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Hidden Wisdom in the Holy Bible Vol II - Reference

REFERENCES


Besant, Annie. A Study in Consciousness. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980.

Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna
Collected Writings. 15 vols. Compiled by Boris de Zirkoff. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 1966-1991.
The Secret Doctrine. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1938.

D’Olivet, Fabre. The Hebraic Tongue Restored, translated by N. L. Redfield. New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1921. Reprinted by Samuel Weiser, 1976.

Fuller, J. F. C. The Secret Wisdom of the Qabalah. London: Rider, 1976.

Hodson, Geoffrey. The Kingdom of the Gods. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing Company, 1952.

Levi, Eliphas. The History of Magic. London: Rider, 1982.

Mayers, F. J. The Unknown God. Birmingham, England: Thomas’s Publications Ltd.

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The Meditative Path - Chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO

TAMING THE WILD STALLION

ALTHOUGH THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT approaches to meditation, using a great variety of techniques, all meditation methods share some basic characteristics and work in similar ways.

The fundamental requirement in meditation is that we find some way to manage the monkey mind so that we can start training it. The best way to tame the unruly monkey is to have an object of attention that acts as an anchor, or point of reference, for the mind. The anchor is called the primary object of attention, or simply the meditation object. Having an anchor facilitates our observation of what the mind is doing and provides a focal point for developing concentration.

To illustrate this point, imagine that you are sitting in a small boat on a very large lake and that there is nothing to be seen on the horizon other than sky and water. Due to wind and current, the boat may drift in one direction or another. However, you would probably not notice the drifting, because there is no fixed point of reference to indicate your position. In contrast, if you dropped an anchor with a rope attached to it, the boat's movement would immediately become apparent.

Similarly, if we try to observe what the mind is doing, it is hard to be aware of the mental activity because we quickly get lost in the ocean of thoughts. When we have an object on which to focus attention, however, we notice when the mind starts drifting away or chasing after one thing or another.

The object that is used as the anchor, or primary object of attention, is what distinguishes one meditation technique from another. One method uses a word or phrase, usually having some spiritual or religious significance, as the meditation object. In Eastern traditions, such a word or phrase is called a mantra. The mantra is repeated mentally, vocalized silently, or chanted with careful attention. By gradually replacing all the scattered thinking with this one thought, the meditator achieves a peaceful and concentrated state of mind. Mantra meditation is practiced in many religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism.

The concentrative prayer taught by John Main is an example of this approach. Main learned contemplative meditation from a Hindu guru and later, after becoming a Benedictine monk, he began teaching a technique of "Christian Meditation." Brother Wayne Teasdale, who also combines Hindu and Christian elements in his personal practice, describes the method as follows:

Christian Meditation is a mantric form of meditation that counsels the perpetual, conscious repetition of the mantra from the beginning to the end of the meditation period. Like a hammer pounding away at our thoughts, the mantra wears away the support system for our false selves by replacing each thought with the mantra itself. The mantra eventually becomes a vehicle that takes us to deeper and deeper states of inner quiet, peace, and stillness. (Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart, 135)

Teasdale's eloquent description of this type of practice applies equally well to mantra meditation in any tradition, be it Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist. What suits the practice to a particular tradition are the words chosen for the mantra. When Main first started practicing mantra meditation, he used the word "Jesus" as his meditation focus. Similarly, some Hindu's use the phrase "Om Shanti," while in the Thai Buddhist tradition, many meditators use the word "Buddho."

In visualization meditation, another anchoring technique, we form a mental image and strive to sharpen concentration by keeping it clear in the mind's eye. The shape and color of the visualized image can range from a simple colored sphere to very elaborate and complex scenes. Once the image has been aroused in the mind, we hold it in consciousness with single-pointed attention, trying to prevent the mind from being distracted by other objects.

In the Tibetan Buddhist system of spiritual training, visualization plays an important role and is used in various ways to develop concentration. Often the meditator visualizes the Buddha or a deity considered to personify some enlightened quality and endeavors to identify so completely with the enlightened being that similar qualities are aroused within the meditator.

Buddhist nun and meditation teacher Kathleen McDonald explains the technique in this way:

Visualizing deities is made easier by gazing at a picture or statue, then closing your eyes and trying to recall the image in detail. However, this helps you with the details only; don't think your visualized figure should be flat like a drawing or cold and lifeless like a statue. It should be warm, full of life and feeling, three-dimensional and made of pure, radiant light. Feel that you are actually in the presence of a blissful, compassionate, enlightened being. (How to Meditate, 113)

Of course, it is also possible to use various physical characteristics of the body, such as sensations, postures, and patterns of breathing as objects of attention. In fact, we find that in all meditation traditions, a wide variety of techniques have been developed around this approach.

All these different techniques are valid and useful because they work on the same principle: that in order for us to develop concentration and serenity, the mind must stop its restless jumping and settle down. It is difficult to say which technique for reaching this goal is better or easier. The fact remains that each attempts to tame the same monkey—our own mind.

My teacher, Venerable Ajahn Chah, was a highly respected meditation master, and many people would seek his advice and instructions. Often people would ask, "What is the easiest meditation?" My teacher would answer, "The easiest way is not to do it!" Unfortunately, if we take this advice literally, we must continue to live with that unruly monkey, which is not pleasant at all.

Regardless of what technique we use, it will take time, patient effort, and personal skill to achieve the desired results of concentration, clarity, and peace.

THE ANALOGY OF THE WILD STALLION

In Eastern traditions, analogies are often used to illustrate concepts. I have been comparing the untrained mind to a monkey, but in the following analogy, the teachers of old chose a much more powerful animal.

Suppose you wanted to train a wild stallion that has never been broken. First, you would find a very strong post that is firmly anchored into the ground. Then, you would need a long, stout rope, so that you could tie one end around the post and the other end to the stallion. (The wise teachers did not explain how to get the rope around the stallion's neck without being trampled!)

Now that wild stallion, not wanting to be restrained, would try to escape by running this way and that. However, no matter which direction it tried to run, it could only run so far before it came to the end of the rope, where it would have to stop and go back. Eventually the stallion would get tired of running and stand by the post to rest.

The wild stallion represents the untrained mind; the post is the meditation object; and the rope indicates the work of awareness and effort. The stallion resting by the post is like the mind resting in a state of peaceful concentration.

MINDFULNESS OF BREATHING - Part One

The meditation method that we will explore in detail uses the natural breath as the primary object of attention. Often referred to as "Mindfulness of Breathing," it is one of the most commonly used meditation techniques.

It is important to note that Mindfulness of Breathing meditation is different from techniques of breath control. In the yogic practice of breath control, we intentionally alter the flow and rhythm of the breath. However, in Mindfulness of Breathing, we do not interfere with the breath at all. We just let the body breathe how it wants and when it wants. Our effort is directed at cultivating mental awareness and concentration, rather than teaching the body how to breathe.

There are many good reasons for taking the breath as the object of meditation. To begin with, it is a natural phenomenon that is always present and available to us. Whenever we wish to turn our attention to it, we can immediately know whether the breath is flowing in or flowing out. The breath is a universal and completely neutral human experience. Regardless of your religious beliefs, intelligence, sex, race, or age, if you are alive, you breathe. So everyone can use the breath as an object of attention.

The rhythmic flow of the breath is very calming, and it helps the mind become peaceful. Furthermore, the quality of the breath is closely related to the state of the mind. If the mind becomes more peaceful and quiet, the breath will naturally become more refined. Then, because the object of attention has become subtler, the mind will be encouraged to be even more attentive and calm. Thus, this method can be used to achieve very deep levels of meditation.

As you might expect, even Mindfulness of Breathing is taught and practiced in different ways. Some teachers encourage students to focus attention at the tip of the nose and to know the flow of the breath by the sensation felt as the air passes in and out. Another approach involves keeping the attention at the abdomen, noticing the rising and falling motion resulting from the in and out flow of the breath. Others prefer to follow the path of the breath, experiencing the inhalation from the tip of the nose to the chest and down into the abdomen. The exhalation is then followed in reverse order.

Being mindful of the breath by any of these means will work if we can develop the required skill. However, I feel that trying to know the breath by being aware of a specific physical sensation often creates an unnecessary difficulty. Whether it is the sensation at the tip of the nose or the abdomen, the object will not always be clear to the mind. New meditators often experience the frustration of not being able to "find" the meditation object because they cannot feel the breath at the tip of the nose. This presents an unnecessary obstacle.

However, if I ask you, "Are you breathing in or are you breathing out?" you immediately know the answer. You do not have to search for any particular sensation to let you know that you are breathing in or out. Any time you wish to know the breath, you can do so by arousing the awareness that knows whether the breath is coming in or going out. So, the object of meditation is always directly available to the mind. It is just "knowing the breath" as it flows in and out.

KNOWING THE IN-BREATH AND OUT-BREATH

The first stage in the practice of Mindfulness of Breathing is. simply knowing whether the breath is coming in or going out. It is as if we stop at a railway crossing and notice whether the passing train is coming from the west going east, or coming from the east going west.

During the meditation, we establish our attention on the in and out breath and encourage the mind to relax with the breath. However, we do not expect the mind to remain focused on the breath. It will want to think about this and that, jumping about as usual. At this stage, our main objective is to sharpen the power of awareness. When the mind is with the breath, we know it. If the mind is not being attentive to the breath, what is it doing? It is important to remain alert and watchful. Each time the mind wanders off, we gently but firmly bring the attention back to the breath.

Because the mind will still want to monkey around, we have to be patient and give it some rope. It is not a matter of fighting or struggling with the mind, but a process of teaching the mind, continually encouraging it to abandon all other activity and return to the breath.

COUNTING THE BREATH

To help keep the attention on the breath, I often suggest one of the following aids:

· Mentally noting "In" with each inhalation and "Out" with each exhalation.
· Mentally counting the breath. At the end of the in breath, make a mental note "one." At the end of the out breath, again note "one." At the end of the next in breath and out breath, note "two". . . "two," then "three". . . "three," and so forth, until you reach "ten" . . . "ten." Then start again at "one." If at any time you lose count, simply start over with "one" . . . "one."

Counting the breath serves two purposes. First, it provides the mind with something of a challenge that encourages it to remain attentive. Second, it helps us know how attentive themind is. If we continually lose count, we'll know that the awareness is still weak and the effort too slack.

Using either of these aids is optional. You may want to experiment with them to see whether they are helpful in your practice. However, remember that the breath is still the primary object of attention. These aids are like crutches that you can use when necessary.

RIGHT EFFORT

Referring to the analogy of the wild stallion, you can appreciate the importance of having the right length and strength of rope. If the rope is too short, the stallion may injure itself in attempting to escape. If the rope is too weak, it will not be able to restrain the stallion.

Similarly, if during the meditation we try to force the mind too much, we will create tension and probably end up with a headache. It is not possible to strangle the mind into a peaceful state. On the other hand, if we are not vigilant in guiding the attention to the meditation object, the mind will never learn to concentrate. Hence, we must discover the balance of right effort through trial and error.

As an example of right effort, consider a mother looking after a small child. The mother gives the child a toy and tells him to play with it. The child plays with the toy for a brief time but soon becomes bored and starts looking for something else to do, like reaching for the computer keyboard or the cup of coffee on the table. Now, a good mother knows that this is how children behave, so she remains watchful. Every time the child wanders away, she patiently brings him back and encourages him to play with the toy. If the mother is careless and ignores the child, there may be unfortunate consequences. An equally unsatisfactory outcome would result if the mother were to lose her temper and start screaming at the child because he will not be still.

When training the mind, we must learn to act like good mothers.

PREPARING FOR MEDITATION

The process of meditation is one of gradually calming down, collecting ourselves, and settling into the present moment. It is not possible to change gears suddenly from our normal fast pace of living to a meditative state without some preliminary preparation. To facilitate the transition, it is helpful to establish a few conducive external conditions.

Time

There is no one time that is best for meditation. We are all different and so must discover our own best time. However, there are some guidelines for choosing a suitable time.

You cannot rush into a period of meditation in the same way you might rush to a coffee break. It is important to slow down before you begin the meditation. If you have been very busy, you may want to take a little time to unwind by doing some stretching exercises, going for a relaxing walk, or taking a shower.

Try to choose a time when you are physically comfortable, that is, not too hungry, too full, too tired, too hot, or too cold. Unfortunately, most busy working people with families have very limited options when it comes to choosing a time for meditation. So it is important to make the best of what is available.

While on the subject of time, it may be appropriate to discuss the length of time for each meditation period. Again, this depends on the individual. An experienced person may easily meditate for an hour or longer. However, I recommend that beginners start with a ten- or fifteen-minute period. As you become more comfortable with the practice, you can gradually increase the time. Having decided on the length of time for meditation, you may find it helpful to set a timer, freeing yourself from the need to look at a clock.

Needless to say, frequency and regularity of practice are very important. Meditating once or twice a day on a regular basis makes it possible to build up momentum. Irregular or occasional practice may still be beneficial, but it will not be as effective in developing the necessary skills.

Posture

Although meditation is a mental process, we cannot completely ignore physical posture, because the state of the body affects the mind to some extent. For this reason, there are guidelines for what constitutes correct posture in meditation. However, do not allow these "rules" to hinder your endeavor. If you cannot sit in the correct posture, just practice in whatever posture is suitable for you.

When most people think of meditation, they imagine a yogi sitting cross-legged on the floor. Indeed, the cross-legged yoga posture, either half-lotus or full-lotus, is the traditional meditation posture used in the East. It is a very stable and comfortable posture for those adept at it. Unfortunately, most Westerners find it difficult to sit cross-legged without a lot of discomfort. If you wish to sit in this way, it may be advisable to practice yoga or other stretching exercises in order to increase your flexibility. Also, sitting on a firm cushion will reduce pressure on the legs and help you sit erect.

Of course, you can also meditate sitting in a chair. The chair should be of a suitable height so that your feet can rest on the floor while you are sitting comfortably upright.

Correct posture sends the right message to the mind. Regardless of whether we are sitting cross-legged or on a chair, we want the body language to say to the mind, "Be peaceful, but stay focused and alert." Thus, it is best to sit in a comfortable position remaining quite still. The back should be erect, with the top of the head reaching toward the ceiling.

A more detailed description of the posture is given in the exercise below.

Place and Clothing

Find a quiet place in your home or in an outdoor setting where you are least likely to be distracted by noise or people. At first this may be a challenge, but with planning and creativity you can arrange space to meet your preferences and need for privacy. Clothing for meditation should be loose fitting and comfortable, as this allows you to relax more easily.

_______________________________________________________________________________


EXERCISE:
SITTING MEDITATION

Find a reasonably quiet and private place. Sit in a position that feels comfortable so that you can remain still for ten or fifteen minutes without experiencing a lot of pain. You can either sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor.

Try to keep your back erect. This is best achieved by pushing the lower back forward and allowing the abdomen to relax. The rest of the back follows the natural shape of the spine. Keep the neck straight and the top of the head toward the ceiling. Let the shoulders hang down and keep the arms loosely by your sides. Rest your hands one on top of the other in your lap or as you find comfortable.

Close your eyes and your mouth, but keep your teeth slightly apart. Let the body breathe naturally through the nose. If for any reason you cannot breathe through your nose, just breathe through the mouth.

Now, in order to achieve peace and concentration, it is essential that you intentionally put aside all concern for other matters. For this brief period of time, you are not interested in memories of the past or plans for the future. You are taking time out from all your responsibilities at home and work. When thoughts about any of these things come into the mind, just let them go. You are not interested, because this is your time to rest.

Leaving everything and everyone outside, bring your attention inward. Come within, and experience the body sitting. Let the mind sink into the body and sit with the body. What does it feel like? Is the posture balanced? Is the body erect? Is the body still? Spend a little time caring for the body by systematically moving the attention through the body, gently relaxing the different parts as explained in the exercise of the previous chapter.

You are now sitting quite still, the body is relaxed, and the mind is sitting with the body. Now, become aware of the breathing. Let the body breathe as it wants, but try to sustain the awareness that simply knows the breath coming in and the breath going out. Encourage the mind to relax with the breath—peacefully breathing in, peacefully breathing out. You may want to count the breath to help the mind remain attentive.

Try to allow everything else to fade into the background as you continually arouse interest in the flow of the breath. Only breathing in, only breathing out. If your mind drifts away to something else, just note this fact, and gently but firmly bring the attention back to the breath. Continue in this way with patient and vigilant effort.

When it is time to end the meditation, stop concentrating on the breathing and allow your attention to rest with the body once again. Be at peace with the body. Sit quietly for a few seconds, at peace with the surroundings, and then stretch your legs and open your eyes.

Try to practice this meditation exercise for approximately fifteen minutes, once a day. Gradually, you will develop the skill of calming and concentrating the mind.

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QUESTION TIME

Let us now address some questions that are often raised by new meditators.

Should I meditate at the same time each day?

There are some advantages to having a regular time for your meditation. Both the mind and body seem to respond well to regular patterns. As the mind becomes accustomed to meditating at a particular time, it will naturally incline towards a meditative mood at that time. Having a regular schedule also makes it more likely that you will do the meditation.
However, it is far more important to meditate on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is at the same time or not.
Can I meditate with my eyes open?
Yes, it is possible to meditate keeping your eyes partly open; in fact, this is how they meditate in the Zen tradition. I prefer the more common approach of meditating with the eyes gently closed, because it removes the distraction of visual objects and makes it easier to focus attention on the meditation object.
Is it possible to meditate lying down?
In theory, we can meditate in any posture, but in practice, some postures are more suitable than others. Lying down is a very comfortable posture. Unfortunately, it gives the wrong message to the mind. It tells the mind, "Relax, take it easy, go to sleep," and that is usually what happens; we fall asleep. While lying down is a good posture for relaxation, it does not promote the alert and clear state of mind required in meditation.
However, if for any reason you are unable to sit up, or need to remain in a reclining posture, then by all means meditate while lying down. For example, if you are ill and confined to bed, it can be very beneficial to do some meditation. Being attentive to the breath and gently calming the mind will not only make the discomfort of sickness more bearable, but it can also promote the healing process. In later chapters we explore the power of the mind to influence the body and see that a peaceful mind is indeed conducive to physical well-being.
When I pay attention to the breathing, it feels like I am controlling it. Is this normal?
When new meditators first start practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, they often find that simply by being attentive to the breath, they unintentionally interfere with its flow. The breathing becomes somewhat unnatural and may feel uncomfortable, possibly causing tightness around the chest. This common experience should not be a cause for undue concern. However, it is necessary to understand what is happening so that you can deal with it appropriately.
It is difficult for most of us to simply observe something without interfering with it. But we can, and need to, develop this ability. So, during the meditation, regularly remind yourself to allow the body to breathe as it wants and when it wants. With practice, as you become more familiar with this technique of meditation, you will find yourself settling back and relaxing into a role of being an interested, but unbiased observer. The breathing will find its own rhythm, according to the needs of the body, and you will feel comfortable.
Achieving this state of being physically comfortable and at ease with the breath while meditating is important. Otherwise, it will be difficult for you to meditate for very long or develop more refined meditation states. The situation may be compared to exercising on a treadmill. Fast walking or running on a treadmill is an excellent form of exercise for developing general fitness and stamina. However, before you can walk quickly or run, you must first learn to feel comfortable and relaxed while walking on the treadmill at a normal pace.
Should I analyze the thoughts that come into my mind during meditation?
At this stage of training, the mind is still very noisy with many thoughts about all sorts of things. Most of this mental activity is just habitual recycling, because the mind has not yet learned to rest in silence and peace. Generally, these thoughts have no special significance and require no special attention. When thoughts come into the mind, just recognize them as thinking, planning, remembering, and so forth and let them go. Continually bring your attention back to the breath.
If something comes up that you feel is important, make a mental resolve to deal with it after the meditation period and continue the meditation. Later we will discuss the practice of contemplation and reflection, which involves careful and systematic investigation of mental states and emotions. However, before we can embark on that practice, it is important to first establish a good foundation of awareness and concentration. We need to thin out the jungle of thoughts so that we can begin to see clearly.
I don't normally have so many thoughts, but when I sit in meditation, it's like opening a can of worms. Where do all these thoughts come from?

Usually we keep the mind preoccupied with a lot of sensory stimulation and mental activity. The mind is accustomed to being busy, but during meditation we are trying to keep the mind occupied with only one simple object, the in and out breath. It is to be expected that the mind, not used to such simplicity, will start grasping at this thought or that memory out of restlessness and boredom. However, once the mind experiences the joy of resting in silence, it will no longer behave in this way.
Is it possible to do too much meditation?
This is not a common problem, but it is important to pace yourself according to your ability. If you intend to do a lot of meditation, such as on a meditation retreat, I would recommend doing so with the guidance of an experienced teacher.


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The Meditative Path - Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE

TURNING ON THE LIGHT

INTEREST IN MEDITATION IN ITS VARIOUS FORMS HAS grown dramatically over the last thirty years throughout the Western world. What started as something of a fad for alternative-minded seekers who had encountered meditation during their travels in Asia has come to be regarded quite favorably by a wide cross-section of mainstream society. Meditation is now being taught in colleges, recommended to patients by medical practitioners, and even used by basketball coaches to help players improve their game.

Traditionally, the practice of meditation has been an integral part of spiritual life in many religions. Even today, meditation is often presented within a religious context. While this approach is perfectly valid and even desirable for those with religious inclinations, this book will demonstrate that meditation is relevant and accessible to everyone.

Meditation is a systematic, introspective practice to facilitate growth in three main areas:

· Getting to Know the Mind: carefully studying our inner world of feelings, thoughts, emotions, and various mental states.
· Training the Mind: intentionally cultivating three essential qualities for mental well-being-awareness, concentration, and serenity.
· Freeing the Mind: gradually reducing the power of negative tendencies that diminish inner peace and outer harmony.

It is important to note that these three aspects of meditation are not unrelated or separate, but rather constitute a single process of inner exploration, discovery, and development that I call the Meditative Path. There is nothing mysterious, haphazard, or bizarre about this process. It is very logical, and the principles involved can be easily understood in the context of a few basic concepts.

HUMAN BEINGS CAN BE TRAINED

Let us begin by considering the object of our study, the human being—a composite of body and mind. The body is the physical aspect of a human being, while mind refers to everything else that constitutes a person.

A student went to the meditation master and asked, "What is mind?" Without the slightest hesitation, the master replied, "No matter!"

We are all aware of the body and, to some degree, understand how it functions, what its needs are, and how to take care of it. There's nothing mysterious, for example, about using aerobic exercise to enhance one's general fitness, resistance training to build muscle mass and strength, or stretching exercises to increase flexibility. The body can be trained by these techniques to promote good physical health.

The mind can also be trained in various ways. Education is systematic training designed to develop intellectual capacity—the ability to think, reason, remember, plan, and so forth. Meditation is simply another way of training the mind, using various "exercises" to cultivate better mental health and well-being.

GETTING TO KNOW THE MIND

So, meditation is primarily concerned with this thing called mind. But what is mind? For most of us, the mind is a mysterious realm we have not known how to explore. One reason the mind is so mysterious is that it is too close to us. Because we identify so completely with the mind, we are unable to objectify our mental world and observe it carefully. Our experience can be compared to that of a fish in water. The fish is completely surrounded by water, but it is unaware of the water in which it swims. Similarly, though we identify with the mind, we often cannot see its functioning clearly. An ancient Sufi story is very revealing about this human blind spot:

On one occasion, the Mula Nasruden was outside his house crawling on his hands and knees, searching the ground.

A friend happened to pass by and, on seeing him, asked, "Nasruden, what are you doing in the dirt under this hot sun?"
Nasruden answered without looking up, "I have lost the key to my house, and I am looking for it."
The concerned friend immediately offered his assistance. "Here, let me help you. Where did you lose the key?"
"I lost it inside the house," replied Nasruden.
"But if you lost the key in the house, why are you looking for it out here?"
"Well, it's dark inside the house, so I came out here to search where the light is better."

Only by turning on the light inside his house will Nasruden find the missing key. Similarly, if we wish to understand the nature of the mind, we must turn our attention inward and observe our feelings, thoughts, and emotions. The mental faculty that allows us to observe the mind is awareness, which can be compared to light. While normal light allows us to see external objects, awareness enables us to know our internal mental processes.

THREE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES

I said that meditation involves cultivating three qualities essential to well-being: awareness, concentration, and serenity. Let's take a moment to define these terms, because in order to cultivate them, we must have a fairly good understanding of what they are.

Awareness, which we might also call mindfulness, is the state of "mind being fully present." An aware mind is not just conscious in the ordinary sense, because we can be conscious without being fully aware, without clearly knowing what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what we are feeling. We often move through life with only a modicum of attention to our present experience, operating mainly on automatic pilot and reacting to situations habitually.

However, we do have some awareness or moments when the mind is fully awake to the present experience. It is important to recognize the subtle, but profound difference between just being conscious and being mindful, or having consciousness with awareness. Have you ever been driving a car when you suddenly think, "Oh! Where am I? I've gone past my turn off!" What was your mind doing before that moment of awareness? You were conscious, but your mind was not fully present—not awake, clear, and mindful.

In meditation, we want to cultivate that fullness of mind that lets us be truly sensitive to the present moment. Stop for a moment and consider, "What am I feeling now? Where is my attention?" Awareness makes this type of introspection and exploration possible. It is an essential element in the practice of meditation, and only through the development of this quality can we cultivate concentration and serenity.

Concentration is the ability to direct and hold our attention on one thing for a desired period of time. If we think of awareness as light, then we might think of concentration as a laser, or focused light. The strength of concentration is determined by how fully we can focus and sustain our attention.

Concentration is the mental counterpart of physical strength. Although we all concentrate to some extent, most of us would agree that the mind is rather unruly, and that it behaves much like a restless monkey, jumping from one thing to another. This unruly mind not only prevents us from applying ourselves fully to a particular task, but it can also make us miserable. Constantly thinking about the past, usually with longing or regret, or the future, often with hope or trepidation, can be oppressive. The mind is in overdrive, and we feel stressed. The need to slow down and develop some mastery over this mental activity is illustrated in the following Buddhist verses:

More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm. Hard it is to train the mind, which goes wherever it likes and does what it wants. But a trained mind brings health and happiness. The wise can direct their thoughts, subtle and elusive, wherever they choose; a trained mind brings health and happiness. (The Dhammapada, translated by Eknath Easwaran, 87-88)

Through systematic and gentle effort, we can teach the mind to stop running from one thing to another and to concentrate on one object. But before we can train the mind to concentrate, we must know what the mind is doing. That is the role of awareness. With awareness, we simply know where our attention is at this moment. Even if the attention moves from one object to another, we can still remain aware, because awareness flows, just as a beam of light illumines each object it touches.

However, if we wish to develop concentration, then, in addition to knowing where our attention is, we must also make an effort to sustain our attention on the same object. Every time our attention moves to something else, we need to be aware of that movement and bring it back to the original object. With patient effort and regular training, the mind gradually achieves better concentration. The light of awareness becomes focused into the laser of concentration.

Serenity is an experience of rest, tranquility, even joy. The concentration we are interested in developing through meditation is characterized by serenity and clarity. It is impossible to achieve this type of concentration through sheer force of effort or will power. Forcing the mind to concentrate on a task produces tension, and after only a short time, we may feel exhausted. That is hardly a meditative experience or a desirable state. I can still remember my first driving lesson during which I was concentrating so hard that my head was aching, and I was perspiring all over. I certainly did not feel serene.

Unfortunately, most of us can concentrate only through force or will power. As a result, we often feel like we're jumping between the frying pan and the fire. Either the mind is tormenting us by being the unruly, out-of-control monkey, or we are struggling to pin the monkey down until we're exhausted.

In meditation, we do not force the mind to concentrate. Instead, we try to encourage the mind through vigilant, gentle effort simply to slow down, to be at peace. By means of awareness and patient effort, the mind can be taught to appreciate the pleasant feeling of resting with one object. It will then be happy to remain with that object. Emerging from a period of good meditation, we feel refreshed and serene.

Cultivating the Meditative Path involves developing these three qualities by means of various formal and informal meditation techniques that will be described in the next several chapters. Later, we will explore how these three qualities can be applied to a process of self-discovery that leads to insight, growth, and freedom.

The Meditative Path is not an intellectual preoccupation with abstract concepts; nor is it just a matter of doing a few mental exercises for concentrating the mind. As you will discover, it is a journey marked by thoughtfulness, clarity, and understanding that touches every aspect of your being and your life.

The goal is inner peace and outer harmony. Meditation is the path, and we are all fellow travelers on the journey.

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EXERCISE:
RELAXING THE BODY

As a first step toward meditation practice, try this simple mental exercise for relaxing the body. Relaxation is not so much something you do, but something you allow to happen when you stop tensing your muscles. This exercise is designed to help you release any tension in the body.

· Begin by sitting comfortably in a chair or cross-legged on the floor in a quiet place with your eyes closed. If possible, try to maintain an upright posture. Put aside all your concerns for the past and future and just bring your attention to the body, noticing what it feels like to be sitting. Check to see whether the body is balanced and the posture is erect. Try to remain still. Slowly and systematically move your attention to the following parts of the body and be attentive to each area for a short time.
· Bring the attention to the area around your face, the forehead, and especially around your eyes. What do these areas feel like? Spend a little time gently releasing any tightness or pressure, relaxing and soothing all the muscles.
· Move your attention to the neck and the shoulders, releasing and relaxing all the muscles.
· Become aware of your arms, and just let them hang loosely and freely.
· Notice the feelings in your hands as you simply allow them to rest.
· Bring the attention to your chest, and release any tightness.
· Become aware of your abdomen, relaxing all the muscles.
· Bring the attention to your left leg, allowing it to be very heavy and completely at rest.
· Move the attention to the right leg, and relax it as well.
· Now, you can either repeat this process of moving your attention through the body, or just sit for a while, remaining aware of the whole body and being at peace with it.

This exercise can be practiced whenever you like for a period of five to ten minutes. It will help you release physical tension and establish a more peaceful state of mind.

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QUESTION TIME

In this section, I will address questions commonly asked about meditation and its application in everyday life.

Is meditation like falling asleep or a dull, fuzzy state of mind?

Quite the contrary. In meditation we cultivate a heightened state of wakefulness and clarity. In fact, dullness is one of the main hindrances to good meditation.
Is meditation the same as relaxation?
Taking time to pay attention to the body and relaxing the muscles is indeed a form of meditation, provided that the mind remains wakeful and alert. A relaxed body facilitates a serene state of mind. However, there is much more to meditation than relaxation.
Is meditation like daydreaming or being lost in thought?
Daydreaming is the very opposite of meditation. In meditation, we try to remain alert and clearly aware of what the mind is doing.
Is meditation similar to hypnosis?
If hypnosis is a state in which you do not have self-awareness and you cannot recollect what you experienced, it is certainly not meditation. In meditation, there should be awareness and a clear memory of the experience.
Will meditation inhibit ones capacity for creative thinking?
No. Creative thinking is the product of a quiet, clear mind. Practicing meditation can facilitate new and meaningful insights.
Is it true that you can cure illness through meditation?
It is a well-known fact that one's state of mind greatly impacts the physical body. Having a peaceful mind, free from the stress of negative thoughts and emotions, is conducive to better physical health. So we can say that through meditation it is possible to prevent or relieve unnecessary physical illness.
Some meditation techniques specifically promote healing. However, I think that it is an overstatement to say that we can cure or prevent all physical illness through meditation.
What about the development of psychic powers through meditation?
Many years ago, I was explaining the basics of meditation to a group of school children. One of the boys seemed quite enthralled as he sat looking at me with big eyes and eager anticipation. Finally, not being able to contain himself any longer, he asked, "Can you really fly?" Of course, he was greatly disappointed when I told him that I was not able to fly without the aid of an airplane.
It is natural for us to have a fascination for the supernormal, and I think it is good to keep an open Mind about such phenomenon. In many Eastern meditation traditions, it is firmly believed that meditators who attain very high levels of concentration can develop psychic powers and supernormal abilities. Be that as it may, it is certainly beyond the scope of this book and, more importantly, unlikely to have any practical relevance to our own experience in meditation.


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The Meditative Path - Chapter 3

CHAPTER THREE

LIKE A BABY LEARNING TO WALK

IN THE LAST CHAPTER, I INTRODUCED THE PRACTICE of Mindfulness of Breathing and encouraged you to try a meditation exercise using that method. Now that you've had some experience with this method, it may be helpful to examine some of the common observations made by new meditators and consider how to further develop your practice. This discussion will then lead us into exploring the next stage of Mindfulness of Breathing, in which we establish a more refined level of attention on the breath.

Having already taken a few steps on the journey of introspection and mental cultivation, you may have realized that understanding the theory of meditation is not the same as being able to do it. The theory is relatively simple to comprehend, but developing the practical skill requires much training and a great deal of patience.

I usually discourage students from thinking about meditation in terms of success or failure. It is far better to regard the time we spend practicing as a learning process. Every meditation period can teach us a little more about the mind: its strengths and weaknesses, its tendencies and habits. Only with the knowledge that comes from observation and experience can we achieve the goals of meditation outlined in Chapter 1. Thus, my teacher would often say that the only unsuccessful meditation is the one that we failed to do, because then we did not learn anything.

Consider the experience of a baby learning to walk. How many times does a baby try to stand and take a step, only to fall down again? If the baby started thinking about how difficult it was to walk, she would probably stop trying. Fortunately, babies do not think like that, so most babies learn to walk and eventually to run. I am sure we are all glad that, as babies, we kept getting up each time we fell down.

Let us look at the usual experience of a "baby meditator" taking those first steps.

THE BEHAVIOR OF THE MIND DURING MEDITATION

Initial attempts at meditation are a rude awakening to many people. Often they are shocked to discover that their minds have so little focus and attention. However, becoming aware of this fact is, in itself, a wonderful revelation and an important first step in getting to know the mind. Do not be disappointed if the experience is not what you expected or hoped for. Instead, carefully consider what you did experience during the meditation and how the mind behaved when you tried to remain mindful of the breath.

You probably observed two very common habits that the mind exhibits during meditation. First, you may have noticed that quite frequently the mind forgets the breath completely and gets lost in some other activity for a while. During this time, the mind is preoccupied with thoughts or sensory experience, or just drifts from one thing to another, without clear awareness. At such times, you do not even know that the mind has forgotten the breath, nor do you know what "monkey business" the mind is up to. This common occurrence can be considered a lapse in mindfulness during meditation.

Then, inevitably there arises a new moment of awareness, an instant when you realize that the mind has indeed wandered away from the breath. The experience is like waking up and becoming fully present again. It is important to embrace this moment of awareness by noting clearly what the mind is doing and, without irritation, disappointment, or discouragement, gently but firmly return your attention to the breath.

At this stage in the practice, we do not expect the mind to concentrate fully on the breath. We know that it will wander off, so the challenge is to notice when the mind drifts away and where it goes. Our primary concern is to sharpen and strengthen the faculty of awareness that allows us to notice these movements.

With regular practice, your meditation will gain momentum. As you develop greater skill, you will find that the frequency and duration of the lapses in awareness gradually decrease. My teacher compared this learning process to a dripping faucet. Each drip represents a moment of awareness. At first, the faucet drips only sporadically with long gaps between drips. Gradually, the drips become more frequent until there is no gap between drips, and the water flows in a stream. Similarly, at the beginning of meditation, the moments of awareness may seem few and far between, but with practice, the drips eventually form a stream, and we experience the wonder of being truly awake.

The second observation you will have made is that the mind seems capable of doing a number of things at the same time. While you continue to know the in and out breaths, the mind is also thinking, hearing, feeling sensations in the body, and so forth. In reality, the mind can be conscious of only one experience at any given moment. However, the mind is extremely fast, and consciousness moves from one experience to another with such speed that it gives the impression of simultaneous perception of different objects.

In contrast to the speed of consciousness, a physical process, such as breathing, is very slow. In the time it takes an inhalation to flow in, the mind can think numerous thoughts and process a great deal of information. Thus, although we may still know that the breath is flowing in, during those moments when the mind is thinking and hearing, we are not truly attentive to the breath.

As long as the attention on the breath remains somewhat superficial, we may continue to have a lot of mental activity, even while successfully counting the breath from one to ten. Our task is to gradually thin out extraneous mental activity by continually encouraging the mind to be interested in the breath rather than in other things. The process is a bit like being in the midst of a group of people who are all talking. If we are really interested in hearing a particular person in the group, we can focus our attention almost exclusively on what that person is saying while disregarding all the others.

In summary, we can say that in the first type of experience, in which the mind completely forgets the breath, there is a lapse of awareness for a period of time. In the second, where the mind seems capable of doing a number of things at once, there is awareness, but attention is not yet focused.

HELPFUL ATTITUDES IN MEDITATION

How should we continue at this stage? Needless to say, practice improves with patient effort. However, it is obvious that the way we view or approach any undertaking greatly influences the experience and the outcome. With the appropriate attitude, we will find it easier to sharpen awareness and strengthen concentration, resulting in a more peaceful meditation experience. Therefore, I greatly encourage fostering three mental attitudes helpful in the practice of meditation: interest, carefulness, and contentment.

Arousing Interest

If we can arouse interest in the meditation object, in this case the breath, the mind will automatically remain attentive to it and become focused more easily.

Now, is the natural breath interesting? New meditators often complain that the breath is "so boring." The reality is not that the breath is boring, but rather that we are bored. There is nothing in this world that is intrinsically interesting or boring. There are only interested minds and bored minds. The interest does not come from the object; it comes from the mind perceiving that object. If this were not the case, then everyone would be interested in exactly the same things. But because interest comes from the perceiver, anything can be interesting, and everything can be boring.

In meditation, we want to develop inner strength and self-empowerment. We are striving to train the mind so that we can focus attention on the object we choose at the time we desire. This means that we are not just waiting passively for some fascinating and exciting thing to grasp our attention. Rather, we are actively generating interest from within ourselves. Self-empowerment means that we stop being the monkey whose attention is drawn by whatever bright object comes into view and take hold of the freedom we have to arouse interest in the task at hand.

To help stimulate interest in the breath, you may want to contemplate the fact that life and the act of breathing are inseparable. Since taking the first breath at birth, each exhalation has been followed by an inhalation. But, one day there will be an exhalation and . . . nothing. No inhalation. Moreover, we never know which breath this last one is going to be. Now, this thought is not intended to frighten you or to cause anxiety, but simply to arouse interest in that next breath through the realization that each breath is indeed precious.

Carefulness

The ability to pay careful attention is very much the same as being able to concentrate. Consider the degree of carefulness a neurosurgeon needs to have when performing an operation. If we can arouse the same quality of carefulness while being attentive to the breath, the mind will have little time for distractions. Being carefully attentive to the breath means that we care about it. Caring allows us to experience each breath more fully, for a longer time without distraction.

Contentment

Being contented with the present moment is indeed a blessing. Contentment allows us to experience the moment fully, and it is therefore a prerequisite for mindfulness. Do not confuse contentment with complacency. Complacency implies disinterested laziness, while contentment is the ability to abide in the present, free from the compulsive habit of always wanting something else.

If we can establish an attitude of contentment during meditation, the mind will be more willing to remain with the breath and less inclined to chase after distracting thoughts. It will be easy to let go of or relinquish concern for the past and the future, to put aside everything else, and to embrace only the experience of one breath at a time.

Practicing Mindfulness of Breathing with these attitudes will greatly facilitate progress by sharpening awareness and strengthening concentration. The mind will become more peaceful and reach a deeper level of meditation.

MINDFULNESS OF BREATHING - Part Two

As described in the last chapter, the first stage in Mindfulness of Breathing is simply to know whether the breath is coming in or going out. I referred to this stage as "knowing the in and out breath."

At this level of awareness, our experience of the breath remains superficial and sporadic. However, if we continue to practice on a regular basis, making an effort to sharpen awareness by using the skillful means described above, then the mind will naturally experience the breath in more detail. Thus, the meditation becomes deeper, and we gradually arrive at the second stage in the practice of Mindfulness of Breathing.

Before we go further, it is important to understand that the terms "first" and "second" stage do not refer to separate steps in the practice. It is not that you practice stage one for a week or month and then decide to move on to stage two. These terms are used only as markers to indicate a gradual progress in the process of being increasingly attentive to the breath. There is no clear-cut demarcation between stage one and stage two; nor do you intentionally move from one stage to the other. Rather, you experience these stages as a natural progression that results from skillful training of the mind.

Have you ever been to the beach and walked slowly out into the sea? As you walk in, the water gradually covers your feet, ankles, knees, waist, and so forth, until you are completely immersed. We can think of progress in meditation as being a similar experience: a gradual immersion into the sea of serenity as the mind becomes increasingly attentive to the meditation object.

Metaphorically, we "walk into the breath" by observing the breath more carefully and with more interest. We then notice that the rhythmic flow of the breath is not an unchanging process. The quality, feel, and character of the breath change according to the needs of the body. Sometimes the breath flows slowly, taking a long time to come in and go out; at other times, the breath is rather short, coming in and going out more quickly.

It is important to remember that we are not intentionally interfering with the breath or altering its natural flow. The body continues to breathe as it wants. We are simply paying more careful attention to the breath, thereby observing it in greater detail.

These observations bring us to the second stage of Mindfulness of Breathing, which I call "knowing the long and short breath."

Knowing the Long and Short Breath

The terms "long" and "short" refer to whether the breath takes a long time to flow in and out, or only a short time. These terms do not have any independent significance and are only meant to indicate the relative changes that naturally occur in our breathing. In other words, an in breath is only long in relation to another in breath that was shorter and vice versa.

Going back to the example of watching a passing train, at the first stage of observation, we are aware only of the fact that the train is coming from the west going east, or coming from the east going west. But at this stage, we are more attentive and take greater interest in the train. Not only do we notice the direction of the train, but we also know whether it is a long train or a short train.

DEEPENING YOUR EXPERIENCE IN MEDITATION

In order to deepen your meditation experience, continue practicing Mindfulness of Breathing on a regular basis according to the exercise given in the last chapter. If you are feeling comfortable meditating for fifteen minutes, you may want to lengthen the time of your meditation by five minutes or so. However, the quality of your effort is more important than the duration of the meditation period.

Try to be attentive to each breath, continually encouraging the mind to let go of, abandon, and relinquish all other activities. Learn to be content with the experience of one breath at a time. Consider each breath as precious, as though it could be your last. When the breath goes out, remain attentive: will it come back in?

By practicing in this way, your mind will incline towards the breath more easily and remain attentive to it longer. You will observe the nature of the breath in greater detail, noticing what the breath feels like: whether it is long and slow, or short and quick. With this increased level of awareness and concentration comes a deeper meditation experience. The amount of mental dialogue and activity will gradually diminish and the mind will become increasingly quiet and peaceful.

A WORD OF CAUTION REGARDING PROGRESS

Having introduced the notion of progress in meditation, it may be valuable to conclude this chapter with a word of caution.

Generally speaking, we can say that if the practitioner is experiencing a greater degree of comfort, peace, and clarity during meditation, then the practice is going in the right direction. However, there is no way of knowing how fast or slow, with what ease or difficulty any of us will progress along this path.

Each of us brings a unique set of attributes, both positive and negative, to the practice of meditation. If you have accumulated a lot of careless and frenetic mental habits (welcome to the club!), it may take considerable training to achieve a peaceful state of concentration. On the other hand, those who have calm, clear, and disciplined minds to begin with may find the process easy from the start. Needless to say, you can only start from where you are, but do start!

It is also worth remembering that there are many ups and downs in the practice of meditation. Training the mind is not a simple and smooth progression towards ever deepening levels of meditation. Sometimes the experience can be like taking one step forward and two steps back. Obviously the meditation will be greatly affected by your mental and emotional moods as well as the physical state of the body. For instance, if you have just received some bad news or are ill with the flu, it will not be easy to concentrate the mind on your breathing.

Finally, I usually discourage meditators from being overly concerned with the notion of progress. This is because such a preoccupation can become a distraction for the mind, preventing it from achieving calmness and concentration. Naturally, you will wish to make progress; however, having established that aspiration, you should simply get on with the practice, patiently creating the right conditions. The results will come naturally.

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QUESTION TIME


Why is it that, when I meditate on the breath, I often feel tension in my eyes, as if I were staring at something?
It may be that you are trying to focus the mind on the breathing with too much effort. Try spending a little more time relaxing the muscles in your face before turning your attention to the breath. Also, while practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, encourage the mind to sink into the breath and relax with its rhythmic flow.
Avoid forcing the mind too much; give it some "rope." Rather than just trying to concentrate on the breath, put more emphasis on noticing the movements of the mind. Only after awareness has been well established will it be possible to make greater effort to strengthen concentration.
It is useful to remember that, while training the mind in meditation, we try to emulate the attitude of a caring mother rather than that of a harsh prison warden.
Can I have music playing during meditation?
When practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, it is usually best to meditate in a quiet place without distracting noise or music. This will make it easier for the mind to remain attentive to the breath. However, playing soft, tranquil, and unobtrusive background music may help you calm down and achieve a meditative mood more easily. Soft music may also act like "white noise" that helps to blunt the effects of other sounds. You may wish to experiment with this option. However, remember that there is nothing more peaceful than the sound of silence.
While meditating, I see different colors in my mind. How should I react to this experience?
Unlike the perception of light that many meditators experience when they attain deep concentration, the appearance of colors or images in the early stages of meditation is mainly due to the proliferation of an active mind. If you are practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, you treat such images in the same way as thoughts, sounds, or sensations. Simply recognize them when they come into consciousness and let them go, continually encouraging the mind to return to the breath.
As a general rule, it is best to consider the various perceptions that arise in the mind during meditation as "visitors" passing through. Neither become infatuated and led into distraction by the visitors, nor fight to get rid of them.
Is it true that I should choose a meditation method that is compatible with my character type?
There is an element of truth in this view, because you may find practicing one particular method a little easier than another. However, of far greater importance than the method used is the way in which it is practiced. In other words, you must gradually discover the most effective approach to guide and teach the mind in order to achieve clarity and concentration.
Depending on your temperament and mental tendencies, you may need to adapt the approach regardless of the method being used. For instance, if you tend to be very rigid, stern, and controlling, you need to be wary of using too much force in the meditation practice. A more relaxed approach may be more effective. On the other hand, if you are very casual and easygoing, you may need to be a little more strict and firm with the mind when training it in meditation.
Through practice and careful observation, you will begin to understand the tendencies of your mind and thus be able to fine-tune the approach so as to achieve the desired results.
When I play a computer game, I become completely focused on the game. I don 't hear the people around me, and time seems to pass very quickly. Is that like a meditation state? And why doesn't the same thing happen when I practice Mindfulness of Breathing?
It is quite easy to become absorbed in things we find interesting and exciting. When we become absorbed in that object of attention, the mind is indeed in a concentrated state. However, this type of concentration is not usually accompanied by the qualities of awareness and serenity and is not, therefore, the same as a meditative state.
While reading an absorbing novel or watching a captivating movie, we can easily become so involved in the experience that we lose track of time and our surroundings. But the mind is by no means peaceful and clear during that time, nor do we feel refreshed and clearheaded afterwards.
No, I am sorry to say that we cannot achieve the lofty goals of meditation by these means of escape. In fact, you will usually find it much more difficult to meditate after being absorbed in such a way, because the mind will be even more cluttered than normal. Have you noticed how your mind is full of images, memories, and dialogue for quite some time after watching a movie? A stimulated mind makes it very difficult to practice Mindfulness of Breathing.
Of course, there are occasions in ordinary life when we automatically enter states of concentration that resemble meditative states. For example, consider the experience of watching an extremely beautiful sunset in a state of awe and wonder. The mind becomes completely quiet and clear as you partake in the visual feast of colors and majesty. After such an experience, you indeed feel refreshed, alert, and more fully alive, just as you would after a good meditation period.
In answering the second part of your question, as to why you cannot replicate the same degree of concentration while practicing Mindfulness of Breathing, I assure you that, if you can arouse the same degree of interest in the breath, the mind will become equally focused. However, unlike the exciting computer game, the breath will not normally appear interesting to the mind. You will need to generate the interest through effort and skill. True, this is more difficult, but the rewards are well worth the effort.


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