Reminiscenses of Kunju Swami

Four Classes of Jivanmuktas

Jivanmuktas [those who are liberated while alive] have traditionally been classified under four categories – the brahma-vid, the brahma-varan, the brahma-variyan and the brahma-varishtan. 

The characteristic traits of the first type, the brahma-vid, are spelt out in Kaivalya Navaneeta, in its section “The Exposition of the Truth,” as follows: 

Should passions rise up [in them] they disappear instantly and cannot taint the mind of brahmavids, who live in society detached like water on a lotus leaf… 

Prarabda, i.e., karma, which is now bearing fruit, differs in them according to the actions in past incarnations. Therefore, the present pursuits also differ among the jnanis, who are all liberated. They may perform holy tapas; or engage in trade and commerce; or rule a kingdom; or wander about as mendicants. 

They would not think of the past or future; would partake of what comes unsolicited; would not wonder if the sun turned into the moon or at any marvel… nor would they distinguish good and bad, for they always remain as the unchanging Witness of all. 

Another verse describes the other three classes of jivanmuktas: 

Among the other three classes, the varan and the variyan remain settled in samadhi. 

The varan feels concern for the maintenance of the body [like eating food out of his own volition], the variyan is reminded of it by others; the varishta never becomes aware of the body either by himself or through others. 

Although there are distinguishing characteristics in the lives of the different sages, who are themselves very rare in the world, there is absolutely no difference in the experience of realisation. 

One who is in any of the states described above is a jivanmukta. 

Bhagavan had lived in all the four states but, out of immense compassion, deigned to come down, step by step, from the most elevated state among the four, that of the brahma-varishtan. 

We are fortunate that he made himself accessible to us in this way. As Saint Tirumoolar observes: 

He is beyond worlds all 
Yet, here below, He bestows His grace abundant 
On the good and the devout, 
And in love works for salvation of all; 
Thus is the Holy Guru 
Whose praise is beyond speech 
Like Siva, the Being Pure.

Muruganar Swami too sings of Bhagavan’s easy accessibility thus, in his “Tiruvembavai” hymn in Sri Ramana Sannidi Murai 

That you are far away beyond, 
Transcendent, unapproachable, 
Others may think and suffer. 
To us you are near, here, within, 
Clear like the amalak [the Indian gooseberry] in our palm, 
Firm seated in the heart, its Ruler.

Kaivalya Navaneetam


2. I worship ever-shining Pure Consciousness, which manifests as Brahma, Vishnu, or Mighty Shiva, according as He creates, preserves or withdraws (the universe), and also as the countless individual beings; yet It remains ever-free and perfect, as the blazing sun over the ocean of Bliss. 

6. All the ancient sages drew from the boundless ocean of milk, namely Vedanta and filled their pitchers, their works. I boiled them all (on the fire of the Master’s words), churned them (with the churn of enquiry into the self) and I present this Cream of Emancipation – Kaivalya Navaneeta – to all. 

The Exposition of the Truth 

8. The sages say that there are four prerequisites for realisation of the Truth: 

(1) Viveka: discrimination between the temporary (therefore unreal phenomena) and the permanent (therefore the Reality, i.e., the noumenal); 

(2) indifference to the enjoyment of pleasures here or hereafter; 

(3) the group of six qualities and 

(4) the longing for Liberation. 

The six qualities are sama, dama, uparati, titiksha, samadhana and sraddha. Of these, sama is control of mind; dama is control of the senses; uparati is cessation of activities (relating to caste, creed, family, etc.); titiksha is control of passions, and includes endurance; samadhana is, according to the sages, the settling down of the mind to reflect on the Truth, as revealed (by the scriptures and the sages); sraddha denotes faith in the Master and the scriptures. Such are the meanings of the six terms of this category. 

11. No one can achieve anything in the world without being properly equipped for the task. For the same reason, only those who are qualified with these four categories of prerequisites can gain illumination. A novice cannot get it so readily. If so gained, it follows that the person has been successively purified in countless incarnations in the past.


There are the four major scriptural proclamations which Hindus revere as the highest wisdom. They are called mahavaakyas, i.e., ‘core sayings.’ They are, 

1) Prajnanam Brahma, meaning “Consciousness is Brahman. 

2) Aham Brahmasmi, “I am the Absolute Consciousness”. 

3) Tat Tvam Asi, “That thou art” and 

4) Ayam Atma Brahma. “I am the awareness that is both individual and cosmic”.

I Pray for Grace and Receive Upadesa

I then asked him for a way out of the muddle in my mind towards mental quietude. 

Bhagavan said, “Well, you have read Kaivalyam, wherein it is said, 

‘If he [the aspirant] comes to see the individual self and its substratum, the Over-self, then he becomes the substratum, i.e., Brahman, and escapes rebirths. Should you know yourself no harm will befall you.’ 

Accordingly, once you know yourself, you will come to no harm.” 

I then asked him how to get this Self-knowledge, and he replied, “First find out who you are.” 

“How?” I persisted. 

“See from where thoughts arise.” 

“How do I go about it?” 

Turn the mind inward and merge it in your Heart,” he concluded, and fell back to his natural, silent poise. I too was silently sitting. Bhagavan’s compassion-filled gaze was fixed on me. That very moment, the muddle cleared and I experienced a mental calm and contentment that I had never before felt.

Tattuva Vilakka Padalam

[‘The Exposition of the Truth Section’] of Kaivalya Navaneetam, wherein lay the answer to my query

83. On hearing this, the disciple, loyal to the instructions of the Master, discarded the five sheaths and the blank, realised the Self as “I am Brahman,” went beyond that and remained as Perfect Being. 

84. At the glance of the Master who was Grace incarnate, the worthy disciple sank into Ocean of Bliss and merged as the undivided Whole, as pure Consciousness free from body, organs and all else, with mind made perfect, and he became the true Self, unaware while awake.

85. After the blessed disciple had remained in that state for a long time, his mind gently turned outward. Then he saw his glorious Master before him. His eyes were filled with tears of joy. He was full of love and fell at the feet of the Master. He rose up, came round the Master, and with folded hands spoke to him: 

86. “Lord, you are the Reality remaining as my inmost Self, ruling me during all my countless incarnations! Glory to you who have put on an external form to instruct me! I do not see how I can repay your grace for having liberated me. Glory! Glory to your holy feet!” 

87. The Master beamed on him as he spoke, drew him near and said lovingly: “To stay fixed in the Self, without the three kinds of obstacles obstructing your experience, is the highest return you can render me.” 

88. “My Lord! Can such realisation as has transcended the dual perception of ‘You’ and ‘I’ and found the Self to be entire and all-pervading, fail me at any time?” The Master replied: “The truth that “I am Brahman” is realised from the scriptures or by the grace of the Master, but it cannot be firm in the face of obstructions. 

89. Ignorance, uncertainty and wrong knowledge are obstacles resulting from long-standing habits in the innumerable incarnations of the past which cause trouble, and then the fruits of realisation slip away. Therefore root them out by hearing Truth, reasoning and meditation. [sravana, manana and nidhidhyasana] 

90. Checked by incantations, [sthambhana] fire will not scorch. Likewise defective realisation will not put an end to bondage. Therefore devote yourself to hearing the Truth, reasoning and meditation, and root out ignorance, uncertainty and wrong knowledge. 

91. Ignorance veils the Truth that the Self is Brahman and shows forth multiplicity instead. Uncertainty is the confusion resulting from lack of firm faith in the words of the Master; the illusion that the evanescent world is a reality and that the body is the self, is wrong knowledge. So say the sages. 

92. Hearing the Truth is to revert the mind repeatedly to the teaching: “That thou art.” Reasoning is rational investigation of the meaning of the text, as already heard. Meditation is one-pointedness of mind. If every day you do these, you will surely gain liberation. 

93. The practice must be kept up so long as the sense of knower and knowledge persists. No effort is necessary after that. Remaining as pure, eternal Consciousness, untainted like the ether, and thus liberated while alive, one will live forever as That – after being disembodied also.

Arunachala Mahatmyam

Siva said: 

“Though in fact fiery, my lack lustre appearance as a hill on this spot is an act of grace and loving solicitude for the maintenance of the world. Here I always abide as the Great One (Siddha). 

Remember that in the interior of my Heart is transcendental glory with all the enjoyments of the world also.”

Siva said: 

“What cannot be acquired without endless pains – the true import of Vedanta – is easily attained by all who can directly sight this hill or even mentally think of it from afar” 

“I ordain that residence within a radius of three yojanas [30 miles] of this hill shall by itself suffice to burn off all defects and effect union with the Supreme even in the absence of initiation”

Nirvritti Panchakam 

He alone enjoys the inner felicity of the One Self of all, who refrains from enquiries about the name, native land, caste or clan, calling, and age of others. 

He alone enjoys the inner felicity of the One Self of all, who does not ask anyone to come, go, not to go, to enter within or where one is going. 

He alone enjoys the inner felicity of the One Self of all, who does not enquire of anybody where he is going, arriving from where, and who he is. 

He alone enjoys the inner felicity of the One Self of all, who has no notion of differentiation as I, you, he, that, within or without, existence or non-existence. 

He alone enjoys the inner felicity of the One Self of all, who remains the same with the known and unknown and free from distinctions as oneself and others and the assertion even of non-difference.

Arunachala Navamanimalai - Opening Verse

“Although (Siva) is motionless (by nature) He dances before the Mother (Shakti) who stands still (in the court of Chidambaram). But know that in Arunachala He stands in His towering grandeur and She withdraws there into His Unmoving Self.”

Three modes of Japa

Dandapani Swami now wanted to know from Bhagvan the proper way of articulating the mantra. 

Bhagavan explained as follows:

 “There are three variations, ucha japa, upamsa japa, and manasika japa

The first one refers to the pronouncing of the japa with articulation of the lips. 
The second one is uttering the name but without lip movement. 
The third is the highest form which is the mental repetition of the name within the mind instead of through the lips. 

It is enough if you do it incessantly.”

Merits of Bhiksha 

Bhagavan used to say: 

“Bhiksha [food obtained by begging] is an aid to sadhana [spiritual endeavour]. Begging frees one from the ego, besides removing the notion of ‘I am the body’.”

The Traits of True Penance


"Let me now tell you what true tapas is! Tapas means making the mind rest in its source, in atma-sphurana. Seeing this or doing that are not stable states of abidance.” 

Bhagavan says the same thing in Upadesa Undiar too: 

Absorption in the Heart of being 
Whence we sprang, 
Is the path of action, of devotion, 
Of union and of knowledge. 

To know the Self is but to be the Self, 
For It is non-dual. 
In such knowledge 
One abides as That.

Singular Devotion and the Significance of Obeisance

“After getting the great fortune of offering obeisance to Bhagavan, how could I salute anyone else?” 

Giving me a meaningful look, Bhagavan said, “Ah! You venerate Bhagavan too well, don’t you? Smart indeed! It seems your Bhagavan is confined to this building, to the sofa here, to a five, six-foot frame! He isn’t present anywhere else, is he? If your devotion is that exclusive, you have no business to go visiting any other holy premises. But if you do, you should follow the protocol there that tradition demands. 

Wherever, whomsoever you salute, if you invoke your favourite deity or guru while doing it, your obeisance is received by Him. That is the proper way.” 

The point made by Bhagavan went home. From then on, whoever I happened to salute, I would meditate on Bhagavan while doing it.

Benefits of Giri Pradakshina and Sanchara Samadhi

Bhagavan looked at me and said, 

“What is there that is superior to giri pradakshina? That in itself is enough! You may sit physically still in meditation or japa while your mind is running riot. But when walking around the hill, even though the physical and mental faculties are active, the mind gets channelled into a unitary flow. 

Without giving room to any thoughts, to walk with single-minded attention, doing meditation or japa, is known as sanchara samadhi. 

That is why in times past pilgrimage on foot was far more valued rather than vehicular journeys. Of all pilgrimages, walking around the Hill is most commendable! 

The Hill is densely covered with medicinal herbs and the breezes that come wafting through them tone up the physique. Further, siddhas and sages still reside on the Hill. Invisible to our eyes, they too do circumambulation of the Hill. Keeping them in mind, when we walk around the hill we should keep ourselves to the extreme left of the road. That ensures unobstructed passage to them plus giving us the benefit of doing our circuit in their holy company. That is, we obtain their blessings. Both body and mind gain in health and shanti respectively. 

Giri pradakshina is no ordinary activity.” 

Bhagavan’s elucidation of the significance of walking around the Hill thus created in me fresh impetus for doing it and joy in doing so.

Tiruppugazh Alamelu Ammal

During her visits, whenever there was chanting of Arunachala Akshara Mana Malai, when the group chanted verse 44 which goes, “Tirumbi akan danai,” she would split the syllables differently and sing, “Tirumbia kandanai.” Such was her unalloyed devotion to her Lord.

The original rendering means “turn inwards,” while her rendering means, ”Turn towards Kandan.” Kandan being another name for Lord Subramanya, this was a simple but ingenious pun.

Akhanda Akara Vritti

A term of Vedantic philosophy. It refers to the mental 'occurrence' which effectively causes enlightenment. This is the vritti [thought modification] in the form [akhara] of the formless or the undivided [akhanda]

The Undivided State Explained: Ribhu Gitai: 

Saying that I am the body is the dual state. 
Saying that I am the witness of all, is the witness state. 
Saying that I am the Supreme is the undivided state. 
Rejecting two out of these three, 
And assiduously practising daily The undivided state, 
And thereby being rid of all sorrow-producing mental misunderstandings, 
Be of the nature of the undivided state. (Ch.28.v.15) 

Practising to Abide in the Undivided State 
Hear about the nature of faultlessly practising 
In this undivided mode 
Increasingly having the one, faultless, supreme conviction (bhava) 

Without any divisions in the heart 
That all is the undivided Supreme Brahman, 
And That indeed, is I, and I am That, 
Is the nature of practising 
In the undivided state, son!  (Ch28.v.14) 


(Obstacles to spiritual effort, i.e, bondage)

Vedanta Chudamani: 

Even while practising Self-Enquiry in the very presence of one’s guru, letting the mind go astray under the influence of vasanas [latent tendencies] is known as bhoota pratibandham or obstacles through past bondages. 

The mind being corrupted by present worldly phenomena is vartamana pratibandham

The feeling that one has to take several more births and experience pleasures, before one can overcome desires, even while being fully aware of Reality, that is, being unable to bond with Reality, is evidence of agamya pratibandham.

(prati-bandham = obstacles, i.e., remaining in bondage to the ego non-Self)

Know All by Abiding in the Self

With a smile, Bhagavan said teasingly, “Now you want to learn Vedanta. After that it will be Siddhanta. Then you will want to learn Sanskrit. And then polemics.” He went on thus when he noticed my expression of despair and remarked, 

“Learning just the one thing is enough.” 

Seeing me look puzzled he added, all compassion, 

“If you learn to be in the Self, you would have learnt everything. What Vedanta did I learn? If you abide in It, the vibrations emanating from the Heart will give you direct experiential knowledge, in keeping with what is said in the Vedas. Such intimations are the divine gospel.” 

These profound remarks of Bhagavan’s dispelled my desire to become a scholar of Vedanta. From then on, whenever someone asked a question about Vedanta a proper answer would spring out of my heart, through Bhagavan’s grace. 

Hasn’t Bhagavan said in his hymn, Atma Vidya? 

Of what avail is knowing things 
Other than the Self?  And the Self being known, 
What other thing is there to know. (v.3) 

And in Upadesa Saram: 

To know the Self is but to be the Self, 
For it is non-dual.
In such knowledge 
One abides as That. (v.26)

Six Kind of Samadhis

With this preamble he asked me to explain the spiritual exercises that would lead one to sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi [effortless abidance in the Self even while engaged in ordinary life]. 

I explained to them the six kinds of samadhis to be practised, by which one can attain sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi. 

1. samam, 
2. dhamam, 
3. uparadhi, 
4. dhidhikshai, 
5. shraddhai and 
6. samadhanam.

The state of such a realised person is that of one who ‘though seeing, sees not; though hearing, hears not; though carrying out action, acts not.’ 

Three Obstacles

Bhagavan explained, 

Laya, vikshepa, and kashaya are the three obstacles to the attainment of jnana. 

Laya: The state of torpidity or sleep into which the mind lapses when it is unable to rest on the Absolute. It is the first of the series of vighnas or obstacles to samadhi (state of absorption in Brahman, the Self). 

Vikshepa: Another obstacle, a power that makes the object appear different from what it is. Eg. Just as a rope appears as a snake in low light, vikshepa makes the material universe appear as real. 

Kashaya: The third obstacle. It is the failure to rest in the Atman due to continued attachment to sense objects enjoyed previously. 

It is specifically to avoid these pitfalls that sravana, manana and nididhyasana have been prescribed to us. 

Sravana, listening (to the preceptor), 
Manana, reflecting (on the teaching) and 
Nididhyasana, constant meditation or practising the teaching. 

This is the threefold discipline usually prescribed to a spiritual aspirant in Vedanta.

Samadhi state transcends Time and Space

“Whether idle or ceaselessly engaged in work and action, is the atma jnani ever out of the samadhi state? 

Even while he is performing worldly activities, the one who has attained complete jnana ever exists in a true, undifferentiated abidance in jnana, never letting go of that state."

Another verse from Yoga Vasishtam says, 

“Those without equanimity may sit in Padmasana and meditate upon Brahman, but they cannot be said to be in samadhi. True samadhi is consigning one’s desires like straw into the fire of atma jnana. Mere motionlessness without equanimity is no samadhi.” 

Bhagavan too has said, in verse 31 of Reality in Forty Verses – Supplement: 

The (states of) activity, absorption (nishta) and sleep, which are (unknown) to the knower of reality (mey-jnani), who is (wakefully) asleep within the fleshy body, which is (like) a cart, are similar to (the states of) the cart moving, (the cart) standing still and the cart being unyoked, (which are unknown) to one who is asleep in the cart.

Note: The body and mind of a Jnani appear to be real only in the wrong outlook of ajnanis, who mistake themselves to be a body and mind. In the true outlook of the Jnani, who experiences himself as the space of mere consciousness, "I am", the body and mind are completely non-existent. Therefore, since the states of activity, namely waking and dream, the state of absorption (nishta) and the state of sleep are all states which pertain only to the body and mind, they are not at all known to the Jnani, just as the moving, standing and unyoked states of a cart are unknown to someone who is asleep in the cart.

Service to Guru

Once when I was attending on Sri Bhagavan at Skandashram, Naranna took me aside and told me how I should serve my Guru. He quoted and explained a verse from Vedanta Chudamani: 

"There are four ways in which a disciple can serve a Guru. 

One is apta. By this a disciple, understanding his duties from a study of the sastras, tries to perform them to the satisfaction of the Guru. 

Angam is when a disciple looks to the physical comforts of his Guru.

Danam is when he looks after the trees, plants and creepers in the Ashram the way householders look after their property. 

Sadbhava is looking on everything as one's Guru." 


While I was attending on Bhagavan, he used to often say: 

“It’s of no avail declaring ‘I am engaged in his service, I dust his bed, I have been serving him for many years,’ and so on. Following the path shown by the guru is a far greater service to him than manually serving him. With purity of thought, speech and action, engaging yourself in Self-enquiry, meditation and the like – this is the best service you can render to the guru.” 

He would then allude to an important verse in Kaivalya Navaneetam, wherein the guru advises the disciple who is regretful because he does not know how to recompense his guru’s abundant compassion: 

The Master beamed on him as he spoke, drew him near and said very lovingly, 
“To stay fixed in the Self, without the three kinds of obstacles obstructing your experience, is the highest return you can render me (v.87)."

How to Practice?

I then went to Bhagavan when he was alone to take my leave and asked him to tell me how I should practice at Palakothu. With a smile of approval, Bhagavan, all kindness, said, 

“With a one-pointed mind, do enquiry, meditation, japa, or chanting without allowing your mind to wander elsewhere. That will do.” 

Receiving these words of blessing I took leave of him.

Upadesa to Ummayamal

One evening she approached Bhagavan in the hall, made obeisance and said despairingly, 

“Oh, Bhagavan! I am not, nor does anything else seem to be. Everything appears to be a sunya [void].” 

Bhagavan made no reply. Umayammal had to rest content with unburdening her sense of despair to Bhagavan. Next morning, when she came to the hall as usual and prostrated, he said, 

“You said that you experience an emptiness without even an awareness of “I.” Wasn’t there “someone” who felt that experience of nothingness? Try to investigate who the one who sees nothingness is. Once you discover that it is the “I,” the Self, that witnesses the sunya, there is no cause for despair.” 

With these words of instruction, Bhagavan showed her the following two verses from Kaivalya Navaneeta. 

Disciple: “When I dissociate myself from the five sheaths and look beyond, there remains only a blank. I see nothing more than that. Am I to take this blank for the supreme experience of the self? Tell me this truly, my Master.” 

On this request of the disciple, the Master further said: 

“In the anecdote, the tenth man, of deluded intellect, after counting only nine men and not recognising himself as the tenth, was stupefied. Can such stupor be the tenth man? Good son! You are the seer of all (the “blank” and the “five sheaths.”)

Pillai Explains His Spiritual Practice 

Pillai records as follows his encounter with Miss Merston: He once happened to meet Miss Merston at Adyar in Chennai. They started a conversation whose topic was the spiritual path shown by Bhagavan. In the course of it she said that she was trying to find “the point of origin of thoughts.” Touching the nape of her neck, she said that she felt thoughts seemed to arise from there. 

Pillai, however, quoted Bhagavan who states that thoughts rise from the heart and subside in the heart and who has also mentioned the locus of this heart in the body. 

Pillai suggested to her to train her mind to dive into the heart and not to direct it towards the back of her head

In this context, I wish to quote what Pillai says, expounding his spiritual practice: 

“Bhagavan advises us not to go searching anywhere to discover the heart. Instead he tells us – ‘Atman is of the character of direct experience. We are by nature That. 

Atman dwells in the Heart. That Heart is positioned at a two-finger width distance to the right of the middle of the chest. Make your mind merge into the Atman in that Heart,’ and he assures us that ‘if you thus meditate upon the Atman, the Guru inside you will step forward and help you succeed.’ 

Bhagavan thus makes it explicit. He has pinpointed the location of the Atman which is realised by direct experience. With implicit faith in the Guru’s gospel, if you turn your mind inward, directing it to the right side of the chest with vigilant attention, you ought to arrive at that awareness. That spot is the Heart. That experience is the Atman. Abiding in that experience, focusing all your attention on it, leaving no room for any other thoughts is meditation on the Atman, the Self. That is “Self-Enquiry.” 

While established in that state, you erase the distinction between the experience of it and mere mental conceptualisation of it. That is, you remain as the experience itself. After that, the Guru [Bhagavan] takes care of you. What need for a book to see yourself? 

As Bhagavan says [in ‘Self-Knowledge’] it is a matter of ‘seeing this Self within/As Awareness’ lightning flash.’ Instead of finding the “I” within you, why do you look for it in scriptural texts, searching all your life? It is like searching in the woods for what you have left behind at home.’”


In a notebook of his, he once wrote a note requesting Bhagavan to inscribe at least a single letter in it. Bhagavan made no reply. Leaving his notebook behind in the bookshelf near Bhagavan, Pillai went away. 

A little while later, Bhagavan picked up the notebook and wrote as follows: “One syllable shines forever in the Heart as the Self. Who can write it?”

Find the Real 'I'

Bhagavan’s repeated teaching to us has been, “Leave off enquiring if the world is real or unreal. Instead, find out who the real ‘I’ is.

Saint Appar Hymn

To begin with,
She heard of His name;
She heard of Moorti`s way of life;
Then she heard of His Aaroor;
Yet she became mad after Him;
She quit her mother and father that very day;
She forsook the mores of the worldly;
She became oblivious of herself;
She became nameless;
The woman was oned with the feet of her Lover.

“When you seek a Guru / Seek you one, holy and pure; / And then give him your all,” exhorts Saint Tirumoolar in his Tirumandiram. 

I did likewise – the moment I got his darsan I took refuge in his holy feet as commended in Kaivalya Navaneeta: 

“I adore the Almighty, who manifested as my Master in order that the mind, the intellect, the senses and the body might, to my very knowledge, be reduced to nothing, like mist before the sun. 

He then taught me ‘You and I are one,’ thus made me one with him.” (v.4)

On Grace

Once Natananda sought Sri Bhagavan's grace. 

Sri Bhagavan said: "Grace is always flowing. Grace is not an occasional thing. It is causeless and flows forever. It can be experienced by one who meditates. It cannot be described this way or that way."

Seshadriswami upadesa to Natananda

Alas child! What do you want? You want Jnana? 

"Jnana is what remains when you have rejected everything else as transient and unreal, with your sense of discrimination. That is Reality. Without realising this, it is pointless to go here and there in search of it.

So saying, Seshadriswami left.

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