand it yet. And that seems to have been a useful assumption so far.

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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby BlackBird » Thu Nov 26, 2009 5:24 am

Could someone please explain reductionism in a Buddhist context to me? I read parts of the wikipedia article but it didn't offer much of an insight to me.

sorry for o.t. but it would help me understand Sanghamitta's post made in the 1st page.

enkidu wrote:So, to reject the collected commentaries of the lineages is to deny that the authors are realized masters, which is to deny that the Buddha's teachings produce realized masters, which is to reject the Buddhadhamma as a true path of realization, which is to make one's own practice meaningless.


Well, there might be a distinction between rejecting the commentaries and rejecting the 'official view.' It's well known that the comy doesn't get it right 100% of the time, but it does pretty good job (imo).

Often as not, you find a lot of people who propose these funny ideas haven't had much contact with other Buddhist outside of the internet. I think noble friendship (or lack thereof) is also a factor at work. To me, there's a pretty good reason most of the widely respected teachers in the world teach the 'classical' approach.

But you can hardly expect someone who's never met a real teacher of the Dhamma before, to have reasoned faith in them. One would need to spend quite some time observing their conduct to really get a footing in that I guess. The problem perhaps is a degree of conceit, an underlying inference that the vast majority of monastic and lay practitioners over the past 2000 odd years must somehow have gotten the whole thing wrong.

Maybe those who express these idiosyncratic (new word for me) ideas, do not make the inference drawn above, in which case there's a logical fallacy. Either way, I think these funny views get blown far out of proportion. They're not very common, certainly not amongst the more dedicated monastic and lay practitioners.

metta
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby catmoon » Thu Nov 26, 2009 5:32 am

Ben wrote:Dear Mr Pink,

pink_trike wrote:Any body of information that extends back 2,500 - 3,500 years or more has to be deconstructed to some extent or it becomes simply fairy tales.


I think we need to approach the Tipitaka (and I guess this what we're all talking about here) void of any view. And in my experience this seems to be only possible through the prism of practice.

Mr Pink wrote:"The Buddha said it, I believe it"...

My observation is that this seems to be an artefact of immature practitioners. When one begins to practice seriously, that coalescence of dhammas known as 'belief' is replaced by something quite different: bhavana-maya-panna:(wisdom derived from direct penetration of the nature of mind and matter). And as a result of developing wisdom, sadha: (confidence) in the Dhamma. To the degree of Dhamma witnessed from practice, that much of the teachings is confirmed. And as the teachings are confirmed by direct experiential wisdom, one's confidence in the Buddha and the Dhamma grows. So from the viewpoint of another, an experienced practitioner can certainly appear caught in the net of blind belief.
metta

Ben


I bounced this argument off a friend of mine the other day, whose holds to no religion but has a pretty good mind. He response, paraphrased, was:

Supposed I bought a car from the Ford motor company. As I read the instruction manual, I see that there is a way to start the car. I try that and it works. I see there is a way to make the car warm inside. I try that and it works. Then I read in the manual an assertion that if I drive the car to Houston I will live forever. It does not logically follow that I should believe that assertion, although I might be inclined to, because previous information has been reliable.

I'm still working the application of this thought. The implication seems to be that the phenomenon of trust is illogical.
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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Nov 26, 2009 5:39 am

Greetings Catmoon,

I think the difference between what Ben wrote and your friend's thought experiment, is that in Ben's example there is a conceptual link between the two (i.e. I have experienced this, and can therefore conceptually see how its application could be extended all the way to arahantship), whereas your friend's thought experiment has no conceptual link between the known and the possible, and therefore relies solely on trust.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: To Question or Not To Question, That is the Question

Postby catmoon » Thu Nov 26, 2009 7:32 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Catmoon,

I think the difference between what Ben wrote and your friend's thought experiment, is that in Ben's example there is a conceptual link between the two (i.e. I have experienced this, and can therefore conceptually see how its application could be extended all the way to arahantship), whereas your friend's thought experiment has no conceptual link between the known and the possible, and therefore relies solely on trust.

Metta,
Retro. :)


So you are saying that if the analogy was more accurate, we would be faced by an untested assertion in the manual that if the accelerator is depressed to the floor and held there, speeds in excess of 100 mph may be expected? Something like that?
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