Which Tradition to follow

Maybe a slightly different spin on what has already been said…

The mind has its own particular reality, its way of functioning. And different traditions (if genuine) craft a path of spiritual development according to their understanding of how the mind works.

Now let’s assume that tradition x gets closest to the actual description of how the mind works and how to liberate it. That still doesn’t mean that I can operate on this level. Machine code might be the programming closest to the reality of how the computer operates. It doesn’t mean that it’s the most suitable way for everyone to interact with a computer - I might need a different interface.

And so what else can we do other than what people have done for at least 2000 years? We hear or read about a great teacher, get excited, meet them, practice with them, and either find liberation or as in most cases move on to another teacher, and so on. Or until I can stand on my own feet and have internalized enough Dhamma to guide me without a teacher.

But generally, just because someone else got excited or even liberated through a specific teaching or teacher it hardly means that I will too.

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Sounds like Alara Kalama and Udakka Ramaputta! :upside_down_face: Fortunate for us the Buddha took what he learned from them and continued to investigate, examine and purify his mind until he removed all impurities and impediments and was able to see the entire picture! O that I can do the same!

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Don’t forget that there are thousands who also turn their back from Buddhism and go to advaita or tantra or Adyashanti or Tolle or whoever. By no means do all paths lead to Buddhism.

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Right! It’s interesting how when I get involved in exploring writings and practices, teachers and such, the suttas always seem to correct my heading and heighten my dhamma sense to somehow know what is missing the mark. I’m a simple man and perhaps that’s a blessing.

I think that pretty much all “western Buddhists,” myself included, can relate.

I think we all might have navigated and tried to solve this problem in different ways.

I can try to share my perspective in brief:
I initially was drawn to the Theravada sect because I thought it might have conserved the teachings the most, especially relative to the other sects (Mahayana, Vajrayana, etc.)

But as I learned more, I became more aware that even the Theravada sect hasn’t preserved the teachings as well as I thought.

From my current level of mental development so far, I think (and acknowledge that what I think is subject to change depending on what I learn further) that “Early Buddhism” seems to be “the best bet” relative to all the other named tradition, even if it is less of a tradition and more of an approach to learning Buddhism.

Basically, the approach of early Buddhism seems to be to try to examine and evaluate the earliest sources of Buddhism and think critically about what was most likely to have been taught by the Buddha.

I think this is the best approach relative to the rest of the sects because it acknowledges that we may never know 100% of what the Buddha taught with 100% certainty - but it also avoids the skeptical extreme of “we can never know what the Buddha taught at all ever,” which seems to lead us to basically not try to search and look and examine various sources to figure out what the Buddha taught.

I am not aware of any shortcuts to this process right now.

If I could recommend one book for me to read when I first became interested in Buddhism to give me the best possible introduction and overview of sources to look at to learn about Buddhism, I think it would be: The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts Bhikkhu Sujato & Bhikkhu Brahmali

It just so happens that he helped create and participates in this forum, but even if he didn’t, I would still have recommended it to myself back then.

Why? Because it gave me a general sense (not hyper-specific or technical or difficult for a beginner to understand) of what sources are consider early and/or reliable sources of Buddhism - and why consulting early sources is important for those who are interested in learning about Buddhism and what the Buddha actually said.

I would caution myself when I started learning about Buddhism, by telling myself that “all roads lead to the Buddha to different degrees - i.e. all roads are not equal. It seems worth spending the time upfront surveying and researching all the possible roads before making any kind of commitment to them and to figure out what degree of commitment is warranted (because all the sects contain at least part of the Buddha said, I think, like the 4 noble truths and the 8fold path, etc.).”

Like I said, I think relative to all the sects/roads/etc. out there at this time, I think “early Buddhism” seems to be the most accurate, even if it isn’t (and doesn’t claim to be) 100% accurate and certain.

Finally, I am trying to answer this more definitively because I faced (and still face) the same exact problem/quandary/dilemma/etc. that you described in the OP - and I wish more people were able to give me a more definitive answer.

The “tolerant” answer that attempts to be “non-sectarian” in the form of “take the good parts of all the sect” is definitely true and 100% percent right, I think - but it doesn’t exactly solve the problem.

To the contrary, it can be misleading in that it can make it seem like all the sects/traditions/roads/paths are equally true.

Furthermore, I am not left with anymore clarity regarding “what those good and right parts” of each sect are.

Even further, “what resonates with me or my experience” hasn’t always turned out to be right or correct - sometimes things resonated with me that I later found out was not actually correct. Just because something resonated or seemed true, didn’t necessarily mean that they were true or helpful.

I think starting with the The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts Bhikkhu Sujato & Bhikkhu Brahmali would be helpful for beginners - and then following that book up by trying to more directly look at and examine and evaluate the early sources for yourself.

I think if I did this, I might have saved myself a lot of time, and heartache, and worrying and confusion.

It is so easy for those who are already very familiar with the early texts to brush off your quandary and espouse positions like “all paths are right,” “pick what works for you,” “don’t cling to any tradition,” “pick and choose what is helpful,” “pick what resonates with you,” and other such answers that don’t really directly or conclusively solver your dilemma for you.

4 kinds of answers
Conclusive/definitive wrong answer
Inconclusive/vague wrong answer
Inconclusive/vague right answer
Conclusive/definitive right answer

I agree that definitive wrong answers (i.e. dogmatic answers) are harmful and not beneficial.
However, I don’t think that all definitive answers are necessarily unhelpful.

When I first learned about Buddhism, I wish more people were able to give me more definitive (right) answers to this question - at least to whatever degree that they were capable of doing so.

That is why I tried to respond to your OP in this way.

That being said, it is based on my current level of mental development at this time, and so it is limited to that degree.

Ultimately, it is up to you if you wish to “open-mindedly yet critically” consider all the opinions on this matter use the various advices that you get to try and figure it out the answer to your question for yourself.

May you (and we all) figure out the solution to this problem and be happy. :pray: :slightly_smiling_face:


The answer to your question is going to depend on many things such as which communities are available in your area, what are they like and so on. Therefore it cannot be answered categorically. It only be answered by you. It can be answered by going in person to the buddhist centers in your area, meeting the teachers and people there, listening to what they teach (and comparing it to the suttas) and practicing with them for a bit (and noticing if it leads to peace and letting go). Then you will be in a position to know which sangha is the right fit.

Besides that I would say that all Buddhists should learn a bit about all the main Buddhist traditions (Theravada, Indo Tibetan Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism) so they have a basic foundation on where these communities are coming from. This will allow you to see how they have preserved but also adapted the Buddhasdharma and how they are all unique and valuable traditions. It will also help you to notice when a group is way off the mark. I would also recommend all buddhist seekers to study a bit of the anti cult literature, so they have a basic skill set to identify harmful cultic behavior.

It is my own personal opinion that all these three main traditions are legitimate and one can find authentic dharma in all of them. Even if they are not reading the EBTs, one will find true Buddhadharma in all three. I also don’t think any one of them is particularly more authentic, each one contains innovations and post-early buddhist developments (some more than others of course). The best thing to do is to check out the groups close to you and see where you best fit in.


And then, … when all is done and the path fades away in the middle of the desert or stops abruptly at the top of a cliff, … be willing to sit down on the nearest stone and turn the search inwards …

And if you mobile phone still has charge there’s still the internet :rofl:


Why does it depend on which communities are available in your area?

It’s interesting that you said “which Sangha,” implying that there is more than one.
I thought the Buddha founded one Sangha based on one Dhamma-Vinaya.

This seems to be an tall order, especially for beginners.
Furthermore, it seems like the EBTs are a much more reliable “basic foundation” than the “basics of each of the traditions/sects,” since those basics may or may not have been taught by the Buddha himself.

Like to what degree they have actually been preserved?

Good point. But how can a beginner tell what are “adaptations” of Dhamma-Vinaya and what are “alterations,” especially if they don’t even know what the Dhamma-Vinaya even is in the first place, and are then presented with a wide variety of different, sometimes contradictory representations of it?

How so?

I ask because, to me, the most suitable way to do this seems to be to first learn what the early sources of Dhamma-Vinaya are, and then based on that foundation, standard, and criteria, gauge how contrary or in accordance all the traditions are - i.e. how off the mark or on the mark each of them are.

When I was just reading the different concepts in the different sects/traditions, I don’t think I was that capable of accurately gauging what was “off the mark” and what was “on the mark” - how could one figure that out simply by studying all the different traditions, without any sort of objective standard or criteria to gauge things by?

Why is this necessary?

Especially when the Dhamma-Vinaya itself is such an extremely clear guideline for ethics and morality?

Maybe I am underestimating just how helpful anti-cult literature can be, but it seems to me that if one deeply learns the Dhamma-Vinaya and it’s opposite, Adhamma-Avinaya, then one would automatically develop the “basic skill set to identify all harmful behavior,” let alone “harmful cultic behavior” specifically.

From previous experience, I noticed that members of the Tibetan tradition often seem to emphasize this. I wondered if this is due to the number of teachers in that sect, like Chögyam Trungpa and Drukpa Kunley.

I also wondered if the Dhamma-Vinaya was “altered” (though claimed to be “adapted”) to such a degree that the protection afforded by learning the Dhamma-Vinaya against such harmful cultic behaviors is significantly reduced and mitigated.

Equally legitimate? Completely 100% legitimate? How do you define “legitimate”?

I agree with you completely. I think all the sects/traditions contain the Dhamma-Vinaya to at least some degree - i.e. it is more than 0%, but I also think all of them are less than 100%.

Do you think all the traditions are equally or roughly equally authentic?
If yes, on what basis do you think that?

Again, I agree with you completely here.

The phrases “innovations” and “developments” seem quite positive.

I wonder if it would be suitable to objectively look at “alterations” and “changes” that go contrary to the Dhamma-Vinaya along with innovations and developments that accord with Dhamma-Vinaya.

Basically, take a cold, hard, sober, objective, unbiased, and clear-sighted look at all negatives and positives of each religion - i.e. be both open-minded and thinking critically too.

Wouldn’t it be better to consult accurate and reliable sources of Dhamma-Vinaya?
Why limit oneself to the groups that are close by?
Why prioritize say “proximity” and “convenience” over “accuracy” and “accordance with Dhamma-Vinaya” when it comes to figuring out which tradition or traditions to follow - or whether to follow any of them at all?

I am asking these follow-up questions, which I wish that I had the guts to ask those who gave me advice about which tradition of Buddhism to follow.

I hope that your or other’s answers to these questions can provide more information by which those of us who are confused about what was actually taught by the Buddha can carefully consider and use to make the most suitable decision for ourselves, in this case, in terms of which tradition to follow.

First I want to thank you all for your compassionate advice including your experiences and attendant wisdom… I have benefited much from reading your comments.

Regarding teachers and retreats ,I live in a rather isolated place with the closest retreat about fifty miles away…and they always want money for some teaching or event. And I have a natural disdain for the money changers in connection with spiritual rigor…

One of the problems I have iterated and reiterated at length is my unique status as a Trans woman. There is no way for me to minimize the psycho/social impact this condition of my existence has profoundly affected my relationship with religions in general, and the Dhamma specifically. Going beyond that, which I must if I am to achieve any sort of peace or equanimity, I have found that the Dalai Lama’s book

to be the clearest and most articulate direction for successful application of the Dharma. I do not know what standing the Dali Lama holds here as there is little mention of it, but it seems simple and direct enough to guide me in the right direction. In the end, I suppose, the most direct way to enlightenment is a critical persistent view of the cause and effect of the function of the mind. Is that not the starting point of all liberation philosophy?

With Metta to you you all. :heart_eyes:


Dear @Rosie, I see this post was started 4 years ago (which I failed to notice on my first reading). And which may go some way to explaining why it is a bit disjointed. It’s great that you have found something that helps on the Path :slight_smile:

The Dalai Lama is not spoken about much here, simply because this is an EBT forum, and the Dalai Lama is from the Tibetan tradition, the focus is on their own traditions texts. This is not to say that he is not a great Teacher :pray: All teachings are based upon what the Buddha taught. But you have been part of the forum here for a long time, so I’m sure you are familiar with all the arguments :smile: :slightly_smiling_face: It’s great you have found a resource that works well for you :slightly_smiling_face: :dharmawheel: :thaibuddha:

Indeed, Mindfulness (sati) is the gateway to the ability to see the arising, changing and ceasing of physical and mental phenomena, and thus impermanence and un-satisfactoriness. By seeing these clearly, one can see the cause and effect and conditional arising of all things, including ones own thoughts, feelings and choices, and that there is no permanent essence of Self.

May you achieve peace and equanimity, and be liberated from suffering

:pray: :revolving_hearts: :balloon:


I am glad that you found the book to be helpful.

I looked up the reviews for the book.

Regarding “clearest and most articulate direction for successful application of the Dharma,” I noticed some of the comments:

“Too technical. He doesn’t define his terms. Plus there is no definitive path explained.”

“I guess I was looking for a more concrete path.”

I think the Buddha taught the development of the Noble Eightfold Path in his Dhamma-Vinaya as the way to happiness.

I can’t speak for all users, but I think the Buddha himself holds the foremost standing around here.

I personally try to respect the Dalai Lama and other pop culture famous figures of Buddhism to the degree that they are not contrary to and in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya, no less, no more.

I don’t think his (or anyone else’s) fame increases their standing by much in EBT-oriented forums.

I think that in Buddhism, any and all problems are sort of contextualized as “dukkha” - the successful application of the Dhamma would be the end of dukkha.

Each being may experience dukkha in their own way, and in a sense “have their own set of problems.” This is not to minimize anyone’s problems. To the contrary, it brings it to the forefront even, but perhaps in a more impersonal and objective way to enable one to effectively address and solve this problem of dukkha, I think.

I think the Buddha seems to claim definitively that all beings are capable of achieving the end goal of unconditional happiness, and the Dhamma is universally applicable regardless of each being’s background external factors, I think.

Those of us who came to the Dhamma as a lived experience find a lot of value in personal interaction, so a local community is very important to us.

I understand that some approach the Dhamma by reading and analysis, but that was not my experience, and so I find it difficult to identify with. For me, the reading came much later, after I had a grounding in a community.


Thank you for explaining and clarifying.

How exactly did you find “grounding in a community” independent of say “reading and analyzing the Dhamma”?

I ask out of curiosity because it seems difficult for me to relate to the concept of being able “find grounding in a community” whose views and actions I am not sure accord with truth/Buddhism/etc.

Instead, even now, I find myself more drawn to say “finding grounding in the Dhamma-Vinaya” as opposed to say, “finding grounding in a community.”

That is why I am curious.

I am using it in a general sense, as it is used today among Western Buddhists.

Its not a tall order, just some basic research. Reading EBTs is great, but actually going to a real community in meatspace is also important for people. Learning about those traditions is useful.

Sure, that is your view. But for most people looking to find a Buddhist community, there are numerous other concerns, many of them personal and practical. I will let you in on a little secret, when looking for a spiritual community, most people don’t do extensive doctrinal study and historical research and then compare this with the teachings of the various communities available to them to see how close they are to what they consider to be the true and real Dhamma-Vinaya as taught by the real historical Buddha in the earliest and most authentic EBTs (and I say this with my tongue firmly in cheek). The real concerns are much more practical and personal, how well do they fit in, do they have friends who go there, is it close their home, do they have english language services, and so on. There is nothing wrong with this and it is absolutely normal and human.

I didn’t say it was necessary. Also, all Buddhist traditions have culty organizations.

Sure. I define it as I believe it is possible to attain awakening practicing any of them.

I roughly believe so, because I believe they maintain the main/core ideas of the Dhamma alive, even if the outer trappings and practices differ. Now, I am referring to the main three traditions one is likely to find in the West and I am making a big generalization which does not take into account outliers. For example, in all three traditions (Theravada, Indo-Tibetan, East Asian), there are cults and there are quite strange groups that have veered way off the mark (Dhammakaya, Shambala, Sokka Gakkai etc.).

The best accurate and reliable source for the Dhamma Vinaya is one’s own experience of practicing the path and seeing how it ends suffering. “Accordance with Dhamma-Vinaya” is much more about the experience of ending suffering than about how exactly one’s practice matches ancient texts word by word. Texts are important and it is great to study them, but they are not the essence of the Dhamma. Sorry, but I am just not coming from the same place you are coming from. I don’t think someone looking for a group to practice in has to do a bunch of textual study before finding a group and starting to practice Dharma. Its just not something that most people are into. The vast majority of seekers out there looking for a spiritual community are not going to follow that kind of advice (as in, telling them that only your books have the true teaching, and everyone else is wrong). They’ve heard that line before, so good luck selling it.


Hi SeriousFun136,

I turned up at a Monastery, people were welcoming and seemed happy. So I stuck around. I joined in with chanting and helped out with things. After a few months I learned some basic Dhamma and meditation. It was only later that I started reading suttas.

So, I don’t have any experience with a “read texts and decide what Path to take” approach. Obviously, there are people, like you, who take that approach. But for me, I don’t think it would have worked. Personal connection was the doorway.

And, having read the suttas, I can, of course justify my starting point by reference to various suttas… :sweat_smile:

“Bhāradvāja, take the case of a mendicant living supported by a town or village. A householder or their child approaches and scrutinizes them for three kinds of things: things that arouse greed, things that provoke hate, and things that promote delusion. ‘Does this venerable have any qualities that arouse greed? Such qualities that, were their mind to be overwhelmed by them, they might say that they know, even though they don’t know, or that they see, even though they don’t see; or that they might encourage others to do what is for their lasting harm and suffering?’ Scrutinizing them they find: ‘This venerable has no such qualities that arouse greed. Rather, that venerable has bodily and verbal behavior like that of someone without greed. And the principle that they teach is deep, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful, sublime, beyond the scope of reason, subtle, comprehensible to the astute. It’s not easy for someone with greed to teach this.’

The Buddha doesn’t suggest that the student analyse the teachers talks, he suggests looking for good qualities.


I ran into this Ajahn Chah passage today, sharing because it is relevant.

Q: Is it advisable to read a lot or study the scriptures as a part of practice?
A: The Dhamma of the Buddha is not found in books. If you want to really see for yourself what the Buddha was talking about, you don’t need to bother with books. Watch your own mind. Examine to see how feelings come and go, how thoughts come and go. Don’t be attached to anything. Just be mindful of whatever there is to see. This is the way to the truths of the Buddha. Be natural. Everything you do in your life here is a chance to practice. It is all Dhamma.

Of course, ideally you do both, study and practice. Study informs the practice. But no one said you need to do a bunch of study before hand.


Dear Friend, I am full of gratitude for your kind support and direction to these sites which I will definitely peruse. Regarding my comments about inclusion, I was referring to some of the EBT that categorized sex and gender variation as taboo or as a lower caste of people. I am not an expert on these texts but I did encounter many references by other posters regarding some of the rules about people whose sex and gender expression made them seem less valuable. Much of this is my own interpretation, but the implications seem clear.
And there was also the time last year when in search of a Buddhist community, I reached out to the spokesperson of what was ironically called ‘The Rainbow Sangha’, and was tethered to the approval of some Buddhist folk who were considering forming a sangha in my area. But when I mentioned my trans-ness my inclusion was held up for inspection. Here is the link to my description of the event and the ensuing discussion which was not entirely supported of my discourse.

I hope that my emoting is not perceived as self victimization as I really feel supported and welcome here among some of the wisest people I have ever encountered, and I have benefited much from their collective wisdom. Yet as I perceive them, the early writings of Buddha set the context for a large segment of the global Buddhist community to discriminate.
I have always thought of humans as spirit whose physical presence is merely the clothes we wear as we wander through this material world. Others apparently do not share this vision.

Mucho Metta to you for your compassion and wisdom. Your support is invaluable. Namaste!


Is this addressed to me?

Thank you for sharing.

I personally do not think this is the case, unless by “early writings” you mean “later Buddhist texts” that were written a really long time ago, and thus “seem early or old.”

I think it is difficult to discern what the Buddha’s position was on a number of issues based on the views held by self-identified Buddhists today.

Not at all, at least not to me.

I think the problem is probably not with you in this case, but those who identify and call themselves Buddhist but do not take the time to learn the Dhamma-Vinaya, yet misrepresent the Buddha on such issues.

They might even be gaslighting you into thinking the Buddha/Buddhism agrees with them on positions that he may not.

I think the comes back to the difference between “self-identified Buddhists” and “Buddha/Buddhism.”

As you might notice, there are beings on this forum that advise a “personal, personable, and practical approach” to figuring out which Sangha to follow, emphasizing the immediacy of personal experience, which I will reply to later.

I think this approach overlooks significant dangers, due to which I am wary and try to steer clear of this approach.

I think the problem you mentioned is one of the many dangers that such an approach overlooks.

I think there is no scope at all in the Dhamma-Vinaya for any form of harmfulness, unbeneficalness, unfairness, etc. - and I think the early texts heavily support this position.

However, those who approach Buddhism from a more social perspective often end up having a harder time discerning what parts were “actually taught by the Buddha” and what parts are “the personal beliefs, opinions, perspectives, practices, etc. of the people who joined that particular social group.”

As such, they may find themselves holding views that do no accord with the Dhamma-Vinaya…even if they call themselves Buddhist. They may be confused about what the Buddha actually said.

Even though I try to (but don’t necessarily) take the study first fully, then practice (so that I know what it is that I should be practicing in the first place - something I learned the hard way), even then I still have a lot of trouble discerning what the Buddha actually said.

So the social approach is all good and well…until it isn’t. I don’t think discrimination, against trans or any other being on the basis of their external background, could be blamed on the early sources nor on the Buddha.

Instead, I think it could be blamed on both individuals and groups who call themselves and identify as “Buddhist,” yet do not try to actually study and practice the Dhamma-Vinaya taught by the Buddha.

What I think ends up happening is that from their limited understanding, they misrepresent and mis-portray Buddhism as being a certain way or holding certain positions.

Those who dogmatically cling to the “ideal of tolerance” seem to often overlook the “lack of adherence to the Dhamma-Vinaya, yet portrayal of oneself as ‘being Buddhist’ to the world.” It’s ironic when they call those who make some kind of attempt to determine what the Buddha actually said to be “dogmatic,” when in reality, they themselves may dogmatically cling the “philosophical relativism” - a position rejected by the Buddha.

I am not sure how else to make distinctions between what “the Buddha actually taught” and what “social groups who call themselves Buddhist say that Buddhism is” (for example, with regard to topics relevant trans beings) than to investigate, examine, look into, learn, etc. the early sources of Dhamma-Vinaya.

I think your own efforts to examine these might help you to protect yourself from “self-identified Buddhists” who might gaslight, mislead, or misrepresent Buddhism to you. Because that that point, you wouldn’t be as easily swayed by their misrepresentations of Buddhism since you wouldn’t be dependent on them to learn/know what the Buddha taught.

I think this seems to be the sense in the early Buddhist sources too, I think.
I think I might be speculating or oversimplifying here, but a trans person might be understood as a being who was female/woman or male/man in their previous lifetime(s) and was reborn as female/man or male/woman.
From my understanding of Buddhism, this seems to be an impersonal process.
I met a nun who told me that she felt like she was a man in a previous lifetime and she thinks that she might have purposely been reborn as a woman in order to help other nuns as one of the nuns.
Even though, she was a Mahayana nun, she cited Theravada (and maybe EBT) examples of beings who get reborn into a different sex.
I think it matters more whether a being holds true views and does harmless and beneficial actions than what their social/external background factors are.

To make it clear who we’re replying to use the Reply button at the bottom extreme right of the post in question. Using the Reply button in the line of buttons below the most recent post replies either to the thread in general.


Namaste @Rosie ,
I am comparatively new to this forum, considering that the thread is almost 4 years old. There are already excellent replies by the Venerables and other lay friends here, and because this discussion is old, I assume that, hopefully, in these 4 years or so, you might be well over your doubts that prompted you to formulate the OP.
Even then, I thought of sharing with you these wonderful essays on our ability and skills of judgement when looking out for a teacher.
Lost in Quotation | Beyond All Directions
The Power of Judgment | Head & Heart Together
Personally, I would suggest an EBT-oriented approach when starting out, but I have learned different people find solace and are inclined to different traditions. Hence I shared these essays for you to get a good headstart.
They provide some valuable insights into how we can grow in this dhamma as a beginner, no matter which tradition you follow.
If you haven’t read them, they may be able to provide you some guidance on your path. If you have read them already, then hopefully I might have prompted you to reread them !
May you find the inclusive sangha of wise, compassionate and dedicated dhamma-friends you have been looking for, and may you experience the bliss of Dhamma!
Metta :anjal:

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