Buddhist Dictionary: Key Concepts of Buddhism

Diccionario budista con térmicos básicos de las enseñanzas.

From its beginnings, Buddhism has been more than a religion or belief system, it is a profound tradition of self-transformation, inviting those who approach it to embark on an inner journey in search of peace, wisdom and spiritual awakening. Buddha, its founder, established a set of teachings focused on recognizing the impermanent nature of life, the cause of suffering and the ways to overcome it. His purpose was not to create dogmas, but to offer practical tools that would lead to liberation from mental and emotional bondage and ultimately achieve a state of inner peace and balance.

Buddhist practice, in essence, is a commitment to oneself, to self-knowledge and self-realization. Through meditation, reflection and the ethical application of its precepts, we can cultivate a state of mind free of distractions, aversions and attachments, guiding our lives towards a higher, transcendental purpose.

When one first becomes interested in Buddhism, it is very easy to get lost among so many concepts, practices and traditions. But each term, each word, is a door to a deeper understanding of life and the human being. Therefore, this dictionary has been conceived with the aim of offering a small, clear and concise guide for those seeking to familiarize themselves with the richness of Buddhist teachings.

Here you will find terms ranging from philosophical foundations to meditative practices, and from the various schools and traditions that have flourished over the centuries, so that everyone can explore those concepts with which they connect best.

We have tried to bring together both basic and more advanced terms, so that anyone, whether they are new to Buddhism or already have some knowledge of it, can find something useful.


  • Abhidhamma: A category of scriptures within the Pali Canon. A collection of Buddhist texts that systematize the teachings in lists and matrices, providing a detailed philosophical analysis of the doctrines
  • Abhinna: Direct knowledge or insights, often used synonymously with Abhijña, although it may have different subtle nuances depending on the context.
  • Adibuddha: In some traditions of Tantric Buddhism, it refers to the “primordial Buddha” or “original Buddha” who represents the ultimate reality and source of all phenomena and beings. It is a transcendental principle that is beyond time and space.
  • Anapanasati: Mindfulness meditation on the breath.
  • Anatta: Fundamental concept in Buddhism that points to the non-existence of a permanent “I” or immutable essence in beings. It contrasts with the notion of a permanent soul or essence in many other religious traditions.
  • Anicca: The impermanent nature of all things. Everything that is born, changes and eventually disappears. It is one of the three fundamental characteristics of existence in Buddhist doctrine.
  • Arahant: An enlightened being who has attained nirvana and has eliminated all mental impurities and attachments. He will not be reborn in the cycle of samsara.
  • Asava: Also known as“influences” or “effusions“, these are the toxic flows of the mind that generate suffering.
  • Avalokiteshvara (Avalokiteśvara): Bodhisattva of compassion. He is known for various manifestations in different Buddhist cultures, such as Guanyin in China and Chenrezig in Tibet.
  • Avidyā: Ignorance or lack of knowledge, particularly of the true character of things. It is the main root of the cycle of birth and death (samsara)


  • Bhavana: Literally means ‘cultivation‘ or ‘development‘. It refers mainly to meditation and mental development.
  • Bhavacakra: The wheel of life, a Tibetan symbol representing samsara and the causes of suffering.
  • Bodhi: Enlightenment or awakening. It is the direct understanding of truth attained by the Buddha or any other enlightened being.
  • Bodhicitta: Sanskrit term that can be translated as“mind of enlightenment.” In Mahāyāna Buddhism, bodhicitta refers to the sincere and compassionate intention to attain enlightenment (bodhi) not only for oneself, but for the benefit of all sentient beings. This aspiration is central to bodhisattva practice and philosophy.
  • Bodhisattva: A person who aspires to enlightenment not only for himself, but also to free all beings from suffering. He is willing to postpone his own nirvana in order to help others.
  • Brahma-viharas: The “sublime abodes” or “divine abodes,” which are four qualities of the heart: metta (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (altruistic joy) and upekkha (equanimity)
  • Buddha: Title meaning “The Enlightened One“. He is someone who has attained enlightenment on his own, without a teacher, and teaches others the path to it. It is often used to refer to the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.


  • Citta: Mind or consciousness. The mental quality of knowing or being aware of an object.
  • Cittanupassana: Contemplation of the mind, one of the four bases of mindfulness taught by the Buddha.
  • Cetasika: Mental factors that arise and cease along with consciousness (citta) and that condition the quality of awareness.
  • Chanda: Desire or intention; in a positive context, it can refer to the desire to achieve something beneficial or virtuous.
  • Chitta-vritti: A Sanskrit term referring to “fluctuations of the mind” or mental distractions and disturbances.
  • Cintamani: A “wish-fulfilling jewel” often associated with Tantric traditions and symbolizes the fulfillment of pure and lofty desires.


  • Dāna: Generosity or act of giving. It is one of the fundamental practices in Buddhism that reinforces virtue and kindness.
  • Dhamma (Dharma in Sanskrit): Represents the teachings of the Buddha and also the universal truth or natural law of the cosmos. It is the order that permeates existence and the practices that lead to the realization of that truth.
  • Dhammacakka: The“Wheel of Dhamma“, symbolizing the Buddha’s teaching, in particular, his first sermon on the Four Noble Truths.
  • Dhammapada: One of the best-known texts of the Pali Canon, a collection of verses containing teachings attributed to the Buddha.
  • Dhyāna (Jhāna in Pali): Deep states of meditation or concentration.
  • Dukkha: Often translated as suffering, although it also encompasses dissatisfaction, pain, imperfection and discontentment. It is one of the three fundamental characteristics of existence and is intrinsically linked to the human condition in samsara.
  • Dzogchen: Also known as “Great Perfection,” it is an esoteric tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that emphasizes direct recognition of the true nature of mind.
  • Dvesha: Aversion or repulsion, one of the three mental poisons that bind beings to the cycle of rebirth.


  • Ekaggata: Oneness of mind or concentration. It is one of the factors of jhāna in the Theravāda tradition.
  • Ekayāna: The “one vehicle.” A term used in some Mahayana sutras to describe the idea that all Buddhist practices lead to the same final destination of enlightenment.
  • Ehipassiko: “Come and see.” A quality of the Dhamma that indicates that the Buddha’s teachings are open to personal inspection and experience, inviting everyone to check and experience their truthfulness for themselves.


  • Four Noble Truths: The first teachings given by the Buddha after his enlightenment, describing the nature and cause of suffering and the path to its cessation.


  • Gandharva: In Buddhist and Hindu mythology, they are celestial beings, often associated with music.
  • Gelug: One of the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Je Tsongkhapa in the 14th century. It is the tradition to which the Dalai Lama belongs.
  • Guru: Master or spiritual guide, particularly in the Tibetan traditions and some schools of Mahayana Buddhism.
  • Guhya: Secret or esoteric. A term often found in tantric contexts, as in “Guhya-samāja,” an important tantric text.


  • Hinayana: Literally “Lesser Vehicle.” It is a traditional designation used primarily by Mahayana schools to refer to early Buddhist schools. The term can be seen as pejorative, and nowadays the word “Theravada” is used for the predominant tradition emerging from these schools.
  • Hridaya: Heart. In some Buddhist texts, especially in Tantric and Mahayana contexts, this term is used to refer to the spiritual heart or essential core of the teaching.
  • Hung: A seed syllable or“bija mantra” in Tibetan Buddhism, often associated with the essence of enlightened mind.


  • Iddhi: Supernatural powers or psychic abilities that can be developed through meditative practices. These may include abilities such as flying, walking through walls, and other miraculous phenomena.
  • Indriya: Faculties or powers. Often refers to sensory faculties, but in a broader context, it can refer to a set of 22 faculties that include elements such as faith, energy, and concentration.
  • Itivuttaka: A collection of short discourses attributed to the Buddha in the Pali Canon. The name translates as“Thus it was said,” as each sutra in this collection begins with this phrase.


  • Jātaka: Stories about Shakyamuni Buddha’s previous lives, where he often appears as an animal or other human being, displaying virtues that lead him toward final enlightenment.
  • Jñānabalā: The “force of knowledge.” One of the five forces (balā) in the Buddhist tradition that also includes faith, energy, mindfulness, and concentration.
  • Jñeyavāraṇa: Obscuration or veil covering knowledge. It is one of the two main veils in Vajrayana Buddhism, the other being the kleśavāraṇa (veil of afflictions).


  • Kāla: Time. In some contexts, it may also refer to a type of demon or an aspect of death.
  • Kalyāṇa-mitta: Spiritual friend or virtuous friend. Refers to those companions who support and encourage one’s spiritual practice.
  • Kāma: Desire or pleasure, particularly in the context of sensual desires. It is one of the roots of suffering in Buddhist teachings.
  • Kamma (Sanskrit Karma): Action or cause. Refers to the law of cause and effect, where intentional actions have results that may manifest in this life or in future reincarnations.
  • Kammaṭṭhāna: Subject or basis of meditation. These are meditative practices in the Theravada tradition, including contemplations such as mindfulness of breath or contemplation of transient nature.
  • Karuṇā: Compassion. Along with mettā (loving-kindness), it is one of the qualities Buddhists cultivate toward all beings.
  • Kilesa (Kleśa in Sanskrit): Impurities or mental afflictions. These are the roots of suffering and are typically classified as craving, aversion and ignorance.
  • Koan: A paradox or meditative problem used in some schools of the Zen tradition to break through conceptual thinking and lead the practitioner toward a direct experience of reality.


  • Lama: A title for a Dharma teacher in Tibetan Buddhism. It is similar to“guru” and can refer to both monks and highly realized laypeople.
  • Lamrim: Literally “stages of the path.” It is a structure of Tibetan teachings that presents Buddhist practice in a series of gradual stages toward enlightenment.
  • Loka: World or realm. In Buddhism, there are different divisions of the cosmos, from the infernal realms to the heavenly realms.
  • Lokuttara: Transcendental or beyond the world. Often refers to teachings or practices that transcend the cycle of birth and death.
  • Lojong: A Tibetan practice and teaching meaning“mind training“. It includes techniques and contemplations to develop bodhicitta (the desire to awaken for the benefit of all beings) and transform difficulties on the spiritual path.


  • Mādhyamaka:“Middle Way.” A philosophical school of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes the empty nature (shunyata) of all phenomena and avoids falling into extremes of existentialism or nihilism.
  • Mahāyāna: One of the main branches of Buddhism meaning “Great Vehicle” in Sanskrit. Originating in India, the Mahāyāna differs from the Theravāda and other earlier schools in its teachings, scriptures and practices. It places special emphasis on the role of the bodhisattva, an enlightened being who renounces ultimate nirvana to help other beings attain enlightenment. The Mahāyāna has spread to various regions, including China, Japan, Korea, and Tibet, and has given rise to various sub-schools and traditions, such as Zen and Pure Land Buddhism, as well as having greatly influenced Tibetan Buddhism….
  • Maṇḍala: Geometric and symbolic representation of the cosmos. In Tibetan Buddhism and other traditions, maṇḍalas are used as meditation and ritual tools.
  • Māra: Represents forces that hinder spiritual awakening, often personified as a tempting demon that attempted to divert the Buddha from his path to enlightenment.
  • Mārga: Path. Especially refers to the Noble Eightfold Path (Ariyo Aṭṭhaṅgiko Maggo) which is the path prescribed by the Buddha to attain nirvana.
  • Mātṛka: Lists of doctrinal categories. They are used in some Buddhist texts to summarize and organize teachings.
  • Māyā: Illusion. In the Buddhist context, often refers to the deluded nature of the phenomenal world.
  • Mettā: Loving-kindness or benevolence. It is one of the four sublime qualities that Buddhists cultivate through meditation and practice.
  • Mudrā: Symbolic gestures performed with the hands. They are common in meditative practices and rituals, especially in Vajrayana Buddhism.
  • Muni: Sage or ascetic. Often used as an honorific title for the Buddha, as in“Shākyamuni,” meaning“the sage of the Shakya clan.”


  • Nāga: Mythical serpents or dragons found in many Buddhist texts. They may represent protective beings or challenges on the spiritual path.
  • Nāmarūpa: Name and form. The psychophysical constituents of the human being, especially in relation to the process of reincarnation and dependent arising.
  • Nekkhamma: Renunciation. The act of leaving behind worldly pleasures and attachments in order to devote oneself to the spiritual life.
  • Nibbāna (Nirvana in Sanskrit): Extinction or cessation. It represents the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path, being the cessation of suffering and the end of the cycle of reincarnation.
  • Nidāna: Causes or links. Especially referring to the“Twelve Links of Dependent Origination,” which describe the process of birth, death and rebirth.
  • Nirodha: Cessation or extinction. Third Noble Truth, the cessation of suffering.
  • Nīvaraṇa: Impediments or hindrances. These are mental factors that hinder meditative practice and clarity of mind.
  • Noble Eightfold Path: A set of eight interrelated practices proposed by the Buddha for attaining enlightenment and freedom from suffering. These practices are right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.


  • Ojas: In some Buddhist contexts, the vital essence or energy that sustains the body and mind.


  • Pāli: The language in which the canonical scriptures of the Theravada tradition, known as the Pāli Canon, were recorded.
  • Pāramitā: Usually translated as “perfections.” They are qualities cultivated on the bodhisattva path to enlightenment in Mahayana Buddhism. They include generosity, morality, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom, among others.
  • Paññā: Wisdom. It is one of the central elements of the Noble Eightfold Path and refers to right understanding and right intention.
  • Pāṭimokkha: The set of monastic rules followed by monks and nuns in the Theravada tradition.
  • Pratītyasamutpāda: Dependent arising or conditioned co-production. Describes how all phenomena arise in dependence on specific conditions and have no inherent or independent existence.
  • Puṇya: Merit. In Buddhism, performing good deeds or virtuous practices generates merit, which can be dedicated to the welfare of all beings.
  • Padmasambhava: Also known as Guru Rinpoche, he is a historical and mythical figure in Tibetan Buddhism, credited with introducing tantrism to Tibet and founding the Nyingma lineage.


  • Rāhula: The son of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and his wife Yasodharā. After Gautama attained enlightenment, Rāhula became a monk and followed his father’s teachings.
  • Ratnākara: The name of several Buddhist texts and teachers. It can also refer to an “ocean of gems”.
  • Rinpoche: In Tibetan Buddhism, this is an honorific title meaning “precious” and is given to respected teachers, particularly reincarnated tulkus or lamas.
  • Rinzai: One of the main schools of Zen Buddhism in Japan, known for its direct and often abrupt teaching methods, including the use of kōans.
  • Rūpa: Means “form” or “matter” in Sanskrit and pāli. It is one of the five aggregates (skandhas) that, according to Buddhist teachings, make up the human being.
  • Rūpakāya: The “form body” of the Buddha. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha is said to have three “bodies” or manifestations, and the rūpakāya is one of them, representing the physical manifestation.
  • Rūpaloka: The world or plane of form, one of the three worlds of Buddhist cosmology. It is the realm where those beings reside who have overcome sensual desires but are still bound to form.
  • Rigpa: In Dzogchen, a tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, rigpa refers to the innate, pure knowledge or recognition of mind.


  • Sakadāgāmi:“One who returns once.” It is the second of the four states of enlightenment in Theravāda Buddhism, describing someone who has severed many of the bonds that lead to rebirth and will return to the world one more time before attaining nirvana.
  • Sakya: One of the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Khön Konchok Gyalpo in the 11th century. Also refers to the family of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.
  • Samādhi: Concentration or meditative absorption. It is one of the parts of the Noble Eightfold Path and refers to the ability to keep the mind focused on an object of meditation.
  • Samantabhadra: A bodhisattva widely revered in Mahāyāna Buddhism, associated with practice and meditation. He is also a key figure in Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism, where he represents the primordial nature of mind.
  • Saṃgha: Community of Buddhist monks and nuns. May also be extended to include all serious practitioners of Buddhism.
  • Saṃsāra: The continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It is a cycle of existence characterized by suffering and is the state from which Buddhists seek liberation.
  • Saṃskāra: One of the five aggregates (skandhas) that, according to Buddhist teachings, compose the self. It refers to mental formations or impressions.
  • Satori: In Zen Buddhism, a Japanese term describing an awakening or enlightenment experience.
  • Śīla: Ethics or moral conduct. It is one of the parts of the Noble Eightfold Path and refers to discipline and ethical behaviors.
  • Skandha: Often translated as “aggregates,” it refers to the five categories that, according to Buddhism, make up a human being: form (rūpa), sensation (vedanā), perception (saṃjñā/saññā), mental formations (saṃskāra/sankhāra), and consciousness (vijññāna/viñññāṇa)
  • Sravaka:“Hearer” or“disciple.” A term for those who follow the Buddha’s path according to the original teachings, with the goal of becoming an Arhat.
  • Stupa: Buddhist monument that usually contains relics and is used as a place of meditation. Originally, stupas were burial mounds for the Buddha, but evolved into complex architectural structures in various Buddhist cultures.
  • Śūnyatā: emptiness. A key concept in Mahāyāna Buddhism that refers to the interdependent and non-substantial nature of all phenomena.
  • Sutrayāna: The“way of the sutras,” referring to Buddhist teachings based primarily on the sutras, in contrast to the Vajrayāna or the“way of tantra.”
  • Sutta (in Pāli) or Sūtra (in Sanskrit): written texts containing discourses of the Buddha and his close disciples. They are a central part of Buddhist scriptures.


  • Tanha (Pāli) / Trishna (Sanskrit): Usually translated as “thirst” or “desire,” it refers to craving or insatiable desire. It is the cause of suffering according to the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha.
  • Tantra: Esoteric texts and practices that are particularly prevalent in Tibetan and Vajrayana Buddhism. These techniques are used to quickly attain enlightenment.
  • Tathāgata: A term used in Buddhist scriptures to refer to the Buddha. It can be translated as “the one who has thus come” or “the one who has thus gone.” It is one of several honorific titles for the Buddha.
  • Tathāgatagarbha: Means “womb” or “essence of the Tathāgata.” It is a concept in some schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism that suggests that all beings have an innate Buddha essence or potential for enlightenment.
  • Thangka: A traditional Tibetan painting depicting Buddhist deities, scenes from the life of the Buddha, and other religious themes. Often used as an aid to meditation.
  • Theravāda: Means“Doctrine or Teaching of the Elders.” It is one of the main branches of Buddhism and is dominant in countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. It is based on the earliest and most conservative teachings of the Pāli canon.
  • Tipitaka (Pāli) / Tripitaka (Sanskrit): means“Three Baskets.” It is a classification of Buddhist scriptures into three categories: Vinaya Pitaka (monastic discipline), Sutta Pitaka (discourses) and Abhidhamma Pitaka (doctrinal analysis).
  • Trikaya: Means“Three Bodies“. It is a concept in Mahāyāna Buddhism that describes the three manifestations or aspects of the Buddha: the Body of Truth or Dharma (Dharmakāya), the Body of Bliss(Sambhogakāya), and the Body of Manifestation(Nirmāṇakāya).
  • Trilaksana: The “Three Marks of Existence” that describe the nature of all conditioned things: Anicca (Impermanence), Dukkha (Suffering), and Anatta (Non-self or Absence of Immutable Essence). These characteristics underline the transience, unsatisfactoriness and lack of essence inherent in samsaric existence.
  • Triratna: Also known as the“Three Jewels” or“Triple Gem“, these are the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings) and the Sangha (the community of monks and nuns). They are central to Buddhist life and practice, and taking refuge in them is a fundamental step for those converting to Buddhism.
  • Tsongkhapa: A very important Tibetan master who founded the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism in the 14th century. He is especially known for his teachings on emptiness and the nature of mind.
  • Tulku: In Tibetan Buddhism, a tulku is a reincarnated master. He is recognized from a young age as the reincarnation of a deceased lama and is trained from childhood to assume the role of his predecessor.
  • Tummo: An advanced meditation practice in Tibetan Buddhism that involves the generation of internal heat. It is known in the West because of stories about yogis drying wet sheets in the snow with their body heat.
  • Tushita: One of the heavens in Buddhist cosmology. It is the place where, according to tradition, the bodhisattva Maitreya is waiting to descend to the human world and become the next Buddha.


  • Udana: One of the collections of the Pāli Canon containing inspired statements and spontaneous sayings attributed to the Buddha.
  • Upekkha (Pāli) / Upeksha (Sanskrit): Equanimity. It is one of the four Brahma-viharas or “Sublime Abodes,” representing the highest emotional attitudes. It reflects a serene and balanced mind in the face of joy and sorrow, praise and criticism.
  • Upadana: Attachments or clinging. It is the tendency of the mind to cling to objects, sensations, ideas or identities, which leads to the arising of existence and is therefore a direct cause of samsara.
  • Upaya: Skillful means or skillful methods. These are the techniques or strategies that a Buddhist teacher can employ to guide students to enlightenment. These methods are adapted according to the needs and circumstances of the individual.
  • Uttaratantra Shastra: An important Mahāyāna Buddhist treatise that addresses the concept of tathāgatagarbha or “matrix of the Tathāgata,” which indicates the Buddha potential inherent in all beings.


  • Vajra: Means“diamond” or “ray” in Sanskrit. In Vajrayāna Buddhism, the vajra is a symbol of the indestructible nature of truth and is often depicted as a ritual instrument or scepter.
  • Vajrayāna: One of the three main vehicles or yanas in Buddhism. It is known as the “Diamond Vehicle” and is especially prominent in Tibetan Buddhism. It is characterized by the use of esoteric techniques and advanced rituals. It is also called Tantric Buddhism.
  • Vasana: The latent impressions or habitual tendencies that remain in the subconscious mind due to past actions. These impressions influence current behavior and perceptions.
  • Vedanā: Generally translated as “sensation” or “feeling.” It is one of the five aggregates (skandhas) and refers to pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensations that arise upon contact with an external or internal object.
  • Vihara: Originally, it referred to a shelter or abode for monks, but eventually came to mean a Buddhist monastery or temple.
  • Vinaya: The collection of monastic rules and stories about its origin. It is one of the “Three Baskets” (Tipitaka) of the Pāli Canon and sets out the guidelines for monastic discipline.
  • Vipassanā: A form of introspective meditation meaning “clear seeing” or “penetrating”. It focuses on deep understanding of the three marks of existence: anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering) and anatta (not-self).
  • Viparyasa: Refers to “wrong perceptions” or “illusions”. These are the false perceptions or conceptions that beings have about reality, such as seeing what is impermanent as permanent.
  • Virya: Energy” or diligence. It is one of the paramitas (perfections) and alludes to energy or vigorous effort directed towards good and against evil.
  • Vyakarana: These are the Buddha’s predictions about the future awakening or enlightenment of his disciples. A famous example is the prediction about the future awakening of Avalokiteshvara as a Buddha.
  • Vyapada: Malice or hostile intention towards others. It is one of the five hindrances or nīvarana in meditation.


  • Yana: Means “vehicle” in Sanskrit. In Buddhism, it refers to the various approaches or “vehicles” of practice that guide practitioners toward enlightenment. The three main yantras are Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
  • Yatha-bhuta: Literally“as it really is“. Refers to seeing things in their true nature, without distortions or illusions.
  • Yidam: In Tibetan Buddhism, a yidam is a meditational deity. These deities are not gods in the theistic sense, but representations of certain qualities or aspects of enlightenment. Practitioners meditate on them to internalize those qualities.
  • Yogacara: A philosophical school of Mahayana Buddhism, also known as “Consciousness Only” or “Buddhist Idealism”. This school holds that reality is a mental construct and focuses on the nature and operation of consciousness.


  • Zabmo: In Tibetan Buddhism refers to“depth” or “deep essence“. It can refer to esoteric teachings or profound truths that are at the core of certain practices or texts.
  • Zazen: The central practice of Zen, a form of sitting meditation. It literally means “sitting in meditation“. During zazen, practitioners usually sit cross-legged on the floor and focus on the breath, posture and mind.
  • Zen: A school of Mahāyāna Buddhism originating in China as Chan and later brought to Japan. It focuses on meditation and direct realization through personal experience, rather than scriptural study.

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