Householder (Buddhism)

Householder (Buddhism)

title=Translations of
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English | householder
Pali | IAST|gihin, gahattha,

Sanskrit | IAST|gṛhin, grihastha,

Chinese | 居士
Vietnamese| Cư sĩ
Japanese | 居士
Tibetan | khyim-pa
In English translations of Buddhist literature, householder denotes a variety of terms. Most broadly, it refers to any layperson, and most narrowly, to a wealthy and prestigious familial patriarch. [In regards to the narrower definition of what today is often translated from the Pali Canon as "householder," see, for instance, the description of "IAST|gṛhapati" in Nattier (2003), pp. 22-25. For more information, see Note 3 below.] In contemporary Buddhist communities, householder is often used synonymously with "laity".

The Buddhist notion of householder is often contrasted with that of wandering ascetics (IAST|Pāḷi: "IAST|samaṇa"; Sanskrit: "IAST|śramaṇa") and monastics ("bhikkhu" and "bhikkhuni"), who would not live (for extended periods) in a normal house and who would pursue freedom from attachments to houses and families.

Lay disciples ("upasaka" and "upasika") are householders and other laypersons who take refuge in the Triple Gem (the Buddha, his teaching and his community) and practice the Five Precepts. In southeast Asian communities, lay disciples also give alms to monks on their daily rounds and observe weekly uposatha days.

In some traditional Buddhist societies, such as in Myanmar and Thailand, people transition between householder and monk and back to householder with regularity and celebration. [In [ Buckley (2007),] a BBC News article describing Myanmar's monks, the subheading includes: "...even those who do not choose to become a 'career monk' usually enter the orders for short periods of their lives...." In addition, the article's initial source is a BBC Burmese service professional who mentions that during his adult life he himself entered monastic life three times, each time for a few weeks. See also the article about the Burmese tradition of Shinbyu.] One of the evolving features of Buddhism in the West is the increasing dissolution of the traditional distinction between monastics and laity. [See, for instance, Wallace (2002), p. 35, who writes:

"For all the diversity of Buddhist practices in the West, general trends in the recent transformations of Buddhist practice ... can be identified. These include an erosion of the distinction between professional and lay Buddhists; a decentralization of doctrinal authority; a diminished role for Buddhist monastics; an increasingspirit of egalitarianism; greater leadership roles for women; greater social activism; and, in many cases, an increasing emphasis on the psychological, as opposed to the purely religious, nature of practice."

Theravada perspectives

PeoplepalicanonIn the Pali canon, householders received diverse advice from the Buddha and his disciples. Some householders (who were also lay disciples) were even identified as having achieved nibbana.

Core householder practices include undertaking the Five Precepts and taking refuge in the Triple Gem. In addition, the canon nurtures the essential bond between householders and monastics still apparent today in southeast Asian communities.

What is a householder?

In traditional Indian society, a householder (Sanskrit, "grihastha") is typically a settled adult male with a family.

In the Buddhist Pali canon, various Pali words have been translated into the English word "householder" including agārika, gahapati, gahattha and gihin. [The Pali Text Society's (PTS) "Pali-English Dictionary" provides the following definitions for these various householder-related Pali words (listed alphabetically below):
*agārika - "having a house..., householder, layman," juxtaposed with "anagārika". Similarly, "agārikā" is translated as "housewife." (PTS, 1921-25, p. 3, entry for "agārika".)
*gahapati - "the possessor of a house, the head of the household, "pater familias"," often with a social status similar to high-ranking personages (Pali, "khattiyā") and brahmins, suggesting comfort and wealth; may be used as a form of address comparable to "Sir." (PTS, 1921-25, p. 248, entry for "gahapati".) See also Buddhadatta, 2002, p. 96, where "gaha-ttha" is defined as "a layman; householder" and "gaha-pati" is defined as "master of a house"; and, Nattier (2003), pp. 22-25, which provides contextual information to support its conclusion: "The word "IAST|gṛhapati" [Sanskrit for the Pali "gahapati"] is thus not an indicator of simple householder status but rather of significant social and financial standing, and it would have been applied only to a relatively limited segment of the lay Buddhist population."
*gahattha - "a householder, one who leads the life of a layman." (PTS, 1921-25, p. 247, entry for "gaha" with mention of use with the suffix "-ttha.")
*gihin - "a householder, one who leads a domestic life, a layman." (PTS, 1921-25, p. 251, entry for "gihin".)

In the Pali canon, these terms for "householder" can be combined with some other appellations. For instance, in the Sāleyyaka Sutta (MN 41), the Buddha is addressed by "sāleyyakā brāhmana-gahapatikā" which, for instance, is translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi (2005, p. 156) as "brahmin householders of Sālā."

Within the Pali canon, there is a "Householder section" ("Gahapativagga") in the following nikayas:
*the Majjhima Nikaya (MN 51 to MN 60) (see Nanamoli & Bodhi, 2001, pp. 441-519).
*the Samyutta Nikaya (SN 12.41 to SN 12.50) (see Bodhi, 2000, pp. 578-86, and, in the Sinhalese Tipitaka,
*the Anguttara Nikaya (AN 8.3) (see, in the Sinhalese Tipitaka,
] Vocations most often associated with householders in the Pali canon are those of guild foreman, banker and merchant (Pali, "IAST|seṭṭhi") but other vocations are mentioned such as farmer and carpenter. [See PTS (1921-25) entries for "Gahapati" (p. 248; retrieved 2008-02-16 at and "IAST|Seṭṭhi" (p. 722; retrieved 2008-02-16 at Also see Gombrich (2002), pp. 56-7, which states::Who were these people in terms of class or profession? In the Canon, most of them evidently own land, but they usually have labourers to do the physical work. Sometimes they are also in business. In fact, they illustrate how it is in the first instance wealth derived from agriculture which provides business capital. The average "gahapati" who gave material support to the Buddha and his Sangha thus seems to have been something like a gentleman farmer, perhaps with a town house. On the other hand, inscriptions in the western Deccan, where Buddhism flourished in the early centuries CE, use the term "gahapati" to refer to urban merchants. We must distinguish between reference and meaning: the meaning of "gahapati" is simple and unvarying, but the reference shifts with the social context.] Other people in the canon who are sometimes identified as "householders" in contemporary translations are simply those individuals who dwelt in a home or who had not renounced "home life" (Pali, "agārasmā") for "homelessness" (Pali, "anagāriya").

Householder ethics

While there is no formal "householder discipline" or "code of ethics" in the ancient Buddhist Code of Ethics (Pali, "Vinaya"), the "Sigalovada Sutta" (DN 31) [DN 31 is translated in Narada (1996).] has been referred to as "the Vinaya of the householder" ("gihi-vinaya"). [This epithet is attributed to Buddhaghosa in Narada (1995) and is referenced in Bodhi (2005), p. 109; Hinüber (2000), p. 31; and Law (1932-33), p. 85, "n". 1.] This sutta includes:
* an enumeration of the Five Precepts
* an analysis of good-hearted (Pali: "su-hada") friends
* a description of respectful actions for one's parents, teachers, spouse, friends, workers and religious guides.

Similarly, in the "Dhammika Sutta" (Sn 2.14), [Ireland (1983).] the Buddha articulates the "layman's rule of conduct" (Pali, "gahatthavatta"), [PTS, p. 247, under the entry for "gaha (1)"] as follows:
* the Five Precepts
* the Eight Precepts for Uposatha days
* support of one's parents
* engaging in fair business.

Other suttas in the canon likewise underline keeping the precepts, maintaining virtuous friends, homage to one's benefactors and earning one's wealth honestly. [See, for instance, the Dighajanu Sutta.]

Elsewhere in the Sutta Pitaka the Buddha provides moral instruction to householders and their family members [For example, in DN 31, the Buddha addresses "Sigalaka the householder's son" (Bodhi, 2005, pp. 116-8).] on how to be good parents, spouses and children. [See, for instance, additional examples in Narada (1995) and in Bodhi (2005)'s chapter, "The Happiness Visible in this Present Life," pp. 107-142.]

Buddha's advice to Buddhist laywomen is contained mostly in the Anguttara Nikaya 8:49; IV 269-71. His advice was as follows:

* Be capable at one's work
* Work with diligence and skill
* Manage domestic help skillfully (if relevant) and treat them fairly
* Perform household duties efficiently
* Be hospitable to one's husband's parents and friends
* Be faithful to one's husband; protect and invest family earnings
* Discharge responsibilities lovingly and conscientiously; accomplish faith (faith in the possibility of enlightenment, and of the enlightenment of the Buddha.)
* Accomplish moral discipline (observe/practise the five precepts.)
* Practise generosity (cultivate a mind free from stinginess or avarice; delight in charity, giving and sharing.)
* Cultivate wisdom (Perceive the impermanence of all things.).

The Buddha also gave advice on householders' financial matters. In the Anguttara Nikaya (4.61; II 65-68) it is said that the Buddha stated that there are four worthy ways in which to spend one's wealth:

* On the everyday maintenance of the happiness of oneself and one's family (as well as any employees, friends and co-workers);
* On providing insurance (against losses from fire, floods, unloved heirs and misfortune generally);
* By making offerings to relatives, guests, ancestors ( offerings to ancestors are traditionally made, in a respectful Halloween type ritual, throughout Buddhist countries on Ulumbana, in the eighth lunar month – around October. Food offerings and good deeds are done in order to relieve the sufferings of hungry ghosts and to help rescue one's ancestors from the lower realms, to secure rebirth for them in higher realms. Many people visit cemeteries to make offerings to departed ancestors), the Monarch and the Devas (note that worshipping Devas will not bring you closer to enlightenment but it may give you some kind of material advantage);
* By providing alms to monks and nuns who are devoted to the attainment of Nibbana. In the Digha Nikaya (III) the Buddha is said to have advised Sigala, a young man, that he should spend one fourth of his income on daily expenses, invest half in his business and put aside one fourth as insurance against an emergency.

Lay-monastic reciprocity

Some suttas suggest that Buddhist renunciates are best going it alone. [For instance, the Rhinoceros Sutta (Snp 1.3) (Thanissaro, 1997) has the frequent cautionary refrain: "wander alone like a rhinoceros."] Many others celebrate and provide instruction for a vital reciprocity between householders and monastics. For instance, in the Khuddaka Nikaya, [Itivuttaka 4.8 (Thanissaro, 2001).] the Buddha articulates that "brahmins and householders" (Pali, "brāhmanagahapatikā") support monks by providing monks with robes, alms food, lodgings and medicine while monks teach brahmins and householders the Dhamma. In this sutta, the Buddha declares::Householders & the homeless [monastics] :in mutual dependence:both reach the true Dhamma::the unsurpassed safety from bondage. [Thanissaro (2001).]

Householders & future lives

In the Pali canon, the pursuit of Nibbana (Skt: "Nirvana") within this lifetime usually starts with giving up the householder life. This is due to the householder life's intrinsic attachments to a home, a spouse, children and the associated wealth necessary for maintaining the household. Thus, instead of advising householders to relinquish these and all attachments as a prerequisite for the complete liberation from samsara in this lifetime, the Buddha instructed householders on how to achieve "well-being and happiness" ("hita-sukha") in this and future lives in a spiritually meaningful way.

In Buddhism, a householder's spiritual path is often conceived of in terms of making merit (Pali: "puñña"). The primary bases for meritorious action in Buddhism are generosity ("dāna"), ethical conduct ("sīla") and mental development ("bhāvanā"). Traditional Buddhist practices associated with such behaviors are summarized in the table below.

Householders & Nibbana

The Anguttara Nikaya (AN 6.119 and AN 6.120) [In an on-line English-language Sinhalese Tipitaka, these suttas are identified as AN 6.12.3 and 6.12.4 respectively, and are available at An on-line Pali-language version of these Sinhalese suttas, identified as AN 6.2.17 through 6.2.34 (with a separate verse for each "gahapati"), are available at In the PTS edition of the tipitaka, these passages are identified as A.iii, 450-51.] identifies 19 householders ("gahapati") [Nyanaponika & Hecker (2003), p. 365, state that AN 6.120 refers to 21 "eminent lay disciples." The actual Pali text itself explicitly identifies 18 householders ("gahapati") and three lay disciples ("upasaka"; see also, "savaka"); nonetheless, many of these identified householders are also identified as "foremost" ("agga") lay disciples in AN 1.14. [] Tangentially, Bodhi (2005), p. 226, notes that a lay disciple is able to achieve the state of nonreturner but is not able to achieve arahantship unless upon death or, after realizing such, they immediately become monastics.] who have "attained perfection" ("niIAST|ṭṭhamgata") and "seen deathlessness, seen deathlessness with their own eyes" ("amataddaso, IAST|amataṃ sacchikata"). [See, for instance, Bodhi's translation of Samyutta Nikaya, chapter 43, where "amata" ("deathlessness" or "the deathless") and "nibbana" are synonyms (Bodhi, 2005, pp. 364-5).] These householders are endowed ("samannāgato") with six things ("chahi dhammehi"):
* unwavering faith ("aveccappasādena") in the Buddha
* unwavering faith in the Teaching ("dhamma")
* unwavering faith in the Community ("sangha") [These first three objects of faith — the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha — are known in Buddhism as the Triple Gem. In the Pali Canon, in general, "sangha" (without an explicit modifier or other contextual information) can refer to either the community of monks (see Sangha) or the community of noble disciples (see Sravaka and Arahant).]
* noble moral discipline ("ariyena sīlena")
* noble knowledge ("ariyena ñānena")
* noble release ("ariyāya vimuttiyā")

While some interpret this passage to indicate that these householders have attained arahantship, others interpret it to mean they have attained at least "stream entry" ("sotapatti") but not final release. [See, for instance, Mendis (2001, p. 185, "n". 64): :A famous passage at A.iii, 450-51 is often held to provide evidence for lay persons attaining arahantship and continuing to remain as householders, but such an interpretation is erroneous, based on mistaking the expression "IAST|niṭṭhaṅgata" to mean "attained the goal," when it actually means "attained to certainty" and signifies a stream-enterer or one at some other grade of noble attainment short of arahantship.] The para-canonical Milindapañha adds: :"... [F] or a householder who has attained arahantship: either, that very day, he goes forth into homelessness or he attains final Nibbāna. That day is not able to pass without one or other of these events taking place." (Miln. VII, 2) [Mendis (2001), p. 119. Mendis (2001), p. 185, "n". 64, further notes::This statement is not found as such in the canonical texts, but the idea it expresses seems to be based on the few instances recorded in the Suttas of lay persons attaining arahantship. In such cases the lay person either immediately seeks admission into the Order, as in the case of Yasa (Vin.i,17) or is a householder on the verge of death, as in the case mentioned at S.V,410...."]

Prominent householders in the Pali canon

The following are examples of individuals who are explicitly identified as a "householder" (Pali, "gahapati") in multiple suttas:
*Anathapindika, is referenced for instance in AN 1.14.249 as "the householder Sudatta, the foremost lay devotee." [In an on-line English-language Sinhalese Tipitaka, see Also see, Nyanaponika & Hecker (2003), pp. 337-62.]
*Citta, referenced for instance in AN 1.14.250 as "the [foremost] householder for explaining the Teaching." [In an on-line English-language Sinhalese Tipitaka, see Also see, Nyanaponika & Hecker (2003), pp. 365-72.] In SN 17.23, Citta is one of two male lay disciples identified for emulation by the Buddha. [Bodhi (2000), p. 688. This sutta is entitled, "Only Son," and in it the Buddha states: :"A faithful female lay follower, rightly imploring her only son, dear and beloved, might implore him thus: 'Dear, you should become like Citta the householder and Hatthaka of Alavaka — for this is the standard and criterion for my male disciples who are lay followers...."]
*Nakulapita and Nakulamata, referenced for instance in AN 1.14.257 and AN 1.14.266, respectively, as "the best confident" and the foremost "for undivided pleasantness." [Also see AN 4.55 in Bodhi (2005), pp. 121-2, 433 "n". 3. Note that, technically, Nakulapita is identified as the "householder" and, his spouse, Nakulamata as the "householder's wife."]

Other individuals who are not explicitly identified in the suttas as "householder" but who, by the aforementioned broader critera, might be considered a householder include:
*Ghatikara was a potter in the time of Buddha Kassapa. He was an Anagami and the chief supporter of Buddha Kassapa ( [ MN 81] ).

Mahayana perspectives

In the Zen tradition, Vimalakīrti and Páng Yùn were prominent householders/laypersons who achieved enlightenment.

Dogen recommended that householders meditate five minutes each day.Fact|date=February 2007

Vajrayana perspectives

The Vajrayana tradition has produced many prominent householders, from Marpa to Dromton Gyalwa Jungne, the heart son of Atisha; Padmasambhava to mention a few. The ngakpa is an ordained Tantrica, sometimes a householder with certain vows (dependent upon Lama and Lineage) that make them the householder equivalent of an ordained bikshu. The path of a Tantrica or Ngakpa (mas.) or Ngakma (fem.) is a rigorous discipline whereby one "enjoys the sense-fields' as a part of one's practice. A practitioner utilizes the whole of the phenomenal world as one's path. Marrying, raising children, working jobs, leisure, art, play etc. are all means to realize the enlightened state or Rigpa, non-dual awareness. A Ngakpa or Ngakma does not need to be a householder particularly, but is still encouraged to 'immerse oneself' in the world at large. The Ngakpa tradition is unfortunately not widely known due to the prominence of monastic Buddhism (especially in Tibetan Buddhism). At times the Ngakpa/ma path is even disparged by those who misunderstand the symbolism and structure of the path.

As such, we can see the prominence of householders in the Vajrayana tradition. One can, however, be a householder without taking the vows of a Ngakpa. Simply holding the five precepts, bodhisattva vows and the tantric vows while practising diligently can result in enlightenment.

Contemporary Buddhist householder practices

Below common contemporary lay Buddhist practices are summarized. Some of these practices — such as taking Refuge and meditating — are common to all major schools. Other practices — such as taking the Eight Precepts or the Bodhisattva Vows — are not pan-Buddhist.

Theravada practices

For Theravada Buddhists, the following are practiced on a daily and weekly basis:

Daily practice: prostrations to the Triple Gem, taking refuge in the Triple Gem, taking the Five Precepts, chanting other verses, meditating, giving and sharing (Pali: "dana").

Special day practices (Uposatha): practicing the Eight Precepts, studying Buddhist scriptures, visiting and supporting Buddhist monks, visiting and supporting Buddhist monasteries.

Other practices: undertaking a pilgrimage.

Mahayana practices

Daily practices: Chanting sutras, Buddha's name, meditating, prostrations, cultivating compassion and bodhichitta.

Special day practices: 8 precepts, listening to teachings, supporting Sangha, repentance, performing offering ceremonies.

Other practices: Bodhisattva vows.

Vajrayana practices

Daily practices: Prostrations, refuge, cultivating compassion and bodhichitta, bodhisattva vows, tantric vows (if applicable), meditation in the form of Tantric sadhanas (if applicable), purification techniques, recitation of mantras

Special day practices: 8 precepts, listening to teachings, offering ceremonies.

Other practices: Studying texts, receiving initiations and personal practice instructions from the teacher.

Lay Buddhist practices by school
dokusan [Kapleau (1989), p. 191.]
Chanting dailyregularly [Daily chanting among Mahayana Buddhists can be found, for instance, among Nichiren and Pure Land practitioners.]
Take Refugedailydailydaily
Five Preceptsdaily [Examples in the Pali canon where the Buddha extols the practice of the Five Precepts includes in the Dhammika Sutta and in the Sigalovada Sutta.] dailydaily
Eight Precepts
Bodhisattva Vows—dailydaily


samatha and vipassana,
tonglen, compassion,
tantric visualisations
Study scriptures
dependent upon traditionregularly
Support monastics
Pilgrimageseveral sites [In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the Buddha states that devotees can do pilgrimages to his birthplace, the place of his Awakening, the place of his first teaching and the place of his death. Other sites have also been traditionally recognized by Theravada practitioners. For more information, see Pilgrimage (Buddhism).]

ee also

* Practices::*Alms (Buddhism):*Dana (Buddhism):*Funeral (Buddhism):*Gradual Training (Buddhism):*Householder vows:*Puja (Buddhism):*Uposatha
* Buddhist disciples::*Bhikkhu, Bhikkhuni (Buddhist monastic disciples) :*Upasaka, Upasika (Buddhist lay disciples)
* Suttas::*Dhammika Sutta (Sn 2.14):*Dighajanu Sutta (AN 8.54):*Sigalovada Sutta (DN 31)



*Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000). "The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya". Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-331-1.
*Bodhi, Bhikkhu (ed.) (2005), "In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon". Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-491-1.
*Buckley, Sarah (26 Sept 2007). "Who are Burma's monks?" Retrieved 26 Sep 2007 from "BBC News" at
*Buddhadatta Mahathera, A.P. (2002). "Concise Pali-English Dictionary". Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-0605-0.
*Gombrich, Richard (2002). "Theravāda Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo". London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-07585-8.
*Hinüber, Oskar von (2000). "A Handbook on Pāli Literature". Berlin: de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016738-7.
*Ireland, John D. (trans.) (1983). "Sn 2.14, Dhammika Sutta: Dhammika (excerpt)". Available on-line at
*Kapleau, Philip (1989). "Zen: Merging of East and West". NY:Anchor Book. ISBN 0-385-26104-7.
*Law, Bimala Churn (1932-33), "Nirvana and Buddhist Laymen" in the "Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute", Vol. 14, 1932-1933, pp. 80-86. Available on-line at:
* Mendis, N.K.G. (2001). "The Questions of King Milinda: An Abridgement of the Milindapañha". Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 955-24-0067-8
*IAST|Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu (trans.) & Bhikkhu Bodhi (ed.) (2001). "The Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya". Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-072-X.
*Narada Thera (1995). "Everyman's Ethics: Four Discourses of the Buddha". Available on-line at:
*Narada Thera (trans.) (1996). "DN 31, Sigalovada Sutta: The Discourse to Sigala, The Layperson's Code of Discipline". Available on-line at:
*Nattier, Jan (2003). "A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to The Inquiry of Ugra (IAST|Ugraparpṛcchā)". Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-2607-8.
*Nyanaponika Thera & Hellmuth Hecker, Bhikkhu Bodhi (ed.) (2003). "Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, their Works, their Legacy". Somerville, MA:Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-381-8.
*Pali Text Society (PTS) (1921-1925). "The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary". Chipstead: Pali Text Society. Available on-line at:
*Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997). "Khaggavisana Sutta: A Rhinoceros Horn" (Snp 1.3). Available on-line at:
*Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (2001). "The Group of Fours." (Iti. 100-112). Available on-line at Itivuttaka 4.8 is available at
*Wallace, Alan (2002). "The Spectrum of Buddhist Practice in the West" "in" Charles Prebish & Martin Baumann (eds.), "Westward Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Asia". Berkeley:University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22625-9. Also available on-line at:

External links

* [ "Gahapati"] and [ "Gaha-ttha"] - two PTS Pali-English Dictionary (PED) entries related to "householder."
* [ "Lay Buddhist Practice: The Shrine Room, Uposatha Day, Rains Residence"] , by Bhikkhu Khantipalo (Wheel No. 206/207, 1982)
* [ "The Eightfold Path for the Householder"] , by Jack Kornfield
* [,1036,0,0,1,0 "How would Buddha handle your kids?"] , by John Bullitt (The Buddhist Channel, April 14, 2005)
* [ "A Seamless Process: Practice On and Off the Cushion"] , an IMS interview with Kamala Masters & Steve Armstrong.
* [ According to Buddha]
* [ Chanting service of Theravada texts]
* [ Majjhima Nikaya 54: To The Householder Potaliya]

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