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Thupten Jinpa  







Tibetan Buddhism  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
6 Oct 2005

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Show: Geography of Heaven - Kawakarpo
Engineer: Bill McQuay
Date: October 6, 2005

Interviewer: Bill McQuay
Interviewee: Thupten Jin Pa

No Audio

WM: Asks for ID

TJ: [laughs] What do you mean?

WM: Your name, how to refer to you.

TJ: Jinpa is better.

WM: Thupten Jin Pa

TJ: Or Thupten Jin Pa but Jin Pa is probably easier.

WM: Should we identify you as the director of the institute you founded?

TJ: Probably, General public know me more as the translator to the dalai lama so¿or you can say a Buddhist scholar or something.

WM: Explains Radio Expeditions, Geography of Heaven.

WM: You're a Buddhist - what does that actually mean?

TJ: We're starting the interview now?

WM: Yes sir.

TJ: Probably it may be easier if you refer to me as scholar or Tibetan Buddhism or something for the benefit of the listeners.

TJ: What does it mean to be Buddhist, but for me, that question is actually, um, not really a question because I was you know, born and brought up, in a traditional, traditionally, Buddhist society. So the fact that I am Buddhist is really taken for granted ever since my childhood.
TJ: Then of course now you know now that I am living in the west, which is outside the traditional Buddhist, Tibetan context, then the question of what it means to be a Buddhist really has a relevance. So in that sense for me what it means to be a Buddhist is to try to live my life according to the values and ideals that the Buddhist tradition upholds. And that has been transmitted to me as part of my cultural upbringing.

WM: Can you be more specific?

TJ: Um, for example, there are certain key you know spiritual values that are at the core of Buddhist tradition. For example the respect for all sentient beings. And the recognition that at the fundamental level, all beings have a natural disposition to aspire for happiness and overcome suffering.
TJ: And on that level all human beings as well as animals and other sentient beings all share the same fundamental disposition. So, and from that point of view and in my day to day life, I need to act in a way that is least harmful to fellow human beings as well as other sentient beings as well.
TJ: So for example, this is a very important spiritual ideal. Similarly the recognition that at a very deep level everything is interconnected. That all events come into being
as a result of causes and conditions. Therefore within this view one acquires a sense of spiritual responsibility to all the actions of you know what in the Buddhist text would refer to the actions of the three doors. Which are the door of speech body and mind.
TJ: So, to be, you know, constantly mindful of the effects of ones physical, verbal, and mental activity. So that in these actions as much as possible, again, one lives the ideal of non-harming. So these are the main kinds of spiritual values that Bud dictate and guide my life on a day to day basis.

WM: If one is successful in following these guidelines, what is the ultimate outcome of this?

TJ: Um, well the ultimate outcome, um, um in one sense of course now here um it would really differ from individual to individual like any other measure of religious traditions. When we speak of Buddhism um we cannot talk about a kind of uni-dimensional approach to the spiritual tradition. So depending upon the individuals, you know, one may have kind of a different way of participating in religious life.
So for many um Buddhists the spiritual principle of compassion and respect for others are really part of their daily ethical guidelines, which would ensure that in their future life they do not experience kind of an undesirable and painful consequence such as you know, taking rebirth in a form of existence that is, um, um fraught with suffering and pain and so on.
TJ: But on a practical level, um, the outcome of kind of living one's life according to these ethical values is that it provides a sense of connectedness to others. It also provides a kind of um, um, a feeling of being part of a wider whole. So in many ways, on a psychological level at least and on the emotional level, even on the day to day basis, certainly there are a lot of benefits.

WM: You spoke about rebirth. Helping to ensure that you are reborn in a better state. Fundamental difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Can you talk about that?

TJ: Um, yes, I mean Buddhism is one of the major spiritual traditions that evolved in ancient India. And the concept of rebirth was part of the wider spiritual kind of concept that was shared across vast area of ancient spiritual traditions in India. Including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and so on.
TJ: And one of the key ideas is uh that you know human beings um are one among many different species of sentient beings that share the world of Samsara. And Samsara is a Sanskrit term which refers to the cycle of existence. And there is this idea that human beings are one among numerous many forms of life that share the physical universe. That we happen to inhabit.
TJ: And these beings including animals and so on, um they are not really, um, different species, in the sense that they are different kinds of beings, but rather these are different levels of existence, if one may call it. So, say for example, the difference between the human and the animals will be that of more of a degree rather than of a kind
TJ: So at a fundamental level human beings and animals are the same kinds of creatures. And the idea is that depending on one's karma, the concept of karma now is intimately linked with the concept of rebirth, and karma literally means action. And so karma refers to and in a general sense when we talk about karma we are referring to a whole kind of causal mechanism that involves an intentional activity of a sentient being.
TJ: So an intentional act of a sentient being then creates a whole chain of causal mechanism that then give rise to a series of consequences and results. So karma refers to this whole spectrum of cause and effect. And the idea is that you know if you do a good action, its results will be beneficial. If you do a negative action its results will be undesirable. So there is a certain, a kind of commensurability between the causes and the effects as we see in the natural world.
TJ: So in the world of karma as well um actions you know which are negative, and negative here is defined in terms of the destructive potential. So actions which are which are motivated by negative emotions and then which are potentially negative or actually destructive. These will give rise to consequences that are undesirable.
TJ: So the form of existence that you will assume after death is thought to be to a large extent determined by the kind of karma that you carry with you which is the repository of past actions good and bad that you carry within you.

WM: Asks about wheel of life.

TJ: Um, yes, in fact, there are three and so generally there is a whole host of afflictive emotions and in the Buddhist language we call them afflictive, or afflictions, calthias [sp??] as they are called. And and at the root of all of these various afflictions are three primary types of afflictions which are: attachment and aversion or hostility and then or anger is probably a better word, and then delusion.
TJ: So these three are in fact thought to be kind of expressions of a three basic mode of reaction we tend to have toward any given situation or an event. Which is attraction or repulsion or aversion, or you know, simple indifference. So um so these three basic kind of reactive responses that we have can when they become dysfunctional can then manifest in afflictions of the mind such as strong attachment or anger or delusions.
And these three together individually or collectively will then give rise to a whole host of other emotions, such as jealously, um, ill will, covetousness and so on. And so it is these three you know in the Buddhist language they are sometimes referred to as the three poisons of the mind. Um, it is these three which give rise to other afflictions which then motivate an individual to create a new karmic act which will then set in motion the whole cycle of life which is depicted in this wheel of life that you are referring to.

WM: What specifically that you do or other people do to ensure for better rebirth?

TJ: Um, um, well, the part of the, the the idea of karma is really let me put it this way, at the heart of this concept of karma is really a kind of a certain understanding of the law of cause and effect, particularly of a psychological and and a spiritual kind. And um so um of course um there is you know as to what kind of karma I may as an individual created in my past life, I really don't have much say but the emphasis in the Buddhist ethical teachings Is really on the present and future.
TJ: As to what kind of actions you may engage in, to some extent
You have a certain degree of control over it and so when we talk about karmic action,
The actions will have a motivation which kind of an the initial stage, and then the actual execution of the act, and then a certain state of mind once the act, once the deed is done. So during these three stages, where the individual does have a lot of say, is really at the motivation. At the initial stage, and here the Buddhist ethical teachings I find really helpful, where the emphasis is not really on the act that is going to be done, but the concentration is more on trying to in some sense, shape the character of the individual's mind.
TJ: So in the case of, in my own case, so this is here, I mean it is here practices such as meditation and reflections and prayers have a particular role to play because it is by shaping ones mind, transforming one's mind. One will then be able to have some control over ensuring that at least, in so far as the motivation is concerned, I can ensure that the motivation is sincere and pure.

WM: Asked Tibetans on pilgrimage why they were undertaking this, their response - merit. What did they mean by this? Was it a way to ensure rebirth?

TJ: Um, yes, I mean, merit is a kind of um, is a kind of um, merit is sometimes used as a synonym for good karma so good karma that you create. And good karma is created when you engage in positive actions such as helping others, or when engaging in spiritual activities in the case of these pilgrims.
TJ: For the Tibetans, pilgrimage to sacred sites is considered to be a very important activity. Because part of the pilgrimage is the physically arduous journey involved and there is generally the saying, the harder the journey on the physical level, the greater its effect of cleansing one's past negative karma.
TJ: And I mean I, in a sense this is an idea you also find in other religious traditions where pilgrimage is also an important part of the religious activity. So um but here one thing that um um we have to bear in mind when talking about Tibetan Buddhism is that there will be as I briefly mentioned earlier, among the individuals, there will be different ways of expressing their kind of religiosity.
TJ: Uh, for many ordinary lay Tibetans because their knowledge of the Buddhist teachings is not that deep and they do not have a kind of a um um any deeper you know Sort of insights based on meditative experience. Or for that matter kind of probing into their own emotion and mental states and so on. So, on the popular level, particularly the lay practitioners, they would concentrate their energy on religious activities that are more physical and verbal such as going on pilgrimage, or circumambulating a temple, or chanting, you know, reciting the o-mani-bat di-hoom [SP???] the six syllable mantra.
TJ: and you know, and and they are quite conscious that this his is not the most important part of the Buddhist spiritual practice. And they will be fully cognizant of the fact that at the most important element of the Buddhist spiritual practice is the training of one's mind, the transformation of one's emotions, thoughts, and so on.
TJ: But with that full cognizance, they you know, then what they do is, they will try to do at least that they are capable of doing which will ensure that they at least create enough good merits so that in future life they may be in a better position to do these more deeper more effective spiritual practices.
TJ: So in a sense, seeking a rebirth, a good rebirth, it's not really the ultimate aim. It's really sought for the sake of something higher. So sometimes the the people outside the Buddhist world will get the impression that the main objective for a Buddhist believer is to find a good rebirth. So that in some sense it is true, but on another level, that's not really the main objective. The main objective is to do something with that rebirth that you will obtain in future.

WM: Difference between Hindu reincarnation and Buddhist rebirth?

TJ: Basically the idea that there is some form of continuation after the physical death, that is the same. Where they differ is more on a philosophical level as to what exactly carries on. Um, the Hindu and the Vedic religions, which later came to be labeled as Hinduism as a kind of a you know congenerate term, the non Buddhist, the Hindu according to Hindu tradition there is the idea that within each of us individuals is an eternal soul
they refer to as atman which is immutable, unchanging indivisible a unitary eternal reality.
TJ: Which then, you know, goes from one life to another life and so on. Buddhists reject this notion of eternal unchanging unitary principle that's in the heart of all of us. Now the Buddhist concept of rebirth is a bit more problematic. Because you know Buddhism you know from the philosophical level is very reluctant to absolutize anything so
In that sense, philosophically speaking, Buddhism is a kind of minimalist and you know there is a [unintelligible] principle operating throughout the Buddhist thought and the basic idea is that if you don't need to postulate it, to explain something, don't do it.
TJ: So the Buddhist concept of rebirth is much more complicated, here the idea is more of a kind of a process and and the Buddhist language for example, Buddhism reject the notion of self, in the sense of eternal, unchanging principle, and then talks in terms of personality of the individual and the personal existence of individual is understood in terms of the comp- the coming together of physical and mental constituents, or aggregates, the Buddhist jargon is aggregates. Basically it refers to the mind body complex.
TJ: And the idea is that you know even after the physical death, some form of a process some kind of a you know, matrix gets carried on. And here, in the scriptures itself- themselves when the question is raised you know what exactly carries on after the death. And then the resp- the answers are not that clear and often the answer is given by means of analogy.
TJ: For example you can if you have a row of lamps, or candles and if the first one is lit and from there you can lit the second one, from there to the third and so on. Now when you lit the second and the third candles from the earlier you know the first candle, nothing physically from the first candle gets passed on to the second and the third and so on. Yet the lamp carries on, the light carries on, and passes on.
TJ: Similarly, when you look into a mirror you know nothing physically goes from your face onto the mirror but at the same time, due to the coming together of certain factors the conditions then the image appears the image of your face appears in the mirror. So it is these kinds of analogies that I used. Which seems to suggest that there is a certain kind of you know recognition of mystery involved.
TJ: But what carries on is this kind of matrix Is basically a set of propensities which passes from one life onto another life. Now some Buddhist traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism will try to understand this in terms the concept of subtle consciousness. And this is where the Tibetan tradition is quite different from other Buddhist traditions and this is also this concept of subtle consciousness is also where the entire teachings of Tibet bardo intermediate states practice is. Which has been made popular with the translation of Tibetan book of the dead.
TJ: So all of these are based upon the notion of subtle consciousness which the Tibetans maintain is what carries on after the death.

WM: Asks about the intermediate state.

TJ: Well, bardo is really the intermediate state between two births. So um so you have say for example the physical death occurs at this point then until you assume a physical embodiment into a new birth, in between period is bardo. Bardo literally means the intermediate state, or in-between state. And um so each new birth is thought to be preceded by um depending on whatever duration, an intermediate state

WM: using the intermediate state to further progress on the spiritual path?

TJ: yes um again here like many concepts in many other traditions, again the understanding of what bardo state is will differ from you know depending upon the level of one's own personal realization and understanding of the literature. For ordinary Tibetans, again probably the bardo state will be in you know believed as an actual physical state whereas a more kind of discerning meditator or, or a monk scholar probably would have a slightly different take on this as kind of a more psychological state.
The key idea is quite simple um, the idea is if you observe every instance of your life even a single moment of you know of your thought, and there's always an initial stage
Then there is the actual the period of the thought itself, and there is the coming to an end of it and between two instances of thought there's always this small, no matter how slight, there's a slight interval so and this is a kind of a thought to be a natural kind of process where events you know moment by moment come into being, cease to exist, then within- after a new event arises And this kind of chain goes on.
TJ: and on a slightly more sort of you know larger scale this you know this kind of process of coming into being and ceasing and coming to cease and then in between is thought to be you know, occur on a day to day basis within twenty four hours.
TJ: For example, we have the waking state of mind during the waking period. We have the state of mind during the dream state. We have a state of mind during the deep sleep state. And between these three stages, the waking the dream and the deep sleep you know there is thought to be a difference in the subtlety of the consciousness of the individual. Because during the waking state our consciousness is dominated by our sensory experience or concepts and conceptual thought processes.
TJ: Whereas when you go bed and you have dreams when you are in the dream state, no longer our thoughts and consciousness dominated by the sensory experience, but still there are kind of similitudes of that sensory experience whatever certain experiences may have impacted you during the day, or whether the hopes and fears that you may be entertaining. These can effect your dream and then you experience a similitude of a waking state.
TJ: Whereas when you are a deep state, deep sleep state then all the sensory thought processes and including concept based thought processes they come to an end, but still from the Buddhist point of view, the consciousness of the individual remains. So just as you can see the difference of subtlety of our mind or consciousness during these three periods, so the death intermediate state and rebirth is thought to be kind of a a much larger form of that, of these three stages.
TJ: So that's why there are specific meditative practices in the Tibetan tradition where the individual you know trains to utilize the dream state and if possible the sleeping state and, and then and the idea is that if you can train it train your mind so well that when the actual moment of death occurs, instead of being totally overwhelmed by kind of being blacked out which is what normally happens, there is the idea that an advanced meditator may be able to maintain awareness and utilize that, cease that occasion, and utilize it for deeper meditative purposes.

WM: ever thought about your previous lives have been to bring you to this particular moment?

TJ: Umm, not really. I mean in this respect I'm you know very Buddhist, that is, to not look back into the past, but rather into the present state of mind and the future, I mean I'm fully aware that I mean, I've been truly privileged, you know especially for someone who grew up in the Tibetan refugee community and went through a normal Tibetan refugee school. For someone who has been brought up in that slightly unfortunate circumstances, what I've been able to do, in terms of particularly in terms of my service to His Holiness, you know, I am always aware of, of this privilege and also deeply grateful for all the opportunities that life has given me. And you know I've been very fortunate to have joined a monastery, and had a full monastic life, and then later able to lead a proper family life and to be able to raise children, so in that sense I'm very fortunate, yeah.

WM: your parents fled Tibet?

TJ: my parents um left Tibet in 1960 soon after you know the majority of the Tibetans left, followed his holiness. um and um and then initially they were in Nepal briefly and then later in the early 60s moved to the northern part of India and I was myself put to a Tibetan children's village, which is a boarding school at the age of four. Because my parents like many Tibetans of his- of their generation in the early 60s had to uh you know work on road construction camps. And had to move you know from place to place as the road construction progressed. Because you know all of a sudden India had to share a huge border with Chinese soldier on the other side of the Himalayas. And so it became urgent for the On the Indian side to have you know motorable roads constructed all the way to the border of Tibet.

WM: lots of people in west use the term Buddha, but can't really define. Can you?

TJ: Um, no, no you are right, Buddha is not a single person although historically there was a historical Buddha who all the Buddhist schools would recognize as the founding
Teacher of the tradition, but Buddha is a generic term as well. And it literally means the fully enlightened one or the fully awakened one and the again the core of the idea is quite simple.
TJ: The idea is that within each of us is the potential for full perfection, and this full perfection, the seed exists in all of us and this seed needs to be nourished and cultivated., by means of engaging in what the Buddhists would call learning, reflection and meditation, and living an ethically sound way of life. And it is through these practices and in the Buddhist jargon we refer to the whole set of practices as the three higher trainings - the training in morality, the training in meditation, and the training in wisdom.
TJ: so itt is through the combination of these three one would be able to nurture and activate the seed that is that exists with in all of us which is really the potential and through this way gradually our mind and consciousness can be cleansed of all its negativity and afflictions and particularly the destructive impulses. So that the positive potentials that exist in us can then become fully perfect and perfected. And the state of that perfection is really referred to as the Buddahood.
TJ: so you have within the concept of the Buddha there is the you have there are two dimensions one is the dimension of having overcome and cleansed or eradicated all imitations[?] and negativity, as the Buddhist would call all defilements. And the other dimension is the perfection of all the positive qualities such as wisdom, compassion, and so on. So Buddha is really the perfected state of that.
TJ: But then if you ask the deeper question of what exactly is that state, then of course we are getting into a very complicated and even among Buddhists themselves there is no real consensus so you know depending upon whether you listen to the Theravada schools or the Tibetan tradition or Chinese tradition or Japanese tradition you may get a different answer. But on the broad level the idea is a possibility of a full perfection of human being.

WM: How do you start your day?

TJ: Um well I begin, well at the moment I am the father of two very young children, so of course you know more urgent things takes precedence so in the morning of course I have to you know look after the two children before they go to school, you know feed them, and help my wife to arrange for the kids to prepare them to go to school and stuff.
TJ: But once they have left for school which is about eight o'clock then I do my daily meditation. So I have- even when I'm traveling, you know I try to really keep that routine
Um of at least half an hour of daily practice in the morning. And um we have um a separate room which is in our guest bedroom in our house where we have kind of a small kind of a Tibetan chest with Tibetan tanka painting, and some you know ritual objects and stuff because as as you know ordinary human beings we rely you know we often depend on props to put us in the right state of mind.
TJ: And then my daily practice involves initially reaffirming my three rituals
Buddha darhma and sanga [sp]
And then reaffirming my cultivation of altruistic intention to seek enlightenment for the benefit of all beings And then I do a meditation on what is known as the cultivation of the four imaginable thoughts. Imaginable thought of compassion, loving kindness, and joy, and equanimity.
TJ: This is then followed by um a silent breathing meditation primarily breathing type meditation for maybe about ten minutes. And then I follow this with more specific Tibetan chanting and other meditation practices. So all together I am able to finish the whole thing in half an hour. So um and then before going to bed I take a time you know five minutes to review my day and particularly the thoughts that have occurred during the day that kind of strong, negative emotions that may have you know arisen in my mind or some kind of ill will, or particularly-- It's a way of checking. So here of course, actions we recount but more importantly its really the mental state-- really it's the state of mind.

WM: One particular chant you could share?

TJ: Well, I do all my practices in Tibetan, of course, that would be my mother tongue. But as you know- I do quite a number of recitations you know the chantings, as part of these practices. And there's one¿and this includes one particular short text which is quite well known now in the English speaking world among the followers of Tibetan Buddhism this is known as the eight verses on training the mind, which primarily focuses on dealing with self-centeredness.
TJ: But at the end I chant this stanza, which his holiness, the Dalai Lama often says is the greatest source of inspiration for him, which is which was written by an eighth century Indian master, a great Indian Buddhist teacher and particularly an ethical teacher. He the the verse reads: 'As long as space remains, as long as sentient beings remain, until then may I too remain and help dispel the sufferings of the world.' So these kind of verses you know particularly when you chant them, you know being myself a Tibetan who has been brought up in a monastic environment, I find the chantings very inspiring.

WM: will you recite that chant in Tibetan?
TJ: Sure.

TJ: [Chants in Tibetan]

WM: Anything else you would like to add?

TJ: Yes, I mean one of the things that probably in a sense for Tibetan Buddhist practitioners that is very important is you know sometimes when you see the profusion of you know contemplation of death in the Tibetan tradition people get the impression that there's kind of a morbid obsession going on here. Which in some sense there may be some truth in this but in another sense you know one would be missing the point. The main point in the Tibetan Buddhist practice is the awareness of death, mindfulness of death is really thought to be one of the most powerful motivating factor.
TJ: So in fact, even in even in non-[??] Tibetan practices kind of less kind of less- less esoteric forms of practices there is a recognition that there are two very powerful contemplations that can be very motivation one of which is the mindfulness of death

which will motivate you from within. And the other is you know appreciating the tremendous potential and opportunity accord by human existence. So as part of this on a daily basis, Buddhist practitioners remind themselves of their mortality, or finitude and this is to really to impress upon the individual the preciousness of the every moment of ones life so that one feels the sense of weight of responsibility to use that moment in the most responsible and constructive manner.
TJ: Whether it is doing an ethically good work, or whether it is for a meditator, ensuring that the dedication to the meditation practice is most singlepointed, or whether it is for an ordinary you know, family man, family person to be able to appreciate one's responsibility toward the other family members, children especially, and so on. So this mindfulness of death on a daily basis really has if utilized skillfully can have a really powerful motivating factor.
TJ: So this is one important point, another really important thing is that for advanced practitioners, then it's not adequate to be simply mindful of death and ones finitude but in fact to try to enter into a series of meditations that would in a sense, simulate the experience of death so that the subtle states of consciousness that you experience that you really experience at death and can be glimpsed in one's in a deep sleep state can then be gradually, willfully cultivated in ones waking moments so that you are able to in a sense have access to a subtle levels of consciousness which one otherwise might not have. So death, meditation on death plays many different kind of roles in a most serious Buddhist practitioner.

WM: meditating on death is about leaving life in a good frame of mind?

TJ: Well again, this is tied up with the the belief in the ___ because we you know even in a single lifetime we will create so many types of karma, good, bad, neutral and so on.
But what would determine the the form of the next life really to a large extent will depend upon the frame of mind you will experience at the moment of death.
TJ: So in the traditional Tibetan Buddhist cultural environment much effort is made to ensure that when the dying person you know leaves um he or she will be able to leave in a very peaceful, relaxed manner. So that there is no, even you know attachment to family at the point is thought to be kind of an obstruction, so there will be no wailing scenes around the dying person. The focus really has to be on the dying person and not on the grief of the family members who are around. So that one you know everybody ensure to create a peaceful atmosphere in the family so that they will and for example, if the dying person may have a special relation to a particular spiritual teacher, then the photographs of that spiritual teacher may be brought over to remind him or her.
TJ: If the lama is living nearby, they will invite the lama so that the lama can instruct the dying person. Or if the dying person is familiar with some sort of meditation then the others may assist in the actual chanting. So that the dying person may be sort of able to follow the thought processes of the chanting. So you know all the efforts are really made to create a really peaceful, relaxed, non-attaching non-attachment environment so the dying person can feel free to let go and go peacefully.

WM: how do you know that you've had a past life or that there is such a thing?

TJ: Um well of course the Buddhist tradition would really argue that um I think there are of course let me put it this way there are at least in the traditional Tibetan cultural kind of context um you know many individuals who display quite clear memories of some form of past life and some of these memories are quite striking. And of course these are anecdotal evidence.
51: 09
TJ: But for the traditional Buddhist, these are very compelling evidence. But the main reason really is kind of philosophical. the idea is that human consciousness is on a very fundamental level different from the physical processes that that constitute our body. So on the experiential microscopic level our thoughts and emotions and sensory experiences may be contingent upon a physical basis such as brain, but consciousness in the final analysis us not reducible to material and physical processes. SO if that is the case the then one needs to account for its continuation or continuity, or its emergence. So that's the more philosophical argument. But on a practical level most Buddhists it's really a matter of, matter of belief.

Thank yous
Talking about when show will air
TJ directs to website
53:55 END OF TAPE.

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