A shorter version of this article was published in Contemporary Buddhism, Volume 2, Number 2, Autumn 2001, ©2001 Curzon Press ISSN 1463-9947
Dr. Paul Shackley
Email address: email@example.com
Zen and Marxism are ways to emancipation, each addressing a different kind of obstacle to it. Thus, according to Buddhist teaching, "suffering", ranging from acute distress to general dissatisfaction, is caused by mental grasping which can be ended by Buddhist morality and meditation. Thus also, according to Marxist theory, social ills, ranging from extreme poverty and violence to general injustice and alienation, are caused by economic exploitation which can be ended by socialist revolution. If, as I believe, both diagnoses are valid, so that unfreedom is both psychological and economic, inner and outer, then meditation is individually advisable and the building of the revolutionary party is politically urgent. Thus, it makes sense to practise both simultaneously. In fact, there is no practical contradiction between regular zazen, "just sitting with no deliberate thought", and regular political activity.
Invariably, however, those who practise Zen do not practise Marxism and vice versa. Further, the practices are associated with mutually incompatible ideas. Buddhists regard the psychological dispositions of attachment and aversion as determining human life whereas Marxists regard the material and social conditions of life as primarily determining the contents of human consciousness. More generally, Marxists are "materialists", believing that being (how the world is and how people live) determines consciousness (how the world and life are perceived and understood) whereas Buddhists are "idealists", believing that consciousness determines being.
However, this disagreement reflects the historical origins of the practices and need not prevent their current synthesis. Most pre-industrial thought was idealist for reasons analyzed by Marxists but this does not commit everyone who meditates to idealism. Meditative awareness of the potentially harmful consequences of some basic motivations need not presuppose that these motivations have no material cause, especially since a scientific understanding indicates that a long unconscious development preceded and produced the earliest motivated consciousness. At the same time, those whose political aim is the revolutionary transformation of social conditions need not forego the demonstrable benefits of meditation.
Marxist dialectical materialism is not reductionist mechanical materialism. The latter reduced all being, including consciousness, to nothing but mechanically interacting particles with only the quantifiable properties of mass and volume. This was a scientific theory of the nature of being and is now an outmoded one. By contrast, dialectical materialism is not a scientific theory of the nature of being but a philosophical theory of the relationship between being and consciousness, namely the theory that being determines consciousness, in fact has become conscious, not vice versa. Apart from this, dialectical materialists recognise that the precise nature of being (mass, energy, particles, quanta, strings etc) is an empirical scientific question which may have no final answer because being is, arguably, inexhaustible so that successively more comprehensive scientific theories only approximate to it.
Additionally, dialectical materialists recognise that being develops through qualitatively different levels each of which has new and emergent properties that are not simply or mechanically reducible to the properties of earlier or lower levels. Consciousness is not exhaustively reducible to any number of unconscious processes. "Human nature" is not fully explicable in terms of its animal ancestry. Human history differs qualitatively from natural history. Biological, social and psychological processes are more and other than complicated mechanical processes. Each new level emerges from but goes beyond the earlier levels. This natural and emergent transcendence differs from the supernatural, pre-existent transcendence of religious belief but should not therefore be identified with the denial of any transcendence that is entailed by mechanical reductionism.
Precisely because social relationships cannot be reduced to mechanical interactions, Marxists specifically study history and economics and propose that: economic relationships are both material and social; other social relationships, cultural, legal, political etc, are based on stages of material production, thus on economics; these changing relationships confront each new generation as an extra layer of external reality primarily determining the contents of human consciousness – the ideas, beliefs, values and attitudes in individual minds; received ideas are often contradicted by new experiences and are adapted or replaced as human beings change their natural and social environments further.
Although Buddhists explain human life by mental states, they do not regard ultimate reality as a mind. Their most fundamental ontological category is not "consciousness" but "emptiness", meaning not "nothingness" but absence of any permanent, unchanging substance underlying the impermanent, changing interactions that appear as subjects and objects of consciousness. Similarly, empirical science reveals that the "being" of dialectical materialism is changing interactions of energy occurring in empty space. Materialist "matter" already meant being as opposed to consciousness, not mass as opposed to energy, and science now equates mass with energy. Thus, there is some convergence between Buddhist emptiness teaching and Marxist dialectical materialism.
Two other concepts that need to be considered are "spirituality" and "religion". Zen meditation is a spiritual practice. The term "spirituality" connotes both idealist belief in spirits as immaterial subjects of consciousness and inner practice for the development of consciousness. Inner practice is theistic prayer or nontheistic meditation. Prayer presupposes divine existence but meditation does not. Further, Zen meditation is the focusing of attention on the present moment, not on any immaterial entity. Thus, spiritual practice need not presuppose idealist belief.
The Buddha practised in a tradition that was spiritual in both senses. It referred to immaterial souls and advocated meditative practice. However, the tradition was atheist in the sense not of rejecting an established theism but of presupposing a beginningless universe. Further, the Buddha reformed the tradition by criticising and rejecting its concept of souls. In this, he was possibly influenced by ancient Indian materialist philosophers who regarded the emergence of consciousness from material elements as a qualitative change comparable to the emergence of a new colour from the mixture of two existing colours. Also, the Buddha first practised, then rejected as unsatisfactory, the asceticism that was associated with body-soul dualism. The materialists were, allegedly, hedonists whereas Buddhism is a "middle way" between asceticism and hedonism.
The nosoulist middle way arguably synthesises aspects of soul pluralist asceticism and hedonist materialism, the synthesised aspects being the meditative development of consciousness and a materialist critique of the idea of souls. "Zen Marxism" updates that synthesis whereas the title Zen and Marxism would suggest theoretical comparison, not practical synthesis.
"Religion" is: acceptance of the supernatural; response to the highest transcendence; a way to salvation. In all three senses, Buddhism is a religion and Marxism is not.
On the question of the supernatural: Indian atheism, denial of an extracosmic creator, is compatible with Indian polytheism, belief in many intracosmic deities. By acknowledging such beings, Buddhists merely accepted then current worldviews. In the same way, we can now accept a scientific worldview while meditating. We heed weather forecasts instead of invoking weather deities.
Buddhist heavens and hells can be interpreted as metaphors for human experience. For example, mythologically, gods enjoy long but finite periods of good karma in heavenly realms but cannot create new karma until they are reborn as human beings on earth. Similarly, very wealthy human beings may enjoy enviable life styles but lack the incentive for self-change. Spiritual ideas refer either to possible experience or to nothing.
Apart from the common religious ideas of gods, demons, spirits, heavens and hells, there is one specifically Buddhist supernatural idea. Despite rejecting reincarnation of immaterial souls, the Buddha taught rebirth of psychological dispositions. Attachments and aversions that have not been ended at the time of death are somehow transmitted into a later organism and may be accompanied by latent memories which, if activated, perpetuate the illusion of a persisting soul.
The role of meditation is to end the perpetuation of harmful dispositions not only into future lives but also within the present life and the latter is worth doing even if we suspect that Buddhist rebirth is an unwarranted hangover from pre-Buddhist reincarnation. By questioning rebirth, we continue a critical process initiated by the Buddha himself. "Karma" means "action" and is important because actions and their motives have consequences which can harm the self or others. When it was believed that souls reincarnated, then it followed that consequences for the self could occur in later lives but harmful consequences are evident even in a single life. By the time we are mature enough to reflect on life, it already contains both the consequences of our past actions and the tendency to continue acting in the same way even if this has been problematic. This is the practical problem of karma as a result of which each of us has something to resolve within ourselves as well as, to introduce a Marxist perspective, in the social world outside.
On the question of transcendence: there are two religious responses to the highest transcendence, personification and contemplation. The Marxist critique of religion relates polytheist and monotheist personifications to stages of material production but does not explain contemplation. According to the Marxist account, people personified and placated natural, then social, forces that they could neither understand nor control. Accumulation of a small surplus of wealth, with consequent social stratification and coercion, meant that gods of natural forces like the weather were replaced by gods of social forces like war. I suggest that the surplus also provided, for a small minority, leisure for contemplation and that the object of contemplation could be either identified with or differentiated from the deity that was believed to control natural and social forces. Thus, both theists and atheists can meditate. In the Marxist account, collective understanding and control of both natural and social forces will end personification but I suggest that it will also provide leisure for more contemplation.
The theist response to the highest transcendence is worship of the unified personified external forces, God, whereas the Buddhist highest transcendence is a potential inner state, not an actual external being. Therefore, acknowledgement of this transcendence does not contradict the materialist proposition that being determines consciousness. In fact, it agrees with the dialectical materialist concept of qualitatively different levels of being some of which naturally transcend others.
Before practising Buddhist meditation, we bow to a Buddha image. This prepares the mind for meditation and expresses respect for our inner potential, not for an external deity. This is not a reinterpretation of Buddhism but the explanation given in a Zen meditation group. The Buddha is honoured as an enlightened being but not worshipped as a divine being. He is given divine-sounding titles like "the Exalted One" but these do not include "Creator" which, if it were used, would reduce Buddhism to theism and make the Buddha responsible for suffering. His "omniscience" is comprehensive wisdom, not all-inclusive factual knowledge. He himself, according to the teaching, has neither endured as an immortal soul nor recurred as a karmic effect but has gone out like a candle flame that has not been passed on to another candle. The candle analogy applies even within a single life because momentary mental states are mistaken for a substantial self like a constantly changing flame mistaken for a single solid object. Buddhism is, in this sense, the opposite of Christianity. We do not rise again but end and transcend our fear of dying.
Whether, after his death, the Buddha somehow continued to exist in a transcendent state although not as an immortal soul is a question that is answered positively by religious belief and negatively by materialist philosophy but that need not be answered for the purpose of Buddhist meditation.
On the question of salvation: this means individual emancipation from evil whether the latter is conceived as sin, suffering or ignorance. Buddhist emancipation from suffering and ignorance is to be realized before death and by natural human meditation, not after death or by supernatural divine intervention.
The vices described by Buddhists are "greed, hate and delusion". Marxists argue, I believe correctly, that greed in the familiar sense of desire for abundant possessions is not universal in human experience because it presupposes production of a storable, possessable surplus of wealth which is comparatively recent. Further, future production and equal distribution of abundant wealth will make hoarding, competition, theft and avarice socially and therefore also psychologically redundant. However, Buddhist "greed" is the more basic desire for repetition of pleasure. "Hate" is frustration at its nonrepetition and "delusion" is the belief that pleasure or its experiencer could ever be permanent.
Buddhists have thought that greed, hate and delusion were beginningless but we can now incorporate Darwinian understanding. Mobile organisms became conscious, their sensitivity quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed into sensation, because pleasure and pain enhance survival. Animal pleasure, pain and consciousness became human greed, hate and delusion which meditation transmutes into Buddhist nonattachment, compassion and wisdom.
If nonattachment entailed inactivism, as practised by some Indian ascetics, then it would definitely be anti-Marxist. However, Buddhism is a middle way between asceticism and hedonism. Further, nonattachment is a principle of action, not of inaction, as expounded in the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita. Withdrawal from action, and particularly from political and military action, may seem to be the only way to avoid causing suffering. However, Krishna replies that: inaction is impossible because the universe acts through us at all times; some actions that cause suffering are lesser evils; the way to minimise harmful consequences of necessary actions is to attend to each action and to perform it as if for its own sake without being distracted by desire for success, praise, prestige and reward or fear of failure, blame, recrimination and punishment. If we are thus "nonattached", then our performance at work or in other activities is more effective in itself and less problematic for others and is followed by less vanity or recrimination within ourselves. Thus, nonattached action decreases greed, hate and delusion and is classified as a kind of yoga. This "karma yoga" is alone accessible to the Buddha when, having ended his attachments, he starts to act for the good of the world.
Further, consistent Marxists, patiently building the revolutionary party against all the hostility of the capitalist state and of bourgeois economic rule and ideology, remain selflessly dedicated and effective despite temptations towards compromise and sell-out and therefore are, without realising this, secular karma yogis. They also recognise the harmful role played in the labour movement by self-promoting careerists who do not prosecute the struggle for its own sake but use it as a means towards personal ends. Even among Marxists genuinely committed to the political goal of workers’ self-emancipation, some are less consistent because they retain personal ambitions and favoured self-images that impede co-operation and solidarity. They fail both as Marxists and as karma yogis. The Gita addressed issues of work, just war and social order and can now be applied to work, class war and social revolution. We remain responsible for judging which is the right course of action. Karma yoga is, arguably, the right attitude to bring to action once we have begun to act.
"Compassion" means "suffering with", not distanced pity. When self-emphasising attachments are ended, all suffering is seen as a condition to be ended. Otherwise, the Buddha would have remained in passive contemplation and not have taught a way to the end of suffering.
Production and equal distribution of abundant wealth were not possible before the industrial revolution. Now that they are possible but can only be achieved by socialist revolution, which is not a violent change of government but a mass transformation of society, compassion should entail support for revolution. Those whose only contribution to social change is to change themselves by meditation ignore urgent social problems that can be addressed by collective action. A revolutionary process which actively involves the majority of the world population and which significantly raises their standards of living and culture will enhance access to beneficial aspects of existing traditions including meditative practices for self-development and self-transcendence. In fact, since the mythological "Western Paradise" of Pure Land Buddhism is imagined as an environment conducive to enlightenment, we can build the revolutionary party now and the Western Paradise here.
This does not mean that Marxists are now motivated by something like Buddhist compassion. There is a simplistic popular dichotomy between "selfishness" and "altruism". Buddhists themselves exacerbate this dichotomy by differentiating between the potentially selfish goal of individual enlightenment and the actively compassionate goal of universal enlightenment. In the popular view, Missionaries of Charity are credited with "altruism" whereas revolutionaries are suspected of covert "selfishness". No doubt, some have private agendas which are fostered and encouraged by the values of the society that they oppose. However, others are consistent Marxists and thus are secular karma yogis. But, in any case, most human actions are neither selfish nor altruistic but expressions of a common interest, like speaking a common language, communicating intelligibly, obeying most of the laws most of the time and driving on the same side of the road. The widest common interest is that of the whole working class which materially unites the vast majority of a growing world population. It is in the interest of this class to end economic class divisions and thus to initiate for the first time in history a society in which it will be possible to act in the genuine common interest instead of either overtly or covertly supporting one class as against another. Therefore, compassion is better served by proletarian solidarity than by classless charity which alleviates poverty without ending exploitation.
The teachings of Buddhism and arguments for Marxism can be found in the many books on these subjects or by talking to those who practise them. The only point of the present article is that, while many people meditate and others try to build the Party, more could do both.
Appendix 1: Principles
(160 sutras or theses, including the Four Noble Truths, four Yoga Sutras, four Marxist principles and some practical applications)
There is suffering.
Attachment causes suffering.
Ending attachment ends suffering.
Mindfulness ends attachment.
Teaching the way to the end of suffering
However, the way to nonattachment is also the way to compassion and wisdom.
Zen meditation is just sitting with no deliberate thought.
Working meditation is Zen attention to practical tasks.
Yoga is control of thoughts.
Then, man abides in his real nature.
Otherwise, he remains identified with thoughts.
They are controlled by practice and nonattachment.
Mantra yoga is repetition of significant syllables.
Bhakti yoga is devotion to a perennially nonattached being.
Karma yoga is nonattached action.
Hatha yoga is meditative postures.
Transcendental Meditation is private inner repetition.
Krishna Consciousness is public devotional chanting.
Nonattached action is military in the Gita but pacifist in Gandhism.
Yoga instructors teach postures.
History is the history of class struggles.
The ruling ideas are those of the ruling class.
The emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class.
States are instruments of class rule.
Workers need to replace existing states with states based
on workers’ councils.
Workers’ councils grow from workers’ struggles.
Workers’ councils replace existing states only when led by a revolutionary party.
The party is built by revolutionaries leading workers’ struggles before there are workers’ councils.
The increasingly parliamentarist German Social Democratic
Party ceased to be revolutionary.
Spontaneous workers’ councils overthrew the German Emperor.
The Social Democrat-led German state destroyed workers’ councils.
The National Socialist-controlled German state destroyed parliament and workers’ organisations.
The illegal Russian Bolshevik Party remained
Bolshevik-led workers’ councils replaced the existing Russian state.
Isolated and besieged Russian workers lost control of their increasingly bureaucratised party and state.
A bureaucratic dictatorship presented itself as a workers’ state.
Marginalised revolutionaries analyzed the German and
Their successors rebuild revolutionary parties.
Revolutionary parties lead current struggles.
Continuing struggles overthrow dictatorships.
Zennists practise nonattachment.
Marxists oppose exploitation.
Nonattached Marxists are more effective.
"Zen Marxists" seek inner and outer freedom.
Marxists say that nature preceded
Most meditators disagree.
Zen is neutral.
It develops present consciousness.
However, society precedes individual
Capitalist society pre-existed its current members.
Increased productivity generated capitalism.
Capitalism revolutionised class relationships.
Feudalism was coercive and static.
Capitalism is commercial and dynamic.
Capitalists reinvest competitively.
Competition constrains pay.
Even compassionate capitalists must
compete to survive.
They can take control of production.
That will end capitalism.
Zen and Marxism are ways to emancipation.
Their simultaneous practice is revolutionary karma yoga.
Non-revolutionary karma yogis oppose injustice.
The pacifist Martin Luther King acknowledged that exploitation causes injustice.
Hunting and gathering merely sustained
Agricultural and industrial labour produce an increasing surplus.
Exploitation is appropriation of the surplus by a ruling class.
Ruling classes control production, states and ideas.
Ruling ideas include meditation as a means
However, exploited labour is neither worker-controlled nor self-realising.
Therefore, even contented workers remain alienated from their own activity.
Also, capitalist exploitation undermines contentment.
Competitive reinvestment periodically
decreases profit rates.
Consequent disinvestment causes slumps and redundancies.
Economic competition necessitated international exploitation.
International competition causes technological warfare.
Successful socialist revolution ends
Therefore, compassion entails support for revolution.
Relatively timeless meditation complements inherently historical struggle.
Meditation and unalienated labour are ways to self-realisation.
Sutras are the authoritative
propositions of Indian philosophical systems.
Materialist sutras did not survive.
Hindu sutras define consciousness as immaterial.
Dialectical materialists describe consciousness as irreducible but emergent.
Short, cryptic, oral sutras required explanatory commentaries.
Hopefully, the "Zen Marxist" sutras are clearer.
They summarise Buddhism, Yoga and Marxism.
The Buddha taught the way to the end of suffering.
Later Buddhist sutras emphasised
compassion and wisdom.
The Yoga Sutras explain mantra and bhakti yoga.
Other texts explain karma and hatha yoga.
The Communist Manifesto explains struggle, ideology and emancipation.
The Paris Commune demonstrated that states are instruments of class rule.
The Communards briefly replaced the existing state.
Russian workers' councils clarified the structure of a workers' state..
The Bolsheviks learnt the need to build a non-parliamentary party.
Historical lessons inform current struggles.
Spiritual traditions transmit meditative practices.
"Bhakti" is Yogic incorporation of theistic practice.
"Zen Marxists" meditate nontheistically and apply karma yoga to class struggle.
Theism is personification of external forces.
Atheism is non-personification.
Jainism is atheist soul pluralism.
Buddhism is atheist nosoulism.
The Buddha taught rebirth and meditation.
However, Buddhists can de-emphasise rebirth.
Also, materialists can meditate.
Meditators can intuit their identity with being.
Idealists identify being with consciousness.
Materialists reply that being became conscious.
Apparent duality usually conceals subject-object identity.
Mystical experience is realisation of identity.
Mystification is obscuration of reality.
Therefore, mystification contradicts mystical experience.
However, it incorporates mystical ideas.
For example, respect for intuition becomes rejection of intellect.
Further, recognition of cosmic unity becomes relegation of social divisions.
"Zen Marxists" acknowledge unity but analyze division.
Therefore, they meditate and organise.
Classless society will facilitate unitive intuition and understanding.
Learning is actively changing, not passively
Action generated thought.
Uncontrolled thoughts impede awareness.
Meditation is control of thoughts.
Thought is application of concepts.
Philosophy is analysis of concepts.
Analysis is not change.
Meditation changes individuals.
However, it does not change society.
Social change requires collective action.
Socialist revolution requires workers' action.
Marxism is the theory and practice of socialist revolution.
Marxist theory incorporates philosophy.
However, it synthesises it with economics and socialism.
Thus, it guides political practice.
Political practice leads workers' action.
Ascetics reject action.
Buddhists and karma yogis reject asceticism.
However, they meditate.
Thus, "Zen Marxism" addresses individual and social change.
Society is divided.
Social division is basically economic.
We can end economic division.
Marxism addresses conflict.
Conflict generates action.
Action changes things.
Workers act collectively.
Reality is one.
We are it.
We can realise this.
Meditation addresses karma.
Karma is action.
We experience its consequences.
Karma yogis act meditatively.
Problematic karma is unreflecting action.
Meditation is reflection.
Workers' action is initially spontaneous.
Marxist theory guides it.
Appendix 2: The "Zen Marxist" Lineage
releasing rain from
heaven personifies the life-giving aspect of nature.
Prometheus stealing fire from heaven personifies life-enhancing action on nature.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras systematise Yoga philosophy.
Krishna’s Gita discourses characterize yogic action.
Arjuna, Krishna’s warrior disciple, personifies aristocratic duty and responsibility.
Spartacus, a revolutionary slave leader, personifies proletarian resistance and solidarity.
The Buddha taught a way to the end of suffering.
Jesus taught that a new consciousness and a new society were possible.
Lao Tzu founded Taoism, then
travelled west from China.
Chuang Tzu synthesised the Tao with yin-yang polarity.
The Buddha meditated and founded Buddhism in India.
Bodhidarma took "dyana" (meditation) Buddhism from India to China where it was renamed "Ch’an".
Seng-chao converted to Buddhism and expounded it in Taoist terminology.
Hui-neng organised Ch’an, which some say synthesises Buddhism with Taoism.
Eisai and Dogen brought forms of Ch’an from China to Japan where they were renamed "Zen".
Jiyu Kennett brought Dogen’s Zen from Japan to the US and Europe where it is called Serene Reflection Meditation.
Chuang Tzu and Hegel explained qualitative change
by the interpenetration of opposites.
The Buddha explained inner change by "anatta" (no soul).
Darwin explained biological change by natural selection.
Marx explained social change by class conflict and founded Marxism.
Lenin applied Marxism to leading a revolution.
Trotsky preserved Marxism after the defeat of that revolution.
Cliff completed the work of Trotsky by clearly differentiating Marxism from Stalinism.
Thus, Stalin did not consolidate the work of Lenin and Mao did not apply it to China: neither state capitalism nor Third World nationalism is international socialism.
The European tradition of understanding and changing nature and society and the Indian tradition of understanding and changing human consciousness converge as the understanding and changing of consciousness and its natural and social environments:
|Thales||science||understanding and changing natural environments|
|Socrates||philosophy||understanding general concepts|
|Marx||Marxism||understanding and changing social relationships|
|The Buddha||meditation||understanding and changing individual consciousness|
Some aspects of understanding developed in parallel traditions:
|Eygpt, Mesopotamia, the Vedic Jyotish:||astronomy|
|Gilgamesh, Homer, Vyasa:||epics|
|Pythagoras, "Arabic" numerals:||mathematics|
|Aristotle, Gautama (not the Buddha):||logic|
|Hippocrates, Ayurveda, acupuncture:||medicine|
|Macchiavelli, Kautilya:||political theory|
Appendix 3: Symbols
Shiva dancing personifies endless creation and destruction and potential liberation and thus incorporates Indra etc. Christian crosses symbolise divine intervention and therefore presuppose a real person, not a mere personification, whereas Shiva is an acknowledged personification of cosmic process and yogic practice. Although both Spartacus and Jesus were crucified, their appropriate symbols are not crosses but a sword and shared bread and wine. Their social resistance and spiritual regeneration are steps in Shiva's dance.
Of course, the German Marxists called Spartakists did not adopt the cross as a symbol first because an execution is not a cause for celebration and secondly because Christian crosses already meant (i) blood sacrifice and (ii) historical resurrection.
(i) Sacrifice is priestly offering of a (preferably perfect) victim to a receptive deity. Christians identify priest, perfect victim and deity. Thus, they interpret the crucifixion as: a divine offering for sinful humanity; divine solidarity with suffering humanity; divine acceptance of perfected humanity. Divinity, sin and sacrifice (=offering + acceptance) are inherently theistic whereas humanity, solidarity, suffering and perfectability are religiously neutral. Solidarity is now more comprehensible and palatable than sacrifice. However, Jesus' suffering was sacrificial. He thought it would initiate the kingdom. Paul thought it had initiated salvation. Thus, any interpretation of Jesus' suffering as solidarity but not sacrifice is unorthodox.
In any case: divine solidarity is meaningless to non-believers in divinity; Spartacus' solidarity was active resistance to Roman oppression, not passive acceptance of Roman execution; Buddhist meditation ends the psychological cause of suffering; meditative transformation of consciousness and revolutionary transformation of society approach human perfectability. Therefore, revolutionary and Buddhist practices are more helpful than the belief that God suffered and perfects believers hereafter.
(ii) The resurrections of Adonis, Baal, Balder, Jesus, Osiris etc symbolised seasonal and spiritual renewal. It is additionally claimed that Jesus' resurrection was historically pivotal. However, evidence for its occurrence is insufficient and men, not myths, make history.
Crosses symbolise intersections between (iii) myth and history and (iv) time and eternity.
(iii) The historical crucifixion became a significant story, thus a "myth", while the mythical resurrection was historicised. History and myth are both important but in different ways and must now be differentiated.
(iv) Christian "eternity" is endless duration but meditation as immediate awareness discloses a timeless present which is the alternative meaning of "eternity". When two straight lines intersecting at a right angle are freed from traditional associations, they remain an appropriate symbol for the present moment that alone connects temporal experience (of past, present and future) with timeless awareness (of the eternal present). Only in the present (symbolised by the point of intersection) can we remember the past and anticipate the future (both symbolised by the horizontal line) or disregard both and attend fully to the present (symbolised now by the vertical line). Perceptually, aesthetically and inwardly, the present contains more than we usually notice and can be contemplated without conscious reference to its past or future although, of course, it would not exist without a past. Finally, crosses on graves expressed hope of resurrection but might now simply suggest death. I think that exhausts their symbolism.
The seated Buddha personifies meditation.
The yin-yang symbol depicts dialectical interactions underlying natural processes, meditative practices and social conflicts. Its circular form expresses impersonal forces. The hammer and sickle symbolised an alliance between workers and peasants.
The ancient and abstract disciplines of science and philosophy have not been visually symbolised.
Language, literature, mathematics and logic are forms of symbolic communication. Astronomy and literature generate innumerable symbols, eg: Mars, war; Gilgamesh, mortality; Arjuna, duty; Hamlet, indecision; Milton's Satan, pride; Jane Austen's Mr. Collins, prejudice; Ulysses, long voyages and heroic returns etc.
Appendix 4: Comparing Traditions
Buddhism is based on an analysis of the cause of suffering, not on faith in a cause of the universe. It transmits practices, not dogmas. Buddhists reflecting on the Buddha’s teaching were able to create new philosophical systems whereas Christians reflecting on their beliefs had to adopt Platonism or Aristotelianism. An enlightened being who had investigated spiritual practices and analyzed experience is more inspiring than a sacrificial victim who had interpreted scriptural prophecies and expected an apocalypse. The Buddha taught that the best sacrifice was an offering of fruit to the poor, not of blood to the gods. Buddhists ask us to see that we can end suffering, Marxists ask us to see that we can end exploitation but Christians tell us to believe that Christ has to end sin for us. Some add that we are damned if we disbelieve this. Christians expect the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul whereas Buddhists and Marxists recognise the mortality of the body and the non-existence of the soul.
The essence of Buddhism is compassion. The essence of Christianity is not love but a belief about God’s love (Jn.3.16). Neither experience nor argument could answer questions about belief so answers were enforced.
Theism is philosophically questionable and the resurrection is historically questionable but meditation is demonstrably beneficial. Therefore, secularism supersedes the Abrahamic traditions but can be synthesised with meditative traditions.
By historicising death and resurrection mythology, Christianity reflects the transition from the cyclical, seasonal time of nature polytheism in agricultural societies to the linear, historical time of prophetic monotheism, then secular atheism, in urban civilizations. Marxists respond to the conflicts in industrial civilization by synthesising the urgent social interpretation and intervention of Hebrew prophecy, epitomised by Elijah, with the dispassionate intellectual enquiry of Greek philosophy, epitomised by Socrates. Thus, Marxists secularise prophecy. In modern terminology, Marxism synthesises economics (the science of wealth production) with socialism (the struggle for common ownership) and also synthesises Hegel’s dialectics (the philosophy of the interpenetration of opposites) with materialism (the philosophy of the primacy of being over consciousness).
Taoists meditate (like Buddhists) and recognise the interpenetration of opposites (like Hegel and Marx).
Moses’ commandment prohibiting theft expresses the rule of law against tyranny but also conserves unequal property relations, thus wealth and poverty. In English legend, King Arthur’s round table represents equality among those present and Robin Hood represents alleviation of poverty by redistribution of wealth in disobedience to the commandment: "stealing from the rich to give to the poor". Because an industrial revolution in the means of production has increased both wealth and poverty, Marxists advocate a social revolution in the relations of production that will abolish the distinction between rich and poor. Socialism will not tax the rich but prevent enrichment at others’ expense.
Any attempt to improve life by understanding and changing its conditions is "Promethean". Philosophical traditions also include anti-Prometheans: Greek Cynics, Indian Jains and Chinese Taoists.
Cynics thought that Zeus had not oppressively opposed Promethean progress but justly judged Promethean presumption. However, Prometheus remained the Greek prototype.
Jain monks starve their bodies in order to free their souls from attachment and thus from reincarnation. However, Buddhists practise non-attachment without asceticism.
Taoists neither control natural forces nor change natural environments but "flow with" natural processes. However, their meditation changes consciousness and thus is spiritually Promethean.
Thus, the proposed synthesis of Zen with Marxism incorporates some ancient and modern traditions but remains antithetical to others and therefore is not the impossible comprehensive synthesis envisaged by Hegel.
Appendix 5: Jesus, Christianity and Other Religions
initiated by baptism, vision, fasting and temptations (Mk.1.9-13);
suffered disillusionment (Lk.24.21),
bereavement and, in Peter’s case (Lk.23.54-62), guilt;
preached the first Christian sermon (Acts 2.14-36);
initially opposed the new sect (Acts 9.1);
|The oral tradition:||
proclaimed the resurrection;
accepted the Pauline teaching that Christian
salvation entailed freedom from ritual obligations;
were members of early churches;
wrote the first Gospel decades after the events
described, possibly in Rome;
added Joseph’s dreams (Mt.1.20 etc), the wise
men (Mt.2.1), the star (Mt.2.2) and the slaughter of the innocents (Mt.2.16-17);
added Gabriel (Lk.1.26), census (Lk.2.1), manger
(Lk.2.7), shepherds (Lk.2.8-20) and an angelic choir (Lk.2.13-14);
identified the Greek philosophical Word with the
Hebrew scriptural God;
interpreted Christianity as esoteric
contemplative cognition, not as exoteric credal conformity;
compiled the earliest Christian canon;
adapted Christianity to the Roman Empire;
referred to as "Homer and the
poets" (an epicist and some dramatists),
author of the Iliad and the Odyssey,
re-told and reinterpreted Homeric
the greatest Greek dramatist,
also a fifth century tragedian,
wrote the Roman epic, the Aeneid;
were (male) witnesses to the resurrection;
are successors of the Apostles;
incorporated the deified Jesus and the
personified Spirit by trisecting God;
replaced gods with saints, sons of gods with
the only son of the one God, presiding
deities with patron saints, deification with canonisation,
the Mother Goddess with the
Mother of God, Perseus and Thor with Saints George and
Olaf, idols with icons,
sacrifice with sacrament, cyclical mythological with
unique historical resurrection,
Mithras’ birthday on 25 December with Jesus’, temples
or synagogues with churches,
the Pontifex Maximus or chief priest of the Roman state
religion with the Bishop of
Rome or Supreme Pontiff and the Roman Empire with both the
Roman Church and the Holy Roman Empire;
preserved the scriptures and classics;
were Christians who denied Christ’s eternal
adapted Christianity to reflect bourgeois
individuality in emerging capitalist society;
|Calvin:|| the second most
presented only doctrines deduced from the Bible, including predestination (see "Paul" above).
|Lutheran churches:|| returned to the traditional New
Testament canon in the seventeenth century.
accept Pauline-Lutheran belief in salvation
by faith alone;
interpret the entire Bible
literally, even its two mutually inconsistent creation myths (Gen.1.1-2.4; Gen.2.4-25);
do not necessarily claim personal
acquaintance with Christ;
regard the bishop of Rome (the Pope) as the
direct successor of the chief disciple of the incarnation of God;
|Eastern Orthodox Christians:||
trace their origins back to
rejected papal authority, thus becoming
Anglicans, under Henry V111;
were Anglican Evangelicals;
|"Christian Socialists":|| adapt their beliefs to
reflect socialist or social democratic politics.
|Old Catholics:|| were Catholics who did not accept papal
infallibility in 1870.
|Liberal Catholics:|| were an Old Catholic Mission to
England, taken over by Theosophists.
were founded by a former spiritualist
medium, Madame Blavatsky;
had mystical experiences;
split from Theosophy over the role of
|Rosicrucians:|| claim occult knowledge and abilities.
|Latter Day Saints:||
add the Book of Mormon to the Christian
|Christian Scientists:|| instead add
and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
|Rastafarians:||apply Old Testament prophecies to
Haile Selassie, not to Jesus.
|African religions:||refer to one supreme and many
|The Cuban Santeria:||identify African gods with Catholic
are Biblical fundamentalists;
|Neo-Pagans:|| seek an alternative to Christianity in the
past, not in the East.
|Samaritans:|| accept the Law but not the Prophets or
were allegedly led from slavery by an Egyptian
prince (Ex.2.10; Ex.5.1);
|The Jahvist epic:||
celebrated the Davidic monarchy as the
culmination of God’s plan;
is said to have met God "face to face"
(Deut. 34.10), to have worked greater miracles
than anyone else (Deut. 34.11), to have died at 120 still
physically fit (Deut. 34.7) and to have been buried by God in an unknown grave (Deut.
were Persian prophetic monotheists, founded
was a disciple of Socrates;
was a disciple of Plato;
coexisted with Roman state polytheism;
were an off-shoot of Zoroastrianism;
was raised as a Christian in the third century;
were regarded by Christians as Christian
converted from Manichaeism to Christianity;
synthesised Christianity with
|Parsees:|| are Indian descendants of Zoroastrian refugees
from the Muslim conquest of Persia.
regard the prophets as including Jesus but
culminating in Muhammad;
are Muslim mystics;
were persecuted Muslim-Hindu ecumenists;
are an eclectic Muslim off-shoot;
is a spiritual practice initiated by a Muslim but
open to all;
accept as scriptures the Vedas, Upanishads,
Puranas, Gita etc;
are a Hindu fundamentalist sect;
|"St. Thomas" Christians:||
are ancient Indian
are atheist ascetics;
followed the Jain hero, Mahavira;
believed that every soul, however virtuous
or ascetic, must traverse 8,400,000 lives;
was raised in isolated luxury;
maintained the order;
|Pure Land Buddhists:||
invoke the ahistorical Amida Buddha;
are Chinese moralists;
claimed to know Heaven’s decree;
wrote the fourth Confucian Book;
|Hsun Tzu:|| was a pessimistic and religiously sceptical
|Fei-tzu:|| was a legalistic Confucian.
diverged from Confucianism;
reject Confucian formalism and conservatism;
|Shih Huang Ti,||
Emperor of China,
|Chang Tao Ling:||
had a vision of Lao Tzu;
|Ko Hung:|| wrote the Pao Phu Tzu on Taoist alchemy,
medicine and magic.
are Japanese polytheist nature mystics;
|Spiritualists:|| claim to prove survival.
|Humanists:|| ritualise secularism.
|Some secularists:|| wrongly regard all religious leaders as
apply a materialist analysis of society;
|Conclusions:||Experiences differ and are variously interpreted.|
|Christianity is not Jesus’ teaching but beliefs about him formulated after his death.|
|A belief about his resurrection could only have been formulated after his death.|
The first Christians were believers in a spiritual resurrection, not witnesses to a physical resurrection.
| Converts to Christianity imagined the physical
|(The stages of development
|oral tradition||tomb burial|
|silence of witnesses|
|predicted Galilean appearance|
|guard on tomb|
|doubtful Galilean appearance|
|Luke||road to Emmaus|
|tangible Jerusalem appearance|
|(Re-arranged chronologically, the list becomes:
incarnation, virgin birth, moral
teaching, miracles, sacrificial death, burial,
resurrection and ascension, which are the familiar Christian beliefs.)
The kingdom was not at hand but a new consciousness and a new society remain possible.
|It had long been possible to approach selfless consciousness through individual meditation.|
|Since the industrial revolution, it has become possible to approach a classless society through social revolution.|
Jesus, expecting neither continued historical development nor an eventual industrial revolution but imminent divine intervention, advocated repentance and acceptance of the good news (Mk.1.15).
Buddhists and Marxists, expecting continued psychological
and social conflicts, meditate and prepare for revolution, respectively.
I have summarised Christianity at greater length first because its particular synthesis of mythology with history makes it more complicated and secondly because the purpose of this Appendix was to consider Christianity’s specific claims to veracity and relevance. Other religions are summarised for comparison. The comparison shows the diversity not only of religious experiences but also of religiously authoritative texts. There is no central authority to adjudicate on the veracity of such texts. The Pope speaks authoritatively, even infallibly, for Catholics and the Dalai Lama speaks authoritatively for one Tibetan Buddhist sect but there is no super-Pope or –Lama to resolve disagreements between them. In fact, their worldviews are so different that there could not be such an agreed superior authority. We can study scriptures for their inherent value – spiritual, philosophical, literary or historical – if any, but should not accept scriptural propositions as authoritatively valid merely by virtue of their traditional status. Unquestioning acceptance of the Bible alone as "scripture" is unwarranted and increasingly inappropriate.
|Smart, N.||The Religious Experience of Mankind||New York 1969|
|Marx, Engels||Manifesto of the Communist Party||Moscow 1971|
|Armstrong, K.||The First Christian: St. Paul’s Impact on Christianity||London 1983|
|The World’s Religions
The Catholic Faith
| Cambridge 1989
Appendix 6: Minds and Brains
The philosophical mind-body problem is relevant to religious beliefs, to Buddhist teachings and to dialectical materialism. The following discussion is an attempt to clarify some of the issues.
Brain processes cause consciousness but causality is not identity. The properties of a brain state are not those of a corresponding mental state or vice versa. For example, brain cells are grey whereas a mental image of the sun is yellow and abstract thoughts do not have colours.
A mental image or image in the mind is not a material image in the brain. A material image is an object or at least a surface that resembles another object. Examples are reflections, paintings, photographs and statues. Observation of brains does not reveal any such images inside them and, even if it did, there would be no necessary connection between such images and consciousness. Reflections etc are not conscious of the objects that they resemble. A photograph is a visual record and reminder but not a conscious memory.
Even if there were material images inside our brains, we would not be able to see them there because we do not have eyes inside our heads. Even if we were able to see material images inside our brains, that is not what happens when we imagine something. We do not visually perceive a present image but inwardly consider the visual appearance of an absent or even non-existent object. An imagined but non-existent object is "imaginary". We say of imaginary objects either that they do not exist or, alternatively, that they exist only in our heads. This phrase acknowledges the location of mental processes in the brain but does not entail that anyone who looks into a brain sees in there a host of mythological creatures or fictitious characters. If these creatures and characters existed in a way that enabled them to be seen by external observers, then they would not be mythological or fictitious and would not fit inside a head.
Even if mental images were somehow identified with material images inside the brain, most mental processes do not involve mental images. For example, we learn the meanings of words without forming a specific image for each word as we hear it, especially not for words like "if", "but", "and" etc. We understand these words if we use them correctly, not if we entertain a particular mental image each time we hear or read them. The concept of whiteness is not a white mental image but an abstraction applicable to every instance of that colour, whether real or imagined. The ability to apply concepts is described by psychologists and philosophers in terms differing completely from those used by neurologists to describe brains.
Brain states can be scientifically observed whereas thoughts can only be divulged by their thinker, who is usually unaware of his own brain processes. A scientifically studied brain is part of a person as observed by others whereas that person’s consciousness is his observations of everything else. Therefore, our description of his brain and his description of his consciousness differ.
By interacting with environments, we become conscious. By interacting with each other, we become self-conscious and detect consciousness in others. We become sufficiently conscious to recognise conscious behaviour. By studying brains, we discover not consciousness but its causes. Psychology is related, but not reducible, to neurology. Consciousness is a relationship, not an object, the process of seeing, not a seen process. (Detection, recognition, study, discovery and seeing presuppose consciousness, thus do not explain it.)
A brain can be described entirely in terms of its own physical properties, electrochemical states and immediate sensory inputs whereas consciousness cannot be described without reference to its objects which may be spatio-temporally distant, like another galaxy, a remote quasar or the cosmic origin, abstract, like a taste for autobiography, the middle of next week or the square root of minus one, unvisualisable, like a tachyon, a singularity or the fourth dimension, evaluative, like a moral judgement or an aesthetic response, or non-existent, like the Philosopher’s Stone or the Holy Grail. Merely physical acts cannot have non-existent objects: we can think about the Philosopher’s Stone but not sit on it and can look for the Grail but not drink from it.
It is impossible to describe a process, X, in such a way that the description excludes synonyms of "consciousness" like "sensation", "experience", "awareness", "perception", "knowledge", "cognition", "recognition" etc yet hearers or readers of the description remark, " ‘X’ is what we mean by ‘consciousness’ ". It follows that consciousness, like whiteness, is qualitatively unique and indefinable but not that it is inexplicable. It is explained by its material causes. Organisms became increasingly sensitive to environmental alterations until some organisms began consciously sensing their external environments, then perceiving discrete objects. Self-consciousness can be analysed into constituents which include basic concepts and conceptual abilities but also include the simple and unanalysable property of consciousness as opposed to unconsciousness. We cannot describe whiteness to a permanently blind man but need not describe consciousness to a permanently unconscious man. A person’s physical and psychological properties are two aspects of one entity, not two entities. Psychology emerges from but is not reducible to physicality.
Imagination is reified, i. e., mistakenly regarded as a purely physical process, in eight stages:
(1) We describe imagination not as a mental act but as a series of passively experienced mental images. This downplays the extent to which imagining something for ourselves differs from merely seeing an object that already exists and that is visible to others.
(2) We differentiate mental images from material objects by describing privately imagined things as "internal" and publicly perceivable objects as "external". The words "in", "inner" and "internal" are ambiguous because they differentiate the mental from the physical but also have purely physical applications. My hand is inside my pocket but both are outside my mind. The heart is an internal organ but is part of the external world from the mind’s point of view. It is not a figment of its owner’s imagination. We know this because it is detectable by others and because we find that it has continued to exist and to function even when it has not been observed.
(3) We acknowledge that mental processes are effects of brain processes.
(4) We identify the effects with their causes.
(5) We conclude that "internal" mental images are internal to the brain.
(6) Because the brain is a material organ, we conclude that an image that is internal to the brain is a material image.
(7) Because material images are visible to external observers, it is thought that a scientist observing a brain with a sufficiently sensitive instrument will be able to see in there a material image of a giraffe whenever the person whose brain he is observing imagines a giraffe.
(8) It is thought that the imagining of a giraffe is nothing more nor other than the seeing of a material image of a giraffe inside one’s own brain, although it is usually acknowledged that we cannot see anything in that direction.
This may sound implausible but I have had several heated arguments on the subject. People argue that an image must be detectable inside the brain because they think that the only alternative is to claim that the mind is independent of the brain. When this proposition is stated clearly, it is seen to be false. The mind may depend on the brain whether or not there are material images in the brain. All that the scientist needs to observe in the brain is whatever neurological process causes a mental act of the imagination. There need not be a visible resemblance between the physical cause and its psychological effect.
The brain is not divided into one part that is the observing subject and another part that is observed objects. Instead, the whole brain is somehow involved in generating consciousness, first of the external world, then of an internal realm that is not merely visual and that cannot be read in the brain in the way that words are read in a book. Conceivably, a scientist might record a person’s entire brain state at a particular moment, receive from the person, perhaps by hypnosis, an exhaustive account of his mental state at that moment and correlate the two states. However, every moment of consciousness is unique. Further, brains function differently and dynamically. Therefore, even a large number of specific brain-mind correlations would not necessarily enable a scientist observing a future brain state to describe the corresponding mental state. Further, even if he were able to do this, he would still be inferring a mental state from an observed brain state, not directly observing the mental state.
As a single water molecule is not wet, so a single brain cell is not conscious. As Hegel argued, quantity affects quality. Cerebral processing of environmental inputs became complicated (a quantitative change), then conscious (a qualitative change). Unconscious organisms and their environments became conscious subjects and their objects.
If natural brains cause consciousness, then so would artificial brains. However, rule-governed manipulation of symbols is not knowledge of their meanings and simulation is not duplication. Therefore, analogue computers are not artificial brains.
The qualitative difference between psyches and brains entails at least the logical possibility of a bodiless psyche. Just as there are unconscious material objects, there could be immaterial conscious subjects. We can, without self-contradiction, imagine a person losing all his physical properties of size, weight, mass etc while retaining his mental abilities to perceive, remember, think etc. We would then say either that his body had become invisible and, more generally, undetectable or that he had become bodiless. He would see without eyes or a brain. There is only an empirically contingent, not a logically necessary, connection between possession of bodily organs and the familiar experience of direct acquaintance with the visual properties of material objects. We can, as an imaginative exercise or thought experiment, conceive of experience without organs whereas we cannot, for example, conceive of a triangle without three sides. Fictitious accounts of disembodied subjects and real life accounts of alleged "out of the body" experiences are regarded as contrary to common experience but are not usually dismissed as verbally incoherent as a phrase like "square triangle" would be with the result that no one thinks of using such a phrase whereas people can and do imagine leaving their bodies.
If the relationship between brain states and consciousness is causal, then it is an empirically discerned constant conjunction between brain states and consciousness, not a necessary implication of the meanings of the words used to describe either brains or consciousness. Any empirically known generalisation is contingent, i.e., could have been otherwise. When a generalisation is necessary, i. e., could not have been otherwise, then we recognise its necessity simply by considering the meaning of the general statement, e.g., "all white men are men", and do not have to settle the matter experientially, i.e., by observing all white men in order to check whether one of them turns out not to be a man. The general statement that brains cause consciousness is known empirically. Of course, if, knowing that brains in fact cause consciousness, we then define a brain as that which causes consciousness, then the proposition that brains cause consciousness becomes a tautology or logical necessity but matters of fact about the world are not settled merely by defining words. If a brain is defined as the organ inside the skull, then it remains possible, first, that some brains will be found to control only automatic and unconscious responses of organisms to their environments and, secondly, that some instances of consciousness could have causes other than brains.
Violation of causal laws is physically impossible, i.e., we confidently predict that a violation will not occur because it would contradict all past experience and scientific knowledge. However, a violation is logically possible, i.e., we can conceive of its occurrence. Otherwise, stories about magic and miracles would be not false or fictitious but incomprehensible. Even in the real world, it is conceivable, first, that causal laws could vary in different cosmic epochs and, secondly, that there can be occasional exceptions, e.g., irregularities resulting from random "quantum" fluctuations. The possibility of consciousness independent of brains cannot be ruled out a priori.
However, disembodied consciousness remains merely a logical possibility. The experienced actual world is only one of many logically possible worlds. Other such worlds would contain different physical properties, natural laws or historical events or even different relationships between consciousness and its objects, e.g., a world composed entirely of approaching and receding sounds and of a hearer who, if he hears a particular sound continuously and identifies himself with it, thereby regards it as his body but who, otherwise, would have no reason to think that consciousness could be embodied.
In the world that we do inhabit, however, most empirical evidence supports the proposition that consciousness not only is caused by but also remains dependent on physical processes in visible and tangible brains. "Out of the body" experiences are possibly altered states of consciousness in which bodily sensations are disregarded and the immediate environment is vividly imagined as if seen from a point outside the body. "Near death" experiences are "out of the body" experiences that occur while the clinically dead body remains intact and revivable. Therefore, they do not guarantee continued consciousness after the body’s irrevocable decay. If a medium says what only X, who is dead, could have known, this could mean that X is disembodied and speaking through the medium but could also mean that we were wrong to think that only X could have known it. However, I have not studied the body of prima facie evidence for communications from the dead and therefore cannot comment further.
Only embodied subjects can be objects of each other’s consciousness. Only subjects that are also objects can participate in communities. Only participation in a linquistic community teaches individuals how to use words and other symbols consistently, therefore meaningfully. Only words and symbols enable individuals to think about things that are not immediately present. Only thought about objects of consciousness that are past, future, absent, hypothetical, imagined, general etc differentiates abstract thought and reflective self-consciousness from immediate animal sensation. Therefore:
any disembodied subjects that are capable of abstract thought and reflective self-consciousness must originally have been embodied;
any disembodied subjects that enter a common environment where they can communicate with each other are somehow re-embodied;
the dialectical materialist principle that consciousness is based in a form of being, i.e., in an objective realm independent of consciousness, applies even to a hypothetical hereafter.
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