Teachings

These are teachings, essays, and writings that we've shared recently with our students. Here both as a centralized place to share them and as an offering to all.

  • 6 Jun 2020 9:35 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    On Friday a group of senior students and I contemplated the Buddhist teachings of the Five Remembrances and a short essay by the meditation teacher Jeff Foster.  --Tim

    Here are the Five Remembrances from the Upajjhatthana Sutta of Early Buddhism:

    Five remembrances

    Below are two English translations and the original Pali text of the "five remembrances":

    1. I am sure to become old; I cannot avoid ageing. I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging. Jarādhammomhi jaraṃ anatīto....
    2. I am sure to become ill; I cannot avoid illness. I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness. Vyādhidhammomhi vyādhiṃ anatīto....
    3. I am sure to die; I cannot avoid death. I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death. Maraṇadhammomhi maraṇaṃ anatīto....
    4. I must be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me. I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me. Sabbehi me piyehi manāpehi nānābhāvo vinābhāvo....
    5. I am the owner of my actions, heir of my actions, actions are the womb (from which I have sprung), actions are my relations, actions are my protection. Whatever actions I do, good or bad, of these I shall become the heir.[2] I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.[3] Kammassakomhi kammadāyādo kammayoni kammabandhū kammapaṭisaraṇo yaṃ kammaṃ karissāmi kalyāṇaṃ vā pāpakaṃ vā tassa dāyādo bhavissāmī....[4]

    The Buddha advised: "These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained."[5]

    Since the Buddha redefined kamma as intention in the Nibbedhika Sutta, intention or intentionally committed actions may be better translations of kamma in the last recollection.

    Jeff Foster - You will lose everything…

    You will lose everything. Your money, your power, your fame, your success, perhaps even your memories. Your looks will go. Loved ones will die. Your body will fall apart. Everything that seems permanent is impermanent and will be smashed. Experience will gradually, or not so gradually, strip away everything that it can strip away. Waking up means facing this reality with open eyes and no longer turning away.

    But right now, we stand on sacred and holy ground, for that which will be lost has not yet been lost, and realising this is the key to unspeakable joy. Whoever or whatever is in your life right now has not yet been taken away from you. This may sound trivial, obvious, like nothing, but really it is the key to everything, the why and how and wherefore of existence. Impermanence has already rendered everything and everyone around you so deeply holy and significant and worthy of your heartbreaking gratitude.

    Loss has already transfigured your life into an altar.



  • 18 May 2020 6:29 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Idleness

    “To do nothing,” Oscar Wilde avers, “is the most difficult thing in the whole world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.” Doing nothing is essential for thinking to occur. Many of the most important thoughts are unintentional—they can be neither solicited nor cajoled but have a rhythm of their own, creeping up, arriving, and leaving when we least expect them. It is important to cultivate the lassitude of mind that clears a place for the arrival of what cannot be anticipated. Idleness allows time for the mind to wander to places never before imagined and to return transformed.

    Waiting

    To remain open to the unexpected, it is necessary to wait without awaiting. Awaiting, like fear, is directed—it has a specific object or objective. Waiting, like dread, is undirected—it has no object or objective. Waiting awaits nothing by remaining resolutely open to the void of the future, which is a terrible gift.

    Grace

    “When now and again a stone falls into a place that is utterly inevitable,” master craftsman Dan Snow reflects, “I feel I am suddenly standing under a shower of grace. For an instant I become inevitable, too. I share the compatibility that stone finds with stone. If I’m lucky, it happens a lot. Then again, some days it doesn’t happen at all. Grace may fall in the next moment or never again. I know only that if I put myself with stone, it may happen again.”

    Although seemingly inevitable après coup, grace is always gratuitous, completely a matter of chance. It cannot be anticipated or earned, nor can the moment of grace be prescribed, programmed, or planned. Arriving as a total surprise, grace turns the world upside down—eternity enters time to disrupt, without displacing, what long had seemed settled. Grace—like a rose, a stone, and even life itself—is without why and, thus, remains forever incomprehensible. If there were a proper response to grace, it would be mute astonishment.

    From Recovering Place by Mark C. Taylor. © 2014 Columbia University Press.

    Mark C. Taylor is a philosopher of religion and cultural critic who has published books on theology, philosophy, art, media, technology, and the natural sciences.


  • 6 May 2020 1:02 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    I shared this poem to the Midday Mindfulness group today as part of our exploration of generosity. I couldn't think of a poem that was "about" generosity and then I realized that this poem is itself a powerful generous act. The poet here gives us colors, moonlight, and the entire earth. And love!

    On the day when
    the weight deadens
    on your shoulders
    and you stumble,
    may the clay dance
    to balance you.
    And when your eyes
    freeze behind
    the grey window
    and the ghost of loss
    gets in to you,
    may a flock of colours,
    indigo, red, green,
    and azure blue
    come to awaken in you
    a meadow of delight.

    When the canvas frays
    in the currach of thought
    and a stain of ocean
    blackens beneath you,
    may there come across the waters
    a path of yellow moonlight
    to bring you safely home.

    May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
    may the clarity of light be yours
    may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
    may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
    And so may a slow
    wind work these words
    of love around you,
    an invisible cloak
    to mind your life.


  • 3 May 2020 7:57 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Here's an article I shared with a group of senior students recently - Tim

    Our greatest fear is that when we die, we will become nothing. Many of us believe our entire existence is limited to a particular period, our “lifespan.” We believe it begins when we are born—when, out of being nothing, we become something—and it ends when we die and become nothing again. So we are filled with a fear of annihilation.

    But if we look deeply, we can have a very different understanding of our existence. We can see that birth and death are just notions; they’re not real. The Buddha taught that there is no birth and no death. Our belief that these ideas about birth and death are real creates a powerful illusion that causes us a great deal of suffering. When we understand that we can’t be destroyed, we’re liberated from fear. It’s a huge relief. We can enjoy life and appreciate it in a new way.

    When I lost my mother, I suffered a lot. The day she died, I wrote in my journal, “The greatest misfortune of my life has happened.” I grieved her death for more than a year. Then one night, I was sleeping in my hermitage—a hut that lay behind a temple, halfway up a hill covered with tea plants in the highlands of Vietnam. I had a dream about my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, with her hair flowing down around her shoulders. It was so pleasant to sit and talk to her as if she had never died.

    When I woke up, I had a very strong feeling that I had never lost my mother. The sense that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just that: an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother was still alive in me and always would be.

    I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. Walking slowly in that soft light through the rows of tea plants, I observed that my mother was indeed still with me. My mother was the moonlight caressing me as she had so often done, very gentle, very sweet. Every time my feet touched the earth, I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine alone but a living continuation of my mother and father, my grandparents and great-grandparents, and of all my ancestors. These feet I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.

    From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, or feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet, to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.

    When you lose a loved one, you suffer. But if you know how to look deeply, you have a chance to realize that his or her nature is truly the nature of no-birth, no-death. There is manifestation, and there is the cessation of manifestation in order to have another manifestation. You have to be alert to recognize the new manifestations of one person. But with practice and effort, you can do it. Pay attention to the world around you, to the leaves and the flowers, to the birds and the rain. If you can stop and look deeply, you will recognize your beloved manifesting again and again in many forms. You will release your fear and pain, and again embrace the joy of life.

    THE PRESENT IS FREE FROM FEAR

    When we are not fully present, we are not really living. We’re not really there, either for our loved ones or for ourselves. If we’re not there, then where are we? We are running, running, running, even during our sleep. We run because we’re trying to escape from our fear.

    We cannot enjoy life if we spend our time and energy worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. If we’re afraid all the time, we miss out on the wonderful fact that we’re alive and can be happy right now. In everyday life, we tend to believe that happiness is only possible in the future. We’re always looking for the “right” conditions that we don’t yet have to make us happy. We ignore what is happening right in front of us. We look for something that will make us feel more solid, safer, more secure. But we’re afraid all the time of what the future will bring—afraid we’ll lose our jobs, our possessions, the people around us whom we love. So we wait and hope for that magical moment—always sometime in the future—when everything will be as we want it to be. We forget that life is available only in the present moment. The Buddha said, “It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.”

    The Here and Now

    I have arrived, I am home

    In the here, in the now

    I am solid, I am free

    In the ultimate I dwell

    When we come back to the here and now, we recognize the many conditions of happiness that already exist. The practice of mindfulness is the practice of coming back to the here and now to be deeply in touch with ourselves and with life. We have to train ourselves to do this. Even if we’re very intelligent and grasp the principle right away, we still have to train ourselves to really live this way. We have to train ourselves to recognize the many conditions for happiness that are already here.

    You can recite the poem above as you breathe in and out. You can practice this poem when you drive to your office. You may not have arrived at your office, but even while driving you have already arrived at your true home, the present moment. When you arrive at your office, this is also your true home. In your office, you are also in the here and now. Just practicing the first line of the poem, “I have arrived, I am home,” can make you very happy. Whether you are sitting, walking, watering the vegetable garden, or feeding your child, it is always possible to practice “I have arrived, I am home.” I have run all my life; I am not going to run anymore; now I am determined to stop and really live my life.

    When we practice breathing in and we say, “I have arrived,” and we really arrive, that is success. To be fully present, 100 percent alive, is a real achievement. The present moment has become our true home. When we breathe out and say, “I am home” and we really feel at home, we no longer have to be afraid. We really don’t need to run anymore.

    We repeat this mantra, “I have arrived, I am home,” until it feels real. We repeat breathing in and out and taking steps until we are firmly established in the here and now. The words should not be an obstacle—the words only help you concentrate and keep your insight alive. It is the insight that keeps you home, not the words.

    The Two Dimensions of Reality

    If you have succeeded in arriving at home, truly dwelling in the here and now, you already have the solidity and freedom that are the foundation of your happiness. Then you are able to see the two dimensions of reality, the historical and the ultimate.

    To represent the two dimensions of reality, we use the images of the wave and water. Looking at the dimension of the wave, the historical dimension, we see that the wave seems to have a beginning and an end. The wave can be high or low compared with other waves. The wave might be more or less beautiful than other waves. The wave might be there or not there; it might be there now but later not there. All these notions are there when we first touch the historical dimension: birth and death, being and nonbeing, high and low, coming and going, and so on. But we know that when we touch the wave more deeply, we touch water. The water is the other dimension of the wave. It represents the ultimate dimension.

    In the historical dimension we talk in terms of life, death, being, nonbeing, high, low, coming, going, but in the ultimate dimension, all these notions are removed. If the wave is capable of touching the water within herself, if the wave can live the life of water at the same time, then she will not be afraid of all these notions: beginning and ending, birth and death, being or non-being; non-fear will bring her solidity and joy. Her true nature is the nature of no-birth and no-death, no beginning and no end. That is the nature of water.

    All of us are like that wave. We have our historical dimension. We speak in terms of beginning to be at a certain point in time, and ceasing to be at another point in time. We believe that we are now existing and that before our birth we did not exist. We get caught in these notions, and that is why we have fear, we have jealousy, we have craving, we have all these conflicts and afflictions within us. Now if we are capable of arriving, of being more solid and free, it will be possible for us to touch our true nature, the ultimate dimension of ourselves. In touching that ultimate dimension, we break free from all these notions that have made us suffer.

    When fear loses some of its power, we can look deeply into its origin from the perspective of the ultimate dimension. In the historical dimension, we see birth, death, and old age, but in the ultimate dimension birth and death are not the true nature of things. The true nature of things is free from birth and death. The first step is to practice in the historical dimension, and the second step is to practice in the ultimate dimension. In the first step we accept that birth and death are happening, but in the second step, because we’re in touch with the ultimate dimension, we realize that birth and death come from our own conceptual minds and not from any true reality. By being in contact with the ultimate dimension we are able to be in touch with the reality of all things, which is birthless and deathless.

    Practicing in the historical dimension is very important for our success practicing in the ultimate dimension. Practice in the ultimate dimension means being in touch with our no-birth, no-death nature, like a wave being in touch with its true nature of water. We can ask metaphorically, “Where does the wave come from, and where will it go?” And we can answer in the same manner, “The wave comes from water and will return to water.” In reality, there is no coming and going. The wave is always water; it doesn’t “come from” water, and it doesn’t go anywhere. It is always water; coming and going are just mental constructions. The wave has never left the water, so to say the wave “comes from” the water is not really correct. As it is always water, we cannot say it “returns to” water. Right at the moment when the wave is a wave, it is already water. Birth and death, coming and going are just concepts. When we are in touch with our no-birth, no-death nature, we have no fear.

    NO COMING, NO GOING

    For many of us, the notions of birth and death, coming and going, cause our greatest pain. We think the person we loved came to us from somewhere and has now gone away somewhere. But our true nature is the nature of no coming and no going. We have not come from anywhere, and we will not go anywhere. When conditions are sufficient, we manifest in a particular way. When conditions are no longer sufficient, we no longer manifest in that way. This doesn’t mean that we don’t exist. If we’re afraid of death, it’s because we don’t understand that things do not really die.

    There’s a tendency for people to think that they can eliminate what they don’t want: they can burn down a village, they can kill a person. But destroying someone doesn’t reduce that person to nothing. They killed Mahatma Gandhi. They shot Martin Luther King, Jr. But these people are still among us today. They continue to exist in many forms. Their spirit goes on. Therefore, when we look deeply into our self—into our body, our feelings, and our perceptions—when we look into the mountains, the rivers, or another person, we have to be able to see and touch the nature of no-birth and no-death in them. This is one of the most important practices in the Buddhist tradition.

    FINDING SOLID GROUND

    In our daily lives, our fear causes us to lose ourselves. Our body is here, but our mind is all over the place. Sometimes we plunge ourselves into a book, and the book carries us far away from our body and the reality where we are. Then, as soon as we lift our head out of the book, we’re back to being carried away by worries and fear. But we rarely go back to our inner peace, to our clarity, to the buddhanature in each of us, so that we can be in touch with Mother Earth.

    Many people forget their own body. They live in an imaginary world. They have so many plans and fears, so many agitations and dreams, and they don’t live in their body. While we’re caught in fear and trying to plan our way out of fear, we aren’t able to see all the beauty that Mother Earth offers us. Mindfulness reminds you to go to your in-breath and to be totally with your in-breath, be totally with your out-breath. Bring your mind back to your body and be in the present moment. Look deeply straight in front of you at what is wonderful in the present moment. Mother Earth is so powerful, so generous, and so supportive. Your body is so wonderful. When you’ve practiced and you are solid like the earth, you face your difficulty directly, and it begins to dissipate.

    PRACTICE

    Breathing in the Present

    Please take a moment to enjoy the simple practice of mindful breathing: “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in; breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.” If you do that with a little concentration, then you’ll be able to really be there. The moment you begin to practice mindful breathing, your body and your mind begin to come back together. It takes only 10 to 20 seconds to accomplish this miracle, the oneness of body and mind in the present moment. And every one of us can do it, even a child.

    As the Buddha said, “The past no longer is, the future is not yet here; there is only one moment in which life is available, and that is the present moment.” To meditate with mindful breathing is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life.

    From the book Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh Copyright © 2012 by Unified Buddhist Church. Published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 


  • 3 May 2020 7:55 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    A quotation I shared with a group of students today. Robert Aitken was an important American Zen teacher - a real pioneer. -Tim

    It is essential at the beginning of practice to acknowledge that the path is personal and intimate. It is no good to examine it from a distance as if it were someone else’s. You must walk it for yourself. In this spirit, you invest yourself in your practice, confident of your heritage, and train earnestly side by side with your sisters and brothers. It is this engagement that brings peace and realization.  -Robert Aitken Roshi


  • 24 Apr 2020 7:56 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Another quotation I shared with an experienced group of students today. Ayya Khema was a German-born Buddhist nun in the Theravada tradition. -Tim

    To look for total satisfaction in oneself is a futile endeavor. Neither satisfaction nor self really exist. Since everything changes from moment to moment, where can self and where can satisfaction be found? Yet these are two things that the whole world is looking for and it sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? But since these are impossible to find, everybody is unhappy. Not necessarily because of tragedies, poverty, sickness, or death: simply because of unfilled desire. Everybody is looking for something that isn’t available. It’s worse than looking for a needle in a haystack; at least the needle is there, even though it is hard to find. But satisfaction and self are both delusions, so how can they ever be found? Searching here and there keeps everyone busy on this little globe of ours. If we were to stop looking for satisfaction for the self, we would have an immediate lessening of dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), since dukkha arises only from wanting something. Also our self-concept would be minimized, as ego is no longer constantly in the forefront of the mind.

     

    To get to this enormous root system that entangles us, we have to use mindfulness. The reason we find it so difficult to be really mindful is the fact that true attention shows us that there is no person, only mind and body. It is like coming up against a wall and instead of digging through that wall, the mind veers off and doesn’t want to know anything further. True mindfulness has arisen when there is only the action but no doer. With divided mindfulness we experience both, the one who is mindful and the one who is being watched. If we use precision in our attention, we see—even if only for a moment—that no person is embedded in our mind/body process. We can never forget that experience.


  • 10 Apr 2020 7:55 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Imagine sitting down in front of a mirror. Your face automatically appears. There is no effort required; the mirror is doing all the work. You can’t do it right or wrong. The Zen Buddhist practice of “just sitting” is like that. When we sit, our mind automatically begins to display itself to us. Our practice is to observe and experience what appears moment after moment. Of course, just as when we look in a real mirror, things don’t stay that simple for long.

    We notice how our faces or our bodies look in the mirror, and we immediately have an emotional reaction and form judgments about what we see. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote that Paul Cezanne was capable of painting a self-portrait with utter objectivity, of looking at his own face with no more reaction than “a dog which sees itself in a mirror and thinks, 'Here is another dog.’” For the rest of us, it’s not so easy to simply observe who we are. Looking in the mirror, we are tempted to use it as a makeup mirror to touch up the parts of our self-image we don’t like.

    Our minds are never what we want them to be. That’s part of why we sit in the first place. We are uncomfortable with ourselves as we are. The greatest dualism we face is the split between who we are and who we think we ought to be. Sometimes that gap fuels our aspiration to follow Buddhist teachings, sometimes it simply fuels our self-hatred, and all too often we confuse these two notions of self entirely.

    Just sitting means sitting still with all of the aspects of ourselves that we came to Buddhist practice in order to avoid or change—our restlessness, our anxiety, our fear, our anger, our wandering minds. Our practice is to just watch, to just feel. We watch our minds. Minds think. There’s no problem with that; minds just do what they do. Ordinarily we get caught up in the content of our thoughts, but when we just sit, we observe ourselves just thinking. Our body’s most basic activity is breathing: No matter what else is going on, we are breathing. We sit and breathe, and we feel the sensation of our breath in our bodies. Often there is tension or even pain somewhere in our bodies as well. We sit and feel that too and keep breathing. Whatever thoughts come, come. Whatever feelings come, come. We are not sitting there to fight off our thoughts or try to make ourselves stop thinking.

    When we sit, we realize how unwilling we are to leave anything about ourselves alone. We turn our lives into one endless self-improvement project. All too often what we call meditation or spirituality is simply incorporated into our obsession with self-criticism and self-improvement. I’ve encountered many students who have attempted to use meditation to perform a spiritual lobotomy on themselves—trying to excise, once and for all, their anger, their fear, their sexuality. We have to sit with our resistance to feeling whole, to feeling all those painful and messy parts of ourselves.

    Just sitting means just that. That “just” endlessly goes against the grain of our need to fix, transform, and improve ourselves. The paradox of our practice is that the most effective way of transformation is to leave ourselves alone. The more we let everything be just what it is, the more we relax into an open, attentive awareness of one moment after another. Just sitting leaves everything just as it is.


  • 10 Apr 2020 7:54 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    I shared this article with a group of students last Friday.   -Tim

    It is essential that you cultivate the twin elements of concentration and inquiry in your meditation. Concentration will bring stability, stillness, and spaciousness; inquiry will bring alertness, vividness, brightness, and clarity. Combined, they will help you to develop creative awareness, an ability to bring a meditative mind to all aspects of your daily life.

    - Martine Batchelor, "A Refuge into Being"

    Full article: http://www.tricycle.com/columns/cushion-refuge-being 

    When meditating, is it necessary to focus on one specific object?

    This is not always necessary, but at times it can be very helpful.

    On the Cushion

    When you do meditate on a specific object, such as the breath, that object will help you to develop concentration, and concentration will enable you to cultivate a quiet and spacious mind. But you must be careful not to focus your attention too narrowly on the object, as that can constrain your practice. You should keep your primary focus on the object of meditation, but try to do so with a wide-open awareness. As you follow the breath, for instance, allow yourself to also be aware of what is happening in and around you. Be conscious of sounds, thoughts, sensations, feelings—but without fixating on, grasping, or rejecting any of these things.

    When you meditate without a specific object, you are trying to be aware of everything in that moment, without fixation. You simply notice whatever arises—in the world or in the mind—with a nondiscriminatory awareness. This practice of open awareness can help you become restful and spacious; however, you must be careful not to become dreamy. You have to remain alert, still, and present. This requires energy, dedication, and faith in the practice and in your Buddha-nature in that moment.

    You must also be careful not to equate meditation solely with concentration. It is essential to cultivate inquiry as well. This is the quality of the mind that sees clearly into the impermanent and conditioned nature of reality. Whether you are focusing on a specific object or not, the cultivation of inquiry requires you to look deeply into and investigate the nature of each phenomenon in your field of awareness. Whether it is the breath or a sound or a thought, each and every thing can be seen as conditioned and constantly changing. It is essential that you cultivate together and in harmony these twin elements of concentration and inquiry. Concentration will bring stability, stillness, and spaciousness; inquiry will bring alertness, vividness, brightness, and clarity. Combined, they will help you to develop creative awareness, an ability to bring a meditative mind to all aspects of your daily life. In this way, meditation becomes both a refuge and a training: a refuge into being, and a training into doing.

    In the Korean Zen tradition, there is a method of meditation that uses the question “What is this?” to cultivate concentration and inquiry together. As you sit or walk in meditation, you ask constantly, “What is this?” Repeating this question develops concentration because it returns you to the full awareness of the moment. As soon as you become aware of being distracted by past events, anxieties about the present, or future dreams, you ask “What is this?” This way, the power of questioning dissolves distraction.

    You don’t repeat this question like a mantra, but with a deep sense of questioning. This is not an analytical or intellectual endeavor. (You have to be careful not to ask the question with the head but with the whole body; sometimes it is recommended to ask with the lower belly.) You are not asking about anything specific, and you are not looking for a specific answer. You are just asking meditatively, experientially, opening yourself to the whole moment, to the questionable and mysterious aspect of life itself and your place within it. You are asking because you truly do not know.

    As with breath meditation, the question is the primary object of concentration, but it is asked within a wide-open awareness. This kind of meditation helps you to become centered and grounded, but open and spacious at the same time. It will enable you to be more flexible and creative by loosening your grasping and fixations. Your heart will open in a wise and compassionate manner to yourself and life in all of its extraordinarily various aspects.

    Martine Batchelor, author of Meditation for Life, was a Zen nun in Korea for ten years. She teaches meditation worldwide.



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