- Mystical philosophy of antiquity
Mystical philosophy is an aspect of
philosophythat places emphasis on faithand spirituality, rather than the scientific or rationalistic way of thinking exhibited in other aspects of philosophy.
Talking about definitions of mystical philosophy, as well as the
mysticismin general, one must emphasize that their unequivocal defining is impracticable, just as it goes for terms like consciousness, spirit, soul and similar. In wider sense, we could reckon for mystical each philosophy that brings into the focus faith and neglects the science and rationalistic way of thinking. Nevertheless, in the history of philosophythere have been many philosophers whose teaching included both. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to delimit the field of mysticism in philosophy and that one in religion, because of their total interlacement, in all religious systems. Likewise, it is hard to tell philosophic from the poetic mysticism, because many mystical philosophers have been at the same time writers and poets, especially those from Eastern philosophies and religions. For all that, mystical philosophy could be determined more specifically as one which anywise speaks about the union of man with the divinity, in a mystical trance or ecstasy.
Persian philosopher and preacher
Zarathustra(7th century BC) is probably the first mystical philosopher in history. His preaching seems to be more permeated with abstract philosophical, then religious thoughts. Prophet Zarathustra taught that this world is good in its essence, but the attacks of Ahriman do corrupt him.
People have their personal responsibility to choose between good and evil, and according to their free will in choice they make, they will be judged on the other world. In
Zoroastrism, there is the cosmic battle between good and evil, which will last for three thousand years, according to the prophecy; after that, the evil will be destroyed, and Ahriman disabled, and then will take place the renewal of the creation. The earth and heaven will be merged then, to create what is best in both worlds. That would be, in short, the teaching of Zoroastrism.
"Avesta" is the sacred book of Zoroastrism. In the most part of the book prophet Zarathustra is represented in a mythical manner, as a man endowed by supernatural powers. However, closer to the real figure is part of the book that includes his eulogies, gatha. They are most likely authentic Zarathustra's words, in distinction from the rest of "Avesta", where the words are only ascribed to the prophet.
In the eulogies gatha, Zarathustra points at divine mystical tradition and he yearns for acquirement of the divine knowledge. He teaches that achievement of wholeness and immortality leads to enlightenment, where one can get the knowledge of God alone. The relation between man and God is based upon love. To achieve the pure love of God, it is necessary to have in mind Zarathustra's words: «I yearn for your figure and union with you, come to me alone and grow inside me». From these quotes, of the sacred book of Zoroastrism, one can see the importance of mysticism for this religion. The purpose of man is, according to that, that he, by good thought, fairness and piety, through the perfection of his being unites himself with God.
Ancient Greek Philosophy
Philosopher and mathematician
Pythagoras(b.570 BC) founded a quite particular community, of scientific and religious-mystical character, in Kroton in southern Italy, in the second half of the 6th century BC. Belief of Pythagoras included few basic principles, among others, for example, that the reality is on its deepest level of mathematical nature; that philosophy is the mean of spiritual purification; that soul can ascend to the union with divinity (in what is reflected the mystical character of their philosophy); that certain symbols have mystical meaning, and that all members of brotherhood have to obey strictly the rules of loyalty and secrecy.
Pythagoras believed that all the relations in the universe can be reduced to relation between numbers. His famous saying is: «All things are numbers». According to Pythagoras, opposite to changeable things of experience, mathematical conceiving contents mark timeless, perennial, immovable, axiomatic characteristics.
Socrates(b. 469 BC) we do not possess any written work, because he considered that book cannot be a substitution for the live conversation.Fact|date=February 2008 We can reach his thought in the indirect way, through the writings of Plato, Xenophont and Aristotle. Socrates' character is best depicted through Plato's early dialogues like Apology or Crito. Socrates was the opponent of sophists and their relativism of truth. In relation to philosophers of the nature, he brought into the focus man and ethics. Socrates' rationalistic ethics relies on divine mystical inner voice, daimon, a voice that rules over our lives' actions.
Socrates' theses were worked out by his most famous disciple
Plato(b. 427 BC) according to many, the greatest of the philosophers of the classical period. As the Encyclopédie des mystiques (The Encyclopedia of Mystics) quotesFact|date=February 2008, a mystical thread draws through the whole Plato's work, as a solution and final response to the central problem of man. Mystical elements are present in some works to a greater, and in some works to a lesser degree. Works especially characterized by their mysticism are "Parmenides", "Phaedrus", "Timaeus" and probably most of all it is Symposium.
The work "Parmenides" has an essential importance for the later mystical philosophy, in the first place for the
Neo-Platonism. The central problem is the One, universal cause of everything. Plato's Parmenides, when discussing beings, considers that they have their essence from the One. Plato's mysticism does not comprehend the union of man with the supreme god-Creator, but the whole relation between the deity and man, in actual existence or in dreams, happens through the semi-divine, to wit Eros. The god of love represents a bind between the mortal and immortal, whereas love in itself is the amalgamation of opposites.
Hellenist Period and Neo-Platonism
By the end of the 2nd century Rome loses its primacy of the leading town in the Empire, and in that time are founded two philosophical schools in Alexandria. One is Christian, under the leadership of Pantenus, while the other, Neo-Platonic, was founded by
In addition to Christians and Neo-Platonists, in Alexandria was also influential the sect of
Gnostics. Influences of Gnostics especially are expressed in works of Clement of Alexandria(b. around 150 AD), philosopher who replaced Pantenus on the head of the Christian catechetic school, about 190 AD. Clement considered Gnostics real and true admirers of God, that aspire toward the greatest achievable similarity with God and Christ.
Clement's most important philosophical work is trilogy that consists of three books under titles "Protrepticus", "Paedagogus" and "Stromata". In "Stromata" he quotes the thought of Plato; that we could get near to God, by being as similar to him as possible, which includes, beside faith, also a continuous thirst for knowledge. He, who had reached the heights of perfection, when man is not overcome with passions anymore, he is united with God, and in some mysterious way he becomes one with him.
As the head of the Christian catechetic school Clement was replaced by
Origen(born in 185 in Alexandria). Later, he will become surely the greatest Christian Hellenistic philosopher. His undoubted philosophic greatness was admired even by some of the prominent Hellenistic Pagan philosophers, like Porphyry. One of the most important concepts of Origen's philosophy is the universal restoration of all souls (apokatastasis).
This teaching was based upon Holy Scripture, as well as Hellenistic philosophy. The first traces can be perceived yet by
Heraclitus, who held that «beginning and the end are common». Origen has not pictured salvation only for the elected, who will rejoice in heaven, while others suffering in hell, but as reunion of all the created souls in God.
Origen was the greatest Christian philosopher of the Hellenistic period; among the Pagan philosophers the primacy for sure belongs to
Plotinus(b. 205), Greek philosopher whose name is connected with the renewal of Platonism. Some consider Plotinus as true and pure originator of the mystical philosophy, probably because his complete philosophical work possess the trait of mysticism, more than possessed any other of his predecessors.
Neo-Platonisminfluenced the entire later European mysticism, including the Christian mysticismas well. Plotinus, in accord with the Platonic doctrine, holds that sensible things are in fact conceptions of their respective objects in the sphere of the intelligible, which are pure and eternal. Sensible matter is accordingly only the copy of the original intelligible matter.
In Plotinus system, nature is a consequence of a collective experience of each individual soul. Since nature of the higher part of the soul is such, that she must remain in contemplative touch with the Intelligence, it is not possible for her to descend to the depths of differentiation on the level of matter. Soul must accordingly divide herself in one part which is contemplative, and the other, that is generative, and rules over acting. According to this, nature and essence of all the intelligible beings that come from the One is double - concerning the Intelligence, to her belongs the capability of knowledge or contemplation of the One; on the other hand the Soul possess the faculty of contemplating the Intelligence, as well as giving the active form to ideas that follow from the contemplation.
Porphyry(b. 233) is considered mainly as an important continuator of Plotinus' work and promoter of Hellenistic Neo-Platonism, rather than as an original thinker. But yet this attitude we can accept only conditionally, since of the extensive philosopher's work came to us only the smaller part of his scripts, while to a number of his works an insufficient attention has been paid.
In distinction from Plotinus, who rejected traditional Greek religion, as well as Christianity, Porphyry was in that respect conservative, trying to preserve ancient Pagan view on man's modest role in cosmic hierarchy. This position gave to Porphyry basis for the faith in astrology, therefore in doctrine, according to which stars and planets make influence on man and his life. Knowledge of the acting of heavenly bodies in man, according to him was necessary for gaining ever higher levels of virtue. Porphyry believed that soul receives certain powers from each planet that enable to gain knowledge of either terrestrial or heavenly things.
Astrology, in the context of Neo-Platonic philosophy represents a mixture of religious and mythological mysticism. The teaching about the influence of stars and planets on the entire life on Earth has in its foundations belief, that stars possess divine souls. This belief has been transmitted from Plato ("Laws", Book X) on, and through Stoics it reached Hellenist Neo-Platonists. According to Plato, soul is one which rules over the heaven and earth, as well as over the entire universe. But, each single planet and star possess their own individual souls. As souls have in themselves contained excellence and perfections of all kinds, which are at the same time their causes, these souls are gods, deduced Plato.
In Egypt of the 3rd century most probably lived (some suppose in the second half), in addition to those aforementioned Neo-Platonic and Christian philosophers, the editor of Hermetic philosophical texts, known as
Hermetism is the first historically documented example of the touch between Greek tradition and Oriental wisdom. Syncretic character of Hermetic texts reflects itself in diversity and mutual permeating of fields like magic,
astrology, alchemy, Platonism, Stoicism, mysteries, and also Judaism, as well as Gnosticism. The core of Hermetic Gnosis represents a nostalgia for the primordial unity with God, in which is mostly expressed its mystical character. In distinction from Gnosticism, where is in the foreground Persian dualism, in Hermetic doctrine accent is put on Neo-Platonic monism, as the main characteristic of faith the idea of God as Father and Creator moved Hermetism closer to Christianity, and the message of truth is in Hermetic writings close to message of love in the Gospels.
With his opus
Iamblichus(b. around 250) succeeded in transforming originally pure intellectual Neo-Platonism of Plotinus to a more spiritualized form of Greek-Roman religious philosophy, which embraces myths, rituals and magic formulas. Of Iamblichus' entire work, there were preserved five books, which refer to "Collection of Pythagorean Thinking". From the works of mystical character important are "Life of Pythagoras", "Protrepticus", "De anima" and especially "De Mysteriis Aegiptiorum", philosopher's best known work. Of other works, that have been lost, of greatest importance is "Chaldean Theology."
Iamblichus' way toward divine is more hieratic then philosophical. So, he holds that not only the One, but all the gods and intermediary entities (angels, demons, heroes etc.) excel and transcend the individual soul, and one comes to salvation by invocation of superior beings. Ritual acts, by which this is achieved, Iamblichus calls
theurgy. The concept of theurgy is in fact connected with the idea of high magic, i.e. Divine magic, by which are invoked heavenly powers. The concept comes from the Greek word theos, which means «god» and ergon, which marks deed, work or action. Iamblichus considers theurgic acts as indispensable, because according to him, philosophy that is based upon human thoughts only, is not capable to come to that, which is beyond the borders of thought.
In distinction from Plotinus,
Proclus(b. 411) thinks that «each single soul, when descending into being, descends whole, and not in a way that one part remains above, and the other descends».
Proclus' teaching about vertical series, in which differing qualities of certain god (henades) are reflected on different levels, accordingly he gives divine attributes to planets and stars. By this astrological teaching he differs from Plotinus, and he is close to Porphyry and Iamblichus, who also consider that planets influence i-rational soul, as well as earthly bodies. Belief that stars have divine souls, of course do not originate from Neo-Platonists alone, but it has been transmitted for centuries, from Plato, through Stoics, up to Hellenistic philosophers.
By strange twist of fate Proclus’ work yet had influence on medieval philosophic thought, thanks to unknown Christian author, who had, in imitation of Proclus, made works of exceptional importance for Christian theology and philosophy. This mystical philosopher, who took name of
Dionysius Areopagite(a convert of St. Paul from Athens) is one of the most mysterious personalities in the history of mystical philosophy.
The opus of
Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite(5th century) consists of four treatises and ten letters. His work "Caelestis hierarchia" does develop the doctrine about the celestial hierarchy, which comprises nine choirs of angels, divided into three groups. The first triad includes seraphs, cherubs and thrones, the second virtues, domination and powers and the third principalities, archangels and angels.
Different choirs of angels, according to Pseudo-Dionysius, have lesser love and knowledge about God the more distant they are from him. Here is perceptible similarity with Proclus and his henades, whose position took over the angels supreme in hierarchy, while other orders replaced Proclus' nous and psyche.
His treatise with symbolic title, "Mystical Theology" is the first work in which concept of
mysticism(Greek mistikos – mysterious, sacramental) appears in a title of some philosopher's work. This short work has for its subject principles in connection with mystical union with God. Theologia mystica also for the first time mentions so called 'negative theology', the concept that will be taken over by Nicolas of Cues in 15th century.
Buddhist religionwas, already from the beginning oriented toward the mysticism. Buddhist mysticism begins with the moment of enlightenment of his founder, religious reformer Gauthama Buddha. It took place about 528 BC, in the north of India, in the place named Bodhi Gaya. Siddharta Gauthama (under that name he was born) started, in fact, to search after the knowledge in traditional Hindu way, and joined different spiritual teachers, who asserted that they know the way to freedom. Through continuous practice of yoga, Buddha aspired to the union of the self (atman) with the absolute (Brahman).
Patanjalilived most probably in 2nd century BC, although about his life, same as about his time of birth and birth place cannot be said anything reliable. Some scholars identify him with grammarian Patanjali, while others assert that they are two different persons. The reason for these indecisions is non-existence of any historiography in India, for the period that corresponds to European antiquity.
What can be said with certainty is that this Indian philosopher is the author of the greatest text of Yoga-school of Indian philosophy, "Yoga-sutras". However, he is not, as quotes
Mircea Eliadein his work "Yoga", the creator of the very philosophy of yoga, neither the inventor of yoga techniques; he just exposed in a written form the teaching that has been passed on orally, from generation to generation. Yogapostulates the existence of one God; the final cause is reached through the techniques of meditation (dhyana). Of the greatest importance in this system is the technique by which yogi controls himself, his passions and desires, and that is concentration (dharana). But, the whole system includes also the rules of inner and outer discipline, proper physical exercises asanas, regulated breathing (pranayama), control of feelings – pratyahara, which together with aforementioned techniques of concentration and meditation brings to a higher level of consciousness, which is samadhi, state that can be identified with Buddhist nirvana.
Renewal of mystical philosophy in 1st century has not caught only the territory of Roman Empire, but that happened also in India, in the form of
VajrayanaBuddhism. Buddhism divided itself very early in two main movements, Mahayana and Theravada. In course of time in Buddhism appeared many subgroups, and the first bigger was Vajra-yana, or 'Diamond Way'. Vajra (Diamond) is related to brightness of the most precious jewel in nature, by which is denoted a spiritual way to perfection, in this kind of Buddhist teaching. Vajrayana represented for Buddhists of the 1st century a new revelation in Buddha's doctrine. In the script Kalacakra-tantra it is recounted that king Sucandra went to Buddha and asked him for a kind of yoga that could save men from Kali-yuga (present age of disputes and decadence in human history). He was given an answer telling that cosmos exists in the very human body, he also got an explanation of the importance of sexuality and the way how to control the rhythm of time, by the discipline of breathing. The aim of Vajra-yana is transcendence through outer phenomena of things toward the state of emptiness where the individual is identified with the Absolute (Nirvana).
One of the greatest Buddhist philosophers,
Nagarjunalived in 2nd century (after some sources in the first half and after others in second half, on transition to 3rd century) and arises from the south of India, region of Andhra. Nagarjuna is the founder of Madhyamika philosophical school. Members of this school have opposed to Hinayana school of Sarvastivada, which asserted that given things (dharma) exist, i.e. possess the entity. Madhyamika philosophers considered that given things cannot have their own entity, because they were caused and they as well yield to transience. In other words, they are empty (Sunya). Thus, in the centre of this philosophical system is the teaching about emptiness (sunyata).
Buddhist mystical philosopher
Asanga(4th century), was founder of Yogacara (Consciousness-only) school of Mahayana Buddhism. According to the legend, Maitreya taught Asanga of Samadhi at Sunlight, and after he entered this state, the mystic gained complete understanding of Mahayana Sutras. Because in this teaching the emphasis was on non-dualism, and predominant role of the intelligence, from this springs the name of the school Yoga-Cara («Consciousness-Only»).
Taoismis philosophic teaching that originated in the 6th century BC. «Tao is the hidden warden of all things, it enriches the good and rejects the evil», says "Tao-te-king", book which was, according to the tradition, written by Lao-tzu(b. 604 BC) founder of this philosophic teaching.
Modern researchers of Taoism consider that Lao-tzu was the originator of the basic principles of this teaching, and also that his teaching was upgraded through several generations of his disciples until 4th century BC, when the work "Tao-te-king" got its final form.
The conception about the whole Taoist mystical philosophy revolves is the infinite mysterious Tao, says
Andrew Harvey, in his work "The Essential Mystics". The term «Tao» could be translated as the way or the principle of general happening. In the beginning it denoted the movement of celestial bodies around the Earth, and that regularity was understood as the cause and symbol of all the earthly happenings. «Tao» is, according to that, a kind of the absolute, but also some kind of energy, which emanates from that absolute, and of which all the matter generates.
In distinction from Taoists, who searched for the harmony between the individual and Tao, the followers of
Confucius(b. 551) aspired toward the harmony between the cosmic and social order. t is little preserved of original Confucius' scripts, because the followers of Confucius were persecuted, and writings destroyed, during the times of Chin state, from approximately 221 until 207 BC. Accordingly, today is not possible to extract Confucius' teachings in their primary form. However, to Confucius is ascribed the authorship of four works: "I Ching" (Book of Changes), "Shih Ching" (Poems), "Shu Ching" (Ancient Scripts) and "Chun Chiu" (Spring Annals and Autumn Annals, i.e. Chronicle of Lu State).
The Chinese sage has not concentrated his attention on philosophical-religious mysticism, but ethics, i.e. the term yen or humaneness. It is the general law that has to rule over the relations in family and in the state that is known in the form of «the Golden Rule» - «Do not do to the others, that you do not want others to do to you». However, in the primary Confucius' work the religious message is only implicitly contained. Only later followers, especially
Neo-Confucianism, upgraded the work of their famous teacher, in a mystical direction.
Chuang-Tzusurely contributed the most for the further development of Taoism, in 4th century BC; he is the younger contemporary of Plato, in the Far East. We have very little of reliable data about him, more precisely almost nothing, so it is considered that he lived in a certain period of time, between the years 399 and 295 BC. After him was named the book "Chuang-Tzu", but only the first seven chapters are considered to be authentic. The other, 'outer' chapters were written by thinkers of kindred, yet different theoretical directions. The action of those chapters is often developed on the basis of themes from Inner Chapters.
The style of Chuang-Tzu's writing is at the same time transcendental, and on the other hand, permeated by everyday life. In him there are united the peace of a wise man and movement through the world of a layman. A thin thread of mysticism which draws through his work is interlaced with its rational component. Chuang-Tzu had developed further teachings of the founder of Taoism Lao-Tzu, taking a mystical aspiration of the teacher, and adding to them a transcendental dimension.
Mencius, Hsun-Tse, and Wang Pi
The other Chinese philosopher of the 4th century BC,
Mencius(b. 372 BC, the continuator of Confucius' work), is better known for his teaching about ethics, government and social order, than for mysticism. For all that, as John Berthrongremarks in "World's Religions", book named after him can be understood only in the light of mysticism. Mencius namely tried to show that the very essence of Heavenly Way, the divine power of the universe, became the human nature. Religious message that was only implicitly contained in Confucius, by Mencius is manifested in a clear way, creating thus the image of the teacher of mysticism.
The next important continuator of the Confucian teaching was
Hsun-Tse. He was born about 310 BC in state Zhao, and he went to study to state Qi, when he was 15. The work of Hsun-Tse was to some extent under the influence of Taoism. For him, there is nothing higher than the transformation of man in harmony with natural order. Probably under the influence of Lao-Tse, Hsun-Tse saw the role of heaven as the accomplishment without acting and realization without seeking.
Chinese Neo-Taoist philosopher
Wang Pi, born in 226, was contemporary of Origen, Plotinus and Porphyry. Already in his youth he manifested his genius, and in a lifetime shorter than 24 years, he succeeded in animating a new Taoist movement, known as hsuan hsueh, Dark Learning or Neo-Taoism. He appeared in a period of decadence, after the fall of Han dynasty, and in those tumultuous times the prevailing Confucian philosophy also experienced decay, up to mere practicing of rituals and superstition. In such historical context appeared philosopher Wang Pi, giving new incentive not to Taoist only, but as well to Confucian thought, since he had certain impact on future development of Neo-Confucianism.
Wang Pi' teaching has certain similarities with Plotinus and Neo-Platonists, which may seem peculiar, in consideration of geographical distance between Alexandria and China. For example, in the work "Chou Yi Lueh-li", Chinese philosopher says that multitude cannot rule over multitude, but there exists the supreme One, which rule over many. Wang Pi thinks that for many to be supported there is necessary for the ruler to preserve his oneness, in the greatest degree. As his philosophical views in many respects drew near to Buddhism (especially in theory about wu, non being), Buddhist philosophers found his concepts and terminology kindred to their teaching.
By the beginning of 6th century, at the same time when Neo-Platonic mysticism was taken over from Byzantium to Persia (from which later will develop the Arabian, i.e.
Islamic Neo-Platonic mysticism) also happened the transmission of new Buddhist teaching, Chan Buddhism, from India to China, that will be also taken over to Japan, now as Zen Buddhism.
A Buddhist teacher from southern India Prajnatara decided by the beginning of 6th century to send his most gifted disciple
Bodhidharmato China, to revive Chinese Buddhism and give it a new impulse. Prajnatara, considered as 27th patriarch of Indian Buddhism proclaimed his disciple for a successor, and Bodhidharma (b. 482) will become later the first patriarch of Chan Buddhism.
In the beginning, new teaching was not accepted widely. People frowned on Bodhidharma, because they considered him heretic. Only the sixth patriarch, Hui-neng, took a leading part in a flowering of Chan Buddhism. Chan considers that we are too much enslaved to words and logic, and as long as we are entangled in that way, we pass through unutterable suffering. The goal of Chan discipline is to take new viewpoint, to observe the essence of things. This new viewpoint is called wu (in Japanese: satori) and it can be defined as the intuitive insight. Chan teachers use so called koan as the exercise and background of a meditation. Koan is some kind of riddle, incomprehensible dialogue or a statement, which purpose is to provoke a contradiction, and from which later in meditation a direct mystical insight is taken out.
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Mircea Eliade: "Yoga", Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-01764-6
Louis Gardet: " La mystique", PUF, 1992, ISBN 2-13-036752-6
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Hans Küng. " Christianity and World Religions", Orbis Books, 1993, ISBN 0-88344-858-0
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* [http://www.avesta.org/ AVESTA – Zoroastrian Archives]
* [http://www.onelittleangel.com/wisdom/art/sacred_net.asp?mc=338 Bodhidharma: quotes, biography and bibliography]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11306b.htm Catholic Encyclopedia - Origen and Origenism]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0210.htm CHURCH FATHERS: The Stromata (St. Clement of Alexandria)]
* [http://www.esotericarchives.com/oracle/iambl_th.htm Iamblichus: Theurgia, or the Egyptian Mysteries]
* [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/mirror/classics.mit.edu/Plato/laws.html The Internet Classics Archive | Laws by Plato]
* [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/mirror/classics.mit.edu/Plato/parmenides.html The Internet Classics Archive / Parmenides by Plato]
* [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/mirror/classics.mit.edu/Plotinus/enneads.html The Internet Classics Archive / The Six Enneads by Plotinus]
* [http://theosophytrust.org/tlodocs/teachers/WangPi.htm Theosophy Trust – Great Teacher Series – WANG PI]
* [http://www.vajrayanabuddhism.org/en/default.aspx Vajrayana Buddhism Association]
* [http://reluctant-messenger.com/yoga-sutras.htm Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – Introduction by Chester Messenger]
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