CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christians and Yoga

Jun 13, 2017

A really lousy piece that appeared in today’s Herald Sun entitled “Yoga classes banned for ridiculous reason” deserves some attention. The reporter must have had too much spare time on his hands, and the subeditor too much empty space to fill in his paper. It begins this way:

Yoga classes are being banned in some Sydney church halls because the exercise practice may lead Christians to “worshipping false gods”. Erskineville’s Anglican Church, in Sydney’s inner west, is not allowing yoga classes in its hall after June 30 to stop “spiritual confusion”.
And other churches across the region have been told by the Anglican church’s Sydney Diocese to “review” yoga classes being conducted on any church premises. This review comes after the diocese received a report — Yoga and other such activities — from its Social Issues Committee, at its 2015 Synod, the annual policy meeting of clergy and lay people.
In the report, the committee urged that yoga be kicked out of church and school halls because it “emerges from an Eastern religious background”. The Synod, in accepting the report, noted that the First Commandment points out that “as Christ’s disciples” they must “avoid participating in the worship of false gods”.
The committee advised churches not to rent out their premises to yoga classes “on account of the spiritual confusion this may cause”. It also suggested that other activities such as tai chi, some martial arts and dragon boating should be examined because they are contrary to the gospel.
A diocese spokesman said the church was reviewing classes being conducted on church premises where there was a spiritual teaching associated with the practice, “as opposed to yoga positions done merely for the sake of exercise”.
“The review is ongoing in a number of churches. In the case of Erskineville, conversations have been entered into with class providers but no final decision has yet been taken,” the spokesman said. But two yoga teachers said they have been told by church officials that their rental agreements with an inner west church would not be renewed after July 1 if they continue yoga classes.

yoga 1This is a silly and rather nasty piece for several reasons. First of all, why should what churches allow or prohibit on their own premises be a worry to any smart alec secular newspaper reporter? So what if a church does or does not hold bingo nights? So what if a church does or does not allow square dances?

What a church decides its building can be used for should not concern in the least a secular newspaper – unless it is fomenting terrorism, urging the overthrow of the government, etc. And that is just what many Islamic mosques are allowing. Maybe these cadet reporters should go to a mosque if they are looking for a serious story.

But another problem with this piece is that there are indeed very good reasons why Christian churches should look more closely at allowing these practices in their buildings. While yoga may be seen just as a harmless form of exercise, meditation or relaxation for some, there is absolutely no question that there ARE spiritual overtones to this which all believers need to be aware of.

The discipline of yoga (from a Sanskrit word meaning yoking, joining, union) is especially found in Hinduism but also in other Eastern religions. The goal is to silence and empty the mind, to enable you to unite with the divine within. The control of one’s consciousness is to achieve moksha or liberation. Bhakti yoga (transcendental meditation) and hatha yoga (mainly physical exercises) are especially popular in the West.

But the idea that a Christian can just be involved in some spiritually neutral physical exercises while avoiding any contact with the broader spiritual and occultic realities is to skate on thin ice. As Ankerberg and Branch warn:

It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate yoga theory (Eastern metaphysics) and practice (postures, breath control, etc.) . . . The very physical postures and breathing exercises adopted in yoga are intended to metaphysically influence both mind and spirit. . . . Virtually all the authoritative texts reveal that yoga is an occult practice. Yoga is designed to awaken occult energies in the body, to lead to an occult transformation, and to secure specific occult goals. . . . Yoga involves far more than mere physical exercise; at its core it is an occult practice having occult goals.

Christians of all people need to be aware of what is really happening with yoga. As McDowell and Stewart say about TM: “Although some degree of success in relaxation can be achieved by practicing TM, the dangers far outweigh the benefits. There is a Christian alternative to TM and that consists of meditation on God’s Word, the only source of real peace.”

I can quote many other experts here, but let me finish with just two more. In the 80s and 90s Christian apologist and New Age authority Douglas Groothuis penned four very helpful volumes on the New Age Movement:
Unmasking the New Age (IVP, 1986)
Confronting the New Age (IVP, 1988)
Revealing the New Age Jesus (IVP, 1990)
Deceived by the Light (Harvest House, 1995)

These are all very informative volumes which believers should be aware of. But instead of quoting from these books, let me refer you to an interview Al Mohler conducted with Groothuis seven years ago. It is worth reading (or listening to), in its entirety, but here are some extracts from it:

Groothuis: Well a lot of Christians really want to know whether the practice of yoga can be incorporated into a faithful, biblical way of life and sadly, many Christians are answering yes to that. We have some emerging church leaders such as Doug Padgett and others saying that it is simply a physical discipline, you don’t have to incorporate the element of Hinduism and in fact it can actually bring you closer to God, the God of the Bible, the God of the universe, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and I do not believe that is the case for many reasons but the word yoga itself means to be yoked or to be in union and it comes out of this ancient non-Christian religion called Hinduism and it’s one of the essential planks of Hinduism. Hinduism is a very big tent but all forms of Hinduism advocate as a necessary spiritual discipline some type of yoga and yoga involves physical practices such as postures and breathing and chanting but the essential point, the goal of yoga is not the purification of the body or the beautification of the physique, the point of yoga is a change in consciousness, a transformation of the consciousness wherein one finds oneself at one with the ultimate reality which in Hinduism is Brahman so when people brought Hinduism to the West as is detailed in this book by Stefanie Syman, The Subtle Body and other books, they didn’t always emphasize the overtly religious aspects. In some cases they did, in some cases they did not, in fact in the case of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who brought transcendental meditation to the West, Maharishi sold this form of yoga when he was a guru as simply a way to be more peaceful, to become more intelligent and so on. But he was basing his teachings on the ancient Hindu doctrines of the Vedas the primary scriptures of Hinduism.

He explains how this is a counterfeit spirituality:

Groothuis: Yoga tells you to go within to find the absolutes. Now Scripture teaches us that we are made in the image and likeness of God however we are fallen and Jesus said that out of the heart comes all these various evils so we cannot find our true self and find salvation by looking within. Our true self is damaged through sin and the only cure, or the only rescue comes from outside of the self and I love the way Frances Schaeffer use to put it – he said we lift up the empty hand of faith so we lift them up, up unto the Lord and they’re empty. Or as J.I. Packer put it, the only thing we contribute to our salvation is our need for salvation. Now yoga says that through these postures, through the breathing, through the chanting, you can discern and unlock the universal, impersonal power which is ultimately known in Hinduism as Brahman that is the telos that is the essential purpose of yoga and Americans want better bodies and they want to feel peaceful and that’s why they’re initially interested in yoga but that is certainly not the purpose of it….
Yoga aims at the elimination of the body, it is a depersonalizing, deindividualizing, dehumanizing practice because the ultimate reality in Hinduism is not a personal moral creator but Brahman an unknowable something that you dissolve into.

Can there be some physical benefits to yoga? Yes but…

Groothuis: Well if something is truly yoga it has that spiritual basis and that spiritual direction and that spiritual essence. Now are there bodily postures that are similar or maybe even identical to some yoga postures that have some health benefits? Yes, but I always tell people when they ask me this question, any health benefit you could derive from yoga you can get from outside of yoga such as through Pilates or physical therapy or something like that. Yoga means being yoked with Brahman essentially and you don’t want to submit yourself to that alien spiritual practice so if there are limited physical benefits they can be obtained outside of the practice of yoga itself.
Mohler: I think that’s very well stated and I think the other side to that is that if you have to get into some kind of meditative state in order to assume some kind of posture you are defining as exercise you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s mere exercise.
Groothuis: Exactly and that is the point of yoga. It is the transformation of consciousness from the finite to the infinite and only God is the infinite personal creator. We are the finite personal creatures and yoga wants to blend those two into this one faceless non-personal thing and yoga is the means to achieve that.

Finally, a brief quote from one Hindu, Rajiv Malhotra, who understands the very real incompatibility of yoga and biblical Christianity:

While yoga is not a “religion” in the sense that the Abrahamic religions are, it is a well-established spiritual path. Its physical postures are only the tip of an iceberg, beneath which is a distinct metaphysics with profound depth and breadth. Its spiritual benefits are undoubtedly available to anyone regardless of religion. However, the assumptions and consequences of yoga do run counter to much of Christianity as understood today. This is why, as a Hindu yoga practitioner and scholar, I agree with the Southern Baptist Seminary President, Albert Mohler, when he speaks of the incompatibility between Christianity and yoga, arguing that “the idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine” is fundamentally at odds with Christian teaching. This incompatibility runs much deeper.
Yoga’s metaphysics center around the quest to attain liberation from one’s conditioning caused by past karma. Karma includes the baggage from prior lives, underscoring the importance of reincarnation. While it is fashionable for many Westerners to say they believe in karma and reincarnation, they have seldom worked out the contradictions with core Biblical doctrines….

He concludes:

Most of the 20 million American yoga practitioners encounter these issues and find them troubling. Some have responded by distorting yogic principles in order to domesticate it into a Christian framework, i.e. the oxymoron, ‘Christian Yoga.’ Others simply avoid the issues or deny the differences. Likewise, many Hindu gurus obscure differences, characterizing Jesus as a great yogi and/or as one of several incarnations of God. These views belie the principles stated in the Nicene Creed, to which members of mainstream Christian denominations must adhere. They don’t address the above underlying contradictions that might undermine their popularity with Judeo-Christian Americans. This is reductionist and unhelpful both to yoga and Christianity.

While much more can be said on this topic, I do encourage all Christians who are engaging in yoga to consider what they are doing, and if they may not be involving themselves in something they really should not be. And I for one am thankful that this Sydney church DID take a careful look at the issue, and did decide to let those who want to teach yoga do it elsewhere.

www.heraldsun.com.au/lifestyle/health/sydney-church-bans-yoga-classes-because-of-spiritual-confusion/news-story/1f7485c47314e44af4822e6638c12aa3
www.albertmohler.com/2010/09/20/the-meaning-of-yoga-a-conversation-with-stephanie-syman-and-doug-groothius/
www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-malhotra/hindu-view-of-christian-yoga_b_778501.html

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33 Responses to Christians and Yoga

  • I recently told a Christian friend that yoga wasn’t good for her soul. She told me that she loved the friends she’d made at yoga and didn’t want to leave – despite also saying that ‘she knew what I meant’ about the spiritual dangers. I asked her if they’d still be her friends if they knew of her pro-life stance! She had no answer for that. Everything about yoga is false: false teaching, false peace and false friends. God bless you, Bill.

  • I am glad you exposed this heathen-based belief system for what it is. It would be great if you also would expose the heathen origin of Tae Kwondo because many people enroll their children in this and do not see the spiritual falseness or the danger to their children.

  • Very interesting, Bill. Especially because even in the most evangelical churches I know, there are some members who practise yoga. Years ago I risked criticism by saying I would attend a yoga class personally to check out any spiritual association. I was assured by the class leader that it was merely an exercise class, and for the whole of the first term, that is what it was. However, as soon as the second term commenced, there was a dramatic change in both the teaching and atmosphere – and a spiritual heaviness accompanied it. I was out of there like a flash, and believed this was enough for me to warn others of the danger. I’ve also lived in India as a missionary (‘volunteer worker’), so have seen the effects of immersion into yoga practices firsthand. Tai Chi is another activity that has similarly negative spiritual overtones. And yet, despite this, I am still confronted with many Christians who continue with such practices that are fundamental to eastern religions. One would think that they would be alert to the dangers, which, though they may seem subtle, are nevertheless very real.

  • Thanks guys. While I have a good library on the New Age Movement, and while I have taught on it, I do not claim to be an expert in the field. But yes I may do other articles on some of these martial arts and their Eastern underpinnings.

  • I might get knocked for saying this but I have found the exercises in yoga to be excellent for arthritis and muscular pain relief. You can find a class that just does the exercises without the meditation. Similarly acupuncture is based on the Chinese belief of Taoism but the pain relief and health benefits of the practice are well known.
    So, if the practice of acupuncture and yoga can be separated from the philosophy/worldview behind them, perhaps acupuncture/yoga are something a Christian can consider. Again, though, extreme caution must be taken to avoid the spiritual aspects behind them.

  • Thanks Jo. As Al Mohler said, “There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose. Consider this — if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture. The embrace of yoga is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion, and, to our shame, this confusion reaches into the church.”

  • One simple question: Does yoga fit with the Cross?

  • On a more personal note, please keep Doug Groothuis in your prayers. His wife Becky’s battle with dementia has been a very difficult struggle indeed for everyone involved.

    www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/november/bedeviled-by-my-wifes-dementia.html

    soundcloud.com/moodyradioflorida/dr-douglas-groothuis-bedeviled-by-my-wifes-dementia

  • Thanks for yet another great article! My husband and I seem to be on our own when it comes to issues like these so we appreciate hearing like-minded thoughts.
    Most recently I’ve come up against the issue of using essential oils – it’s becoming increasingly popular within our Christian circles with DoTerra parties constantly popping up. I’ve spent some time researching and feel I know my own mind about it now, but would love to hear your insight, Bill!

  • Thanks Amanda. As with many of the various NAM techniques and psycho-technologies, things like aroma therapy can be a mixed bag. The use of herbal medicine which involves the use of oils, essences, incense, etc., can be neutral, but often has occultic connections. Some herbs and plants do have medicinal properties of course, but again, care must be taken here with the spiritual luggage attached to some of these things.

  • Amen Bill. Absolutely correct. Touch not the unclean thing (2 Cor 6:17). I have seen a huge number of instances where people involve themselves in this sort of false religion and then wonder why God’s blessing and assurance has left them. 1 Thes 5:19 “Do not quench the Spirit.”

    While on the topic of Hinduism did you see where some Hindu’s are trying to reintroduce temple prostitution even though it is still illegal in India and how a Hindi text book has “accidentally” called Jesus a demon even though this sort of publication is also supposed to be illegal in India.

    www.christianpost.com/news/christian-girls-in-india-being-pressured-by-parents-to-become-religious-prostitutes-to-hindu-gods-187516/

    www.christianpost.com/news/christians-outraged-textbooks-india-jesus-christ-demon-187199/

    People think that John Lennon was promoting no religion when he wrote “Imagine” but the reality is that he was promoting false religion in a form deliberately designed to fool people.

  • A very good timely commentary, thank you Bill.
    Yoga teaches to focus on oneself instead of on the one true God. It encourages its participants to seek the answers to life’s difficult questions within their own consciousness instead of in the Word of God. It also leaves one open to deception from God’s enemy, who searches for victims whom he can turn away from God (1 Peter 5:8).

  • Swami Vivekananda wrote in some detail on the matter of yoga. According to him, the yogic spiritual outlook is of a universalist, pantheist form, where the yogi seeks salvation from the endless cycle of birth death and rebirth by looking deep within – peeling back the “onion-layers” of physical and mental consciousness to attain immersion in – a merging with an alleged formless, impersonal universal divine soul – the paramatman. Vivekananda reinterpreted Christ as a Bhaktiyogi… and Buddha as a Jnanayogi. Looking within for salvation reminds me of the phrase, “navel-gazing”.

  • Wow! Go Sydney diocese!
    Chopping down some Asherah poles!
    Nice to see a solid step forward instead of the usual three steps back. This is good news indeed when contrasted with the backward steps in some other dioceses, where they are too busy installing homosexual clergy to worry about the threat of yoga.
    I guess I am a bit starved for good news. I mean, seriously, what a no-brainer. Of course Yoga is anti-Christian. Duh. But how did it get into your church in the first place? Is it because you had such a dwindling congregation that you needed to rent the premises out to anyone – including practitioners of Eastern mysticism? So does this arrangement continue until the building is eventually sold off to the Muslims to become a mosque?
    Contrast this to churches that stick to the Bible. People are attracted to that.

  • Great article. Your readers should be made aware of a yoga course that has been rolled out into our state primary schools called “Cosmic Kids” … YouTube it and you can watch the classes and instructions on guided mediation and mindfulness. I preached on yoga in my church some years back only to find one off the church leaders was a yoga practitioner! Nuts. I’m amazed and perplexed at the spiritual naivete of Christian believers.

  • It took me a while, many years back, to fathom out what lay beneath the seemingly relaxing processes of yoga and meditation. Unfortunately there are one or two others in the family who have stuck to the TM stuff, although I don’t think they do it for hours on end. One already has mental health issues from years ago….not from doing TM but it was happily “prescribed” by health workers as a good method of calming down very high stress levels. With society working against us at all angles, it really is a battle to get it through to people that the undertones are less than beneficial.

  • I saw the morning show on 7 report on this as well this morning and felt really uneasy as they kept saying “this is suppose to bring the community together” etc etc without really understanding the church’s point of view. I felt like they are just trying to smear the Christians’ name. Why don’t they go report a vegetarian refusing to sell meat???

    On the other note, our church did mention about the relation between yoga and its spiritual practice, I totally agree that it is not only a physical activities but it involve spiritual meanings behind it especially when it make you meditate and empty yourselves for some unknown “divine” being.

    However, there was a case like this: a friend of mine in the church, who strongly against people practicing yoga, telling people that it was spiritual linked and you were worshiping a false god by doing these positions…..etc. She was using an app to do exercise, and this app post on fb automatically what exercise she had done. Unfortunately (for her) one of the exercise she did was a yoga position thing, it has weird name and you can easily google it. I need to point it out to her and only by then she realised she was doing something she preached against. Which is sad because I did think she had good intention but the way she expressed her opinion and then did something that show how ignorant she was about the issue, is how some non-believers view us today…..

  • I recently learned that Kundalini yoga is connected with the occult. By using sound, breath and posture the aim is to release serpent power/energy coiled in the base of the spine and draw it upward through 7 chakras till one reaches an illuminated state, a higher vibration of consciousness. Symbols used are the eye of Horas / eye of perception, 2 snakes coiled around the pillar of the spine, topped by dove like wings. A commentator warned that it encouraged serpent “energy to rise up and inhabit the pineal gland receptors which is where “3rd eye of perception” is situated in the brain and can cause havoc within one’s consciousness. In effect it invites the serpent to replace the dove, a dangerous deception.

  • My pastor wrote this bit about yoga a while back: edhird.com/2013/04/05/yoga-more-than-meets-the-eyes/ Lots of comments came out of it, both pro and con.

  • Many commenters here might also benefit from reading the recent “Taboo or To Do?: Is Christianity complementary with yoga, martial arts, Hallowe’en, mindfulness and other alternative practices?” by Australian authors Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson. They also mention oils.

  • The ‘yoga positions themselves’ are positions of worship to the Hindu gods! Therefore, they are NOT for Christians. Yoga is the ‘evangelistic arm’ of the Hindu religion!!

  • Dear Bill, I need your help. NSW needs your help. Last night here in Lismore I council passed a motion supporting SSM and writing to government bodies to pressure a conscience vote. They will also erect a flag to symbolise this action until “marriage equality is achieved”. I expressed Councillor in NSW has been urged to do do same. I don’t have the connections or resources to get the word out to other Christians that would be willing to take a stand alone as I did last night speaking for for preservation of traditional marriage. Can you help us awaken the church and urge a push back?
    (btw sorry this isn’t related to your article)

  • Thanks David. I don’t have resources either, so I would just use the normal channels we all can use to alert others, such as the social media (Facebook, etc), friends on email lists, etc. I can do my bit, as we all can, and since you are in NSW you might contact concerned folks there (Fred Nile, the Marriage Alliance, etc). We all have a role to play here. Thanks for your concerns.

  • Greetings Bill. In my younger unaware days I was massively involved in the alternative lifestyle & you name it & I did it: yoga, rebirthing, light-healing, astrology etc. I had a tattoo of the Hindu ‘OM’ done on my hand & I felt good. Then our Lord Jesus chose me to follow Him & I saw how empty & false my life was with this ‘feel good’ lifestyle & that the ideal of a ‘higher self’ was an empty & unfulfilling dead-end. Praise Jesus for giving me life!!
    The tattoo bothered me for a long time (it represented a false god) until I had a bird tattooed over it (it represented His Creation) & I felt a lot better 🙂 Exercise is good & yoga is a good exercise BUT it is awash with false spirituality & is an open door to the lies of Satan. I do NOT recommend it or tai chi or other martial arts. Its like the question: If heavy metal music has a gospel message, does that make it right? My answer is NO!
    Where I live (Albury/Wodonga) there is an Anglican Archdeacon (very big celebrity ego) who actively promotes & defends Abortion & Homosexuality & I’m sure you will agree, while not diminishing this question, that these issues are of massive importance in our world & need our fervent prayer. Keep-up the good work Bill, we need it.

  • My testimony confirms absolutely your article Bill, I speak from 13 years personal experience under the mesmeric control of a Brahmin mystic.
    Shri Vijayadev Yogendra had some 300 adoring followers who blindly served him in his quest to build a utopian society. Established in St Kilda (Melbourne), it relocated in 1982 to Warwick, Queensland. Our mission was “to survive the end of the world”.
    Needless to say, truth had no role to play in this charade; graft, immorality and spiritual abuse ruled; the so-called “high-minded, noble” teaching from our guru, ultimately turned out to be just hollow indulgence.
    The Lord sovereignly lifted me out of this deception. I now know that yoga is powerfully dangerous; embarking on “harmless postures” is just the start of one’s descent into spiritual darkness. Yoga is distilled hinduism, plain and simply, and thereby utterly incompatible with the Lord Jesus Christ.
    There is indeed no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.
    Paul Reid, Melbourne, Australia

  • Many thanks for that Paul. And let me mentioned your website:

    www.yogathetruthrevealed.com/

  • Thanks guys. For those who want to take this further, here are some of the better books available on the NAM:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2017/06/14/recommended-reading-new-age-movement/

  • Thanks for this Bill; It will be good to have this available if I need more ammunition in the future.

    My employer encourages its departments to instigate healthy lifestyle programs, so one of the staff members in our area proposed to arrange Yoga classes. I objected, on the grounds of it having a basis in a religion that I didn’t agree with (i.e. not Christian), and was told that it’s not really Yoga, just stretching exercises. So it went ahead, and as far as I could tell, it really wasn’t Yoga (no meditation, for example). I got the impression that calling it Yoga was just a selling point!

    The staff member concerned later moved to another department, where she subsequently arranged “Yoga” classes for that area. Obviously because I wasn’t there to object, but which I assume are just the same misnamed stretching exercises.

    Incidentally, I’m still annoyed that the ‘Aldersgate’ camp/conference centre at Belgrave Heights that my grandmother had a hand in founding for the Methodist church was later sold by the Uniting Church to a Yoga group.

  • Thank you for your informative article. It is good to be able to respond to people (with correct information) when asked ‘Why don’t you agree with yoga’? I have also attended a Mindfulness session recently and found it very disturbing and had to pray constantly during the session. I have been told there are different types of Mindfulness programs but for me I will not be attending any more.

  • Vicki, the recent proliferance of ‘Mindfulness’ teaching (which, incidentally, Geelong Grammar took up in a big way after the Dalai Lama last visited Australia in 2015) does have disturbing spiritual ramifications. All the more so because the packaging seems so innocent and even attractive. Primary School children in many schools were being introduced to this practice in their classes. Many schools throughout Victoria took up the practice of guided meditation after their teachers were instructed in leading classes which were really an introduction to Buddhism. This has been just one way in which the NAM has reached out its tentacles to our young people. And the philosophy sounds so noble, so moral, that there have been few critics.

  • Hello Bill, I was delighted to hear you on Vision radio this morning. I had been told during the week that there had been someone recommending on that station that yoga was ok!
    Marcia Montenegro has website devoted to all things New Age if your readers are interested in further information …..

    www.christiananswersforthenewage.org

    It would seem imperative that not only can we give a defence for the hope within us ( 1 Peter 3:15) but we need to be able to speak knowledgably about the things that Christians should avoid.
    Thank you.

  • Many thanks indeed Bronwen. Bless you.

  • Couldn’t agree more with you on this topic, new age non sense especially in Churches makes my skin crawl. However I would like to ask, too many mental health professionals are suggesting new age and freudist strategies that oppose the gospel to the maximum. However we do know mental illness is real however the waters have been muddied so badly, what is a person of Christian faith meant to do to get well when 99.9999% of professionals are ramming these new age strategies down their throats at their lowest times?

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