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How Long to Do Your Sutta Reading Practice Each Day

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When deciding how long to commit to practicing each day, it is important to remember that there is value whatever time you spend reading suttas each day. The effectiveness comes in having the right attitude and consistent daily contact with the teachings. Even if you were only to read a single verse from the Dhammapada every day for the rest of your life, the benefits would be enormous. If you were to read a whole sutta from the Digha Nikaya only once and a while and do it very quickly without reflecting — not so much benefit there.

There are two related factors in deciding how much to practice each day

  • how much of the text you will read each day
  • how much time you will spend doing this

Several texts lend themselves to the one-sutta-per-day or one-chapter-per-day method. This is because they tend to be of a consistent length. If you are just beginning to practice with the suttas, these are good because they provide an inherent structure to the practice: one a day, no more, no less.

Some texts are a bit more variable in terms of sutta length. For these collections you may want to have a more flexible amount to read and instead determine a fixed amount of time for reading. Another option is to read a fixed number of pages. Don’t overload on several short suttas, though.

Consider using a timer. This is especially beneficial if you tend to get distracted easily. If you are not in the habit of taking time to reflect on what you read, blocking in time like this can add structure to something that can otherwise be quite formless.

No matter how much you choose to commit to reading each day, or how much time you commit to spend, keep the following things in mind:

  • Don’t read too quickly.
  • Pause and reflect on how you have found this teaching to be true in your life.
  • Reflect on the benefits of keeping this teaching in mind throughout your day.
  • Overcome the hindrances. If you find yourself spacing out, re-read what you missed. If you are sleepy, stand up and read. If you aren’t feeling motivated or having doubts, read something from your personal anthology instead.
  • If you miss a day or two, just pick back up where you left off.
  • If you are running short on time and you don’t have time for your regular reading practice, read from a very short text like the Dhammapada, or simply take a moment to reflect on something useful you have read in the past and resolve to pick up with your regular practice the next day. Remember, having some contact each day is most important.
  • Keep an eye out for suttas to include in your personal anthology.

To keep your practice focused, consider doing note taking at a different time. And try using the Don’t Break the Chain technique to keep your practice happening every day.

Texts for Sutta Reading Practice Based on Your Current Knowledge Level

If you have a strong commitment and the proper attitude, it doesn’t matter so much what text you choose to work with. While you are beginning to develop the proper attitude and commitment, you may want to take the following into consideration. See which section describes your experience. When you decide what to read, increase your chance of success by making a Sutta Reading Practice Plan.

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Little to no experience with the Dhamma:

You’ve heard about Buddhism, but don’t know much about it. What better place to start your experience of Buddhism that to read exactly what the Buddha said? Almost all the books of suttas published today contain good introductions that will give you what you need to start reading the suttas right away.

Without question the best book to start with is In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It organizes suttas and excerpts of suttas in a way that is easy to understand and make meaningful in your life right away. Many people have had very profound experiences reading with this book. You will probably find yourself going back to this collection again and again.

Other suggestions:

  • The Dhammapada and the Itivuttaka are traditional collections that will give you a good sense of the style of the canon. There is a lot of variety in these two texts, so it is easy to stay engaged. And they are both available to download and print out right now.
  • The anthology Merit, by Ajahn Thanissaro, starts with suttas the cover basic concepts and builds up to suttas that explain merit all the way to the attaining of Nibbana. This is available free on request from Metta Forest Monastery.

And remember if you are new at reading suttas, you may be tempted to take lots of notes while you are reading. This works for many people, but some people find it distracting. Here are some thoughts on how to work with note taking.

Some experience:

You are familiar with basic Buddhist concepts. You may have read lots of books about Buddhism, but have not read a complete collection of the suttas themselves. You are more than ready to jump right in. If you are committed and have a skillful attitude, any of the texts listed on this site could work for you. Below are some to consider.

  • Any of the texts listed above
  • The Life of the Buddha According to the Pali Canon will give you a great sense of the variety of styles found in the canon as well as give you a sense of the whole of the Buddha’s life as found in the most ancient texts.
  • Ajahn Thanissaro’s anthology from the Majjhima Nikaya found in Handful of Leaves Volume 1 will expose you to lots of important suttas.

Lots of experience:

You’ve read some suttas already. You are comfortable with Pali words. There’s really no limit to the texts you could work with. Just develop a skillful attitude and make a firm commitment to read from your chosen text every day.

  • The complete translation of The Middle Length Discourses is a wonderful text to establish yourself in. You will gain a realistic sense of the breadth and depth of the Buddha’s teachings.
  • If you are already familiar with many of the main themes in the Dhamma, the Samyutta Nikaya will give you a detailed analysis of important topics such as the five aggregates, dependent origination, the six sense bases, etc. Committing to read from this book for 15-30 minutes a day would work well.
  • Don’t forget about the books in the Khuddaka Nikaya such as the Dhammapada, the Itivuttaka, and the Udana. These work very well as a sutta (or chapter) a day practice and could even be done in addition to one of the texts above.

And no matter what your experience level, be sure to start your personal anthology right away.

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When You Complete a Book of Suttas

Non-repetition is the bane of scriptures;
neglect is the bane of a home;
slovenliness is the bane of personal appearance,
and heedlessness is the bane of a guard.

Dhp 241, translated by Achariya Buddharakhitta

Coming to the end of your first book of suttas will likely give you a sense of accomplishment. In fact, you have accomplished a great deal, exposing yourself to the direct teachings of the Blessed One, bringing his wisdom into your daily life. At the same time we cannot think that our work with the text is done. Not by any means.

There is great value in reading through a book at least a second time in the same way, a little bit each day. Don’t hesitate to do this. Begin again with the first sutta the very next day.

The benefits of doing this are many:

  • You will understand things that you did not the first time you read. Concepts will begin to click.
  • You will see things that you did not pay attention to the first time.
  • You will begin to identify favorite passages to put in your Personal Anthology.
  • You will gain a stronger sense of what texts are in the book and easily find them in the future
  • Having seen the truth of the teachings in your life from the first exposure, they will go more deeply to the heart on the second reading.
  • Because of the above benefits, your hindrances to reading and understanding will be less than they were the first time.

The second read is when you really begin to establish yourself in the collection. When you read a passage in your second round that you found very helpful in the first, it will immediately bring happiness and will strengthen the application of that teaching in your life. To build a relationship with the texts, repetition is essential.

As you come to the end of your text, you may find some excitement around the idea of reading something new. Now that you feel comfortable reading the suttas you may realize that there is a vast world of sutta possibilities awaiting you. Because of this greater confidence, you may be able to commit to a longer practice period. So start again with the same book and if you like add a passage each day from a second text. If you have time, you could read a sutta per day from the Middle Length Discourses. If not, you could easily do a Dhammapada chapter per day. Or perhaps a passage from an anthology. But in any case, stick with your original text at least for one more complete reading.

How well did you stick to your commitment to read every single day? If you found yourself missing days, on your second round, strengthen your commitment to read every single day by using the Don’t Break the Chain method. Now that you see the value in bringing the suttas into your life, this commitment will be easier.

If you haven’t been making a dedication of merit and setting an intention at the end of your reading, this is a great way to go further with your practice.

It is important that we not think that our practice is over after finishing a book. It’s really just the beginning.

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Taking Notes While Practicing

Many people will have the urge to take notes while they are doing their sutta practice. This is not surprising. All our time in school is spent taking notes so we can do well on the test later. If you have especially strong connections between reading and collecting facts, with a sutta practice it is good to find a new way.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with taking notes we can ask ourselves, “Would I take notes while I am meditating?” “Would I take notes during a conversation with a new friend?” The answer is probably no.

In order to bring a more meditative and contemplative approach to reading the suttas, consider just reading. Don’t worry about collecting the important information. Important things repeat. Guaranteed. And even if something doesn’t repeat throughout the collection you are reading, part of the commitment is to read the collection at least twice through. Better to take a few minutes to repeat a passage in your head, even commit it to memory. Relate it to your own life. Think about all the ways you have already experienced this Dhamma to be true. It is through deeply engaging with the text while practicing that we build a personal relationship with the teachings.

If you really find that there are things you want to take notes on, consider flagging them during your session and once a week sit down and collect things into a notebook. This has nothing to do with being anti-intellectual. A clear grasp of all the important features and structure of the Dhamma is essential. But try to keep the note taking aspect as a separate project from your daily sutta practice.

Of course, we want to be sure to flag passages to include in our personal anthology. Even so, we want to stay with the text we are reading so we can take it in and not get distracted.

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How To: Sutta Reading Practice Basics

The logistics of a sutta practice are fairly straightforward. Choose a text and read some of it every day. Below you will find more specific suggestions for the basic aspects of a sutta practice. Be sure to tie it all together with a written sutta reading plan.

Step 1: Choose a Text

The text you already have on hand may be the best one. If you own a copy of the Majjhima Nikaya, that is probably an indication of where your interests lie and your current level of understanding. If you have kept a copy of the Dhammapada on the shelf for years, there was probably a point in time that you found it useful. Go with that. If you are new to sutta reading, In the Buddha’s Words is a perfect anthology to get you started. Check the following pages to see recommendations on different text to use. Some texts are well suited to reading one sutta a day, others may work better reading for a fixed amount of time each day.

Step 2: Choose a Time and a Place

Reading the suttas consistently over a long time is what is most important, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day. Your understanding will grow and compound, and at the same time so will your love of the Dhamma and your confidence in it. Pick a location free from distractions. Pick a time that is not likely to be eaten up by something else. If you already have a daily meditation practice, seriously consider connecting it with your sutta practice. For more tips on these topics, see:

Step 3: Make a Commitment, Begin, and Begin Again

At first, you may need to make a strong resolution to do your daily reading. Our hindrances are strongest when beginning a sutta practice. We will be encountering lots of new information and will surely come across things that we do not understand at first. If we stick with it, these problems will naturally fade away. Suttas reinforce each other and you will naturally learn what you need to know for understanding through continued practice and reflection. To end your reading session, make an aspiration to put what you have read into practice.

If you are committing to a time intensive practice, such as reading one sutta from the Majjhima Nikaya each day, consider having a shorter text as a plan B for those days when time is tight. At a minimum, pick up your text and recollect a meaningful passage and commit to starting up your practice again on the following day. Always begin again.

Once you have worked through a book completely, consider starting over from the beginning and reading it again one more time, day by day, before you start in on a different book. The familiarity gained through a second reading will be very powerful.

Step 4: Overcome the Hindrances

The Dhamma is both subtle and deep. If we are accustomed to mental stimulation that requires very little effort on our part, such as television or novels, we may easily project our difficulties in reading upon the suttas themselves. If we think that the difficulties we encounter when reading are caused by the suttas, it is very easy to fall away from the practice. In fact, the difficulties we have are due to very common hindrances that exist within our own minds. Without removing the hindrances, a sutta practice will always be difficult and marginally beneficial.

Remember: your commitment is to read each day. You may or may not understand a text at first. This doesn’t matter. Sometimes you will understand a text immediately, sometimes only after a long time. In any case, read the next sutta the next day.

Bonus Step: Create and Use Your Personal Anthology

Creating and using a personal anthology is one way to guarantee that the suttas that you are reading get tied in intimately with your live. Even if you fall away from your sutta practice for a period of time, having made a personal anthology, you will always be able to tap into the teachings that you have connected with the most.

As your sutta practice develops, return to the Start Here page to be reminded of the important principles of daily sutta practice. You can also visit the What’s New or subscribe to e-mail updates in the box on the right.

Be sure to tie it all together with a written sutta reading plan.

Listening Faithfully: Audio Book Sutta Reading from the Pali Canon

Originally the Buddha’s teachings were preserved orally by monks trained in memorization. Listening to recordings of the suttas can put us back in touch with this tradition. Repetitions that are seem unnecessary in print come to life when read aloud. These are resources for free audio book recordings of the suttas. If you know of more, post them in the comments below.

Download from this site:

Color logo of ReadingFaithfully.org

Mahamegha

The publishing house for Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monasteries, Mahamegha, has several audio books from the Khuddakanikaya, including The Dhammapada, Therigatha, Vimanavatthu, and Petavattuh. Links to free editions can be found on the main monastery website.

PaliAudio.com

PaliAudio.com logo

Paliaudio.com has professionally recorded readings of English sutta translations (despite the word Pali in the name) for free download. Translations are by a variety of authors including Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bhikkhu Sujato, and Rupert Gethin.

SuttaReadings.net

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SuttaReadings.net has dozens of suttas read by monastics and lay teachers. Although there is no new content being added to the site, the recording quality is very high.

Ancient Buddhist Texts

Ancient-Buddhist-Texts.net logo

Ancient-Buddhist-Texts.net audio section contains hours of suttas translated by Bhante Ānandajoti. Especially notable is the complete audio recording of the Udāna.

Dhammapada by Gil Fronsdal

Readings from the Dhammapada by Gil Fronsdal has recordings of Gil Fronsdal reading his entire translation of the Dhammapada.

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Sutta Reading Practice Text Suggestions Based on Available Time

Minimal time commitment

10-60 seconds (including reflection time)

Medium time commitment

1-10 minutes (including reflection time) One Sutta Per Day or a fixed time length

Greater time commitment

15-30 minutes (including reflection time)

  • Majjhima Nikaya, One sutta per day, no more. You may want to first read suttas 21-30, then 11-20, then 1-10. You may want to consider repeating this cycle of the first 30 one or two times before continuing with the rest of the book. This will give you an excellent foundation for all other practice with the suttas. Consider using one of the shorter anthologies above as a backup plan for days when you have limited time for practice.

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Sutta Reading Book Sources

This page contains contact information specifically for print copies of sutta texts, either for purchase, free distribution or PDF Download. You may also be interested in the document Building a Sutta Library.

Sources: Printed books, commercial

Wisdom Publications

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wisdompubs.org. All of these books are available in both print and e-book (epub, Kindle, pdf) without DRM. Wisdom publishes:

  • In the Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Read a book review, or read the same suttas in a free translation)
  • The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya by Maurice Walsh
  • The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya, translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (free sample)
  • The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Saṁyutta Nikāya, by Bhikkhu Bodhi (free sample)
  • The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A (complete) Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi (free sample)
  • The Suttanipata: An Ancient Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses Together with Its Commentaries, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
  • The Buddha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Harmony: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Buddhist Publication Society (BPS)

Buddhist Publication Society logo

www.bps.lk Publishes:

  • The Udāna and the Itivuttaka, Two Classics from the Pali Canon, Translated by John D. Ireland (download complete Itivuttaka for free)
  • Aṅguttara Nikāya Anthology, translated by Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi.
  • The Dhammapada, translated by Āchariya Buddharakkhita (download for free)
  • The Life of the Buddha, According to the Pali Canon, by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli (download for free)
  • Buddha, My Refuge, by Bhikkhu Khantipalo

The North American distributor for BPS is Pariyatti.org. For people in Canada, Source Vipassana carries many of these books.

Pali Text Society (PTS)

Available directly from www.palitext.com. The North American distributor for PTS is Pariyatti.org. For people in Canada, Source Vipassana carries many of these books. NOTE! Be very, very clear that you want to purchase the English translation, otherwise they may send you the Pali. Publishes:

  • The Rhinoceros Horn and Other Early Buddhist Poems (Sutta Nipāta), translated by K. R. Norman, with alternative translations by I. B. Horner and Ven. Walapola Rahula
  • Poems of Early Buddhist Monks (Theragāthā), translated by K. R. Norman, Pali Text Society. Paperback edition available. Complete text.
  • Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns (Therīgāthā), Translated by Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys Davids and K. R. Norman
  • Minor Anthologies Vol. IV : Vimānavatthu (Stories of the Mansions) and Petavatthu (Stories of the Departed). ISBN 13: 978-086013073-4

Printed books, Free Distribution

Metta Forest Monastery

dhammatalks.org/Metta Forest Monastery logo

They now provide a list of currently available books.

Distributes all of Ajahn Ṭhanissaro’s sutta translations as well as short anthologies. Books are published when someone donates the printing cost, so not all titles may be available. All are available as ebooks from dhammatalks.org  Note: The Handful of Leaves anthology has recently been reorganized.

  • Handful of Leaves Vol 1: Dīgha Nikāya, selected suttas
  • Handful of Leaves Vol 2: Majjhima Nikaya, selected suttas
  • Handful of Leaves Vol 3: Saṁyutta Nikāya, selected suttas
  • Handful of Leaves Vol 4: Aṅguttara Nikaya, selected suttas.
  • Dhammapada, complete
  • Udana, complete
  • Itivuttaka, complete
  • Sutta Nipata (contains Khuddakapāṭha), complete
  • Theragāthā & Therīgāthā, anthology

Other Books

Other books featured on this website, unless otherwise noted, are available through your favorite local or online book seller.

Sources: Web

Ancient-Buddhist-Texts.net logo

ancient-buddhist-texts.net Complete Udāna as well as many other important suttas. Everything is available as a PDF. English translations now available as .epub and .mobi e-books on the Download Page.

E-books

Visit the Sutta E-books page to see sources for e-books specifically.

Related Pages:

Anthologies for Sutta Reading Practice

An anthology is a collection of ancient scriptures organized around a topic. This is a great way for people new to reading the suttas as well as more experienced readers to delve deeply into a single concept. We recommend all of the anthologies below. You may want to print out the simple chart of the Sutta Pitaka so you understand where the scriptures you read fit in to the canonical collections.

Check out How To: Using an Anthology for Daily Practice

In the Buddha’s Words

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In the Buddha’s Words, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications. This is a comprehensive anthology of suttas, covering the whole range of the Buddha’s teachings. An excellent text for anyone regardless of experience level. This book will serve well as a foundation for your practice with the suttas as well as provide a lifetime of teachings. This is certainly a text to be read repeatedly. You can down load an e-book with all of the chapter introductions  here. This book is available in print form as well as on the Kindle. (If you are going to get the electronic version, be sure to do it from the Wisdom website because you get a Kindle, epub, and pdf all for one price)

Short topical anthologies by Ajahn Thanissaro

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Free print copies are usually available from Metta Forest Monastery. All of his anthologies begin with basic concepts as a foundation for the main topic. Suitable for newcomers. They are anthologies in the sense that they contain suttas from throughout the canon, and sometimes only excerpts. Several of these books have counterparts in the Study Guide section of Access to Insight so you could check them out there before requesting them. They are now all available from the dhammatalks.org  website in multiple formats.

  • Merit, suttas that explain the three types of merit created through giving, being virtuous and cultivating the mind.
  • Into the Stream, suttas that explain the first stage of enlightenment and the path.
  • A Meditator’s Tools, suttas that explain the ten subjects for meditation. (Previously titled Recollections)
  • Beyond Coping: A Study Guide on Old Age, Illness and Death.
  • A Burden Off the Mind, suttas that explain the five aggregates.
  • Mindful of the Body
  • Recognizing the Dhamma, suttas based on the practice advice the Blessed One gave to his step mother, Mahā Pajāpatī.
  • The Sublime Attitudes: A Study Guide on the Brahmaviharas

Other anthologies

The Life of the Buddha, According to the Pali Canon, by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, Buddhist Publication Society and Pariyatti. Suttas and passages from the Vinaya placed in an approximately chronological order. The repetitions have mostly been removed. Ad excellent way to experience the Canon. There is a free PDF download available from Pariyatti, although it is not printable.

Buddha, My Refuge, by Bhikkhu Khantipalo, Buddhist Publication Society. Suttas that teach the qualities of the Buddha. Very useful if you would like to develop a Recollection of the Buddha meditation practice.

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Have you used an anthology of suttas for daily practice? Share your experience in the comments below. Feel free to comment anonymously.

How To: Using an Anthology for Daily Sutta Reading Practice

Anthologies of suttas from the Pali canon are great for a daily sutta practice. See the list of anthologies for books to use. If you aren’t sure which one to pick, you can’t go wrong with In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you are reading.

AllCovers-Anthologies

ONE EACH DAY: As with any text for daily practice, read one sutta or passage each day. If it is particularly short, use your extra time to contemplate it more deeply or even commit it to memory. You may even want to copy it right into your personal anthology if appropriate.

MARK YOUR PLACE: Because the passages can sometimes be quite short, there may be several in a set of facing pages where you would normally put a bookmark. To keep track of exactly which one you are on, consider using a post-it flag or a piece of a post it note. That way you won’t need to spend time trying to figure out which passage you should read next. This is especially handy when you miss a day or two of practice.

DIFFERENT MARKS: Because you may also find yourself flagging passages of importance for future reference, or perhaps to include in your personal anthology, you can put the post-it that marks your place in the book at an angle. Other markers can be placed square with the page. This way you can easily tell where you are and which passage are just marked for reference.

LONG PASSAGES: Sometimes a passage in an anthology will be particularly long, longer than you have time to read that day. You can simply divide the passage in half, reading part one day and part the next. Another option is to save that passage for a day when you have more time. Simply mark that passage with another angled post-it flag. Obviously the last angled flag will be your final position in the book, and the earlier one will act as a constant reminder to go back to read the longer passage as soon as you are able.

FLAGS READY FOR USE: If you like using the flags like this, consider sticking several inside the front cover so they are always handy. This will help us avoid the tendency to use a pencil, tissue, or something laying around as a book mark.

ANTHOLOGY AS A BACK UP PLAN: If you have committed to reading a larger text as a daily practice, such as the Majjhima Nikāya, consider working with an anthology as a back up plan for days that you don’t have as much time. If you are doing this, it is especially important to keep track of exactly where you are in the book.

PAY ATTENTION TO CITATIONS: Most anthologies will include a citation, or reference, to where the passage is found in the canon. There will be a page in the front or back of the book explaining what the abbreviations stand for. (You can mark this with a flag coming out of the top of the book.) As you are reading, take a moment to look up the abbreviation each time until you have them memorized. This will be quite painless and give you a good sense of where things come from. You may start to develop an affinity to suttas from a particular book such as the Udāna or the Dhammapada. Then when it is time to pick a new book for practice you will know where to head.

You can also print out the small version of the Finding Your Way in the Sutta Pitaka chart so you can get a sense of the organization of the canon as you learn the citations.

EXCERPTS: Often anthologies contain only a portion of the sutta. This is almost always true when the citation is for the Majjhima Nikāya(MN) or the Dīgha Nikāya (DN). If you find one of those passages interesting, consider taking time to look up and read the whole sutta.

DO IT ALL AGAIN: As with any book you are using for daily practice, once you have finished it, consider reading the book a second time in the same way, one passage each day. This will greatly improve your familiarity, understanding and confidence in the teachings.

Have you used an anthology for daily practice? Share your experience or tips in the comments below

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