The Mahabharata
  Srimad Bhagavatam

  Rig Veda
  Yajur Veda
  Sama Veda
  Atharva Veda

  Bhagavad Gita
  Sankara Bhashya
  By Edwin Arnold

  Brahma Sutra
  Sankara Bhashya I
  Sankara Bhashya II
  Ramanuja SriBhashya


  Agni Purana
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  Bhagavad Gita
  Brahma Sutras

Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Sri Adi Sanakara - Part I
translated by George Thibaut



The first five adhikaranas lay clown the fundamental positions with regard to Brahman. Adhik. I (1) treats of what the study of the Vedânta presupposes. Adhik. II (2) defines Brahman as that whence the world originates, and so on. Adhik. III (3) declares that Brahman is the source of the Veda. Adhik. IV (4) proves Brahman to be the uniform topic of all Vedânta-texts. Adhik. V (5-11) is engaged in proving by various arguments that the Brahman, which the Vedanta-texts represent as the cause of the world, is an intelligent principle, and cannot be identified with the non-intelligent pradhâna from which the world springs according to the Sânkhyas.

With the next adhikarana there begins a series of discussions of essentially similar character, extending up to the end of the first adhyâya. The question is throughout whether certain terms met with in the Upanishads denote Brahman or some other being, in most cases the gîva, the individual soul. Sankara remarks at the outset that, as the preceding ten Sûtras had settled the all-important point that all the Vedânta-texts refer to Brahman, the question now arises why the enquiry should be continued any further, and thereupon proceeds to explain that the acknowledged distinction of a higher Brahman devoid of all qualities and a lower Brahman characterised by qualities necessitates an investigation whether certain Vedic texts of primâ facie doubtful import set forth the lower Brahman as the object of devout meditation, or the higher Brahman as the object of true knowledge. But that such an investigation is actually carried on in the remaining portion of the first adhyâya, appears neither from the wording of the Sûtras nor even from Sankara's own treatment of the Vedic texts referred to in the Sûtras. In I, 1, 20, for instance, the question is raised whether the golden man within the sphere of the sun, with golden hair and beard and lotus-coloured eyes--of whom the Khândogya Upanishad speaks in I, 6, 6--is an individual soul abiding within the sun or the highest Lord. Sankara's answer is that the passage refers to the Lord, who, for the gratification of his worshippers, manifests himself in a bodily shape made of Mâyâ. So that according to Sankara himself the alternative lies between the saguna Brahman and some particular individual soul, not between the saguna Brahman and the nirguna Brahman.

Adhik. VI (12-19) raises the question whether the ânandamaya, mentioned in Taittirîya Upanishad II, 5, is merely a transmigrating individual soul or the highest Self. Sankara begins by explaining the Sûtras on the latter supposition--and the text of the Sûtras is certainly in favour of that interpretation--gives, however, finally the preference to a different and exceedingly forced explanation according to which the Sûtras teach that the ânandamaya is not Brahman, since the Upanishad expressly says that Brahman is the tail or support of the ânandamaya--Râmânuga's interpretation of Adhikarana VI, although not agreeing in all particulars with the former explanation of Sankara, yet is at one with it in the chief point, viz. that the ânandamaya is Brahman. It further deserves notice that, while Sankara looks on Adhik. VI as the first of a series of interpretatory discussions, all of which treat the question whether certain Vedic passages refer to Brahman or not, Râmânuga separates the adhikarana from the subsequent part of the pâda and connects it with what had preceded. In Adhik. V it had been shown that Brahman cannot be identified with the pradhâna; Adhik. VI shows that it is different from the individual soul, and the proof of the fundamental position of the system is thereby completed --Adhik. VII (20, 31) demonstrates that the golden person seen within the sun and the person seen within the eye, mentioned in Kh. Up. I, 6, are not some individual soul of high eminence, but the supreme Brahman.--Adhik. VIII (22) teaches that by the ether from which, according to Kh. Up. I, 9, all beings originate, not the elemental ether has to be understood but the highest Brahman.--Adhik. IX (23). The prâna also mentioned in Kh. Up. I, ii, 5 denotes the highest Brahman--Adhik. X (24-27) teaches that the light spoken of in Kh. Up. III, 13, 7 is not the ordinary physical light but the highest Brahman--Adhik. XI (28-31) decides that the prâna mentioned in Kau. Up. III, 2 is Brahman.


Adhik. I (1-8) shows that the being which consists of mind, whose body is breath, &c., mentioned in Kh. Up. III, 14, is not the individual soul, but Brahman. The Sûtras of this adhikarana emphatically dwell on the difference of the individual soul and the highest Self, whence Sankara is obliged to add an explanation--in his comment on Sûtra 6--to the effect that that difference is to be understood as not real, but as due to the false limiting adjuncts of the highest Self.--The comment of Râmânuga throughout closely follows the words of the Sûtras; on Sûtra 6 it simply remarks that the difference of the highest Self from the individual soul rests thereon that the former as free from all evil is not subject to the effects of works in the same way as the soul is --Adhik. II (9, 10) decides that he to whom the Brahmans and Kshattriyas are but food (Katha. Up. I, 2, 25) is the highest Self.--Adhik. III (11, 12) shows that the two entered into the cave (Katha Up. I, 3, 1) are Brahman and the individual soul --Adhik. IV (13-17) shows that the person within the eye mentioned in Kh. Up. IV, 15, 1 is Brahman.--Adhik. V (18-20) shows that the ruler within (antaryâmin) described in Bri. Up. III, 7, 3 is Brahman. Sûtra 2,0 clearly enounces the difference of the individual soul and the Lord; hence Sankara is obliged to remark that that difference is not real.--Adhik. VI (21-23) proves that that which cannot be seen, &c, mentioned in Mundaka Up. I, 1, 3 is Brahman.--Adhik. VII (24-32) shows that the âtman vaisvânara of Kh. Up. V, 11, 6 is Brahman.


Adhik. I (1-7) proves that that within which the heaven, the earth, &c. are woven (Mund. Up. II, 2, 5) is Brahman.--Adhik. II (8, 9) shows that the bhûman referred to in Kh. Up. VII, 23 is Brahman.--Adhik. III (10-12) teaches that the Imperishable in which, according to Bri. Up. III, 8, 8, the ether is woven is Brahman.--Adhik. IV (13) decides that the highest person who is to be meditated upon with the syllable Om, according to Prasna Up. V, 5, is not the lower but the higher Brahman.--According to Râmânuga the two alternatives are Brahman and Brahmâ (gîvasa-mashtirûpo # ndâdhipatis katurmukhah).--Adhik. V and VI (comprising, according to--Sankara, Sûtras 14-21) discuss the question whether the small ether within the lotus of the heart mentioned in Kh. Up. VIII, 1 is the elemental ether or the individual soul or Brahman; the last alternative being finally adopted. In favour of the second alternative the pûrvapakshin pleads the two passages Kh. Up. VIII, 3, 4 and VIII, 12, 3, about the serene being (samprasâda); for by the latter the individual soul only can be understood, and in the chapter, of which the latter passage forms part, there are ascribed to it the same qualities (viz. freeness from sin, old age, death, &c.) that were predicated in VIII, 1, of the small ether within the heart.--But the reply to this is, that the second passage refers not to the (ordinary) individual soul but to the soul in that state where its true nature has become manifest, i.e. in which it is Brahman; so that the subject of the passage is in reality not the so-called individual soul but Brahman. And in the former of the two passages the soul is mentioned not on its own account, but merely for the purpose of intimating that the highest Self is the cause through which the individual soul manifests itself in its true nature.--What Râmânuga understands by the âvirbhâva of the soul will appear from the remarks on IV, 4.

The two next Sûtras (22, 23) constitute, according to Sankara, a new adhikarana (VII), proving that he 'after whom everything shines, by whose light all this is lighted' (Katha Up. II, 5,15) is not some material luminous body, but Brahman itself.--According to Râmânuga the two Sûtras do not start a new topic, but merely furnish some further arguments strengthening the conclusion arrived at in the preceding Sûtras.) Adhik. VIII (24, 25) decides that the person of the size of a thumb mentioned in Katha Up. II, 4, 12 is not the individual soul but Brahman.

The two next adhikaranas are of the nature of a digression. The passage about the angushthamâtra was explained on the ground that the human heart is of the size of a span; the question may then be asked whether also such individuals as belong to other classes than mankind, more particularly the Gods, are capable of the knowledge of Brahman: a question finally answered in the affirmative.--This discussion leads in its turn to several other digressions, among which the most important one refers to the problem in what relation the different species of beings stand to the words denoting them (Sûtra 28). In connexion herewith Sankara treats of the nature of words (sabda), opposing the opinion of the Mîmâmsaka Upavarsha, according to whom the word is nothing but the aggregate of its constitutive letters, to the view of the grammarians who teach that over and above the aggregate of the letters there exists a super-sensuous entity called 'sphota,' which is the direct cause of the apprehension of the sense of a word (Adhik. IX; Sûtras 26-33).

Adhik. X (34-38) explains that Sûdras are altogether disqualified for Brahmavidyâ.

Sûtra 39 constitutes, according to Sankara, a new adhikarana (XI), proving that the prâna in which everything trembles, according to Katha Up. II, 6, 2, is Brahman.--According to Râmânuga the Sûtra does not introduce a new topic but merely furnishes an additional reason for the decision arrived at under Sûtras 24, 25, viz. that the angushthamâtra is Brahman. On this supposition, Sûtras 24-39 form one adhikarana in which 26-38 constitute a mere digression led up to by the mention made of the heart in 25.--The angushthamâtra is referred to twice in the Katha Upanishad, once in the passage discussed (II, 4, 12), and once in II, 6, 17 ('the Person not larger than a thumb'). To determine what is meant by the angushthamâtra, Râmânuga says, we are enabled by the passage II, 6, 2, 3, which is intermediate between the two passages concerning the angushthamâtra, and which clearly refers to the highest Brahman, of which alone everything can be said to stand in awe.

The next Sûtra (40) gives rise to a similar difference of opinion. According to Sankara it constitutes by itself a new adhikarana (XII), proving that the 'light' (gyotis) mentioned in Kh. Up. VIII, 12, 3 is the highest Brahman.--According to Râmânuga the Sûtra continues the preceding adhikarana, and strengthens the conclusion arrived at by a further argument, referring to Katha Up. II, 5, 15--a passage intermediate between the two passages about the angushthamâtra--which speaks of a primary light that cannot mean anything but Brahman. The Sûtra has in that case to be translated as follows: '(The angushthamâtra is Brahman) because (in a passage intervening between the two) a light is seen to be mentioned (which can be Brahman only).'

The three last Sûtras of the pâda are, according to Sankara, to be divided into two adhikaranas (XIII and XIV), Sûtra 41 deciding that the ether which reveals names and forms (Kh. Up. VIII, 14) is not the elemental ether but Brahman; and 42, 43 teaching that the viânamaya, 'he who consists of knowledge,' of Bri. Up. IV, 3, 7 is not the individual soul but Brahman.--According to Râmânuga the three Sûtras make up one single adhikarana discussing whether the Khandogya Upanishad passage about the ether refers to Brahman or to the individual soul in the state of release; the latter of these two alternatives being suggested by the circumstance that the released soul is the subject of the passage immediately preceding ('Shaking off all evil as a horse shakes off his hair,' &c.). Sûtra 41 decides that 'the ether (is Brahman) because the passage designates the nature of something else,' &c. (i.e. of something other than the individual soul; other because to the soul the revealing of names and forms cannot be ascribed, &c.)--But, an objection is raised, does not more than one scriptural passage show that the released soul and Brahman are identical, and is not therefore the ether which reveals names and forms the soul as well as Brahman?--(The two, Sûtra 42 replies, are different) 'because in the states of deep sleep and departing (the highest Self) is designated as different' (from the soul)--which point is proved by the same scriptural passages which Sankara adduces;--and 'because such terms as Lord and the like' cannot be applied to the individual soul (43). Reference is made to IV, 4, 14, where all gagadvyâpâra is said to belong to the Lord only, not to the soul even when in the state of release.


The last pâda of the first adhyâya is specially directed against the Sânkhyas.

The first adhikarana (1-7) discusses the passage Katha Up. I, 3, 10; 11, where mention is made of the Great and the Undeveloped--both of them terms used with a special technical sense in the Sânkhya-sâstra, avyakta being a synonym for pradhâna.--Sankara shows by an exhaustive review of the topics of the Katha Upanishad that the term avyakta has not the special meaning which the Sânkhyas attribute to it, but denotes the body, more strictly the subtle body (sûkshma sarîra), but at the same time the gross body also, in so far as it is viewed as an effect of the subtle one.

Adhik. II (8-10) demonstrates, according to Sankara, that the tricoloured agâ spoken of in Sve. Up. IV, 5 is not the pradhâna of the Sânkhyas, but either that power of the Lord from which the world springs, or else the primary causal matter first produced by that power.--What Râmânuga in contradistinction from Sankara understands by the primary causal matter, follows from the short sketch given above of the two systems.

Adhik. III (11-13) shows that the pañka pañkaganâh mentioned in Bri. Up. IV, 4, 17 are not the twenty-five principles of the Sânkhyas.--Adhik. IV (14, 15) proves that Scripture does not contradict itself on the all-important point of Brahman, i.e. a being whose essence is intelligence, being the cause of the world.

Adhik. V (16-18) is, according to Sankara, meant to prove that 'he who is the maker of those persons, of whom this is the work,' mentioned in Kau. Up. IV, 19, is not either the vital air or the individual soul, but Brahman.--The subject of the adhikarana is essentially the same in Râmânuga's view; greater stress is, however, laid on the adhikarana being polemical against the Sânkhyas, who wish to turn the passage into an argument for the pradhâna doctrine.

The same partial difference of view is observable with regard to the next adhikarana (VI; Sûtras 19-22) which decides that the 'Self to be seen, to be heard,' &c. (Bri. Up. II, 4, 5) is the highest Self, not the individual soul. This latter passage also is, according to Râmânuga, made the subject of discussion in order to rebut the Sânkhya who is anxious to prove that what is there inculcated as the object of knowledge is not a universal Self but merely the Sânkhya purusha.

Adhik. VII (23-27) teaches that Brahman is not only the efficient or operative cause (nimitta) of the world, but its material cause as well. The world springs from Brahman by way of modification (parinâma; Sûtra 26).--Râmânuga views this adhikarana as specially directed against the Sesvara-sânkhyas who indeed admit the existence of a highest Lord, but postulate in addition an independent pradhâna on which the Lord acts as an operative cause merely.

Adhik. VIII (28) remarks that the refutation of the Sânkhya views is applicable to other theories also, such as the doctrine of the world having originated from atoms.

After this rapid survey of the contents of the first adhyâya and the succinct indication of the most important points in which the views of Sankara and Râmânuga diverge, we turn to a short consideration of two questions which here naturally present themselves, viz., firstly, which is the principle on which the Vedic passages referred to in the Sûtras have been selected and arranged; and, secondly, if, where Sankara and Râmânuga disagree as to the subdivision of the Sûtras into Adhikaranas, and the determination of the Vedic passages discussed in the Sûtras, there are to be met with any indications enabling us to determine which of the two commentators is right. (The more general question as to how far the Sûtras favour either Sankara's or Râmânuga's general views cannot be considered at present.)

The Hindu commentators here and there attempt to point out the reason why the discussion of a certain Vedic passage is immediately followed by the consideration of a certain other one. Their explanations--which have occasionally been referred to in the notes to the translation--rest on the assumption that the Sûtrakâra in arranging the texts to be commented upon was guided by technicalities of the Mîmâmsâ-system, especially by a regard for the various so-called means of proof which the Mîmâmsaka employs for the purpose of determining the proper meaning and position of scriptural passages. But that this was the guiding principle, is rendered altogether improbable by a simple tabular statement of the Vedic passages referred to in the first adhyâya, such as given by Deussen on page 130; for from the latter it appears that the order in which the Sûtras exhibit the scriptural passages follows the order in which those passages themselves occur in the Upanishads, and it would certainly be a most strange coincidence if that order enabled us at the same time to exemplify the various pramânas of the Mîmâmsâ in their due systematic succession.

As Deussen's statement shows, most of the passages discussed are taken from the Khândogya Upanishad, so many indeed that the whole first adhyâya may be said to consist of a discussion of all those Khândogya passages of which it is doubtful whether they are concerned with Brahman or not, passages from the other Upanishads being brought in wherever an opportunity offers. Considering the prominent position assigned to the Upanishad mentioned, I think it likely that the Sûtrakâra meant to begin the series of doubtful texts with the first doubtful passage from the Khândogya, and that hence the sixth adhikarana which treats of the anândamaya mentioned in the Taittirîya Upanishad has, in agreement with Râmânuga's views, to be separated from the subsequent adhikaranas, and to be combined with the preceding ones whose task it is to lay down the fundamental propositions regarding Brahman's nature.--The remaining adhikaranas of the first pâda follow the order of passages in the Khândogya Upanishad, and therefore call for no remark; with the exception of the last adhikarana, which refers to a Kaushîtaki passage, for whose being introduced in this place I am not able to account.--The first adhikarana of the second pâda returns to the Khândogya Upanishad. The second one treats of a passage in the Katha Upanishad where a being is referred to which eats everything. The reason why that passage is introduced in this place seems to be correctly assigned in the Srî-bhâshya, which remarks that, as in the preceding Sûtra it had been argued that the highest Self is not an enjoyer, a doubt arises whether by that being which eats everything the highest Self can be meant--The third adhikarana again, whose topic is the 'two entered into the cave' (Katha Up. I, 3, 1), appears, as Râmânuga remarks, to come in at this place owing to the preceding adhikarana; for if it could not be proved that one of the two is the highest Self, a doubt would attach to the explanation given above of the 'eater' since the 'two entered into the cave,' and the 'eater' stand under the same prakarana, and must therefore be held to refer to the same matter.--The fourth adhikarana is again occupied with a Khândogya passage.--The fifth adhikarana, whose topic is the Ruler within (antaryâmin), manifestly owes its place, as remarked by Râmânuga also, to the fact that the Vedic passage treated had been employed in the preceding adhikarana (I, 2, 14) for the purpose of strengthening the argument--The sixth adhikarana, again, which discusses 'that which is not seen' (adresya; Mund. Up. I, 1, 6), is clearly introduced in this place because in the preceding adhikarana it had been said that adrishta, &c. denote the highest Self;--The reasons to which the last adhikarana of the second pâda and the first and third adhikaranas of the third pâda owe their places are not apparent (the second adhikarana of the third pâda treats of a Khândogya passage). The introduction, on the other hand, of the passage from the Prasna Upanishad treating of the akshara Omkâra is clearly due to the circumstance that an akshara, of a different nature, had been discussed in the preceding adhikarana.--The fifth and sixth adhikaranas investigate Khândogya passages.--The two next Sûtras (22, 23) are, as remarked above, considered by Sankara to constitute a new adhikarana treating of the 'being after which everything shines' (Mund. Up. II, 2, 10); while Râmânuga looks on them as continuing the sixth adhikarana. There is one circumstance which renders it at any rate probable that Râmânuga, and not Sankara, here hits the intention of the author of the Sûtras. The general rule in the first three pâdas is that, wherever a new Vedic passage is meant to be introduced, the subject of the discussion, i.e. that being which in the end is declared to be Brahman is referred to by means of a special word, in most cases a nominative form. From this rule there is in the preceding part of the adhyâya only one real exception, viz. in I, 2, 1, which possibly may be due to the fact that there a new pâda begins, and it therefore was considered superfluous to indicate the introduction of a new topic by a special word. The exception supplied by I, 3, 19 is only an apparent one; for, as remarked above, Sûtra 19 does not in reality begin a new adhikarana. A few exceptions occurring later on will be noticed in their places.--Now neither Sutra 22 nor Sutra 23 contains any word intimating that a new Vedic passage is being taken into consideration, and hence it appears preferable to look upon them, with Râmânuga, as continuing the topic of the preceding adhikarana.--This conclusion receives an additional confirmation from the position of the next adhikarana, which treats of the being 'a span long' mentioned in Katha Up. II, 4, 12; for the reason of this latter passage being considered here is almost certainly the reference to the alpasruti in Sûtra 21, and, if so, the angushthamâtra properly constitutes the subject of the adhikarana immediately following on Adhik. V, VI; which, in its turn, implies that Sutras 22, 23 do not form an independent adhikarana.--The two next adhikaranas are digressions, and do not refer to special Vedic passages.--Sutra 39 forms anew adhikarana, according to Sankara, but not according to Râmânuga, whose opinion seems again to be countenanced by the fact that the Sûtra does not exhibit any word indicative of a new topic. The same difference of opinion prevails with regard to Sûtra 40, and it appears from the translation of the Sûtra given above, according to Râmânuga's view, that 'gyotih' need not be taken as a nominative.--The last two adhikaranas finally refer, according to Râmânuga, to one Khandogya passage only, and here also we have to notice that Sûtra 42 does not comprise any word intimating that a new passage is about to be discussed.

From all this we seem entitled to draw the following conclusions. The Vedic passages discussed in the three first pâdas of the Vedânta-sûtras comprise all the doubtful--or at any rate all the more important doubtful--passages from the Khandogya Upanishad. These passages are arranged in the order in which the text of the Upanishad exhibits them. Passages from other Upanishads are discussed as opportunities offer, there being always a special reason why a certain Khandogya passage is followed by a certain passage from some other Upanishad. Those reasons can be assigned with sufficient certainty in a number of cases although not in all, and from among those passages whose introduction cannot be satisfactorily accounted for some are eliminated by our following the subdivision of the Sûtras into adhikaranas adopted by Râmânuga, a subdivision countenanced by the external form of the Sûtras.

The fourth pâda of the first adhyâya has to be taken by itself. It is directed specially and avowedly against Sânkhya-interpretations of Scripture, not only in its earlier part which discusses isolated passages, but also--as is brought out much more clearly in the Srî-bhâshya than by Sankara--in its latter part which takes a general survey of the entire scriptural evidence for Brahman being the material as well as the operative cause of the world.

Deussen (p. 221) thinks that the selection made by the Sûtrakâra of Vedic passages setting forth the nature of Brahman is not in all cases an altogether happy one. But this reproach rests on the assumption that the passages referred to in the first adhyâya were chosen for the purpose of throwing light on what Brahman is, and this assumption can hardly be upheld. The Vedânta-sûtras as well as the Pûrvâ Mîmâmsâ-sûtras are throughout Mîmâmsâ i.e. critical discussions of such scriptural passages as on a primâ facie view admit of different interpretations and therefore necessitate a careful enquiry into their meaning. Here and there we meet with Sutrâs which do not directly involve a discussion of the sense of some particular Vedic passage, but rather make a mere statement on some important point. But those cases are rare, and it would be altogether contrary to the general spirit of the Sutrâs to assume that a whole adhyâya should be devoted to the task of showing what Brahman is. The latter point is sufficiently determined in the first five (or six) adhikaranas; but after we once know what Brahman is we are at once confronted by a number of Upanishad passages concerning which it is doubtful whether they refer to Brahman or not. With their discussion all the remaining adhikaranas of the first adhyâya are occupied. That the Vedânta-sûtras view it as a particularly important task to controvert the doctrine of the Sânkhyas is patent (and has also been fully pointed out by Deussen, p. 23). The fifth adhikarana already declares itself against the doctrine that the world has sprung from a non-intelligent principle, the pradhâna, and the fourth pâda of the first adhyâya returns to an express polemic against Sânkhya interpretations of certain Vedic statements. It is therefore perhaps not saying too much if we maintain that the entire first adhyâya is due to the wish, on the part of the Sûtrakâra, to guard his own doctrine against Sânkhya attacks. Whatever the attitude of the other so-called orthodox systems may be towards the Veda, the Sânkhya system is the only one whose adherents were anxious--and actually attempted--to prove that their views are warranted by scriptural passages. The Sânkhya tendency thus would be to show that all those Vedic texts which the Vedântin claims as teaching the existence of Brahman, the intelligent and sole cause of the world, refer either to the pradhâna or some product of the pradhâna, or else to the purusha in the Sânkhya sense, i.e. the individual soul. It consequently became the task of the Vedântin to guard the Upanishads against misinterpretations of the kind, and this he did in the first adhyâya of the Vedânta-sûtras, selecting those passages about whose interpretation doubts were, for some reason or other, likely to arise. Some of the passages singled out are certainly obscure, and hence liable to various interpretations; of others it is less apparent why it was thought requisite to discuss them at length. But this is hardly a matter in which we are entitled to find fault with the Sûtrakâra; for no modern scholar, either European or Hindu, is--or can possibly be--sufficiently at home, on the one hand, in the religious and philosophical views which prevailed at the time when the Sûtras may have been composed, and, on the other hand, in the intricacies of the Mîmâmsâ, to judge with confidence which Vedic passages may give rise to discussions and which not.

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