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Doraku-An Zen-Dojo – Page 3 – Seminar Announcements and Incidental Remarks on Zen
Jun 062015
 

The other day an occasional visitor to my Dojo (1) told me he recently read somewhere in the depth or shallows of the world wide web that I might not have a proper authorisation to teach Zen, since my former teacher did not receive “Dharma Transmission” from his own teacher, Omori Sogen Roshi. This made me smile, I wonder who first proposed the nonsense equation so popular in Western Zen which reads:

Dharma Transmission = Zen Master = Authorisation to Teach Zen.

Nevertheless, from this odd topic some very Zen-style dialogue developed. Our little conversation continued as follows:

“The only person who can authorise me to teach you is standing right in front of me!”

“Who? Me?”

“Yes! Who is that person who can authorise me to teach you?”

“Me !??”

“Show me that person standing in front of me! Now!

“…”

Since we haven’t met recently, very likely he decided I better not become his authorised teacher …

So, what about my former teacher?

My former teacher (bottom left) with Omori Sogen Roshi (right).

My former teacher (bottom left) with Omori Sogen Roshi (right).

He had permission from his teacher, Omori Sogen Roshi, to teach Zen, and he did so for 4 1/2 years at Kanozan Zen Center (鹿野山禅研修所) in Chiba prefecture. This Zen Centre (like many others in Japan and abroad) is not a training hall for monks. It is a place for lay people who do not aspire a clerical career and ranks, though they sincerely study and practice Zen (quite opposite to most “professional” monks in Japan who are forced by their father to continue a family tradition).

After leaving Japan for good, my former teacher went to Germany with the blessing (and support) of his teacher to live a poor life as a Zen- and Hitsuzendo (Zen-calligraphy) teacher.

We met in 1998, and after almost 12 years of intense practise under his guidance he gave me his permission to teach Zen and Hitsuzendo. Two years later it was the time for us to part ways.

Working side by side with my former teacher - Benediktushof 2011

Working side by side with my former teacher during a  Sesshin at Benediktushof (Germany) in 2011

And his missing “Dharma Transmission”?

In my understanding, Dharma Transmission is an ongoing process which starts the day one seriously begins to practice.

If our way of obtaining the Dharma leads us to value certification our paper, it will have less worth than toilet paper. True certification occurs only when we realize that the Dharma goes beyond attainment, that we are the True Self. But we tend to get caught up in things, forgetting that the Dharma isn’t something we receive from others. (2)

Neither my former teacher nor I had any ambition to train professional monks, that is, to act as the shike (head teacher) of a sodo (training hall for monks). Why should I have any interest in what the formal requirements for such a position, as defined by some Japanese authority, might be? (3)

I don’t properly know the ceremonies and Sutra required to, say, conduct a funeral, a memorial service or a Buddhist wedding ceremony, which is a good portion of the regular duties of a Zen monk. I don’t conduct Dokusan (one-to-one Koan study), and I don’t pretend to hold or bestow any clerical ranks. This stuff has little to no overlap with my interest in a day-to-day Zen practise. Therefore I decided a few years ago to avoid any misunderstandings by giving the Way of Zen I practice and share with others a name of its own (4).

What I do in my Dojo and Seminars is sharing what I developed out of my teachers’ lessons, and I do not care at all if they had permission from their teachers or within their system to give me any permission to teach. What counts for me is the fact that the person I gave permission to teach me, I trusted and I decided to study with for a long time, at some point said: go ahead, you may now teach what you have learned from me!

Is that enough for you to trust me as your teacher? Of course not! No authority, no qualification and no sheet of paper can do the task for you to thoroughly examine if you can trust me and do not waste your time studying with me. Who knows if I ever will say to you go ahead, you may now teach what you learned from me. All I promise is: you won’t get any certificate, any rank or any title from me. It’s all up to you!

(1) I prefer to avoid the term “student” for guests who visit my Dojo from time to time to practise with me.

(2) Shin’ichi Hisamatsu, Critical Sermons of the Zen Tradition: Hisamatsu’s Talks on Linji, Chapter 14

(3) A very detailed explanation concerning the regulations of the Soto sect is given by Muho (Part 1 and Part 2). For the formalities in Rinzai Zen a good description of the practice at Myoshinji can be found in: Jørn Borup,  Japanese Rinzai Zen Buddhism, Myōshinji, a living religion, Numen Book Series, Studies in the History of Religions (Volume 119), Leiden and Boston (2008), p.57 ff

(4) Nevertheless I keep friendly contacts to Japanese Rinzai Zen. Our Dojo is the official dependency of Shunko-In Zen Temple in Kyoto, since I very much appreciate the deputy head priest Taka Kawakami‘s open minded and modern approach towards Zen. Also I keep regular contact with Hozumi Roshi, the Zen Master who once ordained me and who is leading the Tekishinjuku outside Kameoka, the temple where I stay for some time whenever I come to Japan.

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May 232015
 
Keisaku

Keisaku

Wherever I go to practise Zazen I try to experience the Keisaku, when kindly offered by the Jikijitsu leading the meditation. It is a good experience to learn, and it gives me an impression of the character (and swordsman skills) of the person handling it.

Last year visiting Engakuji Temple in Kitakamakura for morning Zazen I should have been warned: either by the fierce expression in face of the monk carrying the stick, or by the fact his body sized as wide as tall. Politely choosing the place next to the entrance, I was the first one in the group having a chance to ask, and when the first blow came down on me I almost fell down from my cushion. The four strokes left two large blue-green-yellow bruises on my back for some weeks (and forced me to sleep on the side for a couple of nights). The monk’s other passion must be tameshigiri I concluded, the art of cutting objects into pieces with a katana.

A week after this experience I went to my “Home-Temple” in Kameoka. Knowing the old Master uses the Keisaku in a much lighter way, I challenged my colourful back once more. Two strokes came down precise but lightly, and while I changed to the other side with a feeling of relief and confidence, number three hit me on my head. BANG!

So much I was preconditioned by the 2 left – 2 right rhythm, that I completely ignored any other possibilities! Would that have occurred with master-swordsman-monk at Engakuji the week before, I seriously might not have survived my mistake.

Besides all the hype and big business happening around “Mindfulness” these days, I value the term in it’s meaning of an open awareness of what is happening right here, right now – instead of being preoccupied by concepts of what might happen next. At least, a bit more mindfulness might prevent me from some headache next time …

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May 082015
 

I was born 20 years and a few months after the Second World War ended. Probably I would not sit here today and write a Zen-blog, if you did not come over to free our country from my grandparents generation’s murderous system.

Thank you! Merci! Спасибо!

The Red Flag on the German Reichstag, 1945.

The Red Flag on the German Reichstag, 1945.

Said that … maybe I would exactly sit here and write a Zen blog, in case Hitler’s fascist regime survived. One of the shocking discoveries I made while deeper getting into Japanese Zen and Martial Arts was, how much mutual sympathy between Nazi leaders and Japanese traditionalists existed – far beyond a military ally of the so called “axis powers”.

The mutual understanding of the German and Japanese culture circles (Kulturkreis) is comprehensive and sincere. Its further consolidation is a fundamental condition for the leadership in the worldwide battle, in which both befriended nations are involved, and for a new world order, which exclusively can be established through a close collaboration of both nations.

The German-Japanese friendship is far beyond politics and military a deep-rooted communion, which is based upon an unshakable ideological and cultural basis, and therefore determined to last for a long time.

Hiroshi Oshima, Japanese ambassador in Berlin, July 1943 (1)

I get a cold shiver not only reading these lines, but also when German martial artists today naively talk or write about “traditional Japanese”, referring to a system which was forcefully created before and during the Second World War as a fascist and militarist ideology from shinto and samurai roots (not to forget the support of certain Buddhist scholars, but this is another discussion …). Don’t some of us live out their desire to follow (or play) Führer by putting on ancient Japanese cloths, swinging a sword and shouting commands with a harsh military voice?

“Don’t put your hand so straight on the saya!”, my former (American) Iaido teacher scolded me, “standing like this with a sword is a fascist posture!”. I wish, all of us being interested or deeply involved in Japanese (martial) arts would be so considerate, avoiding a possibly naive re-import of neofascist rituals in the disguise of a misunderstood Asian tradition.

At least this effort we owe to those who risked or sacrificed their life to free our country!


(1) Quoted from the foreword of the 2nd edition of the photography book by Younosuke Nattori: Gross Japan (Dai Nippon), Karl Specht Verlag, 1942 (my English rendering of the German text).

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Mar 312015
 

Registration for my next Zen-Ken-Sho Sesshin at Benediktushof Holzkirchen (July 19-22) is open, and usually I get the one or other question in advance how I split the time between Zazen, Aikiken (Aikido exercise with the wooden sword, bokken) and Hitsuzendo (Zen-calligraphy).

Is it too many hours sitting for me? Do we write long enough? Too much physical exercise?

I want to reply “Come and see, join in! No one will force you beyond your limits!”

In his recent blog post the American Zen-Punk Brad Warner (also teaching at Benediktushof from time to time) address this issue with “Zen plus Something” seminars:

Now if you sign up for a “Zen and Yoga” or “Zen and Calligraphy” or “Zen and Skeeball” or “Zen and whatever” retreat at some places I’ve spent time at, what you’ll get will be a lot of yoga or calligraphy or skeeball and a small amount of (almost always optional) Zen. Meditation centers generally know that actual meditation is a tough sell and often minimize or very nearly eliminate actual sitting from the schedule.

Really? I had no idea … except for the 13 years I worked with my former Zen and Hitsuzendo teacher, and later during my visits to Japan, I never attended any other Zen Sesshin. I have no idea how others do it … just a little bit of optional sitting, does that make sense?

My Zafu (pillow for Zazen) at Tekishinjuku in Kameoka.

My Zafu (pillow for Zazen) at Tekishinjuku in Kameoka.

In my own experience (which I do not intend to generalise for everybody), Zazen, the practise of sitting meditation, is something which cannot be replaced by any other exercise, and for sure not by reading books or washing dishes. It is a really good investment of time and energy to overcome the many kinds of initial difficulties, and develop a strong and sustained Zazen practise. This provides a really good foundation for exercising the many kinds of Zen-Arts, including reading books and washing dishes.

Just practising calligraphy, sword, yoga … whatever during a “Zen plus X” seminar, but skipping Zazen, is what my former teacher called “eating the foam but not drinking the beer”.

Brad Warner wrote that during his Zen Retreats participants usually practise three and a half hours Zazen per day, which in his eyes is “the perfect amount of sitting for both beginners and long-time practitioners”.

In my Sesshin we practise four hours Zazen per day, but twice 25 minutes are (really!) optional. In between we have two longer sessions for Hitsuzendo, followed by Aikiken. A short and simple tea-ceremony (sarei) in the morning, Aiki-Taiso (physical exercises similar to Qi Gong) and Sutra chanting twice a day. Plus (optional) private interview with me in the afternoon and (not optional) one hour Zen-Style working period (samu) for the house. This is quite a lot, so we start early in the morning.

Still I get the impression the participants of my Sesshin are suffering from too many breaks, too much leisure time, sleep too long and go to bed too early. Well, not all of them … when during the breaks most enjoy a coffee, do a walk, rest in their room or spend time and money in the book-shop, occasionally the one or other comes to help me: preparing and cleaning the Zendo, folding newspaper for calligraphy or sorting and throwing the many sheets of paper we wrote is a never ending Zen-exercise. And suddenly the day is full, 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. with no more breaks or leisure time. This is what I call advanced practise …this is the way I studied with my teacher how to conduct a Sesshin: no break, not a minute free time all day long and half of the night. Well, except for a coffee after lunch, maybe …

“Do you also teach advanced seminars?” participants of my Sesshin occasionally ask. “Yes, sure!” I reply, “during the breaks!”.

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Mar 142015
 
Prince William psing as Toyotomi Hideysoshi during his recent visit in Japan

Prince William posing as Toyotomi Hideysoshi during his recent visit in Japan

UFFF-UFFF-UAGHHH … every now and then I can hear such weird noise outside my Dojo. What sounds like a mating deer or an asthmatic angry dog usually turns out to be the utterance of some post-adolescent male, to all appearances belonging to the species homo sapiens.

How comes a wooden signpost with Japanese characters next to the entrance and a calligraphy and a flower in the otherwise empty window can trigger this kind of acoustic degeneration?

During my stays in Japan I witnessed a variety of inept behaviour by guests being overwhelmed by the unfamiliar culture, not just a few of such stunts performed by myself. Though with a specific kind of people, a Japanese environment seems to provoke the production of a sound-scape and actions which might be inspired by a previous overconsumption of certain Asian martial art films.

I speculate that the mixture of feeling illiterate and helpless like a kid in the face of an unintelligible language and culture, together with the onset of megalomania fuelled by the host’s (never before in such way experienced) politeness motivates the uncontrolled release of accumulated prejudice.

The Polish President, being asked to climb down a chair

The Polish President, being asked to climb down the chair of the speaker of Japan’s Diet

It is more than just a bit disturbing to read the Polish President Bronisław Komorowski called his national-security adviser “Shogun” during a photo shooting in the Japanese parliament, just minutes before he mounted the chair of the speaker of Japan’s Diet.

Japan provides such an excellent environment for us to experience and learn new things – or to make a complete fool out of ourselves. This is one reason why I decided (beyond my private preference for Japanese aesthetics) to maintain a distinct “Japanese Style” at my Dojo. The place teaches by itself, a first lesson might well be to take off your shoes …

The socks belonging to the Japanese actress Hana Moyu (left), who showed typical Japanese hospitality (momotenashi) by not asking Prince William to take off his shoes before stepping on tatami

The tabi (socks) belonging to the Japanese actress Hana Moyu (right), who showed typical Japanese hospitality (omotenashi) by not asking Prince William to take off his shoes (left) before stepping on the tatami

 

 

P.S.: In defence of Prince William who was seemingly not being prepared by the most competent advisers for his Japan trip, I want to add that he was very well received. Especially his visit to the tortured Tohoku region and (on his special request arranged) exchange with victims of the 3.11 disaster triggered some very positive resonance in the Japanese media.

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Mar 052015
 
Hisamatsu Shin'ichi (1889-1980)

Hisamatsu Shin’ichi (1889-1980)

The half-baked attempts of transplanting the outmoded Chinese/Japanese concept of a “Zen-Master” into our modern 21st century Western society can be a never ending source of entertainment. Occasionally I come across web-pages of the one or other “Zen-Master”, providing the most hilarious narration of how his or her “Dharma Transmission” occurred (*), and it might be beyond imagination what really had happened (or not) on such occasion.

Currently I am reading the highly recommended book Critical Sermons of the Zen Tradition: Hisamatsu’s Talks on Linji by Shin’ichi Hisamatsu. Though a bit old fashioned in language here and there, the ideas of this Buddhist scholar, philosopher and tea ceremony master come to us fresh and revolutionary, like a whirlwind blowing out the dust from all corners of a sleepy Zen Dojo.

Let me quote what Hisamatsu wrote on “Dharma Transmission”:

Because the Dharma isn’t apart from the Self, it can’t be obtained from the outside.
[ …]
If our way of obtaining the Dharma leads us to value certification our paper, it will have less worth than toilet paper. True certification occurs only when we realize that the Dharma goes beyond attainment, that we are the True Self. But we tend to get caught up in things, forgetting that the Dharma isn’t something we receive from others. Ask yourself: who certifies whom? The Self does it to the Self. There is no other type of certification. Nevertheless, certification tends to get off the track and become something fixed apart from us. The transmission of the Dharma becomes a mere form, which prevents the Dharma from being transmitted in the true sense. Contemporary Zen people need to think seriously about this.

Chapter 14, The Meaning of the Founder’s Coming from the West

The Dharma is independent of all sutras, of all words.
[ …]
To treasure these words after Buddha’s death and say that they are his central teaching is to exhibit ignorance of the basic fact that the Dharma is independent of words. The Dharma is living in the present. New expressions and teachings may – and indeed must – emerge from it one after another.
[ …]
One who truly lives in the Dharma does not become entangled in words from Sakyamuni’s “golden mouth”.

Chapter 15, The Three Vehicles Twelve Divisions of Teachings

This text is more than 50 years old, slightly elder than I am. Yet reading these words makes me feel much younger! Let’s quickly forget them, so new expressions and teachings may emerge from it one after another.

P.S. (7.3.): Many thanks to Rev. Taka Kawakami (the deputy head priest at Shunkoin Temple) for reminding me that Shin’ichi Hisamatsu lived at Shunkoin Temple in the 1930’s. The webpage of Shunkoin explains that “Shunkoin was one of the most important places in Japanese Buddhist philosophy in the early 20th century. D. T. Suzuki and Hōseki S. Hisamatsu, who are two of the most famous Japanese Zen Buddhist philosophers, discussed the future of Japanese Buddhism at this temple. Especially, Hōseki S. Hisamatsu lived in the guest house of Shunkoin and wrote several his books. There are azaleas planted by D.T. Suzuki in the front garden of Shunkoin.”

One more reason to be grateful that (now almost four years ago) our Dojo became Shunkoin Temple’s official association in Germany!

(*) “Dharma Transmission” = “Zen Master” = “Teaching License” is a common misunderstanding in Western Zen. For example, within the Japanese Soto-system a dharma transmisson “[ …] provides access to only a relatively low grade. It is listed as a requirement for the very lowest ecclesiastical status, that of an instructor third class (santo kyoshi). Thus, in present day Soto Zen, dharma transmission constitutes a preliminary step, after which one’s real development begins. The relatively low status of dharma transmission means that in and of itself it does not qualify one to accept students or to train disciples.” quoted after: William M. Bodiford, Dharma Transmission in Theory and Practice, in: Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright (eds.), Zen Ritual Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice, Oxford University Press, p. 276 (2008).

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Feb 282015
 

About 15 Years ago, during the lunch-break of a Zen-Seminar at my old Aikido-Dojo in Bavaria, my former teacher brushed for me the character 夢 (YUME/dream) on a large paper. I believe it is one of the best pieces he ever wrote, reflecting so well the atmosphere of that beautiful sunny day. This YUME has been on display ever since, at my home, my office for years and now at my Dojo.

Last week a lady visited the Dojo in search of a calligraphy as a special birthday gift. After inspecting my own brushwork for some time she spotted that YUME and said: “Oh, THIS ONE is beautiful!”. I explained why it is not for sale, and offered to write a “similar one” instead.

yume

夢 YUME/dream, my former teacher’s version (standing in the frame) surrounded by my copies

When a few days later my phone rang and the lady agreed to my offer, I knew I was in trouble. Writing nice calligraphy is one thing, fulfilling the frivolous promise to produce an equivalent copy of my former teacher’s master-piece is another story.

It is impossible for me to brush a vibrant piece of Zen-calligraphy if I bear any doubt in my heart, any fear, any worries … even the slightest hesitation will leave its trace on the paper, clearly visible to the expert and lay-person alike. Like a happy child loudly singing on the street, an unburdened state of mind freely playing with the technical skills acquired over years of practice is the only way to express myself with brush and ink. It cannot be pushed, if “ME” wants to write a masterpiece, all you can see later in my brush-stroke is either my fear to fail, or MY BIG EGO.

Writing my former teacher’s YUME without even thinking of it, what an exercise!

Did I succeed? The friendly customer seemed delighted with the outcome of my efforts when she came to pick up her YUME the other day. I gave her the best out of seven versions, though I believe the quick warm-up I first brushed on a newspaper was maybe even slightly better …

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Feb 202015
 
SHIN/kokoro (heart,mind) - a calligraphy I recently sold.

SHIN/kokoro (heart,mind) – a calligraphy I recently sold.

It is raining outside and cold inside my Dojo. I came earlier today because someone was interested in buying a calligraphy. Though, what I had to offer seemed beyond the friendly ladies budget. How much for an original piece of art? Five times the price of an IKEA poster? 300.000 of my calligraphies for the money Andy Warhols “Six Self Portraits” changed owner at Sotherby’s last year?

I had to sell three large calligraphies to pay my Dojo’s monthly rent, though usually I sell one every three months. Never mind, there is some small income through regular and irregular students, and the landlord agreed to cut the rent to two thirds for the time being. But maybe I have to close down this year anyway … it doesn’t matter.

While waiting if someone would show up for the Zen Introduction Class I offer twice a month (every 1st and 3rd Friday) I have some time to practice Shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. My former Shakuhachi teacher passed away last October, never will I have another lesson with him. Yet I meet with him every time playing his hand-made flute while reading from the music scores he brushed for me over a decade ago. These dialogues with my late teacher, what a special, precious exercise!

I read a friend’s article about Zen-Moneymakers (1), and later a carelessly edited flyer with pictures of nice Japanese temples and tea houses advertising a planned Zen Temple and Seminar Centre in Bavaria (2). The flyer talks of a “Zen-Master-House” with an area of 150 square meters, which “is also an example for a small tea house”. A small tea house measures 4 1/2 tatami, a bit more than seven square meters. 20 small tea houses would fit into this Zen Master’s home … our European sense for space and modesty?

My Iaido teacher was so poor that in the end he sold the ancient swords and books he brought from Japan. My Zen and Zen-Calligraphy teacher lived for many years in a small room as a subtenant. The Zen-Temple in Japan I occasionally visit for practise ran out of food and later toilet paper (fortunately in that order) last time I was there, and my late Aikido teacher used to carry his dogi and hakama (cloths for practice) in old plastic bags. Poverty is no indicator for quality of course, but none of my excellent teachers had more than necessary to live.

Nobody came for the introduction class that rainy Friday evening. After I decided to charge a modest fee for the hour and a tea, visitors became quite rare. It seems “Zen-for-Free” and “Zen-Moneymakers” is a business model, a little donation to keep the Dojo running might be asking too much.

(1) Christopher Hamacher: Die Zen-Geschäftemacher (PDF-download)
(2) Flyer Zen-Kloster mit Seminarzentrum Daishin Zen (PDF-download)

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Jan 112015
 

I was asked for a Zen-calligrapher’s comment on the Paris massacre.

In a brush-stroke you may see yourself. Bear with it, don’t kill!

Charlie.

Blasphemous self portrait in Zazen-posture, holding a mirror.

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Dec 242014
 

Today I had a look how many people subscribed for this blog. After deducting some obvious spam, I counted 108 subscriptions … really?

Recently somebody (with whom I had just a brief virtual exchange) called me a “blogger”. I was baffled … isn’t a blogger a young, maybe nerdy late-teen being occupied with writing about, say, street-fashion or the latest technical gadgets? Or someone for whom independent online-publishing is an important part of every day life? Someone with a message …?

Hotei pointing to the Moon by Sengai Gibon

Hotei pointing to the Moon, by Sengai Gibon

Calling me a “blogger” is a bit as if my university students would call me a “hand-outer”, because occasionally they receive a hand-out accompanying my lectures. Though, producing and handing out short snippets of text is not anyhow significant for my academic research or teaching, it’s nothing more than here or there providing some additional information, pointing to this or that. In a similar way I understand my blog in relation to my teaching activities in Zen and Zen-Arts.

I began this blog as a kind of travel diary when I went to Japan and the Tohoku region a few weeks after the disastrous earthquake and Tsunami (known as the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake). At the time I wasn’t sure what will become out of it, I also wasn’t quite sure if I will return in good health since the fatally destroyed reactors in Fukushima were still boiling, in addition to a typhoon warning issued for that very day I passed close by Fukushima on my way to Sendai.

I simply thought it might be a good idea to provide some bits of information about my journey, mixed with some views on my way of practising Zen. Some nice feed-back encouraged me to continue writing, in spite of serious doubts every now and then if this wasn’t a considerable waste of time.

Consequently, this blog is not (like some other blogs might well be) written for it’s own sake, or anyhow considered to be a consistent and self-sufficient source of information. It’s just a hand-out, snippets, or (as it is said in the title) “incidental remarks on Zen”. Nothing too serious … my 108 subscribers (and accidental passer-by), I hope you enjoyed reading!

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