|Year : 2021 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 8-15
Understanding the concept of mind and mindful awareness according to Indian scriptures
Manasa R Rao, TM Srinivasan, Ravi Kumar Itagi
Division of Yoga and Physical Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA University), Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
|Date of Submission
|Date of Acceptance
|Date of Web Publication
Ms. Manasa R Rao
Division of Yoga and Physical Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (S-VYASA University), #19, ‘Eknath Bhavan’, Gavipuram Circle, Kempegowda Nagar, Bengaluru - 560 019, Karnataka
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
A human being is like a miniature world. By tuning inward, one can unravel the nature of the universe. The goal of human existence has been to harness and train the citta (mind) from time immemorial. Tracing back, Indian scriptures have references that guide us toward creating a mindful awareness. It elucidates mindful awareness as a practicable mode of being. Practice of pratyāhāra, accentuates mastery over sensory perceptions and citta's reaction to them. This is precisely why pratyāhāra can be a potent tool in comprehending citta that is caught in a web of thoughts. Citta is constantly grappling the deeply ingrained fear of – defeat, doubt, and uncertainty. By incorporating the practice of pratyāhāra, one can put to rest the elements of disturbance, distraction, and distortion of the perception of reality. In contrary to the concept of mindfulness that is prevalent in the clinical interventions, this study expounds the concept of mindful awareness as a means to transcend citta embarking on the practice of pratyāhāra. Here, the concept of pratyāhāra is explored with excerpts from the Bhagavadgītā, Yogasūtra, and Yoga Vāsiṣṭha, that lucidly show that mindful awareness can be embedded into everyday living with the practice of: stabilizing the citta, samatvam (reaching a state of equanimity), ātmavicāra (self-inquiry), vairāgya (renouncing of mental impressions), karma yoga (renouncing the fruits of the one's own action), control of prāṇa (restraint of the life-force) all of which fundamentally lead to the most dynamic technique of pratyāhāra (tuning inward), thereby bringing about mindful awareness.
Keywords: Bhagavadgītā, mindful, prāṇa, pratyāhāra, yogasūtra, yoga
|How to cite this article:
Rao MR, Srinivasan T M, Itagi RK. Understanding the concept of mind and mindful awareness according to Indian scriptures. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2021;9:8-15
|How to cite this URL:
Rao MR, Srinivasan T M, Itagi RK. Understanding the concept of mind and mindful awareness according to Indian scriptures. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2021 [cited 2024 Feb 21];9:8-15. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2021/9/1/8/311403
In order to fathom the state of mindful awareness, it becomes essential to comprehend what mind is. Is mind – matter, energy, a field or an emotional state? When was it exactly created? Or who created it? Is it timeless? The answers are beyond our ken. Most of the scientific literature, particularly conventional psychology consider mind as an epiphenomenon of the brain. The seat of the mind being the brain, often, the term consciousness and mind are considered synonymous. However, in the Indian system, there is a co-existence between the stream of philosophy and psychology. Mind and consciousness are fundamentally distinct.
The earliest of the philosophy to have emerged from the vedic corpus through logical reasoning is Sage Kapila's Sāṁ…khya. Sāṁ…khya philosophy has outlined a systematic structure of creation, comprising of 25 tattvās or evolutes. It propounds that the phenomenal universe is of a dynamic order and is an eternal process of unfolding/enfolding, without a beginning or an end. The consciousness principle coupled with existence becomes puruṣa (the conscious spiritual-energy principle) and the existence principle, without consciousness becomes prakṛi (the nonconscious material-energy principle). These are the two eternally co-existent principles that are beyond time, space, and thought, they are without difference, attribute, and form. Puruṣa and prakṛi constitute the transcendental level or source of evolution. The subjective fields are the ten indriyās (five karmendriya/capacities for action along with five jñānendriyās/capacities for perception), manas (analytical process), ahaṁ…kāra (cosmic ego), and mahat/buddhi (cosmic intelligence). The objective fields are the five tanmātrās (subtle elements) and the five mahābhūtās (gross elements). The process of evolution occurs at two levels – the inner and the outer. Puruṣa is pure cit or consciousness. Antaḥkarṇa (consisting of the trio – buddhi, ahaṁ…kāra, and manas wherein, Sage Patañjali adds the component of citta to this) is due to the reflection of the ātman in prakṛi, which is composed of three gṇās (constituents): sattva (purity), rajas (activity), and tamas (insensibility).
According to Sāṁ…khya, out of prakṛi emerges mahat or buddhi; from buddhi emerges ahaṁ…kāra; from ahaṁ…kāra emerges, the manas and ten organs of sense and action. Thus, the antaḥkarṇa chatuṣṭaya, i.e., buddhi (niścayātmikam – intellect that decides), ahaṁ…kāra (that which identifies everything with itself), manas (saṁ…kalpa vikalpātmikam – mind that thinks), and citta (dhāraṇatmikam – that which remembers past) are the functional modes of the mind. The mind is used for all these four aspects: Citta, manas, buddhi, and ahaṁ…kāra operate either simultaneously or in succession. They also divide the mind into understanding, feeling, and willing. They operate with the assistance of the ten indriyās.
Manas is regarded as both an organ of sense and an organ of action, for the reason that it directs the activities of both kinds of organs. Manas moves out of its resting place (place of residence) through the five senses to take the form of an object/thought and creates a panaroma of the world around us that we react to. An unsteady citta alienates us from seeking that ultimate truth. To still, the unsteady citta beyond the building blocks of our core conditioning with its multitudinous nature is the goal of yoga. Mindful awareness is both a state of citta and a practice to negotiate with its wandering tendencies. Indian scriptures illustrate means to accomplish this. The references from Indian texts – Yogasūtra, Bhagavadgīta, and Yoga Vāsiṣṭha are enumerated here.
| Mindful Awareness According to the Yogas̄utra of Sage Patañjali
Kapila's Sāṁ…khya is the metaphysics and Patañjali's yoga is the method (sādhana). In his work on the Yogasūtra of Patañjali, Georg Feuerstein says that, Patañjali is visible proof for the fact that mysticism can be approached rationally and that, equally importantly, contemplative interests and intellectual pursuits can be fruitfully combined in one person.
Focusing on the aspect of mindful awareness according to Yogasūtra, what shines forth is Sage Patañjali's design of familiarizing us, to the primary obstacles/antarāyaḥ that help us in leaping beyond these hurdles (of the citta) with an awareness of their existence. As mentioned, the text spells out that, in the course of progress, there could be certain impediments that invariably hinder and disturb citta (citta vikṣepa), and they are:
vyādhistyānasaṁśayapramādālasyāviratibhrāntidarśanālabdhabhūmikatvānavasthitatvāni cittavikṣepāste'ntarāyāḥ ||PYS. 1.30||
Sickness, incompetence, doubt, delusion, mental and physical fatigue, inability to withdraw from the sense cravings, false visions, inability to reach the goal, and inability to retain it all these throw our citta outward. These distractions are the impediment.
The nine obstacles can be classified into four categories – physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual. Vyādhi and styāna are physical obstacles: saṁśaya, pramāda, ālasya, and avirati are mental obstacles; bhrāntidarśana is an intellectual obstacle; while alabdhabhūmikatva and anavasthitatva are spiritual in nature. Most times, these hindrances occur subsequently, at varying degrees. Even the finest practitioners/sādhakās encounter one/many of these obstacles, at some point in time. In the process of defending, these obstacles that upset our body and citta, considerable amount of resources collapse that could otherwise be channelized toward a higher purpose. Beyond these barriers, Sage Patañjali indicates a group of five more obstacles – kleśās.
avidyāsmitārāgadveṣābhiniveśāḥkleśāḥ ||PYS. 2.3||
Misapprehension about the real nature of things, egoism, attachment, aversion, and fear of death are the five afflictions or kleśās.
The breeding ground for all obstacles or modifications is avidya (ignorance), and the rest of the kleśās follows it. Kleśās are either prasupti (dormant that awakens with an appropriate stimulus), tanu (attenuated or one that is thinned by Kriyā yoga), vicchinna (interrupted/suppressed by other kleśās) or udāra (active). As the burnt seed does not sprout again, so does the kleśās weaken with the practice of concentration (eka tattva abhyāsa). The dark and heavy qualities of tamas and the agitated citta of the rajas will also get nullified in the process facilitating further progress. With this understanding of the afflictions, here is a glance upon certain practices in mindful awareness (to tackle the modifications of the citta) that are referred to in the Yogasūtra.
maitrīkarṇāmuditopekṣāṇāṁsukhaduḥkhapṇyāpṇyaviṣayāṇāṁbhāvanātaścittaprasādanam ||PYS. 1.33||
In the worldly relationships, the citta becomes subtler and subtler by cultivating of right attitude of friendliness toward those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill toward those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality toward those we perceive as wicked or evil.
Sailing through life, we encounter four types of people – those who are happy, those who are miserable, those who are virtuous, and also those who are vicious. However, by adopting a sublime attitude toward them, as indicated in this sūtra, one remains dynamic while interacting with this material world. Nonetheless, the burden of past tendency is the greatest impediment. Sage Patañjali brings awareness to the fact that, the way out of the negative thoughts is not through suppression. Instead, when citta is entertained with thoughts of negative sentiments, one needs to detach from the thought, substitute a positive thought and then bring about a sublimation of the negative thought in succession - pratipakṣa bhāvanam. Constant adherence and vigilance are crucial in preventing slipping back to the natural tendencies. Further, Sage Patañjali also presents us with practical methods of conscious re-alignment of the citta by moving beyond the mundane to a higher value of vairāgya.
dṛṣṭānuśravikaviṣayavitṛṣṇasyavaśīkārasaṁjñāvairāgyam || PYS. 1.15||
When the citta loses desire even for objects seen or described in a tradition or in scriptures, it acquires a state of utter desirelessness (vaśīkāra), that is called non-attachment (vairāgya).
Vairāgya, is not merely, turning away from a craving or becoming indifferent, rather a total mastery and control. Vairāgya as a practice also focuses on clearing the citta of vāsanās or strong habits. This practice decolorizes the citta and brings it to a state where the citta remains unaffected by thoughts, deeds, and action. Vaśīkāra or the desirelessness is attained by the discriminatory knowledge (vivekakyāti) and reflection (nidhidhyāsana) over the demerits of the objects of the world. A careful distinction between the indispensable and the dispensable, the essential and the trivial, is the principle of vivekakyāti, which in turn internalizes the practice of vaśīkāra. Although yoga is a union, here, Sage Patañjali also injects us with the idea that, it is as much a union as it is a disunion or viyoga. It is disunion from all the afflictions that create the shades of modifications in the citta. As he puts it, the impurities/obstacle/afflictions can be shattered solely by diligent practice. With the afflictions being addressed, the further ascent to the state of mindful awareness remains in the core practice of indriyanigraha or withdrawal of the indriyās/sense perception.
svaviṣayāsaṁprayogecittasvarūpānukāraivendriyāṇāṁpratyāhāraḥ || PYS. 2.54||
The mental organs of senses and actions (indriyās) cease to be engaged with the corresponding objects in their mental realm, and assimilate or turn back into the mind-field from which they arose is called pratyāhāra and is the fifth step (in the eight-limbed/aṣtāṁ…ga yoga).
Sensory activities are withdrawn from the objects and the senses begin to imitate the citta. The senses imitate the nature of the citta, when the citta pause so does the senses. Thus, the state of mindful awareness is created by the suspension of activities of the citta while retracting the senses. Pratyāhāra, is thus, fundamental in the path of renunciation.
At every level, the things that need to be renounced are in a perpetual flux, the practice of pratyāhāra is being in a ceaseless process of perpetual vigilance, of the senses and its objects. Pratyāhāra is the sublimation of the citta and the senses. Consciousness becomes far more sensitive when it detaches from the senses. The practices of pratyāhāra free our conscious awareness from old patterns and habitual thinking. The senses follow the citta like bees follow the queen bee, explains Vyāsa in his commentary on the Yogasūtra.
Weighing the appropriate and the inappropriate, the real and the unreal, employing the intuitive forces, withdrawing the citta from the clutches of the sense experience and channelizing the organs of perception to an object at will, is the mastery over mindful awareness through the practice of pratyāhāra. With this recalibration, one can expect a smooth sail through the hustle of the mechanical life. Although compact and cryptic, the sūtrās cited above resonates with the fact that, they have immense practical utility in disciplining the citta which always thinks of mastering the external world. Sage Patañjali, with his finesse, enchants us with his mode of mastering the citta to gain access not to the external world but to tap that immense ocean of dynamic intelligence, happiness, and freedom within.
| Mindful Awareness According to the Bhagavadgītā
The song of the God is veritably the most beloved scripture of India. The comprehensive dialogue between the Bhagavān and his preceptor, with its 700 verses is endeared for being as much philosophical as it is psychological in its spirit. Although being a tiny part of Mahabhārata, this Smṛi text, is revered on par with Upaniṣad. While all other philosophies were given either in a forest, temple, or a cave, the Bhagavān chooses the tumultuous battlefield of Kurukṣetra to expound his universal message on the science and art of human possibilities. In his work, the essence of the Bhagavadgītā, Swami Kriyananda says, this body is a battlefield. Allegorically, the opposing armies here represent the opposition within every unenlightened human being, between his upward tendencies (good qualities) and downward tendencies (evil tendencies).
Self-preservation is the very basic instinct of life. As reflected in the Gītā of the Bhagavān, the conflict of this life at its deepest core is not of an ambition, it is for the accomplishment of – righteousness. A greater triumph of good over evil, within! Then, how does one leap beyond the opposing forces and the dualities that frequent the citta? How does one gain victory over the five senses (Pāṇdavās) as opposed to the hundred varied desires (Kauravās) that cloud the citta incessantly? The desire or sense inclinations are steadily backed by the blinded sense of the citta (as in Dhrtarāṣtra, the father of the Kauravās). As each person fights his/her own battle with their senses and the citta, the Bhagavān rescues us repeatedly with his words of wisdom. Here, discussed are a few verses by the Bhagavān himself that can be clinged on to, dwelled upon and practiced every moment to find samatvam/balance/equilibrium/a state of mindful awareness.
A citta that gets identified with sense sensation is unable to differentiate between its own happiness and the pleasures of its senses. With the practice of pratyāhāra, citta concentrates on its own real joy, then the pleasures of the senses seem repugnant.
indriyāṇīndriyārthebhyastasyaprajñāpratiṣṭhitā || B.G. 2.58||
When the yogi, like a tortoise withdrawing its limbs, can fully retire his senses from the objects of perception, his wisdom manifests steadiness.
This capacity of an individual to withdraw his senses at will from the fields-of-objects is called in yoga śāstra as pratyāhāra which the yogin accomplishes through prāṇāyāma (control of breath). Restraint of the sense organs is called dama while the restraint of the internal organ, as in the citta is called sama. Restraining the organs of the sense and action (jñānendriya and karmendriya) by the employing the citta's capacity of reasoning is called pratyāhāra. Craving creates new challenges and new temptations all the time. Only with the uprooting of the cravings, the knowledge of one's own nature as the infinite ātman gets revealed. In order to be on guard from the predatory senses, a physical renunciation must go hand in hand with the mental renunciation. Else, the mounting desires obstruct, agitate, and delude the citta. If both cause and consequences are actions (karma) then one has to move toward unburdening the merits and the demerits of its outcome that continually bind.
navadvāre pure dehīnaivakurvannakārayan || B.G. 5.13||
The embodied soul, controller of senses, having mentally relinquished all activities, remain blissfully in the bodily city of nine gates - neither performing actions itself nor making others (the senses) to perform actions.
In other words, total withdrawal of the senses is achieved by one who practices pratyāhāra. It is not simply the controlling or subjucating the senses; the senses may still see, hear, feel, etc., external objects; however, there is nullification of participation and one becomes observer of events of the world through changes in gṇās resulting in the state of pratyāhāra.
lipyatenasapāpenapadmapatramivāmbhasā|| B.G. 5.10||
As the lotus leaf remain untouched or unaffected by the water, so does a yogi who acts without attachment, offering his actions to the divine, his self remains unaffected by the sensory perceptions.
As far as the citta is active, it must attach to something. Therefore, detachment from the false can be successful only when we attach ourselves to the real. To detach from the sensory system is the fundamental step toward unravelling the inherent potentialities of the citta. The process of mindful awareness commences with this practice. With the practice of pratyāhāra one can master the sensory perceptions and with the practice of karma yoga one can fine tune actions of the inner and the outer world by surrendering it to a higher source of consciousness. That way, both these practices need to be integrated such that one finds the highest state of equanimity. Passing through the phases of life, with changing seasons, what we are to the world outside of us is but a reflection of what we are within ourselves.
yuktaityucyateyogīsamaloṣṭāśmakāñcanaḥ ||B.G. 6.8||
The yogi who is satisfied with knowledge and wisdom, stays unshaken, to whom a lump of earth, a stone and gold are the same, is said to be harmonized (i.e., is said to have attained nirvikalpa samādhi).
Such a yogi is free from all the charms and temptations of the external world and remains in self-delight. The joy he finds is not temporary. In the ordinary world, we see individuals nourishing their sensory attractions endlessly. As they say, God always provides for our needs and not for our greed. In reality, sensory satisfaction has zero value beyond the sensory level of this human life and that's precisely what the Bhagavān is pointing to us in this verse. Such a process of equanimity is not forced upon but occur naturally with reasoning. In order to reach that state, one has to fashion their inner world with calmness, such that they become open and receptive to the happiness to flow in aplenty. Nevertheless, for this to manifest, one need not have to isolate oneself from the varied stimulus of the external world. The honing of the practice lies in being here and now.
| Mindful Awareness According to Yoga Vāsiṣṭha
In the Bhagavadgītā (a conversation from dvāparayuga) Arjuna is a seeker, the Bhagavān is his guru whereas, in Yoga Vāsiṣṭha (a conversation from tretāyuga) the Bhagavān himself is a seeker, Ṛṣi Vasiṣṭa is his guru. Being one of the earliest and vivid scripture on the Vedānta, Yoga Vāsiṣṭha is a conversation between Lord Rāma and Ṛṣi Vasiṣṭa in the form of 32000 couplets whose writership is attributed to Ṛṣi Vālmiki, the author of Rāmāyaṇa. However, this colossal work was summarized as Laghu Yoga Vāsiṣṭha into 4829 couplets by Gauda Abhinanda. Analyzing the mind, its notions and its reasoning, Yoga Vāsiṣṭha is a user's manual that elucidate the timeless truth in a purāṇic way of storytelling to dispel the sorrow of Lord Rāma.
Here, discussed are the verses on pratyāhāra, ātmavicāra, renunciation of vāsanās and control of prāṇa to fathom mindful awareness, from this revered and extensive text.
yatra nābhyuditaṁcittaṁtadvesukhaṁanuttamam ||Y.V.23.6||
By complete restraint of mental impressions (knowledge derived from memory) and the prāṇa/vital air/bio-energy, make manas steadfastly fixed. Where citta (the seat of memory) does not oscillate, that indeed is unsurpassed happiness.
For everlasting peace and eternal bliss, nullification of vāsanās (deep imprinted mental impressions) and ahaṁ…kāra (ego) is pivotal. Endowing oneself with - śānti (quiescence of mind), santoṣa (contentment), satsaṁ…ga (association with sages), and vicāra (self-enquiry) as suggested by Sage Vasiṣṭa, one becomes crucial in aligning toward perfection. Thus, mindful awareness is a ramification of such a state of cognizance. In order to reach such a state, the practice of pratyāhāra should be synchronous to self-enquiry or ātmavicāra.
svātmatatvavicāro hi cittabījasyanaśakaḥ || Y.V.1.9||
The mental impressions are the various branches yielding diverse fruits. Just cutting off the branches is subordinate (or indirect). The foremost (requisite) is the cutting off the roots. The investigation (or inquiry) into the nature of one's own self is alone destructive of the seed of the citta.
An inner dialog or introspection brings us closer to the various functions of antaḥkaraṇa (manas, buddhi, ahaṁ…kāra, and citta). Thereby, it assists us in resolving the conflicts that arise when the seeker is under the clutches of the old habit patterns that are grueling to the citta. Collaborating with vicāra helps us weigh the sense pleasures and calming the roaming tendency of the citta with utmost wisdom. With practice it also unravels the transient nature of the existence. By embracing the ceaseless process of self-enquiry, one unravels the eclipsed vāsanās and its mysterious ways that frequently surfaces to deceive the human mind. Thus, it becomes necessary to abandon something transient to attain that which is eternal.
Whatever are the pains or impediments to progress that arise in the citta, one can keep oneself firmly grounded by being the observer of the thoughts that arise and by bringing in awareness into the present moment, keeps one firmly grounded. While prāṇa is grosser than the citta, it is subtler than the body. Manifesting itself as mental power, it can only be controlled by mental means. Wherever there is prāṇa, there is citta also. Hence, along with the rejection of the mental impressions one has to resort to disciplining the prāṇa. With self-enquiry, as one recognizes and prepares to discard the vexing latent impressions one can latch on to grasping movement of prāṇa.
Wise men call citta as having the movement dependent on prāṇa (or vital air). When the prāṇa is controlled, the citta certainly becomes tranquil.
Prāṇa is the core and the essence of life and it flows through everything that exists and permeates the entire universe. The breath is truly a vehicle for prāṇa. The four means for controlling the citta are - the cognition of the supreme, the association with the wise, the renunciation of the painful vāsanās and the control of the fluctuation of prāṇa. Persons who resort to other means than these to control the citta, are like those who, having turned their face from the light, try to dispel darkness through darkness itself.
| Significance of Mindful Awareness
A clouded citta is a serious threat in establishing the present moment awareness. The mind plays a double (dvandva) role. Its role is to connect the ten organs (indriyās), on the one hand, and, on the other, to connect the intelligence, consciousness, and core. This dual role affects the citta so that it plays a double game. Thus, pratyāhāra, is a practice of indriyajaya – mastery over the senses. Pratyāhāra commences with the quietening of the citta and withdrawing of the senses.
More often, it is an undisciplined citta which is a victim of the messages brought to it by the senses. As humans, we sometimes reflect with a purpose and other times completely goalless. Sometimes, we are rational and other times utterly irrational; sometimes compelling and other times totally vague. Sometimes, the thoughts are guided by love and at other times, hugely by hatred. This rolling mental movement creates impressions (saṁskārās) that are so potent that it dictates the individual's citta. The vṛti saṁskārā cakra or the wheel of thoughts with the subtle impressions that it creates has been spinning since the origin of the human mind. The ancient scriptures, as explained above, expounds that in order to attain mastery over this wheel of thoughts the practice of pratyāhāra (withdrawal of the senses) can be a fundamental tool.
As illustrated above, the excerpts from the Bhagavadgītā, Yogasūtra, and Yoga Vāsiṣṭha, lucidly show that the mode of being with mindful awareness can be embedded into the everyday living with the practice of: stabilizing the citta, reaching a state of equanimity, through self-inquiry, by renouncing of mental impressions, renouncing the fruits of the one's own action, by the control of prāṇa and fundamentally by the most dynamic technique of pratyāhāra (tuning inward). These practices are incredibly interconnected. Incorporating just one of these methods means to align oneself to the mode of being in mindful awareness [Figure 1].
|Figure 1: Flow diagram depicting confluence of the each path toward mindful awareness
Click here to view
The vicious circle of innate subtle impressions that gets heavily ingrained, agitate the citta in response to anything less than an expected outcome. An agitated mind lacks clarity and concentration. Restoring and refining the inner luminosity by shattering the mental fabrications that pose a barrier is the goal of the yogic practices. By incorporating yogic technique of pratyāhāra as a way of life, one can possibly put to rest the elements of disturbance, distraction, and distortion of the perception of reality.
| Future Directions
The concepts proposed in this study intends to encourage future research in contemplative sciences to perceive mind not just as an umbrella term that consolidates multiple traditions and meanings. Moving beyond the unitary dimension can provide a broader framework to design and examine specific models for each dimension of the mind independently. Furthermore, the effect of each of the above-mentioned paths toward pratyāhāra on mindful awareness can be further explored.
The current study suggests that the mind has multi-functional layers to it and citta can possibly be transcended with the practice of pratyāhāra. It is pratyāhāra which helps in cultivating a comprehensive mindful awareness, thereby maintaining a comfortable inner environment that enhances clarity of thought and action.
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