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TOPIC: Learning about money

Learning about money 11 May 2010 13:55 #59211

I'm learning about the intersection of dharma teaching and money. In other words, how can a Western dharma teacher fund his or her teaching? It's an important question. I've just revamped the suggested donations section on the Personalized Instruction page:

kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/page/Personalized+Instruction

Please let me know your thoughts. I'd like to get everyone involved in this discussion. From the Personalized Instruction page (see link):

"I believe that when Western dharma teachers can earn a moderate, middle-class income by dharma teaching alone, the dharma will have truly arrived in the West."

It's worth exploring our attitudes about money and dharma. Almost all of us, including me, have a deep distrust of money and are fearful that whenever money and dharma are used in the same sentence, something bad is about to happen. For Western Buddhists, money is probably the closest thing to what a Christian would call "sin."

Unfortunately, these shadowy fears have contributed to a situation in which your dharma teacher is unable to earn as much as your massage therapist. Odd, but true. Let's get this ugly beast out into the light of day and see what happens...

Kenneth
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 14:15 #59212

I have definite opinions on this but I"m not trying to convince you (Kenneth) to do it my way. This is a delicate subject and one for I'm sure you will find your own way.

My opinion:
If you are sincere and never say or do anything just so it will increase the amount of students you have or the frequency or amount that they donate then you should be able to go forth and collect whatever funds are freely offered by a student.

In other words, you just keep teaching and presenting the dharma with the same no BS way you've been doing it here. Hold nothing back for fear of offending or losing students or influence or whatever. If, in that context you are helping people become awake -- then take their money.

If, however, you begin to "market" yourself, get a publicist, start giving talks in which you water every thing down to increase your audience, etc., then YOU ARE FIRED.

On the other hand: I don't think "dana" is BS. If you are gettng legitimate individual instruction from someone who is trained, experienced and qualified (such as Kenneth) then you should pay them whatever you can afford. No excuses. I like that idea of paying whatever you make per hour per hour's instruction. At the very least.

So, teach. Be sincere honest real. If, in doing that you get enough donations to make a living great. If not, deal with it and find some other income source to make up the difference. This puts you in exactly the same place as your students and prevents that annoying authoritarian hierarchy from developing.
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 14:32 #59213

"So, teach. Be sincere honest real. If, in doing that you get enough donations to make a living great. If not, deal with it and find some other income source to make up the difference."-telecaster

Would you say that to your child's English teacher, or to your psychotherapist, or to your accountant or your plumber? If not, why? This is good stuff, Mike. This is exactly what I want to explore.
  • kennethfolk
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 14:46 #59214

""So, teach. Be sincere honest real. If, in doing that you get enough donations to make a living great. If not, deal with it and find some other income source to make up the difference."-
Would you say that to your child's English teacher, or to your psychotherapist, or to your accountant or your plumber? If not, why? "

Yes, that is exactly what I would say. there are often people who have dreamed of being a high school english teacher and got the training and qualifications and then faced the facts that there WERE NO JOBS. Those people had to figure out a way to make money until they could do what they wanted to do.
For therapists who decide to hang up a shingle and go it alone and wind up not attracting or finding enough clients to pay the rent -- same thing -- deal with it.
Plumbers have to find people who need plumbing constructed or repaired and they have to be able to do a good enough job to get customers, if not -- deal with it.
Another good example is a person who wants to "be a writer" or "be an artist" . Great, write and make all the art you want. But, if you don't do that in a way that finds a lot of people that want to pay for your stuff - tough. It would be ridiculous just to expect to make a living just because you want to or just beause you are good. Life isn't like that.
And think of all the Christian ministers out there. How many live comfortable lives in nice parsonages with good incomes and how many have to work extra regular jobs to support their families? There are a LOT in the second category. And, if you are in the first category you better watch it or you can be voted out at any time.
as you know "dharma teacher" is a relatively new and unusual job description. And, I doubt thre is a market for a lot of them (as opposed to ministers and school teachers and even massage therapists). You are really creating something new here.
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 14:57 #59215

I realize you have other questions on this that I'm not addressing. Such as "how should a dharma teacher fund his or her teaching?"
I think you need imput on this as far as how and when to do workshops and retreats, whether to write a book or not and how to market same, whether or not to create some kind of "center" that funds your room and board somehow. Podcasts? tapes? etc.
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 15:13 #59216

"Yes, that is exactly what I would say."-telecaster

I'm not so sure you would. On the one hand, you are saying that we should let the market decide, but you are tying the hands of the dharma teacher in a way that you would not in the case of the psychotherapist, teacher, or artist. This is the "Buddhist sin" that I want to get out into the open. We don't want to put a dollar amount on the value of a dharma teacher's time, although we have no trouble doing that for other professionals. So far, we are theoretically willing to let a gifted dharma teacher "get away," even when students are eagerly seeking his time, rather than face his need for food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Interestingly, those are the four things that monks and nuns are allowed to ask of their community; and it is because those things are provided that monastics are able to "freely offer" their time to students.

We haven't yet understood this in the West: there is no broad community of cultural Buddhists to provide the necessities of life to dharma teachers. For this reason, the burden of supporting the teacher falls entirely upon those receiving the teacher's attention. In this way, Western dharma teachers are very much in the same position as other professionals. But because of the Buddhist sin of money, students unwittingly find themselves in the position of asking dharma teachers to "deal with it and find some other income source to make up the difference."

All that really leads to is a dearth of qualified dharma teachers, as the best and the brightest become psychotherapists and hospice social workers rather than face the entrenched culture of Western Buddhist guilt over money.

I do believe there is a better way, and I think conversations like this one can allow that better way to emerge. (I'm not sure I know yet what the better way will look like.)
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 16:06 #59217

hi Kenneth

I've been browsing here but not posting. The thread caught my eye as it is the first time I've ever seen the question on any forum. The western Theravada monastics usually offer teachings for free and simply accept what dana is offered. It has appeared to me that they are left in a position where they subsist largely on the generosity of a handful of patrons who are willing to subsidize the lions share of the costs of their facilities and activities. On the other end of the spectrum there is the more comercial approaches taken by many of the Tibetan teachers. I have to admit that I have never been able to afford even considering attending any of the innumerable $1500.00 weekends that I have been notified about so I have no idea how satisfied or not people are with that arrangement. Also on that end of things is the approach that various dharma writers have taken, focusing on controversial or popular subjects that draw more attention. Likely they don't typically make a fortune from the books but probably the notoriety serves to provide access to conferences, lecture tours and the like. I prefer the dana model the monastics use but as I have little cash to offer I try to offer as much as I can in the way of free labor and service in those settings. Worth mentioning was the observation of my Tai Chi sufi who noted that unless he charged sufficiently for the instruction, westerners would not consider it valuable instruction.

One thing you might consider is taking a tour of Thailand and Sri Lanka with an eye to seeing the various approaches that teachers take in those places. A lot of the approaches I observed were pretty questionable in my estimation but I suspect that you might more likely encounter some methods that you could try or adapt simply because the 'marketplace' for dharma teaching is so much larger there.
  • triplethink
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 17:26 #59218

Sabba danam Dhamma danam jinati.

If I remember my Pali, this means "the gift of Dhamma trumps all danas."

I think you might get a few people having the reaction that the Dhamma that you give should be given freely, especially Goenkites since in the Goenka tradition, it's all dana based.

However, the monks rely on the people for support. I don't see anything different with Kenneth. He needs food and a fast internet service to help us come out of misery. I think if we want Kenneth to survive and keep teaching, and teaching 60 hours a week, we should help him do so. But I think keeping it dana based without pressure to pay an exact amount may keep it from getting a bit tricky. 70 bucks might be too steep for some. And I am hoping you don't want to only attract people who can afford to pay that. I will eventually donate money to your cause, when I am able. Cash flow has suffered lately. I just hope it doesn't end up causing people to turn away. I think relying on a suggested dana or a dana within one's means may keep this being acceptable for people. And people get to practice the parami of giving.

You might want to play up the fact that in especially Therevadan countries, giving to an Arahat falls just just short of giving to the Buddha himself. If you believe in earning merits and developing your paramis, giving to Kenneth will bring you untold gain....Especially when you make the resolution to attain what he attained when you send him the money.

Edited to include: I think being in the Goenka tradtion has caused me to be attached to the idea that Dhamma should be given freely. For example, when I go visit the Christopher Titmuss site to listen to some of his recordings but then I see i have to pay for it....my immediate reaction was to just find something free on youtube. This is all making me think about how I see money mix with Dhamma. Tricky..
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 17:41 #59219

""I believe that when Western dharma teachers can earn a moderate, middle-class income by dharma teaching alone, the dharma will have truly arrived in the West."
"

Looking at the history of dharma teachers, they were largely monastics. Monks don't need a moderate, middle-class income because their needs were simple. And monks, if you look closely at actual biographies and so on, don't get paid for teaching dharma. A lot of dharma teaching was monk to monk. They got paid for other services, such as presiding at weddings and funerals, chanting, prayers, farming, copying scriptures, etc. Many monks spent long period homeless, wandering and begging. So I'm not sure where this "moderate, middle class income" is coming from.

If some one is completely committed to the dharma, there are in fact monasteries in the West: Bhante G's in W. Virginia, Hsuan Hua's City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Ajahn Amaro's monastery on the West Coat, Ajahn Sumedho's in England (complete with traditional begging). These are full time dharma teachers, but they aren't making a middle class income.
  • msj123
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 17:43 #59220


My suggestion:

A dharma teacher provides value. Here in the west (and in my humble version of how this relationship should work) the teacher receives, in return for their value, something of value from those who have received the teaching -- money. It's pretty simple and straightforward and, well, honest... and familiar to westerners. I don't see how a pure dona model would work well here, especially in the case of someone like you, Kenneth, sans a monastery and an infrastructure that model presupposes. And who the heck wants to become a street beggar, for goodness sake?

So my advice is to stick to an open, honest, prearranged relationship based on an exchange of value with your students. This tells them what to expect of you and in turn presents them with a model they know well and can relate to more easily. Also, I've been working with you under your current operating principle, in which I pay for your time based on what my time is worth in my work. I think that's very, very fair and sets a reasonable expectation that, once again, fosters an honest exchange. It also gets you paid, which is of no small importance.

Simply put, drop the Buddhist tradition that made sense a thousand years ago, in Asia. I think it's ridiculous to pretend that a dharma teacher is materially different than any other professional teacher-type person. If you become famous and hire a publicist I will never hold that against you as long as you continue to proivide me with value. I might even consider that a sign of your wild success and expect to pay more for your extraordinarily valuable time ;-)

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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 17:48 #59221


Also, in my experience relying on the kindness of people to "just donate" isn't going to be very effective. It's unfortunate but it's the way things are. Better to accept that and find a better model, IMHO.

And in the interest of full disclosure, my alma mater is the Temple of Free Market Capitalism, the University of Chicago. So you see, I have no problem with money except that my kids think I never have enough ;-)

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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 18:03 #59222

yeah, I don't think what kenneth is trying to do has any relation to the buddhist monks of yore or today. he is not a monastic so that is a moot point.
Like I said I have a strong opinion on this and I dont really understand what Kenneth is getting at in his response so I'll wait and see if it becomes more clear.
  • telecaster
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 18:09 #59223


Looks to me like what Kenneth is getting at is being able to support himself at a reasonable level by teaching the dharma full time. That's it. He's trying to establish a practice. He's hanging out his shingle. I'm already a regluar customer and I vouch for the great value I get from that relationship.

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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 18:19 #59224

Complex subject. Much to say.

But in short, dhamma teaching sustained itself through time on some mixture of generosity and financial support. Seems like each society would establish a sustanable model for it's survial and spread. I am greatful for this as without traditional monasteries, and their ways we might not have heard these teachings today. This could also be said however, of the guru/disciple lineage, which was supported more by a mixture of begging and perhaps a side career. Much wisdom was passed on that way as well.

I am not sure what role of monasticism here in the west. I have a sense that it is an important role, but I don't see it as the dominant form of dharma evolution and propagation. As a result what needs to be created and sustained is a funcional and wise support of teachers. Retreat centers like IMS, Spirit Rock and various city IMCs have a model that is largely based on Dana, but there is foundation(al) support (IMS especially).

In our specific example, we might think of a micropatronage drive (like Buddhist Geeks) or some other form of financing as something sustainable.

By the way, just because there is a please donate/fundraise page, does not mean that it's not Dana. It might be a more organized and sustainable form of generosity with aid of visuals and PR, but at its core it is still generosity in response to value of wisdom.

Cheers.

Andrew
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 18:22 #59225

Since you asked, my take on this is that, generally, I don't expect all this to be free. But I do have a bit of a hard time putting a value on it, and so am left feeling uncomfortable about some of the changes to that page. In particular, I don't think that trying to justify the number you put out helps, it only makes it sound...desperate? Whatever number is posted as the "going rate" is going to resonate well with some, not so well with others, regardless of what teachers in NY state make.

And the other change that rankles with me is the part where it is suggested to say, in advance, how much you plan to contribute so that more/less generous contributors can be balanced out during the week. Does that mean that nobody gets turned away, or not? This is a slippery slope that leaving the donation math out would tend to make a little less slippery.

To take Chris' point: pay what I get in an hour...well, I don't do that for most services I get. Some are more, some are less. While it may be "honest", to me it is more an issue of valuation. I am on this ride not knowing WTF I am going to get out of it, so it is way too early for me to tell how intrinsically valuable it is. It is not as easy as buying a book, which I would gladly do, or kick in to get rid of adverting on KFD, which I have done, or paying for a retreat, which I wish I could do.

What is my future enlightenment worth? Tough question, but if I were there, I would probably find it much easier to pay it back.
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 18:28 #59226


Maybe it woud help if we were to think of this as being like taking a golf lesson. The same sort of intrinsic value calculations may apply. What's a good half hour worth? What's a scratch golf game worth? Can you actually aspire to that? Yes, you actually can, with time, effort and.... practice! Sounds familiar to me, and the time, value and practice elements are analogous. Alternatively, think in terms of learning to play the piano...

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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 18:57 #59227

Wow, you are bringing up a super charged issue here buddy. But I appreciate your doing so. First, I'd say unequivocally that the traditional monastic dana model is completely broken here in the West. Anyone who doesn't realize that hasn't done any research, or talked to teachers who have tried this model the last couple decades. I've spent years asking various teachers about this, or hearing them talk about it, and what I've found is that almost all of those that have tried the pure dana model are close to retirement and can't retire, have subsisted on near poverty-level income (unless they supplement their teaching as a therapist), and now are old, broke, and resentful. But hey, at least they were giving the dharma away huh?

I actually think it's a complete shame that the 1st generation of teachers have largely supported a system which doesn't translate to our modern context, doesn't take care of themselves and future teachers, and leaves most of them living a life of relative poverty. Is that really a compassionate approach? I also think it's sad that students have expected this of their teachers, haven't challenged their assumptions, and have allowed such skilled teachers to live in this way. We aren't monks and we don't live in traditional agricultural-based societies, and it's insane to think what worked in those contexts will work now.
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 19:01 #59228

Kenneth...sounds perfectly reasonable AND generous....not complex to me...this maybe because I have next to no knowledge about Buddhist customs in this regard :)

It strikes me as dana with clarity about the situation...saves me from guessing what the situation is!

Personally I wasnt going to ask for personal instruction until I earnt the money to be at least not carried by others. Pride you see :) and proof of commitment (to myself too), I dont want to waste Kenneths time... Because of the contract nature of my work, I dont really have an hourly rate, so deciding what dana was appropriate was problematic...$70US gives me a target and clarifies things.

Im glad the cats out the bag. I hope Kenneth is more able to carry on (for all our benefit) as a consequence....
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 19:04 #59229

"Looking at the history of dharma teachers, they were largely monastics. Monks don't need a moderate, middle-class income because their needs were simple. And monks, if you look closely at actual biographies and so on, don't get paid for teaching dharma. A lot of dharma teaching was monk to monk. They got paid for other services, such as presiding at weddings and funerals, chanting, prayers, farming, copying scriptures, etc. Many monks spent long period homeless, wandering and begging. So I'm not sure where this "moderate, middle class income" is coming from.

If some one is completely committed to the dharma, there are in fact monasteries in the West: Bhante G's in W. Virginia, Hsuan Hua's City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Ajahn Amaro's monastery on the West Coat, Ajahn Sumedho's in England (complete with traditional begging). These are full time dharma teachers, but they aren't making a middle class income. "

I don't think we should look at the history of dharma teachers as a model for looking toward the future. It's comparing apples and oranges. The difference between our Western modern informational-industrial era and the traditional asian agricultural era is absolutely staggering. There is absolutely no reason, based on the demand for authentic dharma and the relative abundance of our current system that good dharma teachers, with an appropriate model, shouldn't be able to make a middle-class (which consequently is the middle way for this society) income. With that said, I think what Kenneth is asking for (given his teaching skill-level) is completely reasonable.
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 20:13 #59230

Dear Everyone,

I love this! This is exactly what I was hoping for. Thanks, everyone, for participating. Look at all the buttons that are being pushed. Look at how you feel in this moment as you read the various points of view. What is coming up for you? Fear that "the dharma" will be corrupted? Worry that you may not be valuing my time properly? Suspicion that I may be just another money-grubbing opportunist? Resentment that I should prod you with such an emotionally charged issue? Exasperation that others don't see your point? Disappointment that we are so culturally backward that talking about a middle-class income for dharma teachers is about as well-received as farting loudly at a cocktail party? All of this is your practice. It's all grist for the mill. And it's part of the evolution of dharma in the West.

The taboo about money and dharma is part of the mushroom culture. The very fact that we are openly talking about it now is extraordinary. Let's keep talking about it.

I just want to make one suggestion, as a kind of pre-emptive strike: as this issue continues to heat up in this thread, please be kind to those you disagree with. So far, it's been great. Thanks!

Kenneth
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 20:19 #59231

"$70 for each hour (or $35 for each half-hour)" sounds good to me. All other considerations aside I really appreciate having a figure in place when I'm entering into something. To be honest I am probably more prone to hold back from partaking in something if the amount of the donation is not specified or just left up to me. I find it's much less complicated and generally better to know a figure up front.

I am glad you mentioned it Kenneth; no one who has spent more than 5 minutes at KFDh will question where you are coming from in bringing this up.

I also appreciate that Vince has been rocking the airwaves by donation for years, and that Daniel was in a position where he could publish his ebook and place it on the net for free; that was extremely awesome of him. But, there are probably very few people these days who are in such a position.
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RE: Learning about money 11 May 2010 21:24 #59232

"Look at all the buttons that are being pushed. Look at how you feel in this moment as you read the various points of view. What is coming up for you?"

hi Kenneth

I had no idea you were looking for buttons to push & thought it was a legit question. I'll do my best to imagine some for you.

I can imagine a question for you about this, given that you seem to be amongst those who have more or less jettisoned the trappings of traditional teachings in most every meaningful sense, why continue to call what you are offering dharma or anything else that implies some kind of a link to traditional buddhism? That association is more or less what creates the expectations. I'm not suggesting you hide your background or influences, I just wonder, 'what is your attachment to the term dharma?' 'In what meaningful sense are you implying that what you want to teach is dharma at this point?'

I think you could as easily call it something new, Kenma or whatever and put up your shingle. People do that sort of thing when they are revising traditions. That cuts off the fungus laden baggage at the roots. The traditional expectations are history and you write your own rule book and/or invoices.

I'm curious what it is that people have invested in older institutions when they want to reform traditional ways of doing things, gay clergymen, married monastics, etc.. I'm curious what their attachments are to the old stuff. Whatever it is that is going on in their heads, I doubt any of it will ever have much influence on the way I go about things. It appears that people in that sort of position are working at cross purposes, as that seems unwise to me I'm disinclined to look to them to guide me towards any sort of wisdom. But then I'm not well placed to offer much help here as I'm pretty content looking for my own wisdom in self imposed exile.

  • triplethink
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 01:30 #59233

Since there are people not only from the US on this forum but from all over the world, a fixed hourly-rate which may be appropriate for people from the US will not be appropriate for others. For example, 70$ per hour in Israeli standards is very high, especially for unemployed students like me.
Thats why I prefer the previous method of paying whatever one earn's per hour to value Kenneth's time.
  • yadidb
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 03:11 #59234


Vince, your description of what you've encountered as you've examined this issue really saddens me. It's amazing that these people, who were they attorneys would be millionaires, are being forced into a life of near poverty. And while we admire their skill and happily accept their teaching, we cannot bring ourselves to pay for it at what pretty much anyone would accept as a reasonable living wage. Very disappointing. There's no doubt in my mind that the west has fewer inspired dharma teachers because of this.


"I had no idea you were looking for buttons to push & thought it was a legit question."

Many a legit question has pushed people's buttons, challenged their assumptions.

  • cmarti
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 03:24 #59235


"Some are more, some are less. While it may be "honest", to me it is more an issue of valuation. I am on this ride not knowing WTF I am going to get out of it, so it is way too early for me to tell how intrinsically valuable it is. It is not as easy as buying a book, which I would gladly do, or kick in to get rid of adverting on KFD, which I have done, or paying for a retreat, which I wish I could do."

Now this I relate to. It makes sense to me because it reflects my experience. I studied, read, posted, talked online, and practiced my ass off for a long time before I got to a place where I knew I needed the personal attention of someone with the experience and skill to help me, one on one. At that point I knew what that personal attention was worth to me and I knew exactly what kind of person I wanted. I then called and made appointments. So... if you're unsure what the time of a dharma teacher is worth opt out of the private lessons. Keep reading, keep practicing.

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