Tuesday, 26 February 2013

REVIEW: Breath of God, Documentary on T. Krishnamacharya

Waiting for the boiler guy as well as my new 'free upgrade' high speed modem from Virgin to arrive, so time for a long post on the Krishnamacharya movie Breath of God.


http://www.breathofthegods.com

One of my favourite things about the movie was the music, took some hunting but I found it on Youtube.

Song of India from Sadko by Rimsky-Korsakov, sung by a very young Jussi Bjoerling in 1936



Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji's magical Pastiche on the Hindu Merchant's Song from 'Sadko' by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Played by Marc-André Hamelin.



The movie begins with the director and Ashtangi/ indiologist Alex Medin, who many of you may know if you run in Ashtanga /Mysore circles, looking for the village in which Krishnamacharya was born. The land was owned it seems by Krishnamacharya's family but the village moved on account of large termite mounds.

The movie then includes a clip from the old 1938 Black and White film footage of Krishnamacharya and family demonstrating asana, with some captions I haven't seen before that may have been added.


His daily regime, hmmmmmm.

Here's the full movie from Youtube.
In Breath of God, different clips from this were inter cut throughout the film



After the clip the movie moves to Mysore where Alex tells the Director, Jan Schmidt-Garre, that its Guru Purnima, the day to honour your guru and also the late Sri k Pattabhi Jois' birthday.

This leads into a section on Pattabhi Jois as the first known student in Mysore of Krishnamacharya. There are some scenes of him leading Primary inside the Shala and talking about Krishnamacharya and how tough he was as a teacher. Alex brings him the old Mysore photo below and he identifies himself as the boy in kapoatasana that krishnamacharya is standing upon. He also points out Krishnamacharya's first son at the frount in Supta Trivikramasana and his best friend, Mahadeva Bhatt, supposedly one of the best practitioners at the shala, who we find out ran away from the shala, there's still a hint of sadness When Pattabhi Jois relates this..


Pattabhi Jois, sitting on his big chair in the shala then takes the director through Suryanamaskara A and B (just the three of them in big shala) and then tries to make him get into lotus. I keep expecting Jan's knee to pop out here, thankfully he gives up and says he can't do it...."practice practice practice and it is coming", says Jois.


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Next we move to Pune and some wonderful scenes with Iyengar who pretty much steals the movie. We see him first in his shala practicing along with everybody else, hanging on some ropes in a backbend, a phenomenal man.

Again, more stories about how terrifying Krishnamacharya was but also how important he was for changing the perception of Yoga in India.

Iyengar mentions,

"When I came to Pune in 1937, I was seventeen and a half years old at that time, though I was with my  Guru for two years he must have taught me in all only about fifteen or twenty days not beyond"

Some nice Iyengar clips here from the 1938 movie above, Iyengar practicing Ashtanga


He also says that he was relieved to leave Mysore for Pune, 'a caged tiger escaping his cage'. He says that it was worse for him because he was family ( he mentions too that his brother ran away from the shala, I hadn't heard of Iyengar's brother before).

Back to Mysore and a scene of the Director and Alex in a busy restaurant. Alex sketches out Krishnamacharya's main students and family. This turns out to be the framework for the movie as Jan visits  many of the family members and students to gain a better understanding of Krishnamacharya's teaching.

Alex " If you seek out all these people who are still alive and try to get information from them I think you will get much more of value, true source of information about the life and teaching of Krishnamacharya".

Thank you for that Alex, nice plan.

AG Mohan doesn't appear in the main movie but has a few scenes in the extras DVD. Desikachar is sick and Ramaswami probably in the US.


KM= Krishnamacharya
PJ= pattabhi Jois (first student 1927)
BKS = BKS Iyengar (student from 1934)
ID = Indra Devi = (1947)

Krishnamacharya's six children  ( all learned Yoga from their father)
p = Pundarikavalli
A = Alamelu
S = Srinivasa Tatchar
D = Desikachar
S = Sribhashyam
S = Shubha

R= Ramaswami
AG = AG Mohan

The director asks if there is one true Yoga pointing out that Pattabhi Jois had said that yoga hasn't changed for 5000 years but that Iyengar's teaching is very different from Pattabhi Jois.

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The next section of the movie is introduced by telling us that the yoga school was opened in Mysore in 1933/34 and that the Mahārāja took lessons there every morning with family, cousins etc.

He goes to the original site with Alex and some other of Pattabhi Jois older Indian students, Pattabhi Jois arrives later, looking quite frail, he was to pass away shortly afterwards.

This is an excellent scene. The school/shala ( now a Catholic elementary school) seems to have been outside. I'd always assumed that in the picture of the Mysore students (above), they had come outside just for the picture but it seems this is actually a picture of where practice took place.

The current director of the Sanskrit college explains that going by the official records the school was opened for "the Arasu boys, the caste, community, belonging to the royal family.

That's the Ashtanga vinyasa developed for young boys bit, it's there in black and white, right in the records....however we also hear elsewhere from Pattabhi Jois that he first saw Krishnamacharya giving a demonstration in 1927, where he was jumping from asana to asana. Jois was so impressed he secretly became Krishnamacharya's student for two years (that's not in the movie however).

Some interesting scenes in the Sanskrit college with the director looking at some of the records concerning the school. It seems there was the School inside the palace for the more immediate family members in the mornings and then the school outside for the wider members of the caste in the evening. Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar etc. practiced in the evening outside.

Now we have the first 'reconstruction scenes', little clips of demonstrations given by Krishnamachary'a students but actually actors. OK, kinda nice, but irritating too as it's not made clear that these are reconstructions, M. was a little confused. The captions too are the same as in the original movie suggesting all the captions in both movies were added by the director.


The next section of the movie introduces Krishnamacharya's youngest son TK Shribhashym. Sitting together in the Mysore palace. Shribhashym tells Jan that Krishnamacharya modified the asana practice for the more vigorous, sportsman Maharaja and close members of his family, this was taught inside the palace itself in the mornings. He suggests here that the style of practice was modified for the martial concerns of the Maharaja (given the uncertain times), a vigorous Vinyasa Krama to make the family fitter and faster) which we now know as Ashtanga vinyasa.

hmmmm.


TK Shribhashym: "You have a series of asanas and then you have an asana where you have to stay, you come back to the original position. Normally in the Vinyasa Krama that my Father was teaching, you start in a standing position, I mean normally because there are many methods. So from standing you reach the asana, you stay in that asana, and then you come back to the standing position in a reverse order. That's why we call it Vinyasa Krama".


I loved the next bit, TK Shribhashym flicking through the original Yoga Makaranda, would be wonderful to get my hands on an original edition of this, of Yogasanagalu too (sigh)


Jan : "What do you think, what's the origin of the Asanas"

TK Shribhashym: It's not so obscure you know...there were very few yoga teachers in those days who could teach so many asansas but when you read Mahabharata, Ramayana, any other book you find yogis practicing and doing penance in these asana and my father, maybe, might have just indexed them in his mind and when he taught, he would teach them. because when my father taught us asanas he would always teach us the origin, from which book it came".

Nice story from Ramnayana here about shirsasana

Jan meets the oldest daughter Alamelu and the short interview is inter cut with the scene of her demonstrating in the old B and W 1938 movie with her sister. The screen shot of the movie above is of the two of them.

Brief mention of Krishnamcharya as a great scholar of the different Indian philosophies as well as going to the Himalayas to study yoga with Rama Mohan Brahmacharya, where he supposedly learnt three thousand asanas. Curiously this isn't dwelled upon in the movie.

We get a look at Krishnamacharya's old house where Krishnamacharya had planted seven coconuts trees to represent the seven planets, this is in Mysore where he taught his children.


More from the interviews with Krishnamacharya's daughters, such strong, smart wonderful woman in the Krishnamacharya household.
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Now we come to perhaps my favourite scenes from the movie, about an hour in. These take place in the Sanskrit college in Mysore that Krishnamacharya taught at. 

'To understand where yoga comes from you have to see where my father taught' TK Shribhashym

There's a scene where TK Shribhashym is  doing acroyoga with, I'm guessing, one of his own sons, just as Krishnamacharya had done with his sons in the 1938 movie. That's followed by a group of boys practicing Ardha baddha paschimottanasana while chanting a mantra.

Krishnamacharya would supposedly have the boys stay in a posture while chanting a mantra, perhaps 108 names of God.....Long stays!


This is followed by a quite powerful scene where three men are practising in the Sanskrit college, led by TK Shribhashym. They are practicing adhomukhapadmasana, laying on their frount in padmasana, plus some other postures, paschimottanasana for example, their breathing long and slow. On the breath retention, the kumbhaka, I assume they are mentally chanting a mantra. The scene ends with them practicing  pratyahara.

M. was quite struck by this scene, mentioned there was a certain, almost ...ordinary...everydayness  about it.  As if this is a daily ritual, no big fuss and bother the way we make about our practice, an extension of their puja almost and just regular clothes too, no Lululemon or Nike here. And yet it's powerful, the breathing, the concentration, the focus, the way all this is incorporated into their daily lives.


I think she was wrong about the clothes ( although correct with regards to the boys) but right in regards to the puja aspect. These men are freshly bathed and robed, there is a devotional aspect to their practice.

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The next section of the movie talks about how inclusive Krishnamacharya was in his teaching and particularly towards women.

"What men learn, woman have tried to learn also". TK Shribhashym

We have another highlight here, Krishnamacharya's youngest daughter, the really quite wonderful Shubha, sharing the practice her father had taught her and that she still practices every morning. The full practice is included on the DVD extras again shot in the Sanskrit college.


"Unless you have a coordination of breathing and movement your not doing any yoga...coordination of breathing and movement...an maximum level of coordination" Shuba

Another of those curious reconstructions, but this one with a quite remarkable Buddhasana where the young man almost puts his leg behind his head without hands.



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Then it's back to Pune and more wonderful scenes with Iyengar. A little uncomfortable viewing here though as Iyengar relates how his Guru never gave him any guidance but just said do this asana, now this. He relates the story, that he's written about before, where he is forced to do Hanumanasana for the first time in a demonstration and tears a hamstring (which took two years to heal). He says that the reason he was told to do it rather than the other senior students present (he mentions Pattabhi Jois) was that he was family and Krishnamacharya could speak more firmly towards him.

This is part of the reason that Iyengar was so dedicated to uncovering the secrets of asana practice and discovering how best to practice them and more importantly how to teach them.

Jan: "So you taught yourself"?
Iyengar: " I was the student myself, I was the guru myself......the dialogue was between me only".

Jan (director) asks if he had a mirror, Iyengar laughs and says he didn't have enough to eat everyday let along enough to buy for a mirror.

"My friend, when I could not get even one meal for even two days or three days where is the mirror...tell me".

Instead he would experiment on himself, why this leg felt better than this one, what if I try it like this or like this...

'Instinctive intelligence.... let me think, let me work..."

I think I mentioned here once before that I thought Iyengar was the ultimate home yogi.

A wonderful scene.

Followed by more of Iyengar teaching, the subject and object of rotation....of backbends..

As I said, Inyengar steals the show somewhat.

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The movie switches back to Mysore. Pattabhi Jois has passed away and there a few moments with Sharath sitting on the stage next to guruji's chair, saying that his Grandfather's last wish was to die at home in his room and not in a hospital and that his wish came true, there's a pause at the end that's really quite moving.

A scene of Alex doing some of 3rd series inter cut with Patabhi Jois talking about citta vritti nirodaha, about controlling the mind as the goal of Yoga.

----------------------

Back again to Pune where Iyengar teaches Jan how to do shirsasana, headstand, something he's never been able to do before.

Iyengar's secret is to keep the forearm just behind the wrist in contact with the floor/mat, not to raise it at all.

Iyengar high-five's Jan - Another great Iyengar scene, lol.

Followed by a little criticism of Vinyasa Krama which here he's using I think to refer to Ashtanga.

His yoga he says reaches all the skin, every pore, every muscle and bone

"It's wholeistic I said wholistic W-H-O-L-E istc...because it is WHOLEistic it is Holistic"

"Where as other things, for example Vinyasa krama (here he means Ashtanga), there is no holisticity in it...., it's a part, you move certain parts in certain...positions...so it is not holistic. So by staying in the asana you develop that...that wholeness....of attending from the consciousness to the skin and from the skin to the consciousness, receiving and acting and that's why it's a holistic practice that makes one to be holy at that time"


he was quite amused by this explanation Whole-Holistic-Holy : )
------------------

A beautiful sunset scene, set to the Pastiche by Hamelin (above), in Mysore, Krishnamacharya supposedly said that you should try and observe the sun set every night.

Stunning shot of the Mysore palace at night.

The director relates how the Yoga Shala was closed after India's independence and the struggles of Krishnamacharya's family and how Krishnamacharya reluctantly left to move to Chennai.

A nice walk around one of Krishnamacharya's first houses in Chennai, tiny place with a small room where only perhaps two students could practice at a time. 


I felt watching this that I didn't have an excuse not to teach in my own home shala.

Jan talks about how Krishnamacharya still sought to promote yoga when in Chennai, lecturing while his sons stayed in posture. He mentioned how Krishnamacharya oldest son now lives in seclusion in a temple.

Another nice scene with a former student of Krishnamacharya who had photo's taken during one of his lessons. Here we see Krishnamacharya employing adjustments something I hadn't thought he tended to  engage in.



Jan and Shribhashyam visit a temple that Krishnamacharya used to visit. Pointing at a small picture Shribhashyam explains that the origin of asana.


Shibrhashyam: "I would say it's the first Yoga asana in our mythology...in the vedic times or even in mythological times, when we said asana, which is the position of God, this is the first one that we refer to. that's why he's called yoga narashima. That is, Narashima who is in meditation"

Jan " The sitting God, the Breathing God, it was breathing we participate in when we do yoga, is that the source"?
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A beautiful scene from a home movie of Krishnamacharya in his 80's sitting on a swing reading at their final house

It was at this time in Chennai that Krishnamacharya was practicing what he referred to as 'The life saving session' and that he supposedly practiced up until his death.

The movie ends with Shribhsyam leading Jan through the Life saving sessions, again while in the Sanskrit college. The full sequence is on the DVD extras.

See this post for the life saving practice and at the end of this post

The last word from TK Shribhsyam

"Yoga is coming from a country in which God is very important, ever present in our life. So in one way it's easy for us to think of god, to keep him in our mind in whatever we do. But in the west it's not so. And as my father did not want to impose his personal religious beliefs to you he had to find a way in which he, let us say, develop in you the thirst for God or creator...

The more you practice this session, the more you come to shirsasana and sarvangasana, bhujangasana, you reduce your mental activities and since you've already reduced your sense perceptions from the external world your emotional activities also come down and you end up with maha mudra and paschimottanasana, which look like yoga postures but where the concentration is so deep that you are...already, knowing what the peace of mind is. And it finishes, naturally, with concentration on the spiritual heart. That is where, whatever our religion is we consider our soul resides. So, with a peaceful mind and the mind directed at the heart naturally you have a glimpse of what your own spiritual life is, even if it is for a few seconds. By practice you learn to live (experience this?) for a long time
TK Sribhashyam


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And here's the movies own trailer



I believe the English version DVD comes out in the summer.

NOTES

Alex Medin mentions Srivatsa Ramaswami as another student of note of Krishnamacharya.
See this article from Namarupa
My studies with Sri Krishnamacharya by Srivatsa Ramaswami
http://www.namarupa.org/magazine/nr06/downloads/05_NR6-Srivatsa.pdf

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Chiara's translation of the Life Saving practice

"Life saving yoga session"

Starting from the 50s more and more visitors came from the West to Krishnamacharya in Madras, to learm Yoga from him, the 'teacher of teachers'. Krishnamacharya developed for them a specific sequence that he named 'Life saving yoga session'. Yoga to extend life, the name did not fail to work. Krishnamacharya's idea was to use this sequence to lead Westerners to an unconfessional and undogmatic experience of the Divine, since their pluralistic culture would not permit an automatic access to religious matters.
The sequence, which was not taught anymore after Krishnamacharya's death and which was taught by his son TK shribayam to director Jan Schmidt-Garre after years of acquaintance during the filming of 'Der atmende Gott', is here disclosed in its original form.
Characteristic of the later Krishnamacharya and of the 'Life saving Yoga session' is the connection of postures, breathing and concentration in the sense of the orientation of the gaze and awareness of a focal point. Only when these elements form an organic connection can Yoga happen, according to Krishnamacharya

1. sit for 30-60 seconds with crossed legs in Padmasana. Concentration on Nasagra (point of the nose)

2. 16-24 Kapalabhati breaths (breath of fire, energeti inhale and exhale)

3. 12 breaths of ujjayi anuloma. Inhale: ujjayi, with slightly constricted throat, to drwa air into the lungs. Exhale: the hand forms a claw with thumb, ring- and little-fingers with which one nostril is alternately kept closed. Exhale very slowly through the open nostril, without ujjayi, beginning with the left

4. 3 breaths in matsyasana. Legs are closed in the lotus position

5. 3 breaths in bhujangasana. Start with open eyes and during the progression of movement, which start with the forehead, close the eyes. Concentration on Bhrumhadya (between the eyebrows)

6. 12 breaths in sarvangasana. The chin is closed in front of the straightened body. Hands close to the shoulderblades, concentration on Kanta (throat)

7. 12 breaths in sirsasana. Concentration on Nasagra (tip of the nose)

8. 3 breaths in halasana. Arms on the floor, hands clasped, palms towards the outside

9. 3 breaths in bhujangasana. Again start with open eyes and close them during the movement. Cncentration on Bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows)

10. 12 breaths in Maha-mudra (one-sided forward bend) six times on the left, then six times on the right. With the first inhale bring the arms over the head, with hands clasped, palms up. With the exhale get into the posture. Concentration on navel

11. 12 breaths in paschimottanasana, preparation and in maha mudra. The hands clasp the big toes, the back stays straight, neck and back form a lune. Concentration on the navel.

12. 30-60 Bastri breaths (rapid alternate breathing) in padmasana. The right hand builds a clasp as for anuloma ujjayi. Inhale and exhale through the left nostril, then change the grip and rapidly inhale and exhale through the right nostril. No ujjayi. end with an exhale from the left nostril and without pause move ot a long inhale in nadi shodan. Concentration on Nasagra

13. 12 breaths in nadi shodan (alternate breathing). Inhale very slowly from the half-closed left nostril, exchange grip ad after a short pause exhale very slowly through the half-closed right nostril. After a short pause inhale very slowly through the half-closed right nostril, change grip and after a short pause exhale through the half-clodes left nostril. No ujjayi. The left hand counts the breaths, with the thumb gliding over the twelve parts of the four fingers, from the third falanx of the little fingers in the direction towards outside to the point of the index finger. Concentration on Hrudaya (heart)

14. Prayer. Concentration on Hrudaya (heart)

In the coming book fom Shribashyam "How Yoga really was" this and similar sequences are explained in detail

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7 comments:

  1. Great review G. I can't wait until the English version on DVD is released, as well as the English version of TK Shribhashym's book. I love how Iyengar worked out asanas for himself -never knew that before.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for this synopsis, Grimmly. It's really excellent!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for this great review !
    I have a question for you.
    Reading the Yoga makaranda, I noticed at the end of the section 3.1 which is page 34, that Krishnamacharya advsises to do savasana after asanas and pranayama. I always thought savasana was coming after asanas and then pranayama, what does Ramaswami teaches in this regard ?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ramaswami has savavasanas and mini savasanas evertwhere obobinde. There are mini ones during asana whenever you feel your heart or breathing speeding up or. he has savasana after asana, after pranayama and after mediation.

    BUt then there is savasana and Savasana, it can be just a lying down and relaxing or Savasana as a more formal pose in and of itself. I've been planning a post on it for some time.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great review, thank you!
    Looking forward for the DVD release.

    Unfortunately the documentary seems far from perfect :(

    Besides the glaring non-appearance of his longer term students (Ramaswami, A. G. Mohan, TKV Desikachar), I think we would probably get a more complete and balanced portrait of Krishnamacharcha if the film included footage of more of his first students (T. R. S. Sharma, Srinivasa Rangacar, BNS Iyengar, etc).

    I would also had found very interesting some interviews to his few western students (the late Indra Devi, but also Yvonne Millerand and Richard Schechner).

    We know nothing about his work at the Vivekananda College in Madras (Chennai). Insights by his colleagues and students would have shed some light about his day job.


    What about the black & white film? Is there any information about who made it, and what for? Whoever it was, he took the trouble of filming K. and family in Mysore, and then BKS Iyengar in Pune (which by 1938 standards, was far away).

    The documentary could also have included some of K's 100th birthday, which was filmed by a French team (Jean-François Dars and Anne Papillault) and released on VHS and DVD by CNRS Images.


    Finding Ramachandra Brahmacharya or other relatives of Rama Mohana Brahmacharya would have been awesome. We can dream, can't we?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Enrique
    I think I mentioned in the post that there is a section on AG Mohan in the extras DVD, He teaches the breath in tatiamudra to Jan, focussing on deep mula and uddiyana bandha.

    My understanding is that TKV Desikachar has been sick for some time.

    Ramaswami was most likely in the US but yes, would have been nice to have a section with him, he's mentioned by Alex near the beginning of the movie when he draws the diagram on the piece of paper in the restaurant (picture in the post).

    Indra Devi had passed away of curse as has Yvonne Millerand, I wonder if he knew about Richard but then he keeps a low profile and was only a student for a few months.

    I would have loved to have heard from BNS Iyengar but then he does have a nice scene with another student of K's and goes through the picture album of his being adjusted by K.

    oO reflection there was probably too much time spent on Iyengar for the balance of the documentary but such great scenes... there are even more on the dvd extras. Iyengar's Birthday celebrations and him teaching trikonasana.

    I agree re the Vivekananda college, very interested to know how he approached those group classes, similar approach to the boys in Mysore or a different approach to group work?

    I've have come across mention of why the B and W 1938 movie came about will hunt it out.

    There are some discussions concerning Brahmacharya on the extras but it's in German and i couldn't understand what was being said, seems to be second hand reflection anyway. I kind of liked that they didn't dwell on that period I have my suspicions about the whole mythologising of Krishnamacharya. Did it happen as reported? How long did he really spend in the himalayas with his teacher, was it seven and a half uninterrupted years or a handful of visits over that period....I've begun to wonder.

    I wonder if anyone reading caught the Q and A with the director, would love to know what he was asked and his responses.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi - I saw the film in the UK last night, and you did an excellent summary of it above.
    Like you, I enjoyed the music: your link to the 'Pastiche...' does not work now, but you can download the mp3 from
    http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W8468_GBAJY9805016&lang=1&vw=dc&page=dw

    Mike

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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