Intercultural East-West Dialogue

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lotos-4Yoga: History, Philosophy, Psychology. Part 4

The beginning of the third stage of Yoga development fell on the period of colonizing the East by European countries. The Western world discovered Yoga for itself in XVIII-XIX centuries. The colonization resulted not only in imposing so called ‘achievements’ of European civilization in the states caught by it. The Eastern world also started to have a great cultural influence on its colonizers. The epoch of intercultural East-West dialogue started as a result of which Europe, America and Russia discovered the spiritual thought of India, China, Tibet and Arab countries.

During this period, the variations of classical Yoga and other oriental schools including the elements of Yoga methods began spreading in the Western world. Originally they were studied only by specialists. Philosophers, linguists, culture experts had been researching Yoga preferably without any practical interest up to the moment when the researchers began to understand the spiritual value of Oriental schools which was more attractive than the dogmatic religions, Western materialism and positivism.

Then the theoretical interest got accompanied with the growing practical interest. In Europe and America, Yoga method got used as a system of physical and psychic training, for strengthening human health and developing extraordinary abilities.

In this period, the West began first acquiring Yoga schools of Hinduist and Buddhist directions. European travelers and researchers went to India, China and Tibet with the aim of penetrating into the secrets of mystical Oriental doctrines. Further we tell about the two distinctive and bright researchers of the East; the biography of each of them could have been a plot of a breathtaking film.


In the town of Dign-le-Bein in the South of France this old woman was considered to be very eccentric and dreamy; that was quite understandable: she took her last journey – climbing the Alps pass over 2.000 m high – at the age of 82. She died one month and a half earlier her 101st birthday. Her ashes were scattered over the Gang water.

The local citizens were greatly surprised when twenty years after her death Dalai-Lama visited her house (which she called ‘The abode of speculations’) and honoured her memory. In Tibet, despite her female sex, both ordinary people and monastery abbots acknowledged her to be a highly initiated lama.

Her house ‘Samten-Dzong’(The abode of speculations), which she built after 29 years of traveling around the Oriental countries, performed the function of the Tibet cultural centre. There the mystics came who dreamt to study the wonders described by her. In her books she told about the people who were able to fly, to die and resurrect by their wish. She explained that the essence of Buddhism was not in those outer effects, but in changing consciousness, and that she herself hadn’t reached that height yet. She told about the same at her lectures while traveling around many European countries.

In her young years, she was an opera singer, made friends with the Paris shot-firers, anarchists and the famous founder of Theosophic society, Elena Blavatskaya, and achieved the high initiated status in the secret Masonic lodge. She was in correspondence with her husband, who always supported her financially, and it substituted for their married life. She became the first Western woman who visited the Tibet capital, the legendary Lhasa, the Earthy embodiment of mythical Shambala, which was closed for all foreigners. She adopted her Tibet guide, Yongden Lama, and they lived and worked together until his death.

That wonderful woman’s name was Alexandra David-Ne`el. The contemporaries knew her as a French opera singer, poetess and composer. She became world-famous being a traveler, writer and researcher of Tibet. Also she is famous because of her visit to Lhasa in 1924 and a number of books about Tibet.

Since her early age Alexandra was interested in everything unusual, was fond of reading adventurous novels by Joule Verne and Emar, listening to the stories of her acquaintance, geographer Elise Reclus, about the countries he visited. Thanks to that geographer she was “infected by the virus” of anarchism and atheism, was keen on occultism. At her young age she left her parents and escaped from France by bicycle for traveling to Spain.

She first visited India in 1891 where studied Yoga and Sanskrit in the Theosophic community. She dreamt of traveling to Himalayas, Tibet – a fairy country. Lack of money interfered it: her parents refused to help the disobedient daughter; she was dismissed from the theatre because of some explosions organized by anarchists.

In 1900 Alexandra moved to Tunis, worked in the local theatre. There she met with the railway engineer, Philip Ne`el, got married him at the instance of her dying father in 1904, but five weeks after the marriage she left for Paris. With her husband’s financial help she went to India again in 1911. Her husband understood her priming; since then the long-term correspondence between the couple which didn’t stop until Philip’s death in 1940. In India Alexandra studied Indian culture and religion.

Because of the impossibility to penetrate into Tibet from the West (the Chinese authorities were counteracting it), Alexandra together with the Tibet-novice Yongden moved to Japan, then to Korea and China trying to penetrate into Tibet. She only managed to do it in February 1924. She was lucky – she wasn’t recognized as a foreigner and was let in. Later she described that moment: ”I reached Lhasa as meager as a skeleton. I was wandering in the temples and terraces of the monastery for two months, and no one guessed that for the first time in mankind’s history a Western woman could see the concealed secrets of that closed town.”

In Lhasa Alexandra saw the walls of Potal(a) Palace – the residence of Dalai-Lama. Having stayed in Tibet capital for two months, she set off back. She had been planning to stay in Asia no longer than one year and a half, but in fact she stayed there for 14 years – she arrived in Le Havre in May 1925. After returning home, she delivered lectures, and in 1927 she published the book “ A Parisian Woman’s Journey to Lhasa”. In 1937 Alexandra set off to India for the second time (through the USSR), but she only reached Shenci Province: the Japanese-Chinese War began. Up to 1946 she lived in China wandering around Buddhist cloisters and suffering from poverty after her husband’s death in 1940. After 23 years of traveling she returned to France and lived there writing books and delivering lectures about her journeys and Tibet culture.


And the second name. He was born in the second part of XIX century in India in Calcutta – the city built with money of the secret bloody cult of Tags-stranglers. His father was an English Lord by birth, the Knight of St. George Order, Bengal’s General Attorney, a government member of India. He himself was knighted at the age of 50 and died at 71.

He had lived an ideal (from the point of view of Higher English society), decent, enviable life. In 1890 he was assigned a defender in the Supreme Court of Calcutta, was a member of Calcutta University, in 1902 – the Constant Councilor of Indian Government. In 1904 he was made the member of Indian Supreme Court which he headed in 1915. In 1923 he retired and returned to Great Britain where he taught Indian Law at Oxford University until 1930.

And he became the first European who brought Tantra School to the Western world in which sexual rituals took an important place. He overturned the Europeans’ ideas of Tantra: earlier this doctrine was understood as the combination of moral dissoluteness and harmful magic and not as a complex and intensive practice of self-perfection. After receiving juristic education in England, he returned to India in 1890 where he began actively studying Sanskrit and Indian philosophy and was particularly interested in Hinduist Tantrism and Shaktism. He translated from Sanskrit and published in English (under the name of Arthur Avalon) about 20 Tantra treatises in the series of “Tantra Texts”. He also delivered a lot of lectures and published a great number of articles on Yoga and Tantra.

It was John George Woodroff (also known as Arthur Avalon), British Oriental expert whose papers aroused a wide interest in the West to Indian religious philosophy and practices of Tantrism and Shaktism. While keeping the main profile of his activity as a judge and scientist of the British-Indian legislation, he was a private researcher of Tantra who published a vast number of texts and translations, and so he was a pioneer of the modern academic studying the classical Tantric tradition in the West.

S.V.Lobanov, the Russian Indian expert, in his foreword to the Russian publication of “Introduction to Mahanirvana-Tantra” noticed that Woodroff “was the first to acquaint the Western world with the most important sources of Tantric mysticism by publishing some of them including his own translations”. Lobanov claims that before Woodroff “the secret Tantric texts of the followers of Shaktist Indian cults were not accessible not only to the Western people, but even to the majority of Orthodox Indians. Woodroff showed a deep interest to Tantra and began studying it together with his assistants, searching unique manuscripts, met the tradition supporters, could overcome their alienation, learnt the theory and practice of Bengal Tantric schools”.


Gradually, the Eastern thought itself flooded to the West. In the late XIX and during the whole XX centuries this expansion was developing so intensively that the Western philosophic systems appeared in the circumstances of severe ideological competition. Then not only did the Eastern thought prove its viability in culturally alien geographical regions of Europe, America and Russia but quickly got popular in the widest layers of population.

During the same period, the traditional directions of Indian philosophy gave birth to a tendency of reconsidering the ancient orthodox ideas and their synthesizing. It was most conspicuous in the creative work and spiritual path of Ramakrishna, the outstanding Hinduist thinker, and his follower Vivekananda, the philosopher-Yogi and public figure.

Ramakrishna was one of the first in the East to put forward an idea of religious synthesis. From his own mystical experience he comprehended the spiritual unity of different religions and came to the opinion that all of them open certain sides of verity and move along different paths to the Superior spiritual origin – God. A significant contribution to popularizing and developing Ramakrishna’s ideas was made by his pupil Vivekananda.

Vivekananda believed that the ultimate purpose of human life is in uniting with Superior Reality (God as He is understood in different ways). It is achieved through ethical perfection of consciousness and Yoga practice. So, the reformer of Hinduist philosophy declared Yoga as an effective method of spiritual practice without regard to human’s philosophic and religious preferences.

Vivekananda wrote a number of bright philosophic papers devoted to popular explaining the basics of Raja-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, Karma-Yoga and Djnyana-Yoga which became well known and valued in the West. He became one of the first authorized masters of Hinduist Yoga who made a great influence on forming the Western knowledge about the deepest spiritual essence of Yoga science at the borderline of XIX-XX centuries.

In XX century Yoga was developing not only within its traditional historic pass. There appeared various reformed modifications of Yoga philosophy and practice. With rare exception, they didn’t include any principal ideological novices either in philosophic or in methodological senses. Therefore, only three well-known and influential systems are worth paying attention: Integral Yoga, Yoga school of Swami Shivananda and Yoga school of Shri Krishnamacharya.

Integral Yoga is a widely spread name of spiritual school of Indian philosopher Aurobindo Ghosh. In his spiritual evolution Aurobindo had gone a long way from enthusiasm with Western atheism to complete disappointment with it and communion with Indian spiritualistic philosophy and Yoga. In philosophy, he was developing the line of synthesis, and so he could be compared with such thinkers as Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. He tried to reconnect the Western rationalism and the Eastern spiritualism, empiric science and mystical experience.

The aim of Aurobindo’s philosophic searches was not abstract but practical. Observing the ancient tradition of Indian men of wisdom, he found philosophy as a spiritual means of perfecting a peson who is able to discover inner sleeping power and bring “deific life” into his own consciousness and earthy world.

Aurobindo taught that when human consciousness is elevated up to Space Consciousness (through which Spiritual Reality – God presents oneself), then human radical transformation happens. A man becomes a superman – a super-order spiritual creature. The main restriction on this path is human egoism as a multiple negative peculiarity of isolated consciousness, its main imperfectness. The way of overcoming egoism goes through Yoga practice.

Aurobindo wrote a lot of papers devoted to the problem of human spiritual perfection by Yoga. Among the well-known ones are: “Synthesis of different Yoga directions”, “Yoga Guide”, “Deific Life”, ‘Commentaries to Bhagavat-Gita”. In the XX century Aurobindo’s books were translated into many languages and were very popular both in the East and West. In India near Pondisheri appeared the town of Aurovil on the base of the university centre inhabited by Aurobindo Ghosh’s followers.


The modern Hatha-Yoga schools, including Shivananda and Krishnamacharya schools, try to validate the peculiarities of their practice basing on Patandjali’s “Yoga-Sutras”. In Indian philosophy, “an authorized evidence” serves one of the proofs of a statement’s verity. The conceptual controversies of Yoga schools are demonstrated in different ‘Yoga-Sutras” interpretations. In Svami Shivananda tradition, asana and pranayama are considered as the support of the body and power source for realizing social and spiritual purposes which are represented in the first two steps (yama and niyama) and the following steps of the eightfold Yoga; whereas in Krishnamacharya tradition, asana and pranayama support the concentration of all the eight steps.


Svami Shivananda’s school (1887 – 1963) was first developing in the North of India, but then it spread all over the country and outside it. Svami Shivananda received Western medical education. He tried to use Hatha-Yoga possibilities to develop achievements in all other Yoga types. He described as many as sixty type of Yoga. Svami Shivananda was a sanyasin (monk) observing the vow brahmacharya (sexual continence), and his followers are striving for the same.

From the point of Svami Shivananda’s view, Patandjali’s system is based on the entire consideration of a man in each aspect of his being. A man is the centre of pure consciousness localized in successive capsules with different density.

Svami Shivananda’s school is characterized by parallel perfecting in preparing and practice itself. So, yama and niyama are the most important practices anticipating meditation; the pupil will lose his way without them. But it is no use to wait for irreproachability in behaviour as the whole life is not enough for perfecting in observing only a single principle. Though the pupil is not stable yet in the outer forms of manifestation, he has to practice yama-niyama simultaneously and carry out concentration and meditation. Finally, the stability of the basis (yama-niyama) is reached while achieving the purpose (Samadhi).

Svami Shivananda noticed the unoriginality of asana and pranayama. Really, Patandjali didn’t pay a great attention to asanas, he only suggests taking a comfortable pose in which it is possible to sit for a long time. And in this case, pranayama serves for making breath least active up to the full stop of breating, for developing the mind’s ability to concentrate. As Svami Shivananda’s contribution in the development of hatha-yoga, there were researches of asanas and pranayamas influencing the body health and widening the specter of their usage for curing various diseases.

Svami Shivananda presents hatha-yoga as “deific blessing for getting good health”. It is not the muscle power that defines the state of health; therefore asanas and pranayamas do not develop muscles. The harmonic functioning of the endocrine system, nervous system and brain is necessary which is the result of regular practicing hatha-yoga. The exercises must be accompanied by the “inner facilities”: unchangeable belief in God, love for repeating His name, sexual continence, sincerity, seriousness and zeal.


Even though a person applies to hatha-yoga only for the sake of getting healthy and younger, due to practice he soon begins striving for awareness of God. The correctly organized hatha-yoga practice itself develops the energetic structure up to such a level that ever more subtle energies (carriers of “spirituality”) start penetrating into the sphere of human cognition.

In case of using hatha-yoga for yoga-therapy, its peculiarities and difference from gymnastics are defined by Svami Shivananda as follows. Ordinary physical exercises bring prana oulside resulting in huge energy loss, whereas asanas direct it inside while curing many diseases and awakening energy kundalini. Having ordinary earthy consciousness people’s ordinary breath has neither rhythm nor harmony, but practicing pranayama allows to regulate breath and set up harmony.

In therapeutic sense, if breath is tuned, the person breaths with his nose only and passes to the natural slowdown of breath rhythm. Gradually he gets the knowledge of breath delay (kumbhaka) which helps in the meditation practice and stimulates to get illumination. But in all the practices the best means against indisposition is the constant reflection: ‘I am Atman, independent of the body and mind and gifted with ananda (beatitude).’

According to Svami Shivananda, the Yogi who has achieved the highest stage of Samadhi escapes from this emotion being full of love and sympathy to all living beings and feeling the power which makes the person demonstrate this love to the surrounding. The development of mankind resulted in the fact that the romantic image of a man of wisdom sitting for ages deepened in Samadhi is exhausted. Currently, the law of spiritual hierarchy is the law of ‘divine activism’. A huge energy potential is collected in samadhi, and the energy looks for the way out in serving. The Yogi is happily ready to devote himself to common good (lokahita).

During his life, Svami Shivananda wrote over 300 books on Yoga and philosophy translated into many languages. In his study he focused on six words: love, give, clean yourself, think, carry out. He had his own ashram (Yoga monastery-like centre) where people came from all over the world to study. Svami Shivananda called his Yoga ‘Yoga pd synthesis’; it harmoniously developed “hands, head and heart” in the practice of karma-yoga, djnyana-yoga and bhakti-yoga. But hatha-yoga was prescribed to everyone. As he believed that the regular practice of asanas and pranayama allowed to be stated in yama-niyama, his opinion coincided with one of another famous XX-century Yogi – Shri Krishnamacharya.


Shri Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989) is a key figure for understanding the basics of all modern Yoga as his activity served as a turning point in developing the traditional Yoga. He united the two Yoga directions which had originally being developed independently:North Indian school based on Patandjali’s ‘Yoga-sutras’ (which Krishnamacharya had got from the guru in Himalayas) and South Indian school transmitted according to his family’s tradition from the Tamil masters-alvars.

Two of his own pupils became the founders of new Yoga-schools which have gained the greatest popularity in the world by far: ashtanga-vinyasa-yoga (the founder was Pattabhi Joice) and aiyengar-yoga (the founder Shri Bellur Krishnamachar Sundaraja Aiengar).

Having turned to religion in his family’s Vishnuist tradition, Krishnamacharya communed with the study of great Yogis called alvars. Considered to be God’s embodiments and “sent to rule”, alvars are ruling other people’s thoughts as they are powerful since their childhood. In the Vishnuist teachers’ unaccountable loyalty to God (bhakti), the alvars’ ecstatic piety attracted both ordinary illiterate Indians and intellectual thinkers pandits. Ordinary people were touched by deep emotions of bhakti-yoga, whereas pandits made complex philosophic issues concentrated on the ideal love to God.

The first of the educated Vishnu devotees was Nathamuni who lived in IX century. According to legend, he was naked while wandering and singing the divine Vishnu’s name. His study ‘Yoga-rahasya’ was accepted by Krishnamacharya in revelation during his pilgrimage but its text origin hasn’t been kept so far. ‘Yoga-rahasya’ comprised a number of things which are absent inPatandjali’s ‘Yoga-sutras’; the text included a lot of advice concerning Yoga adaptation to an individual. Besides, there are recommendations on breath specificity while doing asanas and using Yoga for curing diseases. Thanks to the revelation received and practical recommendations existing in it, Krishnamacharya learnt to diagnose using the pulse and performing the wonders of curing.

In 1916 Krishnamacharya set off to Tibet and met his guru, the learned Yogi Ramamohan Brahmachari. Krishnamacharya spent about eight years together with his teacher. Ramamohan made him learn the treatise “Yoga-guramdam” by heart where there were very clear and comprehensive commentaries to Patandjali’s “Yoga-sutras” as well as the understandable descriptions of various Yoga poses and movements. Only after studying that doctrine did Krishnamacharya begin to understand the hidden meaning of the sutras which became the basis of his own study. Ramamohan encouraged his pupil to spread Yoga school and use its curing abilities to help the needed.

In 1924 Krishnamacharya found himself in Maisur where the maharajah himself became his loyal pupil and set up a Yoga-shalu (Yoga school) at his court. Krishnamacharya became the maharajah’s close friend and took part in ruling the palace. He also was accepted to the archives and learnt the XVIII century treatises “Shritattva-nidhi” (on Yoga) and “Vyayama-dipika” (on gymnastics) the material of which came into his own system. At the maharajah’s request, he wrote a few of papers: ‘Yoga-makaranda’, Yogandjali’ and Yogasanala’. Maharajah Krishnarajah Vadiyar always sent Krishnamacharya to trips around the country with the lectures about therapeutic effects of asanas and demonstrations of poses.

In 1937 Krishnamacharya’s first Western pupils appeared. At the beginning of World War II he was visited by a group of French doctors for whom he demonstrated his heart stopped. So far, in the archives of the palace there have been kept the evidences of many people cured due to Yoga. In 1976 T.K.B.Deshikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son and follower, founded an organization Krishnamacharya-yoga-mandir which gained recognition of Health Department. In the mandir the Yoga teaching system includes not only learning asanas but also studying the whole of Indian spiritual and cultural inheritance: there are lessons on Vedic texts declamation and interpretation of such texts as upanishadas, ‘Yoga-sutras’ and ‘Yoga-rahasya’.

The radical transformation made by Krishnamacharya in teaching Yoga implied the development of the particular Yoga practices in terms of the pupil’s state. The essence of his study is the following: it is not the man who must change himself according to Yoga, but the practices must be chosen in order to suit the man. Let us (in general terms) consider his attitude to each stage of Patandjali’s path of ‘Yoga-sutras’ – the text which Krishnamacharya called the basis of his approach to Yoga.

At the preparation stage, yamas define what should be desisted from and specify the outline of life. Like his teacher, Krishnamacharya believed that the traditional sanyasa did not suit the modern time as it implied chastity, wearing orange clothes, wandering from one place to another without a constant shelter and collecting alms. According to Krishnamacharya, being a sanyasin means completely to give oneself to Superior Power, to send it through one’s actions and deeds taking the will of Superior guru or God. For Krishnamacharya there was no contradiction between sanyasa and a family life. He always found the time for taking care of children and wanted all of them to practice Yoga. The two of his six children became Yoga Teachers. His wife knew the sacramental texts by heart, practiced asanas, pranayamas and meditation and controlled the correct doing asanas by children.

The instructions of niyama concerned the things that needed taking tireless efforts for inner purification. Krishnamacharya believed that, except fastidiousness in food and words, all the other instructions lost any value. As for the fastidiousness in words, it should be noticed that Vyasa, while commenting Patandjali, defined the principle of niyama as seld-teaching (svad’hyaya): “One of the methods is multiple (repeated) reading mantras (sacred word formulas)”.

Krishnamacharya was spreading Vedic culture while teaching Sanskrit and Vedic mantras to everyone who asked for it. He wasn’t afraid of brahman’s criticism that the uninitiated are not allowed to sing Vedic anthems. He was concerned about complete oblivion of Vedas among people and tried hard to retain Vedas by all means. In 1999 under the aegis of Krishnamacharya-yoga-mandir a special Vedavani centre was opened for teaching Vedas singing. During the ceremony of its opening, Deshikachar claimed (referring to his father’s authority) that if it is impossible to restore the ancient forms of teaching, it is necessary to prevent the spiritual fullness of tradition from disappearing.

Krishnamacharya never treated Hatha-Yoga covering asana and pranayama as exclusively the system of physical exercises. Yoga in all its forms meant for him the activity leading to liberation and re-communion with God. On the path to complete freedom, one needs strong will and ability to work constantly, whereas a week body deflects one’s attention with its sufferings from thinking of God.

Yoga calls for enlarging the human ability to intrude into the essence of things, and asanas are also aimed at achieving the same purpose while preparing the body for the change of perception parameters. As a result, not just health restore is supposed but qualitative physical transformation. According to Krishnamacharya’s idea, asana practice itself embodies the principle svad’hyaya and allows to perfect the ability to self-consciousness.

As for pranayama, it should be noticed that, in his searches of a particular approach to each pupil, Krishnamacharya always used the energy of breathing. He stated that pranayama is rooted in asana: only doing asanas in combination with certain techniques results in getting pranayama. And visa versa, by means of changing the methods and length of breathing, while combining asanas and breath rhythm, it is possible to change the poses so that they satisfy the needs of the practitioner.

It was Krishnamacharya who brought the bhavana idea to the practice of pranayama: breath-in is inspiration from God, and breath-out is immersion into God, giving oneself to the Supirior Will. Thus, there is the overlapping of practice stages: pranayama starts in asana, and dhyana (meditation) starts in pranayama.

Pratyahara, dharana, dh’yana and Samadhi were considered by Krishnamacharya in combination. Understanding Hatha-Yoga as sadhana (spiritual practice), he stated that an ordinary human being needs certain forms and images. Therefore he considered a brahman’s visit to his house as the visit of God and tried to observe carefully the domestic Hinduist rituals.

Such attitude to the spiritual practice transferred to his pupil Aiengar who became the first teacher in XX century and made the wisdom of ‘Yoga-sutras’ accessible to ordinary people of all social layers as he interpreted the superior Yoga states by means of analogy to the practice of Yoga poses.

While developing his Teacher’s ideas Aiengar compared the body with a bow, asana with an arrow, soul with the target. When asana works, the practitioner loses the feeling of difference between the ideal form of asana and his own body all the cells of which reunite with yhe essence of its being, and in this way he acquires the Unity with himself that corresponds to the superior form of Yoga – Samadhi.

In his school Aiegar made the practice asana ideal. Another famous Krishnamacharya’s pupil, Pattabhi Joice, became famous for teaching Yoga poses united into special complexes when asanas are accompanied with vinyasamas (dynamic transpositions). Joice leant those sequences under Krishnamacharya’s direction and further was developing this particular aspect of Krishnamacharya’s Yoga.

Curing diseases by Ayurveda and Yoga methods was the most important direction during the last period of Krishnamacherya’s activity. As during all his life patients suffering from numerous illnesses came to him, the tradition of currentreception has been continuing in the Krishnamacharya-Yoga-mandir so far.

Despite the difference in methods and interpretations of Yoga terms, both Svami Shivananda and Krishnamacharya served as the live Yogis examples for the whole world because they realized spiritual potential and helped the surrounding relieve their sufferings and achieve the superior aim declared in Patandjali’s ‘Yoga-Sutras’ as \yoga-samathi’.

So, in early XXI century interest to classical and new Yoga studies is continuously growing.Yoga is growing in world popularity and the vast number of fans in the East and West.

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