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Contemplating the Karmic Conditions of Beings

Chapter 3



This third chapter is called Contemplating the Karmic Conditions of Living Beings. “To contemplate” means to observe. What are “living beings”? A multitude of causal conditions create living beings, who become born from pursuing different states. Why do we say they are formed as a result of many causes? The multitude of causal conditions includes form, feeling, cognition, formation and consciousness, which create the physical body as grasping occurs. Living beings are born because we pursue different states. Those who are born from such causes and conditions are living beings.

Karma. Where does karma come from? Karma may be created through speech, physical acts or thoughts. Why is the result “karma”, instead of “causes”? Causal conditions refer to a single incident; karma is an accumulation of many causal conditions after a long period of time. “Conditions” are a set of circumstances that create karma. Every living being has his/her own karmic conditions, and the states that he/she experiences are different. Some living beings always encounter happy states. Why? In the past they planted good causes, and therefore in this lifetime they reap good results.

Some living beings always face very difficult situations, why? It is because in the past they did not plant good causes; they sowed bad ones instead. Over time these bad causes turn into bad karma; hence they face such miserable retributions in this lifetime. In general, plant good causes and reap good results; plant bad causes and reap bad results. We create good and evil personally; no one else makes us do it.

This applies throughout our path to Buddhahood, a destination reached not because other people made us, but because of our own hard work at cultivation. Working hard at cultivation is about planting the causes for Buddhahood, which leads to Buddhahood in the future. Do the work of Buddhas and become Buddhas in the future; do the work of demons and become demons. Did the text not say earlier that the hells are called forth in response to the Three Evil Karmas?


At that time, the Buddha’s mother, Lady Maya, placed her palms together respectfully and asked Earth Store Bodhisattva, “Great Sage, could you tell us about the different kinds of karma that beings of Jambudvipa create, and the resulting retributions that they undergo?”

Earth Store replied, “There are many millions of worlds and lands that may or may not have hells, may or may not have women, may or may not have the Buddhadharma, and so forth up to having or not having Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas. Since the worlds differ, the retributions in the hells also differ.”


At that time, the Buddha’s mother, Lady Maya gave birth to the Buddha from her left armpit. She died from hemorrhage and was reborn in the heavens. After Shakyamuni Buddha became enlightened, he spoke Dharma for forty-nine years in over three hundred Dharma assemblies. The day before yesterday someone said the Buddha lectured on more than three hundred sutras, that is wrong. The Buddha held over three hundred Dharma assemblies. The Buddhist sutras are not limited to more than three hundred; there are more than several thousand. When the Buddha was about to enter Nirvana, he recalled that he had not delivered his mother [to the shore of perfection], so he went to the Trayastrimsa Heavens to speak the Dharma for Lady Maya.

Now Lady Maya placed her palms together respectfully and asked Earth Store Bodhisattva, “Great Sage, could you tell us about the different kinds of karma that beings of Jambudvipa create, and the resulting retributions that they undergo? How does this happen?

To Lady Maya, Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, “There are many millions of worlds and lands that may or may not have hells. For instance, the Land of Ultimate Bliss has neither hells nor any of the Three Evil Paths. On the other hand, our Saha world embodies the Three Evil Paths— the hells, the realm of ghosts, and the realm of animals. Those places may or may not have women: Some worlds – ours for example – have both men and women as well as sages and common people. The Land of Ultimate Bliss has only men. If there were no women, how can there be men? Don’t you worry, when the men go to the world of Ultimate Bliss, they are still men. When the women get there, they become men too. Where do the people of the Land of Ultimate Bliss come from? Who gives birth to them? If there are no women, how can there be people? This you do not know. The people in the world of Ultimate Bliss do not come from women but are born transformationally from lotuses. When we recite the Buddha’s name once here, our mother, the lotus in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, grows a bit. The more we recite here, the more our flower grows. The more sincere our recitation, the more fresh our lotus becomes.

After death and before becoming reborn as a human, a ghost or a spirit, our Eighth Consciousness is in a state between skandhas, or “the Intermediate Skandha Body”. If we recite the Buddha’s name sincerely, when we die, our Intermediate Skandha Body will immediately enter the lotus. When the lotus blooms, a child in the Land of Ultimate Bliss is born. Since birth originates with lotuses, there are only men and no women.

May or may not have Buddhadharma. Perhaps there is the Buddhadharma, from the Buddhas there who are speaking the Dharma or Dharma that abides, in this country or this world. There are places where no one speaks the Dharma, where there are no Buddha images, sutras, or monastics. The Buddhist sutras say such a place exists in northern Uttarakuru, one of the eight places of difficulty because it does not have any Buddhadharma.

And so forth up to having or not having Hearers and Pratyekabuddhas. There may or may not be any Sound Hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, or Bodhisattvas in these worlds. From the point of view of ordinary people, Sound Hearers are very happy. In the eyes of the Bodhisattvas, however, Sound Hearers also suffer. So these worlds may or may not have Sound Hearers or Pratyekabuddhas who suffer.

Since the worlds differ, the retributions in the hells also differ : Regardless of who you are, create karma and you will face the matching retribution; avoid karma if you want to avoid the retribution that follows. This principle is impartial and equal.


Lady Maya spoke again to the Bodhisattva, “Could you please tell us about the offenses committed by those in Jambudvipa that result in retributions in the evil destinies?”

Earth Store replied, “Worthy Mother, please listen as I speak briefly about that.”

The Buddha’s mother answered, “Great Sage, please do tell us about it.”

The Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the worthy mother, “Retributions that result from offenses committed in Jambudvipa are described like this:

“Beings who are not filial to their parents, even to the point of harming or killing them, will fall into the Relentless Hell where for thousands of billions of eons they will seek escape in vain.”


Lady Maya spoke again to the Bodhisattva . The Buddha’s mother repeated to Earth Store Bodhisattva, “Could you please tell us about the offenses committed by those in Jambudvipa that result in retributions in the evil destinies?” “The other worlds are too far away and I have not been to them, even if I have I do not remember. Therefore I ask not about the other worlds but only of Jambudvipa. I wish to know the offenses of those in Jambudvipa, the evil destinies that result, and the retribution from different offenses. I would like to listen, will the Sagely One please tell me?”

When Earth Store Bodhisattva heard the Buddha’s mother plead in this manner, he answered “Worthy Mother, please listen to what I have to say. As I speak briefly about that type of principle. I will not explain it in detail because I may not even finish in several great eons. The Buddha’s mother answered, “Great Sage, please do tell us about it.” The Buddha’s mother heard what Earth Store Bodhisattva said and responded, “I am most delighted and wish for the Bodhisattva to speak.”

Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the worthy mother, “Retributions that result from offenses committed in Jambudvipa are described like this. . . At that time, Earth Store Bodhisattva told the Buddha’s mother that in this world of Jumbudvipa, the names of the hells in response to offenses created and retributions received, are as many as the ones he shall describe.

Beings who are not filial to their parents, even to the point of harming or killing them. . . We living beings should be filial to our parents, for those who are not filial commit offenses, even to go as far as murdering them. All these are offenses. Filial piety is important because it is the basis of humanity; if people are not filial, they forget their very origin. Therefore, it is said, “Father gave me a life, mother raised me; their kindness – as vast as high heaven, as manifold as the hairs on the head – is difficult to repay.”

What is filial piety? Does it mean buying delicious foods for our parents? Is it filiality to buy them some fine clothes? No. These are superficial forms of filial piety. Filial piety is about complying with our parents. I enjoy what my parents delight in; I like what my parents like. “Suppose my father likes to smoke opium. If he smoked one ounce a day, and I smoked two, would that be filial piety?” It certainly would not. When I said “comply,” I mean to comply with his wishes, not with his eating habits. If the latter were intended, you might as well tell your father who likes bread and butter, “I like that, too. You’re just going to have to wait while I eat it.” That would be fighting, not complying. To comply means to accord with another’s wish; look into his heart and do not go against his wishes. That is filiality. Earlier I said the kindness of parents is “as manifold as the hairs on the head and difficult to repay.” Even if you could count how many hair you have, you still would not be able to repay your parents’ kindness.

Last summer I mentioned the couplet “The lamb kneels to drink its milk; the young crow returns to the nest.” When the baby lamb drinks its mother’s milk, its forelegs genuflect. Crows are considered filial birds in China because young crows return with food for their aged mother who can no longer fly. Even baby crows know to be filial. Crows are birds and lambs are animals. If we were not filial to our parents, we are worse than birds and beasts.

Human beings are supposed to be replete with the Five Virtues: humaneness, propriety, righteousness wisdom, and trustworthiness. Since we can be virtuous in these five ways, how can we be worse than crows and sheep? There is nothing more important than being filial to our parents.

Someone might ask, “I want to be filial, but now I have left the homelife and my parents are nowhere nearby. How can I be filial?” Leaving the homelife is an act of great filial piety. There is a saying, “When one child enters the Buddha’s door, nine generations of ancestors ascend to the heavens.” If you leave home to cultivate the Way, nine generations of ancestors receive the benefit and may go to the heavens. In this way, you are being filial not only to your parents but to your ancestors and parents of lives past. Of course, you must continue to cultivate. If you do not do so, your nine generations of relatives will fall into the hells, where they will wail and moan: “We had a descendant who left the homelife to cultivate, and because of him we should have been born in the heavens. Who would have thought that he is so lazy that he sleeps all day instead of cultivating. Now our offenses cannot be pardoned, so we fall into the hells once again.”

The mere act of leaving home life is not sufficiently powerful to cause your nine generations of ancestors to be reborn in the heavens. If you do not cultivate, they will not enter the heavens, but if you do cultivate, you are practicing great filiality that helps your parents.

Speaking of which, I was in the Buddha hall for sometime today and thought, we have a Sramanera who has not been up. Even I, the teacher without any fiery temper, was on fire. “How can a monk be so lazy?” I thought. He was not bad though; he did not rebut at all. Upon investigating, I figured out why. Let me tell you all, this Sramanera is not lazy; he was too hungry to move. Not lazy, just hungry. Why was he hungry? No one made offerings. After going many days without any offerings, he tried alms rounds but no one donated anything. His temper flared and when he came back he decided not to eat. It’s been six or seven days and he has not eaten anything, so today he was too hungry to get up. Since I did not realize that he received no offerings, I scolded him severely. Afterwards, I inquired as to why he was this lazy. He said “No one made offerings to me and without food, I have no energy.” Upon hearing this I replied “Oh! I made a mistake. If you feel too weak, then you can rest and sleep inside. Do what you need to do; I’m giving you an expedient.”

It’s not easy being a teacher, sometimes you don’t know what method of teaching and transforming is suitable. I scolded a hungry disciple severely. However this disciple has some skill, a bit of cultivation. Without any cultivation, how can one go on without food for six to seven days and still follow the general assembly in reciting sutras, doing repentances, and listening to the lectures? So my anger is gone now and I am glad I have a hard working disciple. I hope all of you will emulate this Sramanera who had enough patience to withstand my scolding.

In addition, forget the fact that “I did not eat for a day,” “I did not eat for two days,” “I did not eat for three days”, “five days”, “six days”. Forget it. Having eaten or not is the same. Don’t pay attention to whether you have eaten or not. Forgetting that, you are really cultivating. You could not forget if you were not really cultivating. True concentration is derived from true practice. With real concentration, you will not notice that I’m scolding you, not to mention hitting you. Questions like “Who’s hitting me?” or “Where am I?” do not even occur because there is no “I”. When there is no self, there is true concentration. If there’s still an “I”, so that “you hit me”, “you scold me”, and “I haven’t eaten”, still exist, then you haven’t forgotten this self; consequently concentration will not grow. You must forget the self before concentration develops; when concentration is born, you have some real skill.

Beings who are not filial to their parents, even to the point of harming or killing them...Those who kill their father or mother, for example, will fall into the Relentless Hell where for thousands of billions of eons they will seek escape in vain. It will be difficult for them to escape the hells.


Beings who shed the Buddha’s blood, slander the Triple Jewel, and do not venerate Sutras, will fall into the Relentless H ell where for thousands of billions of eons they will seek escape in vain.


Beings who shed the Buddha’s blood...Suppose innocent living beings do commit some offense such as shed the Buddha’s blood. Now that Shakyamuni Buddha entered nirvana, how can we make the Buddha bleed? We do not live in a time when the Buddha is in the world and have never seen the Buddha, how can we make the Buddha bleed? When the Buddha was in the world, shedding his blood means injuring the Buddha’s physical body. After his nirvana, it means destroying images of the Buddha, such as removing an ear or a finger. Burning paper images of the Buddha, for instance, is also equivalent to shedding the Buddha’s blood. In principle, these offenses cannot be vindicated through repenting and reforming, but there are exceptions such as when intoxicated or overtaken by madness or mental breakdown. However, you cannot claim to be mentally ill or drunk but commit these offenses intentionally. It is when unintended that these karmic offenses are lighter.

The Buddha had such great spiritual powers, who could have shed his blood? The Buddha had certified to the fruit, who could have hurt his physical body? Sometimes even the Buddha gets injured unexpectedly. The Buddha’s cousin, Devadatta, opposed everything the Buddha did and invariably tried to ruin him. If the Buddha said something was proper, Devadatta would contradict him. He did everything he possibly could to undermine the Buddha.

Once when the Buddha was speaking, Devadatta bribed a poor woman to take part in a plot against the Buddha. As is the case with many impoverished persons, her resolve was weak and she would do anything for money. Devadatta had her tie a pillow around her waist under her clothes and in this condition go to the Buddha’s Dharma assembly and accuse him of fathering her unborn child. Devadatta promised her a large sum of money for making the Buddha no longer credible to his disciples.

When this woman followed suit and told the Buddha’s disciples that she is pregnant with the Buddha’s child, the Buddha used his spiritual powers to make the pillow fall to the ground, proving on the spot that she was dishonest. That was how Devadatta used various means to damage the Buddha.

Another time the Buddha was walking by Vulture Peak when Devadatta, hoping to crush the Buddha, used his spiritual powers to cause an avalanche. A Vajra knight and guardian spirit of Vulture Peak, named Bei La, used his Vajra pestle to smash one of the large boulders, which was about to hit the Buddha. One of the fragments, however, struck the Buddha’s little toe and cracked a bone. At that very moment a fiery chariot emerged to carry Devadatta alive off to the hells. The retribution incurred by those who burn and destroy images of the Buddha, dismantle temples or ruin stupas is similar.

Slander the Triple Jewel. Buddhists must remember not to commit this type of offense, that is, to speak evil of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Among the Bodhisattva precepts is one that prohibits people from speaking of the offenses of the Fourfold Assembly, the bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas. Not only does it warn people to refrain from speaking of others’ faults, it also cautions against participating when others speak of them. Just ignore the conversation. If you participate in such a conversation, you also violate the precept. The best thing to do in a situation like this is to simply keep your mouth shut, remain silent.

Among other reasons for not speaking of the faults of the Fourfold Assembly is that the views of an ordinary person are often wrong. Ordinary people cannot fathom the realms of sages. Bodhisattvas of the First Ground, for example, do not know the states of those of the Second Ground, and so on up the line. Bodhisattvas on the Tenth Ground do not know the states of the Bodhisattvas on the Ground of Equal Enlightenment. Arhats of the First Fruition do not know the states of Second Fruition Arhats. Before you acquire true wisdom, you may not say harmful things about the Fourfold Assembly, which is one form of slandering the Triple Jewel. Even though people may very clearly be in the wrong, you should not speak of it. Just do things correctly yourself, rather than acting like a camera that goes about photographing faults and never examining itself.

At this point some stories come to mind. During the reign of Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, there was a Dhyana Master named Zhi Gong who ate two pigeons every day. The cook assumed that the birds must be delicious, and one day tasted a wing on the sly. Then he brought the remainder of the dish to Dhyana Master Zhi Gong. After he finished eating, Dhyana Master Zhi Gong called for the cook.

“Why did you eat some of my pigeons?”

“I didn’t take any pigeon,” answered the cook.

“Oh? Then what about this?” said Dhyana Master Zhi Gong. He opened his mouth and two live pigeons emerged. One of the birds flew off, but the other had a wing missing.

“If you didn’t, where’s the wing of this bird?” asked Dhyana Master Zhi Gong.

Although in both cases the men ate pigeons, Dhyana Master Zhi Gong swallowed the chopped up and cooked pigeon, then spit it out alive; the cook, on the other hand, could not do it. Dhyana Master Zhi Gong’s state was one of “eating and yet not eating.”

At Ling Ying Monastery at West Lake, Hangzhou, there lived Dhyana Master Ji Gong, another famous monk who always ate dog meat and drank wine. He was invariably inebriated, and everyone said, “There goes another tippling monk.” In his drunkenness, however, Ji Gong taught and transformed living beings.

Once a Buddha image was not yet gilded with gold, so he told the abbot, “I will gild this Buddha image. No one else needs to do it.” The abbot of his temple agreed and then waited. After some time the image was still not finished, so the abbot questioned Dhyana Master Ji Gong about the matter. The Dhyana Master agreed to do the work that very evening. When night came, however, he merely kept on with his drinking.

When everyone was asleep though, he went to the image and began to spew forth pure gold, with which he covered the images. The abbot heard Dhyana Master Ji Gong spitting and abruptly ordered, “How could you spit at the Buddha image?” Dhyana Master Ji Gong immediately quit and left.

The next morning the abbot inspected the image. He found that it was covered with gold except for a small spot on the crown of the head. Although a master goldsmith completed the work, his ordinary gold could not match that supplied by Dhyana Master Ji Gong. The states of arhats are inconceivable.

So, you see, you should not speak of the faults of the Fourfold Assembly. It is not so serious if you criticize ordinary people, but should you criticize a sage, the penalty you might incur will be very great, enough to cause you to fall into the hells.

People slander the Triple Jewel because they do not have faith. Another cause is mixing with bad company—people who do not understand and therefore slander the Buddhadharma. Associating with such people may cause one to be influenced by their bad habits.

Some people berate and slander the Triple Jewel and use flattery for ill gain. Such persons’ minds are crooked; they engage in flattery to get what they want. They are stupid, yet puffed up with their own intelligence, like the five thousand bhikshus who left the assembly during the speaking of the Lotus Sutra. Because they had a tiny bit of cleverness, they looked down on others and slandered the good Dharma, thus blinding the selective Dharma eye of living beings.

What is the retribution for such persons? In the future they will be deformed and crippled, without arms, hands, ears, or legs. They may not be able to walk or have some speech impediment. Mutes are people who slandered the Triple Jewel. After they commit this offense they fall into the hells, where they spend two million years of hellish retribution, after which they are born into the realms of the animals, possibly as a horse, cow, sheep, chicken or dog. After two million years among the animals, they may be reborn as humans, but they will be disabled. Either they will be without eyes therefore blind, without ears therefore deaf, or perhaps without tongues or even with tongues, but yet they cannot speak. In general, they will be disabled and ugly. They undergo this kind of suffering and fall into the Relentless Hells after death. Such is the retribution of slandering the Triple Jewel in lives past.

And do not venerate sutras...Sutras must be treated with respect, for, as it says in the Diamond Sutra, “Wherever this sutra is, there is the Buddha.” Sutras are the Dharma-body of the Buddha, toward which we must be very respectful. Places where sutras are set must be organized and clean, and without acts of defilement. They should always be stored above other books. Also make sure that Buddhist sutras are on the side where we lay our head in a room and not on the side where we lay our feet. Our beds are unclean, thus sutras must not be placed there. If you do not show the same respect for sutras that you show the Buddha, you are slandering and harming the Triple Jewel. The retribution for not respecting sutras is the same: one falls into the Relentless Hall where for thousands of billions of eons they will seek escape in vain. It would be impossible to exit the hells despite such a long duration.

Remember this section of the sutra especially, it is very important. Buddhists must be respectful of the Triple Jewel and sutras, and must not shed the Buddha’s blood.


Beings who usurp or damage the property of the Eternally Dwelling, who defile Bhikshus or Bhikshunis, who commit sexual acts within the Sangharama, or who kill or harm beings there, will fall into the Relentless Hell where for thousands of billions of eons they will seek escape in vain.


Beings who usurp or damage the property of the Eternally Dwelling...Eternally Dwelling is the wayplace. There are four kinds of Eternally Dwelling: the Permanent Eternally Dwelling, the Eternally Dwelling of the Ten Directions, the Current Eternally Dwelling, and the Current Eternally Dwelling of the Ten Directions.

1. The Permanent Eternally Dwelling. This wayplace is fixed and continuous, within which monastics permanently reside. A wayplace is where the Sangha lives. To usurp and destroy the Eternally Dwelling is to make use of the food, drink, and goods of those permanently dwelling in the temples, without offering compensation. Laypeople who live in a temple must donate to the temple. If you live in a temple even for a few days and do not offer a monetary contribution, you usurp the goods of those permanently dwelling there. This offense will certainly send you to the hells. You should regard living in a temple as being similar to living anywhere else; you should pay for living expenses that approximate the amount of living elsewhere, thus avoid stealing from those permanently dwelling there. I tell my refuge disciples to make sure they never commit this offense but always help the wayplace.

If you cannot augment the resources of a place, you should at least make sure that you do not deplete them. People who do not understood any Buddhist principles think they are getting a bargain by living in a temple for free. This may be fine if you do not understand how to act properly; but if you understand the Buddhadharma and still behave that way, it is quite another. This principle holds true not only for laypeople but for those who have left home life as well. Anywhere I go to stay long term as a monk, I will pay half of the estimated cost for spending the night at a nearby hotel, e.g., I pay three dollars for an approximated charge of five dollars. Wherever I go I do this unless I have absolutely nothing, then that is okay. If I do have something, I will not usurp or damage the property of the Eternally Dwelling.

Since the Eternally Dwelling is like the great earth where a great assembly may live, we must take care not to drain the supplies, such as depleting the food supply so that deprive others of it. That would be an offense. “If I alone starve to death, that will be no problem, but I cannot deprive the assembly of its food. The Eternally Dwelling monastics must have food and offerings, unlike my little disciple who can do without.” Food is like the sky overhead, we need it; so we hurt the Eternally Dwelling if we leave nothing for them. With this attitude you will not commit a grave offense in this area.

For those of us who have studied the Buddhadharma, we need to make a donation to the temple. Even if it’s a little less than the payment at other places at least you have done your best. To give none and then run away is to usurp or damage the property of the Eternally Dwelling.

2. The Eternally Dwelling of the Ten Directions. It is a place where any member of the Sangha from any place may stay.

3. The Current Eternally Dwelling. The people who are currently living here are referred to as the Current Eternally Dwelling.

4. The Current Eternally Dwelling of the Ten Directions. This refers to the actual property left by deceased Sangha members which may be divided among the Sangha members of the Ten Directions.

The difference is that goods of the Current Eternally Dwelling are only available to those living here temporarily; those who come afterwards do not have a share. Whereas that of the Current Eternally Dwelling of the Ten Directions is available to all, those who come earlier and later.

Who defile Bhikshus or Bhikshunis...Some brutes harass and rape nuns. They commit offenses.

Who commit sexual acts within the Sangharama...The Sangharama is a still, pure place; in other words, any bodhimandala or temple. No one should be indulgent or unruly by engaging in sexual activity at any Sangharama, or any place where there is a Buddha image. A man who suffered from a genital ulcer once asked Mahamaudgalyayana the origin of his disease and was told, “In your past life, you wantonly engaged in sexual activity in a Sangharama. Having committed this offense, your male genital often festers with sores.” Although he was speaking to a man, the principle is the same for women. Anyone who violates this rule will, in the future, be born in the hells. After being in the hells, they will be reborn and their genitals will often grow ulcers. These diseases are incurable. The cause and effect of these causes and conditions must be believed. If you do not believe, in the future you will undergo the retribution.

Or who kill or harm beings there...those who murder or hurt the victim of an unsuccessful rape attempt, will fall into the Relentless Hell where for thousands of billions of eons they will seek escape in vain.

Some people discover that the more they study Buddhism, the more inconvenient things become; the more they practice, the less freedom they enjoy. When you do not study the Buddhadharma, constraints come later; now, however, constraints occur in the present. We increase our good roots when we study the Buddhadharma now; we increase our karmic obstructions when we do not study the Buddhadharma, constrains associated with those are forever.

When you study Buddhism, you may be limited for a while, but this restraint is relatively short-lived. If you do not want perpetual freedom, you do not need to study Buddhism; if you want freedom in the future, you may want to accept a little less freedom in the meantime. The restraints of studying the Buddhadharma are short-term by comparison, and if you refuse to do so, your restraints will be lasting. Weigh the odds for yourself.

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