Eastern Words and Phrases, and the Western Spiritual Seeker

Simond writes:
In a recent post a contributor made mention that he was a ‘master of his self’.
It got me thinking about the terminology that is used in spiritual circles and the misunderstandings that come with these and other terms.For example words like ‘enlightenment, self realisation, being’ etc are banded around by teachers, masters and therapists alike. But when you explore what these terms mean, the answers seem varied and often contradictory. Each teacher seems to use them differently, and some commentators are critical of anyone who uses these terms, especially if they are westerners.

 I wonder if the reason is that these terms largely originate in the east, where the history of Self enquiry and enlightenment is rooted in the history and culture. Whereas in the West they are relatively new terms.
I myself react sometimes against the terminology. Words like ‘master of self’ can appear pretentious and borrowed, because they are eastern, yet how else is someone to affirm they have a real understanding ?
Amongst spiritual seekers in the west, I remember that many commentators suggested that it could only be easterners who could ever reach enlightenment and I sense amongst some Sannyassin and other disciples and students of the eastern teachers, such prejudice is alive and well.
I remember well, myself believing that Osho was the pinnacle of consciousness and was very suspicious of many other teachers ; east or west. I remember my own Sannyassin  brother being very critical of my new interest in Barry Long, stating clearly that it was impossible for him to be enlightened.If you do a google search there are now, however many many people in the West and in particular in America, who openly explore this subject. As I examine what they are saying, some appear to me to speak with clarity about the subject. There are also  many very misleading and wacky individuals making money and talking rubbish.

There are others who I might disagree with, but they appear to me to have come to some real understanding or another. Some claim ‘ enlightenment’ whilst others might not claim it so directly, but are claiming they have something to teach.

There is a plethora of non duality teachers, some of whom have never been students of Osho or any other eastern teacher. What I notice is that they nevertheless, are using language and ideas that are based on eastern teachings. It seems there isn’t any way around this. The subject is largely based on eastern ideas.

My feeling is that the unique and rare nature of enlightenment is a prejudice from the east. Osho himself offered contradictory ideas about it. Sometimes he implied only he and a few others could claim any real understanding of the subject. At others, we mere students might one day reach the state.

That he was as unique and rare is pretty much self evident. That he was unusual, & special  also seems self evident.

But does that mean the state of consciousness is rare or unique ? Can you be enlightened in the West? But also be of the West, married, a mother or father ? Can you be working in a normal job?   Why for some,  is that such a challenging idea?

Can we differentiate between those who may be enlightened and those who don’t necessarily teach the subject.? Osho himself occasionally spoke of uneducated people who ‘ lived the truth’,  but  didn’t necessarily teach others.

In the West I sense a far greater number of people who demonstrate a real understanding about the whole subject. It’s as if what seemed like a rare phenomena is now much less rare than Osho envisaged. It’s my experience that this a greatly humbling and empowering, and means we can move forward and explore the subject from a much wider perspective than we could previously.

For example, I once believed in the vague idea of surrendering to the master. This eastern notion may have once been a very real path towards understanding the teaching of Osho or other eastern teachers. But over time it became pretty much obvious that the path of love and surrender to a far flung master, wasn’t going to solve my human dilemmas. If I’d been around him daily, perhaps it makes sense, but in any case he is dead now, so such a notion is clearly outdated.
It’s surely time to examine the eastern terms and try to use, explain and understand them from our own perspective, as far as we can.To use terms as far as possible that mean something less vague and more real to us in the West. I know it’s not easy -I’ve been using these terms myself in this post!

That many westerners,  from varied perspectives are attempting to discover  their own understanding of these eastern terms and are questioning some of the ideas behind them must be a good thing, even if we are also sometimes confused and challenged by it.

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62 Responses to Eastern Words and Phrases, and the Western Spiritual Seeker

  1. shantam prem says:

    One more wonderful piece of writing. Thanks, Simond.
    As someone from India, I will comment after contemplating over the contents.

  2. frank says:

    Cheers for making the effort to create a string on a different subject than ‘Ancient History’ or ‘Legal Studies’!

    You are putting forward, amongst other things, the idea of an attempt “to use terms as far as possible that mean something less vague and more real to us in the West. I know it’s not easy.”

    That`s basically the problem (philosophically) and the fun (creatively) of language per se.
    For example, the word enlightenment in the West had been around for a couple of centuries before it got on the Oprah show. It signified the world-changing movement towards using reason as the chief, if not only way, to access knowledge of any sort. Quite a contrast. Osho`s teaching actually included aspects of both.

    Nirvana plus using reason to debunk absurd and outdated religious nonsense and superstitions.
    I can envisage a day where ‘enlightenment’ could refer to something that overweight people seek or something that happens when people lighten up and chuckle as they see the absurdity of life.

    That which words refer to will not be satisfactorily pinned down by clear definitions, seductive as that idea is. When I was at school I remember some of the pupils, including myself, committed acts that were deemed “wicked” by the ‘masters’. This kind of behaviour would get you a caning. Your son or grandson (if you have one), on the other hand, might well say: “You were getting well caned at school? Wicked!”

    Rationalists like Dawkins criticise nuagers like Chopra for using the word ‘quantum’ out of scientific context. Fair enough, to a point. But if I say something like: “If people stopped being racist and sexist, it would be a quantum leap”, you will probably get what I mean.

    Words begin to get alternative and sub-set meanings as soon as they get out and about. The poet Shelley said: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” But it`s not just poets, anyone who uses language as it inevitably mutates is a collaborator.

    Its always going to be fuzzy. Enlightenment is not abacus. Words, particularly ones that refer to inner/subjective experiences are symbols. Ouspensky said: “Symbols are perpetually in process of creation.”

    If you try to define a word like ‘ego’, which certainly has very different applications in different circles, including ‘enlightenment’ circles, it becomes like a quicksand. Words are symbols. A definition will be more symbols, more metaphors laid on top of the original one, ad infinitum. If you do get somewhere with someone in such a conversation you have probably created rapport rather than established a definition that is universally viable.

    Osho was like a rapper. He did a lot of sampling of old riffs. Something that the old-skool Hindus and Buddhists etc disagreed with and got well pissed off at. But once an old riff is in a new song, it`s not just the old song anymore!

    I think it`s probably better to confirm ambiguity than to settle it.

    Osho`s ‘Books I have loved’ consists of a very high percentage of poetry.

    The point could be that definitively defining words may be impossible. That kind of literality is neither possible nor desirable.

    The trick might be to remember at all times that words/symbols are not reality itself, but attempting to link the two can be a lot of fun and probably the basis of all art and philosophy, including philosophies about enlightenment.

    • Lokesh says:

      Great post, Frank. I am sure I learned something reading it but I am not sure what.

    • madhu dagmar frantzen says:

      Your response to Simond’s contribution, Frank, was very inspiring for me.

      When you say: “The trick might be to remember at all times that words/symbols are not reality itself” – Yes, to remember at all times that words/symbols are NOT reality itself is an important issue nowadays, perhaps more than ever before, when experiencing that artificial intelligence and concepts of ´hyper-reality´ are taking over, not only in the financial markets but also in the realms of bureaucracy and our communication patterns and habits.

      The Usbekian terrorist who yesterday killed about eight people in the streets of New York, seemed to have said that he was thrilled by the youtube media activism of IS, prepared his deed and went into action.

      This human creature had lost human consciousness for quite some time, I´d say, and obviously had lost any capacity to differentiate between a symbol (or words) and reality; and we all know he is not the only one, as we all, when we face that kind of calamity and our eyes and ears and other senses are not ´wide shut´.

      So it´s not all about indeed nice inspiring literature or Art or philosophy (like from an Umberto Eco or many others like a Margaret Attwood…); and it’s not all about ´fun´.

      Reading your response, Frank, I´ve been reminded of a time in my life, where, to cope with some shock and almost physical pain about an important and felt loss of face-to-face contacts and sustainable mutual nourishing relating – also in the spiritual realms – I´ve been searching for voices of understanding what great changes and challenges we are all in (not only me).

      Found voices like these of a UK Stephan Hawking or a French Jean Baudrillard and others with their insights and also warnings about what will or would happen to our consciousness if Artificial Intelligence or what they call a ´Hyper-reality´ takes over…

      On what we called ´East´ and ´West´ on the one planet we´re ‘globalised-embodied’, meanwhile information and socio-economically-wise, all its cultural heritage mixing and merging to a never before extent.

      And beings on ´both sides´ asked to make an effort of ´Samasati´, as we once said, to stay human when playing with ´information´, creatively and not destructively.

      And I´d agree with Satchit here, when he says, this effort to stay in a human consciousness – human – will always be an individual one, as long as we are embodied here.


  3. Lokesh says:

    Thanks, Simond, for a well written and thoughtful article. My only critique is that you failed to do your homework on certain subjects.

    For instance, you say, “I wonder if the reason is that these terms largely originate in the East, where the history of self-enquiry and enlightenment is rooted in the history and culture. Whereas in the West they are relatively new terms.”

    This is an inaccurate statement. The oracle at Delphi in Greece dates back to 1600 BC. Above the oracle’s entrance are inscribed three sayings, the most commonly heard being, “Know Thyself”.

    Simond then asks the following questions:
    “Can you be enlightened in the West? But also be of the West, married, a mother or father? Can you be working in a normal job? Why, for some, is that such a challenging idea?”

    The illuminated state has nothing whatsoever to do with geographical location and everything to do with the inner world. The notion that enlightenment is an Eastern concept is nonsense. This misguided notion probably has its foundation in the fact that Eastern culture had a tradition of writing about masters. A shaman living in the Amazon basin a thousand years ago would not have been able to record his experiences because, even had he the implements to do so, he would not have been able to write. That does not mean he was in any way less enlightened.

    Many sages and wise men led a married life. Guru Nanak and Chuang Tzu, to name but two. The idea that an enlightened person might be fulfilling a social working task is not challenging at all. It is common. Some of the most enlightened people I have met worked in society in quite normal jobs, firmly anchored in the heart of the marketplace. That said, many career gurus would experience difficulties if having to function in a normal social role.

    Simond concludes, “It’s surely time to examine the eastern terms and try to use, explain and understand them from our own perspective, as far as we can. To use terms as far as possible that mean something less vague and more real to us in the West. I know it’s not easy – I’ve been using these terms myself in this post!”

    True, but there is another side to this particular equation. Eastern religions developed a language with terms that have no equal in western language. Slowly, over time, these Eastern terms will be absorbed into Western language. It is already happening. I suppose one could say that it is a matter of karma.

    • simond says:

      Thanks, guys, for adding your pennyworth; both add to the discussion and make sense to me.

      • Arpana says:

        Outstanding joint post, Frank and Rev.

        • satchit says:

          “Simond writes:
          In a recent post a contributor made mention that he was a ‘master of his self’.”

          It was me who mentioned it. It means I don’t sail under the flag of somebody else. I’m my own pirate.

          The western words like self-realisation go more into the direction of increasing the potential; that really could stress the self.

          Being “master of oneself” means more you have dropped the inner conflict and act out of totality.

          • madhu dagmar frantzen says:

            Yes, Satchit, you may be sailing on the ocean of consciousness (at least here in the caravanserai chat of Sannyas News) not under the flag of somebody else.

            You say: “I´m my own pirate.” The ´pirate´, though – as far as I know – is one whose ambition it is to capture and to get hold of the goods other ships are sailing with, not rarely with violence; piracy is not about sharing goods with others but about stealing, isn´t it?

            Possibly, though, I´ve got you wrong, when being hooked by your choice of words?

            You never sail alone on whatsoever ocean, I ´d say.


            • frank says:

              See how metaphoric implications of words and images spread quickly and mutate into something else?

              The supposed English translation of ‘Swami’, ‘master of my self” becomes “I sail under my own flag, I`m my own pirate.” Madhu runs with a more negative, less romantic sense of ‘pirate’.

              So Satchit moves from an idea of himself as someone in the highest spiritual state known to man, to being a one-legged, mutinous villain swinging his one-liner cutlass wildly as he attempts to board the deck of the sinking HMS Sannyas, from his one-man dinghy, with a parrot on his shoulder squawking:
              “Drop inner conflict, act out of totality. Drop inner conflict, act out of totality.”

              • satchit says:


                Sometimes I really wonder what strange ideas you find there in your underground ubermensch -office. Hope you get enough oxygen there?

                • Arpana says:

                  I like the way you stand your ground, and that you never retaliate to name-calling with the same negativity as you have been subjected to.

                  Some, but not all, of your one-liners are pretty good.

                • satchit says:

                  I like the way you stand your ground, and that you never retaliate to name-calling with the same negativity as you have been subjected to.

                  Some, but not all, of your one-liners are pretty good.”

                  I like your flavour too, Arps.

                  It is not necessary to retaliate if you stand on solid ground.

              • Lokesh says:

                “Solid ground”….what next, Satchit? I reckon you never met Osho and took sannyas by post, or maybe from Guruji Arun. Or maybe you were initiated unto the mystery cult of one-liners by His Holiness Arpana.

                Anyway, glad to see you are making friends here on SN. That is a positive development.

                • satchit says:

                  Loco, you are funny, maybe a bit stubborn – but still funny.

                  I tell you what “solid ground” means: it means that I know when and where I did take sannyas. It is still 1978 in Pune.

                  It is funny that what you “reckon” drives you crazy. Anyway, it is not my business that you go beeserk because of this – and also the entertainment is not so bad. Thanks.

            • satchit says:

              Now you have caught me, Madhu.

              I exaggerated a bit, I confess. I’m not that Pirate of the Caribbean. But who knows, maybe I am that Sufi cab driver, Parmartha mentioned. Life is unpredictable.

              “You never sail alone on whatsoever ocean, I ´d say.”

              We are both:
              Alone and not alone.

              Certainly you share your aloneness here on this Chat, don’t you?

              • madhu dagmar frantzen says:

                Grateful that you came up here in the Chat, Satchit, from where-soever or as what-soever your lines have been or may be coming.

                As far as ´catching´ anything is concerned, could be that it’s more kind of a ´Don Quixote-style´ of failure: sometimes entertaining others, sometimes – not.

                Yet – taking it to heart.


          • swami anand anubodh says:

            The followers of SN know that you are fond of surrounding and protecting yourself with ‘one-liners’, so it may be prudent to add this old Turkish saying to your collection:

            “If you sleep on the floor, then you can’t fall out of bed.”

  4. shantam prem says:

    If I am reborn in the West and have same ‘higher calling’ as in this life I will prefer 100% to join full-time Christian monastery than to follow any of the Asian religions. They are simply unsuitable for the western brain.

    Osho has tried his best to create some kind of synthesis but he too could not transmit one kind of blood group to another kind of race. In reality, Osho is good theorist who created packed mixed juice from all the scripts written during the times when intelligence of the men have nothing to do but follow religious pursuits.

    As far as enlightenment is concerned I am not sure is it like G-spot or 12 cms. long third leg!

    Surely, by Nature’s design, humans have more or less longing not to be here on the Earth at all. Religions, in their essence, are born in this search to find the way out not to be here.
    My impression is this too happens on its own when soul has seen enough in various human forms.

    It may be a belief but I presume reincarnation is Nature’s way to go on improving human brain.

  5. Tan says:

    Great post, Simond!
    Really enjoyed reading it! Cheers!

  6. Parmartha says:

    Western and eastern traditions were not so far apart as is commonly proclaimed. (But clearly, as Simond intelligently argues, the vocabulary was).

    “Union with God” was a fairly common description of so-called advanced spirituality in the western mystical traditions and its ego-free nature. In such a state one became a vehicle for God’s will, wherever it might lead.

    The concept of what I take to be a completely similar state called enlightenment was a Buddhist concept, and Buddhism was too much for mainland India, and left its shores many times, and in fact had a minimal presence there.

    Such people, in my view, were not always teachers, and did not publicise their elevation, and this would also apply to the present time.

    Jesus himself asked his disciples not to mention he was, as it were, completely unified with God, whatever the ‘people’ were saying.

    As the Sufis say, watch out for your next cab driver, or your regular newsagent, they may already have reached their pool of bliss, and you might miss catching it from them, immersed, as you always are, in your own business.

    • James Abbott says:


    • frank says:

      Don`t forget that when it comes to catchphrases, the East has always been yugas ahead of the West.

      The wiseguys from the East have given us:
      “Don`t worry, be happy.”
      “Thou art that.”
      “I am that.”
      “It`s nice to be important but it`s more important to be nice.”
      “No problem, baba.”
      “Be a joke unto yourself.”
      “Who am I?”
      “Never born, never died.”

      And then we`ve come up with stuff like:

      “Nice to see you, to see you nice!”
      “You are the weakest link, goodbye.”
      “Is that your final answer?”
      “Nice one, Cyril”
      “Eat my shorts.”
      “Blessed are the poor.”
      “You are awful, but I like you,”

      I don`t believe it!

      Enough for today.

  7. shantam prem says:

    “Western and eastern traditions were not so far apart”, then what was the need to drop parental names for some exotic Indian words?

    Arpana, Lokesh, Madhu, Parmartha, Satyadeva – I mean, why massacre loving names given by the parents who did so much to raise us?

    To be true, Shantam Prem feels like mockery of life to me, a kind of clever tactic to fast track the evolution, to cheat the universe.

    And I am quite sure, after contemplating over the present state of His church, even Osho will prefer to revert back to simply Rajneesh Jain!


    Iqbal Singh

    • madhu dagmar frantzen says:

      Dear Iqbal Singh,

      Some of what is left alive in the spirit of heritage of a western artist, songwriter and musician, John Lennon while he a bit later was murdered in the most cowardly way possible.
      It’s a universal love-and-care lyrics but dedicated to his son Sean.

      Some lines from the lyrics of the song, ‘Beaufiful Boy’…

      “Out on the ocean
      Sailing away
      I can hardly wait
      To see you come of age
      But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient
      ‘Cause it’s a long way to go
      A hard row to hoe
      Yes it’s a long way to go
      But in the meantime…

      Before you cross the street
      Take my hand

      Life is what happens to you
      While you’re busy making other plans….”

      And the very last two lines of this excerpt have left a strong imprint of more than ´just a musical memory’, East or West! They are, like lots of other comparable stuff, universal stuff IN – as beyond – small families (spiritual or otherwise)/nations/geographical areas, belief systems etc.

      As you not so much liking contributions here in the UK Chat, maybe you like to listen to John Lennon´s song? Just for a change of mood?



    • satchit says:

      “Arpana, Lokesh, Madhu, Parmartha, Satyadeva – I mean, why massacre loving names given by the parents who did so much to raise us?”

      Iqbal Singh,

      If you ask “why?” you can always ask “why not?”.

      In your country, people don’t revolt against their parents. They still enjoy arranged marriages, don’t they?

      • shantam prem says:


        My country aside, I have more love marriages and divorces than most of the people from the country you are in.

        Anyway, are you Nepali living in the West, or which race?

        As far as arranged marriages are concerned, couple who gave birth to beloved Osho were also married in a usual way! And Punja ji´s parents and Ramana Maharishi and so on and so forth.

    • shantam prem says:

      What about psychoanalysis of this post and names mentioned?

      Why you are keeping name given by someone who is no more or has not left a cent for you in his property and has no DNA connection of any kind?

      Other bloggers too, please take this challenging task to answer this post with your best of knowledge and experience.

      Maybe Simond too was once using great meaningful name from Sanskrit, a language almost extinct in its country of origin, India.

    • Parmartha says:

      On this, Iqbal, you are quite wrong.

      It is only by leaving your family far behind, that one has half a chance of the final maturity necessary for giving one’s life to God…

      Brought up on Christianity as I was, one thing the Sunday school teachers never tackled was why Jesus sent his mother away without giving her any attention when he was busy with his ministry, with the words, “Now the whole world is my mother and father.”

      Also, you know very little of western monastic traditions. Many involved a change of name, etc.

      It is only after one has given up the shaping the family leaves you imprinted with, that a second birth might become possible.

      I do wonder about that Pune 2 and 3 experience of yours, didn’t it teach you that fundamental truth?

  8. Vijay says:

    Tiruvannamalai is full of fake masters, both from the West and the East, giving darshans.

    • shantam prem says:

      Mr. Vijay, when you know about so many fake masters, would you be kind enough to tell one or two REAL Masters.

      In my not so humble opinion, difference between fake and real master is as between dildo and the real one. Wonder is, every disciple thinks he is being served by the real one!

  9. Tan says:

    Great update, Arps. On the spot!!

  10. James Abbott says:


    I am…Bong.

    To master the Self is to be one with the universe and then some. The irony of the realisation is that while sharing is caring, it is the natural state of man and he must blindness–, trust++, love++.*

    In the body while teaching neigong I describe it thus: relax, sink, and embrace the void.

    Osho has his own language – refer to Lion’s roar and “Be the Buddha”.

    I like the link I provided as it describes Jesus and others as Oasis in the desert and again the parables of the seeds. Is not an Oasis an ideal place to sow?

    Make of it what you will. I have been fortunate to find students from many faiths in my non- duality school. I never called it a non-duality school before but it lends itself to this.

    Unfortunately, I cannot say that organisations lend themselves to living waters.

    It’s sufficient to experience!

    * and he must blindness–, trust++, love++.
    It is a combination of words and symbols. Its meaning is deep. As source code in computer programming (C being my language of choice) the ++ and — operations increment and decrease variables respectively.

  11. shantam prem says:

    Let us presume for a while, reincarnation exists. So it is very much possible people in the West who are fascinated with Eastern words and phrases, Indian gurus and Ammas, have some kind of nostalgic pull for that which they have lived during their previous lives.

    Similarly, best of Indian brains care not about spirituality but admission in American universities. CEOs of Google and Microsoft are from South India which produced few of the religious giants of last century. They must have some deep past life connection with the western education.

    As far as our master Osho is concerned, one does not get a single hint that he was ever born in the West and working in queen´s kingdom. Most of His knowledge about West seems to be coming from the books.

    • Lokesh says:

      Shantam, your take on reincarnation is a product of popular culture. It sounds like you have not thought about it very deeply.

      Our personalities are a product of earthly existence and like our body will one day die. There is nothing eternal about the personality.

      We have all heard the reports of people remembering a past life in great detail. My question to you is how does one know that those memories are not someone else’s?

      • shantam prem says:

        No, Lokesh, I don´t take reincarnation as a fashion from popular culture but lifelong passion to understand the different seasons in people´s lives.

        Let us say there is just one life, no past or future life, still it is a wonder why some people are born to have their fifteen minutes of fame whereas many others trials and tribulations.

        As far as memories of past life which one sees in past life sessions, I will take it as a pinch of salt, though for the participant it must be very relaxing.

        I will go for deep inside feeling in the gut. When I ‘imagine’ the essence of my past lives, it is very much influenced by Christian monasteries on one side and battles, betrayals, power and intrigue games played in the royal courts.

        Because there is no working-class experience at all, still at the age of 54 I wonder how come someone can make bread or shoes, planes or computers. Hundreds of times I stop myself before the construction sites and feel amazed. I ask myself, “If given a chance, would I prefer to learn anything connected with construction?” and answer is always, “No”.

        I will prefer to construct an ashram with mud houses but without claiming to be some enlightened.

        Being simple human being with reasonably enough money, with some longing for God and sharing life with similar people is all what I ask for.

      • frank says:

        I can appreciate Shantam`s point, tho`.
        I recently did a past life workshop and it turned out that I was a village idiot in North-West India in my past life.

        The facilitator explained that is why in this life I was head boy at Eton, an Oxford blue and now own a Maserati, a Porsche, have a trophy wife and a string of mistresses and at a very high level of enlightenment, to boot.
        So keep up the meditations bro` – there`s always hope…

        Also, I just purchased a copy of the Akashik records on eBay. I looked up Shantam and it turns out that he was Abdul Karim of ‘Victoria and Abdul’ fame in his past life. I suppose that explains his obsession with the Queen of England in this life.

        And apparently, in his previous incarnation, Satchit was Long John Silver`s parrot in ‘Treasure Island’. which also explains a lot.

  12. Kavita says:

    I wonder who came with the concept of East-West – surely was the first politician!

  13. shantam prem says:

    Thanks, Lokesh, for recommending the book. Just ordered at Amazon.

    Also memory came, when I purchased ‘In Search of Miraculous’ for two pounds in second-hand bookshop in Brighton during my first and till now the only visit to Britain 20,21 years ago.

    • Lokesh says:

      Hi Shantam, it is still a great book. If I run out of something good to read I often return to it. It is good to remember that Ouspensky was a pioneer of his time and I am sure Osho loved him for it.

  14. swamishanti says:

    Ever wondered about chakras, the Self and how it all fits together?
    Tibetans did, and created special maps of the body and life and after-death states.

  15. shantam prem says:

    This is proverbial lost brother of faceless frank, who could not afford to follow Osho.

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