BY MINGUN SAYADAW
Events from the 2nd to the 9th Rains-Retreats
Edited and Translated by
|Chapter 23||TATHAGATA RESIDED AT VESALI FOR THE FIFTH LENT|
|Chapter 25||KEEPING THE 7th. VASSA AND PREACHING THE ABHIDHAMMA AT TAVATIMSA.|
Permission given for ordination of women at the request of step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami.
Step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami had approached the Tathagata since the time of Buddha's first visit to Kapilavatthu with a request for admission of women to the Order by formal ordination; she had made the requests then for three times repeatedly and the Tathagata had rejected her request every time.
The reason for such rejection was because the Tathagata had decided to grant admission of women to the Order not easily but only after pains-taking efforts on the part of women to gain permission for ordination. Only then would they realize that becoming a bhikkhuni in the Dispensation was a thing difficult of attainment and would safeguard their bhikkhuni status with constant vigilance. The Tathagata wished them to cherish the hard won admission to the Order obtained after a great struggle.
Thus when the step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami made her first request repeated three times to the Tathagata at the Nigrodha monastery of Kapilavatthu, her request was rejected by the Tathagata for reasons as stated above. Mahapajapati Gotami had to abandon her hope and return to the royal palace for three times in the past.
Now an opportunity had presented itself for her to make another attempt when the Tathagata had taken up residence at Vesali to keep the fifth vasa.
As stated in the previous chapters, those five hundred bhikkhus of royal blood prior to their attainment to Arahatship had messages sent to them by their former spouses, requesting them to return and live a household life again. These ladies made their earnest appeal again sending messages as before to the five hundred bhikkhus who had become Arahats now. But the Arahat bhikkhus sent the reply, "We are no longer in a position to lead a worldly life".
The five hundred deserted wives considered that 'it would not be appropriate to seek for new married life' and decided unanimously to go to Mahapajapati Gotami to appeal to her 'to obtain permission from the Tathagata for admission to the Order as bhikkhunis.' Accordingly they went in a group to the step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami and made their, appeal to her.
Their request reminded her of her failure to obtain permission for the women to receive ordination when the Tathagata was taking up residence at Nigrodha monastery on a previous occasion and so she caused a hair-dresser to shave their heads, including that of her own, and asked the ladies to wear dyed clothes to assume the form of bhikkhunis while they were still in the royal palace. Then they made arrangements to set out all together for Mahavana forest of Vesali where the Tathagata was then residing.
The distance between Kapilavatthu and Vesali was fifty yojanas; and when Sakyan and Koliya royal families considered arrangements for their journey, they concluded, 'It would not be possible for these princesses and royal ladies brought up so regally and gently to make the journey on foot' and they arranged to provide them with five hundred sedans to solve the problem.
The five hundred ladies agreed amongst themselves that such a mode of traveling might be tantamount to an act of disrespect to the Tathagata and they therefore made the journey of fifty one yojanas on foot. Royal families of both countries arranged for regular provision of food at every stop and sufficient number of escorts for their security en route to Vesali.
Having made the difficult journey of fifty yojanas, their delicate feet were swollen with boils that took turns to rise and burst, looking as if they were covered with seeds of clearing-nut, Strychos potato rum. All the five hundred fair ladies headed by Mahapajapati Gotami who arrived at Vesali with swollen feet, bodies besmeared with dirt and dust, with tears streaming down their cheeks and in sore distress, stood in a group at the gate of the Kutagara monastery in the forest of Mahavana. (They dared not enter the precincts of the monastery at once). (Illustration)
[ Step-mother Maha Pajapati Gotami thought to herself that she bad taken on the dress of a bhikkhuni without the permission of the Tathagata and the news of her action had already spread through out the land. It would be well if the Tathagata would be pleased to admit her into the Order; but failing that she should have to stand reproached. That was the reason why she stood bewailing at the gate without daring to seek entry ].
When the Venerable Ananda noticed Mahapajapati Gotami in such a plight at the gate, he came to her and inquired: "O dear Step-mother, why do you look so miserable? Have the royal relatives of Sakya and Koliya families met with tragedies and are ruined? Why are you in an unsightly appearance such as this, with swollen feet, and looking shabby, a grief stricken face, standing helplessly and weeping at the gate?"
Whereupon, Step-mother . Mahapajapati Gotami replied "O Venerable Ananda, we have been standing at the gate with tears for failure to get Tathagata's permission for women to receive formal ordination that they might lead the life of bhikkhunis in the Dispensation of Dhamma-Vinaya." Ananda soothed her by saying a few words of encouragement: "Step-mother... if that is the case .. I will go and approach the Tathagata for admission of women into the Order by formal ordination, so that they might lead the life of bhikkhunis in the Dispensation of. Dhamma-Vinaya; please remain at the gate till I come back", and so saying Venerable Ananda went to the Tathagata and made this request:-
The Tathagata said in response: "That is not a proper thing... dear Ananda and I advise you not to be interested in the matter of admitting women folk into the order as bhikkhunis" With an undaunted will, the Venerable Ananda made similar requests for the second time, for the third time, but received the same words of discouragement from the Tathagata.
A Renewed Request
The Venerable Ananda thought of a new approach, after failure to obtain permission for admission of women folk to the Dispensation of Dhamma-Vinaya for three times and accordingly went to the Tathagata and addressed him: -
Whereupon, the Tathagata replied: "Ananda, women folk could attain Ariyaship ranging from Fruitional Stage of Sotapatti, Sakadagami, Anagami to Arahatta, by leading the life of bhikkhunis within the frame-work of Dhamma Vinaya Sasana."
[ Mahapajapati Gotami, gave birth to prince Nanda a few days after Maha Maya Devi had given birth to Boddhisatta. She entrusted her own child Nanda to the care of wet-nurses, and she volunteered to act as Boddhisatta's wet-nurse and care-taker; hence this additional weight applied to his request! ]
The Buddha finally acceded to Ananda's entreaties, saying, "Ananda, if Mahapajapati accepts the Eight Special Rules, Garu-dhamma, let such acceptance mean her admission to the Order."
The Eight Special Rules are:
"These are the Eight Special Rules. If Mahapajapati Gotami accepts the Eight Special Rules let such acceptance mean her admission to the Order." The Tathagata thus permitted the establishment of Bhikkhuni Sasana after expounding the Eight Special Rules for their guidance.
Ananda learned the Eight Special Rules from the Tathagata and returned to Mahapajapati Gotami at the gate and told her what had transpired at his meeting with the Tathagata:
Mahapajapati Gotami responded: "Venerable Ananda .... just as a young maiden who is in the habit of decorating herself with flowers with her hair washed and brushed or a man in like manner, would eagerly receive lilies, Moe-swe or Lai-tu flowers with out-stretched hands, for planting on their heads if and when offered; so also I am prepared to adhere to the Eight Special Rules, Garu dhamma, with great delight and due respect till I breathe my last.
Thereupon the Venerable Ananda approached the Tathagata again with profound respect and stood at a suitable place and addressed:
"Most Exalted Tathagata... Mahapajapati Gotami has vowed to adhere strictly to the Eight Special Rules as laid down, with due diligence and respect up to the end of her life".
(Her enthusiastic acceptance of the Eight Special Rules constitute automatic admission to the Order; she became a bhikkhuni without formal ordination in a Sima. Such procedure of admission into the Order is known as "Attha garu dhamma patiggahana Upasampada".
Permission Granted for Ordination of Bhikkhuni.
Step-mother Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Tathagata and sat at a suitable place with due respect and asked. "Exalted Tathagata.. what should I do with those five hundred princesses of royal blood?" The Tathagata gave her certain instructions. She left after hearing the dhamma and making obeisance to the Tathagata. Then the Tathagata told the bhikkhus about his instructions to Mahapajapati and laid down the following rules:
"Bhikkhus, I give permission to bhikkhus to help ordination of female candidates to become bhikkhunis."
Bhikkhus proceeded to help ordination of the five hundred royal princesses with Mahapajapati Gotami as their preceptor (upajjhaya). They were known as "ekataw upasampanna" there being insufficient number of bhikkhunis to participate jointly with bhikkhus in the ordination ceremony.
When the ordination ceremony was over, Mahapajapati Gotami attained Fruitional Stage of Arahatship through hearing Sankhitta Sutta (Anguttara), and those five hundred bhikkhunis attained Ariyaship according to their wishes, ranging from Sotapatti, Sakadagami, Anagami to Arahatta through hearing Nandakovada Sutta (Majjhima)
[ The ordination of distinguished bhikkhunis, such as, Queen Yasodhara, Princess Janapadakalayani, Queen Khema, Dhammadinna, wife of a rich man, Bhaddakapila will be described separately when we come to deal with the Jewel of Sangha ]
Having established Ankura and Indaka devas in the Fruition stage of Sotapatti, the Tathagata continued to stay on to keep up the 7th. Vassa sitting crossed-legged on the throne of Sakka in Tavatimsa and preached the Abhidhamma, day and night, to all those devas from ten thousand world systems, who rallied round the Tathagata, with Santusita deva at their head. He started with the 'Law of good action' and its result (Kusala Dhamma); bad action and its result (Akusala Dhamma); Neutral or amoral or indeterminate action; (Abyakata Dhamma) teaching round the clock, like the river of the sky flowing continuously, for the duration of the lent or vassa.
(N.B. Buddhas used to deliver before noon discourses in praise of food offered, such discourses could be as long as Dighanikaya and Majjhima nikaya put together. The discourses preached to the devas and brahmas who arrived in the afternoon have the combined lengths of Samyuttanikaya and Anguttaranikaya.
This is because a thought-process of the Buddha is very fast, with very few intervening Bhavanga consciousness. And the Buddha's lips are proportionately and firmly set, the lip movements are precise. The tongue is long, slender and delicate. All these features contribute to production of a voice so melodious at a very fast rate.
It is stated that when an ordinary average person had spoken a word, the Venerable Ananda had spoken eight words as much; when Venerable Ananda had spoken one word. the Buddha had spoken sixteen words as much. It has thus been calculated that the Buddha's rate of speech is 128 times greater than that of an average person.)
Thus, with such unimaginable rapidity of rate of speech, it is no wonder that the Buddha preached the long discourses in appreciation of offering of food before noon and more lengthy discourses to devas who arrived in the afternoon. The Abhidhamma that the Tathagata had preached during that lent of three months is thus endless and incomparable.
Keeping the Body well maintained while preaching the Abhidhamma.
In case a question such as this arises: "How did Buddha maintain his body when he was engaged in preaching the Abhidhamma during the whole length of vassa lasting three months", this is a brief reply. He did it by regular provision of nourishment:
The following is an extensive answer:
All the Buddhas are mindful of such matters; they usually followed the progress of time in the world of man while in the act of preaching the Abhidhamma. When the time came for going on the alms round, he created a Buddha after his own image, acting after his own manner in handling the bowl and holding the robe and with a voice like his own. He caused the created Buddha to preach the Abhidhamma to the extent prescribed by himself
The Tathagata then left for the Anotatta lake, with the bowl and the robe. On his arrival at the Anotatta lake devas presented him with a twig frayed at one end. After brushing his teeth with the twig, he took a bath in the Anotatta lake. After his bath, he stood on the slab of orpiment and donned the well-dyed double stitched robe. He then took the brown stone-bowl that was offered by the four Great devas of Catumaharajika deva plane, under the Rajayatana tree (at the seventh place of the seven places at which Gotama Buddha spent seven days each after attaining Buddhahood. Each deva had offered one bowl and the four were pressed into one with four rims by the Buddha with his hands.) The Tathagata proceeded to Uttara Kuru (north island) for receiving alms food, and on return he partook of the food on the peaceful bank of the enchanting delightful Anotatta lake. After his meal, he proceeded to the forest of Sandal trees to spend the day.
The Venerable Sariputta, the General of the Dhamma, went to the Sandal forest to attend on the Tathagata and stood at a place that was free from six faults. Whereupon, the Tathagata told the Mahathera: "Dear son Sariputta... I have preached this much of the Dhamma." He would only give the gist and the guide lines, but the Venerable Sariputta, being endowed with four Patisambhida Nana, could have full grasp of the Dhamma outlined by the Tathagata, like a man who is shown the vast ocean by some one with an outstretched hand. He had the ability to understand it in a hundred, a thousand ways.
(The Tathagata returned to Tavatimsa in the afternoon to resume preaching there. With the exception of the powerful devas, no one knew that a created Buddha was preaching the Abhidhamma in the place of the real Buddha and that the real Buddha had gone to the human world and had returned from it. The created Buddha was an exact replica in all respects: in emission of rays, in voice and in the manner of speaking.)
The Venerable Sariputta preached the Abhidhamma to the five hundred bhikkhus who had been bats in a previous existence.
The Venerable Sariputta having learnt the Abhidhamma briefly from the Buddha daily taught it in a form (neither too brief nor too elaborate) to the five hundred bhikkhu disciples under his care, who had been common bats in a previous existence.
This is a short account of their previous life: They all were little common bats dwelling in a cave, hanging down from its roof in the time of Kassapa Buddha. They heard the recitation of the Abhidhamma by two bhikkhus, who were well versed in the Abhidhamma. They had not even the slightest idea of what was meant by the waxing and waning of the moon, but, their attention was drawn to the recitation of the Abhidhamma by the bhikkhus' pleasant and harmonious tone. (The bats had no idea of what was meant by Abhidhamma, the aggregates, sensation, dhatu (elements), Truth, not even the waxing and waning of the moon, but since the tone of the recitation by bhikkhus served as a good object of their dying consciousness (Kamma nimitta) for the following life, they were reborn in the plane of devas).
They enjoyed the life of devas from the time of Kassapa Buddha right up to the time of Gotama Buddha, not being born even once in the lower planes of woes. At the time of the present Buddha, they were reborn in the world of men. They witnessed the Twin Miracle, which aroused their faith and devotion and made them receive ordination under the personal supervision of the Venerable Sariputta. Every day, the Venerable Sariputta Mahathera taught them the Abhidhamma in a fairly extended form of what he had learnt from the Tathagata in an abridged version.
The preaching of the Abhidhamma by the Tathagata in the world of devas came to a close simultaneously with the completion of the full study of the seven books of the Abhidhamma taken up by the five hundred bhikkhus under the Venerable Sariputta in the world of men.
Everyday the Tathagata informed the Venerable Sariputta of the nature and extent of the Abhidhamma taught by himself and the nature and extent of the Abhidhammaa taught by the created Buddha in Tavatimsa and instructed him to teach his five hundred disciples as necessary, before he returned to resume preaching from the point where the created Buddha had concluded.
The preaching of the Abhidhamma came to a close at the end of the lent, on the full moon day of Thadingyut, with the result that eighty thousand crores of devas and brahmas were emancipated through realization of the Four Noble Truths: Santusita deva, the Buddha's mother in the human world attained the fruitional state of Sotapatti.
People shifted from Savatthi to the town of Sankassa.
On the ninth waxing moon of Thadingyut, people lingering within the area of thirty six yojanas went and asked the Venerable Maha Moggalana: "Venerable Sir, .... it would be right and proper that we enquire the time of the Tathagata's return (to earth); we will not go back (to our own homes) until we have paid homage to the Tathagata". The Venerable Ashin Maha Moggalana said "Very well" and dived right into the earth and went right up to the base of Mount Meru; He willed that people should see him ascend to Tavatimsa rising from within Mount Meru. Then like a fine golden string threaded through a ruby he was clearly visible to the people, ascending from within the centre of the mountain to Tavatimsa.
People who saw the Venerable Maha Moggalana during the course, of his ascent to the summit through the inside of the mountain measured his progress in terms of yojanas saying, "Now he has ascended one yojana, he has ascended two yojanas" etc., On arrival at Tavatimsa it was as if the Tathagata's feet rested on the head of the Venerable Moggalana who then approached the Tathagata with profound respect and addressed: "Most Exalted Lord... people will not return to thek places without paying homage to you and are anxious to know the time of your descent to the world of men." The Tathagata asked "Dear son Moggalana, where at present is your elder brother the Venerable Sariputta? "Whereupon the Venerable Moggalana replied: "Most Exalted Lord, he has been keeping vassa at Sankassa town". The Tathagata made the following reply:
"Dear son Moggalana... I will descend at the gate of Sankassa on the seventh day from now, that falls on the full moon day of Thadingyut, the time for the celebration of Maha Pavarana. The distance between the two towns is thirty yojanas, but tell the people they need not bring any food for the journey, just as they would observe the precepts and go without taking any food or provisions to the monasteries at the head of the towns and villages to listen to the preaching (sermons) on a sabbath day. The Venerable Maha Moggalana replied "Very well .... Most Exalted Lord". On arrival back on earth, he relayed Tathagata's message to the people.
Descent at the gate of Sankassa town by triple stairways.
The Tathagata made known his departure to Sakka: "Lay devotee Sakka, King of Devas .... I shall be returning to the world of men" by way of formal leave taking. At the close of vassa, on the full moon day of Thadingyut. Sakka created a set of three stairways, one of gold, another of ruby and another of silver, side by side, with the bases at the Gate of Sankassa town and with their upper end resting on the summit of Mount Meru. (1) The stairway on the right hand side was reserved for the devas, (2) the silver stairway on the left-hand side was reserved for the great brahmas, (3) the ruby stairway in the middle was exclusively for the Tathagata.
The Tathagata, on the eve of departure, stood on the summit of Mount Meru and performed the Twin Miracle of water and fire, and looked up at the sky. The whole region right up to the realm of Akanittha Brahma, appeared as an open space unobstructed and clearly visible and when he looked downwards, he could see the Avici at the bottom of the eight planes of misery; when he looked forward and side-ways, in all directions, thousands of world systems could he seen without any obstruction whatsoever. The strange scene was witnessed by all the devas, brahmas and human beings. Thus all the devas and brahmas could see the human beings and human beings could see the devas and brahrnas.
The Tathagata caused the emanation of the six-hued rays from the body as He descended from Tavatimsa to the world of men, and there was no one in that crowd of spectators of thirty six yojanas in circumference, who did not aspire to Buddhahood when they noticed the grandeur, greatness, grace and glory of the Tathagata.
The devas came along down the gold stair-way on the right hand side. The brahmas came along down the silver stairway on the left-hand side. The Tathagata alone descended by the ruby stairway in the middle. Pancasikha deva on the right side of Tathagata, paid homage by playing his Beluva harp; Suyama deva also came along on the right side, fanning the Tathagata with a fan made of hair of the yak's tail; Santusita deva came along on the same side fanning the Tathagata with a fan studded with rubies, Sakka on the right hand side also blew the Vijayuttara, conch shell. Devas from the rest of the world system also came along, paying homage in adoration in various ways. Brahmas came along by the silver stairway, holding the Brahma's white umbrella over the head of the Tathagata as a gesture of profound respect.
Thus the Tathagata descended to earth in the manner described above, and on arrival, stood at the gate of the town of Sankassa. Those people, who were gathered at Savatthi city, left after the morning meal, looking forward to seeing the Tathagata on Pavarana day at the end of the lent. They eventually reached the gates of Sankassa town as quickly and effortlessly as they would go to the monastery at the head of their village.
Preaching of Sariputta Sutta.
The Venerable Sariputta was the first person to pay homage to the Tathagata as soon as the Lord had set his right foot on the earth on arrival from Tavatimsa. All the rest of those present followed suit subsequently.
The spot where the Tathagata had set his right foot on the earth was later regarded as a sacred place and termed Acala Cetiya-thana. The spot where the Tathagata set his right foot on reaching the earth, on return from Tavatimsa, at the end of the lent after the preaching the Abhidhamma, in keeping with the practice Buddhas is also regarded as one of the sacred places termed Avijahitathana (i.e. Every Buddha after preaching the Abhidhamma in Tavatimsa during the whole of vassa, on return to earth by the three Stairways had always first set his right foot on the very spot where the triple stairways were placed at the gate of Sankassa. )
The Four Avijahitathana (four sacred places).
Here, being appropriate and to be specially noted, a brief mention will be made of the four Avijahitathana, The permanent sacred sites utilized by all Buddhas for the same purposes with unchanging uniformity are known as Avijahitathana. They are four in number, namely:
(1) The site of the Maha Bodhi Tree, the Victory Throne (Aparajita throne) where all Buddhas had conquered the Five Maras. (i.e. the very spot where there arose the Aparajita throne for our Gotama Buddha had been site of the Aparajita thrones of all Buddhas. There is no change of location. )
(2) Isipatana, Migadaya where our Gotama Buddha preached the Dhammacakka, the first Discourse: (This is the location where all the Buddhas had also preached the Dhamma Cakka. It is not preached at any other place).
(3) The spot on which the Buddhas usually first set their right foot on their return from Tavatimsa after preaching the Abhidhamma there (The gate of Sankassa town is that sacred place in our Gotama Buddha's time.)
(4) The location of Buddhas' bed-stead (where the four legs of Buddhas' bed-steads usually rested without change.) The Scented Chamber of Gotama Buddha in the monastery of Jetavana was the site of where his bed-stead lay).
As regards (the monasteries of the Buddhas, they differ in size due to the circumstances prevalent at the time. To clarify:
(a) VIPASSI BUDDHA: A plot measuring one yojana, donated by a rich man, Punabba Sumitta, at a cost of gold bricks placed edge to edge on the surface of the plot.
(b) SIKHI BUDDHA: A plot measuring three gavutas, donated by richman Siriddha, at a cost of gold bars touching one another throughout the plot.
(c) VESSABHU BUDDHA: A plot measuring half a yojana, donated by richman Sotthija, at a cost of gold-cups (gold teeth of harrow) touching one another throughout the surface of the plot.
(d) KAKUSAN BUDDHA: A plot measuring one gavuta, donated by richman Accuta, at a cost of gold blocks (moulded like elephants' feet) touching one another through out the plot.
(e) KONAGAMANA BUDDHA: A plot measuring half a gavuta, donated by richman Ugga, at a cost of gold bricks placed edge to edge throughout the surface of the plot.
(f) KASSAPA BUDDHA: A plot measuring twenty ussaba, donated by richman Sumangala, at a cost of gold tortoise figure placed side by side throughout the plot.
(g) GOTAMA BUDDHA: A plot measuring eight pais, donated by richman Suddatha (a) Anatthapindika, at a cost of gold coins touching edge to edge throughout the plot.
The above passages are excerpts from Buddhavamsa Atthakatha and Vinaya Cula Vagga Atthakatha.
Although the size of the location of the monasteries differs through the passage of time, the location of the Buddha's Scented Chamber remained the same without any change (The above is a short account of the four sacred places (Avijahitathana).
Devas and men are filled with adoration for the fully Self enlightened Buddhas.
As stated before, the Venerable Sariputta approached the Tathagata after he first set his right foot at the head of the Stairway, paid homage to the Lord and addressed him: "All the devas and laity here are filled with adoration for you so much that they all long for Buddhahood" Whereupon the Tathagata replied: "Dear Son Sariputta, It is true that all the brahmas, devas and men love and revere the Buddhas for their being great, gracious and glorious" and then uttered the following stanza preparatory to preaching a discourse:
Ye jhanappa suta dhira
devapi tesam pihayanti
Dear son Sariputta .... All the Fully Self-Enlightened Buddhas have gained mastery over Jhana practices in five ways and they delight in these Jhana absorptions. They also abide usually in phalasamapatti that has as its object the Absolute Truth of Nibbana, free from all dukkha. Even the devas and brahmas of the celestial regions have made the remark, with great adoration and esteem for those Buddhas, who are always abiding in full mindfulness, "How great would it be, if we who have had this rare opportunity were to become Buddhas?"
According to Dhammapada commentary, thirty crores of brahmas, devas and men were emancipated at the conclusion of the discourse. Five hundred disciples of the Venerable Sariputta attained Arahantship as a result.
The Tathagata revealed the attributes of the Venerable Sariputta. While still standing at the head of the Stairway, the Tathagata contemplated thus: "People who gathered here at this assembly do know that Moggalana Thera is the greatest in the matter of (Jhanic) powers: Anuruddha Thera in supernatural vision; Punna Thera is a celebrated Teacher in Dhamma; but no one knows the attributes of Sariputta Maha Thera. Therefore the Tathagata thought it would he proper to bring the knowledge and wisdom of Sariputta to the limelight in some way or the other". The Tathagata asked Sariputta questions relating to the problems of ordinary average people (puthujjana), those of Ariya puggalas (Sekkhas) in the three lower Paths and Fruitional stages, and those of Arahants (Asekkhas), in the presence of all those present at the time. The Maha Thera gave prompt answers to each and every question, stage by stage, concerning ordinary average persons, Ariya puggalas in the three lower Paths and Fruition and the Arahants, the perfected ones, with the result that all those present came to understand the Maha thera's state of exaltation in wisdom!
To be continued.
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