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of a Traveling Preacher
3, Chapter 1
have decided to keep a diary again. Many disciples and friends have asked
when I will be publishing another diary in book form, but for now I will
simply send daily installments on e-mail. Perhaps at some stage they can
be edited and compiled in a book.
I get positive feedback from disciples and friends, it will encourage me
to give the necessary input into this e-mail diary. My schedule is often
so busy that I hardly have a minute to spare, but I know that disciples in
particular are always eager to know where I am and what I am doing. I will
send the installments daily on the ISM Disciples Conference on COM, a
conference others can join if they desire.
I am traveling by train through the vast desert region of northern
Kazakhstan in central Asia. I am alone in my compartment, and Sri Prahlad
and his wife, Rukmini Priya, are in another. We are heading north to
Russia. Our 34-hour ride will conclude in Barnaul, deep in the snows of
Siberia, where we will have one-and-a-half days of programs with the local
devotees. It will be the beginning of a four-week tour throughout Russia.
left Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, yesterday. In Almaty we
participated in the Vyasa-puja festival of my dear god-brother, Bhakti
Bringa Govinda Maharaja. More than 200 devotees came from central Asia,
Russia, and even Europe for the event.
we arrived in Almaty we drove to Maharaja's developing farm project, Sri
Vrindavan Dhama, 45 minutes outside of the city. Maharaja purchased the
land three years ago. I was amazed at how much he has achieved in such a
short time. Sri Vrindavan Dhama has a small but beautifully reconstructed
house that serves as a temple, where the main Deity is a very large
Govardhan sila. Also worshipped is a large Nrsimha salagram sila that I
sent last year. He is probably the most terrifying Nrsimha salagram sila
on earth, and Maharaja told me that since He arrived at the farm our
movement has met with little resistance in Kazakhstan.
property has a very large barn housing about 15 cows and bulls. It also
serves as a base for small prasadam and candle-making businesses. There is
a large area for cultivating fruits, vegetables and grains. I also noticed
a large lake (renamed Radha-Kunda by the devotees), along the banks of
which are many dachas, a type of cottage used as a retreat by Russians in
the summer. Maharaja has purchased a number of dachas for housing his
Vrindavan Dhama reminded me of New Vraja Dhama in Hungary. The Hungarian
farm project manifested over 10 years by the strong desire of Sivarama
Swami, and is already renown throughout Hungary. Obviously, Govinda
Maharaja has started Sri Vrindavan Dhama in the same spirit, and no doubt
it will eventually achieve the same fame within Kazakhstan. I know,
however, how much blood, sweat and tears go into starting and developing
such a community. Men and capital don't come easy in this world, but in
Krishna consciousness we always have a special incentive: the mercy of
Krishna. By His grace alone we can accomplish the great tasks that our
spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, has requested of us. Govinda Maharaja
has shown his worthiness as a disciple of His Divine Grace by developing
New Vrindavan Dhama practically from dust-covered fields. Srila Prabhupada
once said that a project is "only as good as the man who heads it
observed Maharaja's 50th birthday anniversary in a medium-sized hall on
the outskirts of Almaty. We focused mainly on lectures and kirtans. Some
of the kirtans went for as long as three to four hours. The devotees also
did two excellent dramas of Krishna lila. I have always noted that
devotees from Russia and central Asia are talented in music, art and
drama. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says that He is the "ability in
man," and surely the Lord's grace came through the beautiful dramas
we saw at that festival. The dramas were taken from Rupa Goswami's play,
Lalita Madhava. They were done so well that we all had the good fortune to
experience what may have been genuine sentiments of affection for the
Lord. I saw many devotees crying.
snowstorm was raging when we left our apartment in Almaty to go to the
train station. We barely caught the train. The devotees had reserved us
first-class compartments, although by western standards they would have
been rated much less. However, they are comfortable and, most important,
warm. Rumors have been circulating that in Siberia they are experiencing a
record cold front of minus 47 degrees. A week ago I was in Sydney,
Australia, where the temperatures were around 32 degree ABOVE zero. I find
temperature variations one of the most difficult things about being a
traveling preacher. Generally the body becomes accustomed to the heat of
summer or the harshness of winter by gradually going through the
temperature changes of spring and autumn. But preaching calls us to places
according to need, and we have to accept the austerity of facing the heat
or cold head on.
our train proceeds through the barren, desert-like area of northern
Kazakhstan, the scene outside remains the same hour after hour; an endless
horizon of snow. The land is flat and the monotonous view is broken from
time to time by small settlements of old wooden houses. I can't imagine
how people live out here! I see them shuffling from house to house bundled
up in old coats and fur hats. The fur hats are typical of Russia and the
countries that used to be part of its empire. Full fur coats are also
the train stops at a station and a few people, waiting patiently in the
snow and freezing wind, climb aboard. At these stops a few brave souls get
off the train to buy refreshments from the elderly ladies on the platform.
They sell mainly meat and vodka - and what appears to be a flat bread.
These ladies are the poorest of all, judging by their attire which often
consists of only an old coat and rags around their bodies. Their faces are
red from the cold. Because Kazakhstan borders western China, the
Kazakhstanis all have black hair and slanted eyes.
none of us speak Russian we can't ask anyone when we will cross the border
into Russia. I want to be prepared, because past experience has shown that
it can be an ordeal. The border guards in the outpost crossings can be
very difficult. They sometimes like to intimidate foreigners. They demand
to see all the things in our bags, and create an atmosphere of fear and
anxiety. We can't communicate with the lady in charge of our coach, so I
place myself on "red alert" and have my bags and identity papers
ready at all times. I also sleep with all my clothes on so I won't be
embarrassed by border guards bursting into my cabin in the dead of night
and shouting at me in Russian.
not much more to report riding in a small compartment through northern
Kazakhstan. We finally cross the Russian border 27 hours into the journey.
By some quirk of fate the knock on my door was surprisingly soft, and when
I opened it the border guard was a rather shy young woman in military
fatigues. She silently took my passport and came back a half-hour later
with it stamped. She then looked briefly into the cabin, and left without
a word. It was the easiest entry I've ever had into Russia.
arrived in Barnaul at midnight in the midst of a huge blizzard. About 40
local devotees were having a rousing kirtan on the platform. My heart went
out to them - it was 12 degrees below zero outside and the wind was
raging! As I jumped off the train the cold hit me and I zipped my jacket
up to the neck. When I tried to speak to a few devotees on the way to the
car, my lips were so cold I couldn't say the words.
we drove to a devotee's apartment, the Barnaul temple president, Visnu
Tattva dasa, a disciple of Prabhavisnu Swami, told me that the morning
program the next day was to begin at 7am. That meant only four hours of
sleep! He had also scheduled a darsan with my disciples (who haven't seen
me in three years) for the late morning, then Deity worship and japa,
lunch, and a big evening program. Senior devotees rarely visit this
isolated area, so devotees are really excited about the evening festival.
They have invited many important people from Barnaul. Devotees from other
regions of Siberia are also supposed to be coming, but Visnu Tattva says
some may not make it because of the weather. The next day our train leaves
for our next destination deeper into Siberia. I almost fainted when Visnu
Tattva told me the journey will take 27 hours!
servant, Indradyumna Swami
of a Traveling Preacher
3, Chapter 2
only a few hours of rest, we awoke at 5am to prepare to do a program in a
hall in downtown Barnaul. I had trouble sleeping last night because my
body seemed to be still moving; an uncanny feeling which no doubt came
from spending the previous day on a moving train.
I had an interesting dream. I dreamt I was walking along the Kali Gandhaki
River in Nepal looking for salagram silas with my god-brother, Bimala
Prasad dasa. I often dream that I am either on my way to the Kali Gandhaki
or am along its banks. In fact, the dreams are so intense that I can
attribute them only to the fact that I have actually traveled in the
mountains of Nepal several times in this life. Or could it be that I was
there in a previous life? In a purport in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.29.64),
Srila Prabhupada confirms this possibility. He writes: "In dreams we
sometimes see things that we have never experienced in the present body.
Sometimes in dreams we think that we are flying in the sky, although we
have no experience of flying. This means that once in a previous life,
either as a demigod or astronaut, we flew in the sky. The impression is
there in the stockpile of the mind, and it suddenly expresses itself. It
is like fermentation taking place in the depths of water, which sometimes
manifests itself in bubbles on the water's surface."
weeks ago I had an unusually spiritual dream. I dreamt that after a long
time I was returning to New Mayapur, in France. In the dream I was
surprised to see that everything was overgrown and falling apart. But from
within the temple I heard a conch shell blowing and sounds indicating the
altar curtain was about to open. I rushed in and sat for a few moments
before the curtain, eager for darsan of Sri Sri Radha Govinda Madhava.
Suddenly, the curtain opened and everything on the altar was shining
beautifully like the sun. It was very clean and nicely decorated. My eyes
searched for Sri Sri Radha Govinda Madhava, and when I saw Them I started
crying. The more I looked at Them, the more I wept. When I awoke that
morning, I found my pillow wet with tears. I got up from bed and looked in
the mirror. My eyes were red from crying. I said to myself in the mirror,
"You rascal! Why can't you cry for Krishna like that in real
life!" But inside I was happy, knowing that somewhere in my hard,
stone-like heart, there might even be a little glimmer of love for Sri Sri
Radha Govinda Madhava.
my dreams are not often so transcendental. Because of the unusual places I
travel and preach, and because of the anxieties I have from many
responsibilities, I often dream of war or trying to escape from unknown
taking bath, myself, Sri Prahlad, Rukmini Priya and Visnu Tattva prabhu
left the apartment building to go to the program. When we stepped outside
I was shocked! In the few hours we had slept, a huge storm had blanketed
everything with snow. Visnu Tattva told me that Siberia has had more snow
this winter than any in the past 25 years. We were seeing the cold face of
Siberia at its worst. We struggled to get to our car, and slipping and
sliding through the roads of the city in our vehicle we somehow managed to
get to the hall for the morning program. I couldn't imagine there would be
many devotees there because passage through the city was so difficult, but
as is typical in Russian ISKCON, when we entered the hall there were more
than 200 blissful Vaisnavas eager for Krishna katha and kirtan.
no book was available, I spoke about the importance of devotee
association. I based my class on a verse from Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya
should associate with devotees, chant the holy name of the Lord, hear
Srimad-Bhagavatam, reside at Mathura and worship the Deity with faith and
Goswami states in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu that these processes are so
potent that just a small attachment for any one of these five items can
arouse devotional ecstasy even in a neophyte.
class we returned to our apartment, worshipped our Deities and took
prasadam. I then conversed with a group of disciples. I must say it was
quite an intense meeting. Because many of these disciples had not seen me
in two or even three years, they were absorbed each second, watching my
every move and listening to every word. I was tired and had a headache
coming on, but I forced myself to ignore these conditions and sat up
straight, attempting to be the proper representative of Srila Prabhupada I
should be. By speaking philosophy and quoting appropriate verses from the
Bhagavad-gita, I inspired the devotees - but as soon as they left I
collapsed in bed for a half-hour rest before the evening program.
we arrived at the hall there were twice as many devotees as were there in
the morning - more than 400. They had come from numerous surrounding towns
and villages. There were also many guests. The atmosphere was electric, in
anticipation of class and kirtan. The mood somehow reminded me of Poland
12 years ago when I started preaching there. There were many teenagers in
the audience exhibiting a type of innocence, which I attributed to the
fact that Siberia remains to this day somewhat isolated from the
materialism that is rampant in Eastern Europe and western Russia. Later in
the evening, all these young people stood and chanted and danced without
abandon. It left me with a sense of nostalgia.
than 50 devotees participated in a wonderful drama about the appearance of
Lord Caitanya. It was so well done that I imagined it took weeks of
preparation. That they had gone to so much trouble and expense for me
touched my heart, and when it came time for me to speak to the devotees
and guests, I gave an impassioned lecture about the purpose of life, which
I think was well appreciated. After the talk, Sri Prahlad led a wonderful
kirtan. To conclude the evening, the devotees brought a huge cake on to
the stage, which I distributed piece by piece to the now 500-strong
numbers in the hall had swelled, because after our program the hall was to
turn into a disco. As our program was finishing, many young people started
showing up for the disco, standing on the perimeter of our festival and
watching in amazement. Many were pulled into the kirtan by the devotees
and guests and many came forward for a piece of cake. Overwhelmed by the
ecstatic mood, a number of them showed signs of respect as they approached
me for the prasadam, bowing their heads or folding their hands in namskara
as they saw the devotees do. It was an unusual experience for me, as young
ladies in short dresses and heavy make-up and tough-looking boys in
designer clothing came respectfully forward for the Lord's mercy. All
glories to Sri Krishna sankirtan!
of a Traveling Preacher
3, Chapter 3
when we awoke we returned to the hall for a last program before leaving
Barnaul. Although we had all taken rest late that night and the program
was early in the morning, 200 devotees were there to greet us and listen
to class. I spoke on Rupa Goswami's verse from Bhakti-rasamrta-sindu,
which gives the standard for pure devotional service:
first-class devotional service develops, one is devoid of all material
desires, knowledge of impersonalism and fruitive activities. The devotee
must serve Krishna favorably, as Krishna desires."
acrayas have said that this is the essential verse of
Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, upon which the rest of the book is based.
11.30am we rushed to the station to catch the train to our next
destination, Krasnoyarsk. I was happy to see that four of my lady
disciples had purchased tickets for a compartment on the train. They
boarded the train with stockpiles of prasadam for the 27-hour journey. I
settled into my compartment and happily sat finishing my rounds in a rare
moment of peace and solitude. I watched the white, cold countryside flash
by as the train proceeded into Siberia.
set in just as we arrived in Novosibirsk, the capital of the Siberian
region. As the train pulled into the station, I saw on the main platform a
neon sign that displayed the time and temperature. It is a curious thing
that in each and every train station in Russia, there is a huge sign
displaying time and temperature. I stared in disbelief - the time was 6pm
and the temperature 20 degrees below zero!
Uttamasloka, who is accompanying us as my Russian translator, entered my
compartment and said the train would be delayed in the station for five
hours. I immediately suggested paying a surprise visit to the Novosibirsk
temple. When I asked how far away it was, another devotee innocently
replied that it was only 15 minutes from the station. I told Uttamasloka
to go on to the platform and telephone the temple to inform them that we
were coming. We would walk the short distance. Little did I know what it
is to walk even 10 meters in 20-degree below weather!
minutes our little band of devotees had jumped off the train and begun the
short walk to the temple. A chilling wind had come up, driving the
temperature down to 30 degrees below. I had never experienced anything
like it. Any portion of exposed flesh on my body immediately experienced
intense pain from the cold. After walking just 50 meters, I couldn't
imagine going one step further. We were just outside the train station and
so I asked Uttamasloka to order a taxi to the temple. He found a big
taxi-van and we all piled in, thankful for the warmth inside. After half
an hour we arrived at the temple. Luckily, we hadn't attempted to walk the
at the temple, we were greeted by 20 enthusiastic devotees. Sri Prahlad
led kirtan and I spoke on atiti-seva, receiving the unexpected guest. I
mentioned that in Vedic culture the householder has five duties to
perform: to honor the forefathers, the earth, the devas, the animals, and
any unexpected guest. I told the story from Srimad-Bhagavatam of King
Rantidev, who received three different guests in his home. He respectfully
fed them according to their desires, but in the end had no prasadam left
for himself and his family members. Later the three personalities revealed
themselves as Brahma, Visnu and Siva, and blessed him for his proper
etiquette in serving his guests. Sri Prahlad then led an amazing kirtan
which sent the devotees to Vaikunatha.
three hours we got back in the taxi and returned to the train station. As
we entered all eyes were upon us! Here we were, dressed in dhotis and
saris in one of the coldest places on earth. Besides that, our colorful
attire greatly contrasted with the dark, heavy leather coats and fur hats
that everyone else wore. The people of Siberia are a hardy bunch. All the
men look to me like burley woodsmen. Many of them are bigger than me, and
with all their dark furry, winter clothing come across a bit intimidating.
Russian people in general have a tough demeanor. They don't easily smile,
but that's deceptive because Russian people are generally soft-hearted.
we walked through the throngs of heavy set men and women in their fur hats
and skins, several people called out "Hare Krishna" in gruff
voices. As we approached our train, I was thinking to myself that although
it's austere to travel and preach here, I prefer it to other countries
where life is more opulent and there are more facilities. Here in Russia
everyone shares common austerities, and the only noticeable opulence I've
seen is the bright-faced and colorfully dressed Hare Krishna devotees.
our way to our train we settled in for the overnight ride to Krasnoyarsk.
Earlier in the day, Jananivasa, my Russian secretary, had given me a
mobile telephone that works throughout the entire country. It's expensive
to use, so I'll have it mainly for receiving calls. But as I had not heard
from Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda (the disciples in charge of organizing
our Polish festival programs) in more than a week, I decided to call them.
Both of these ladies have taken on an incredible amount of responsibility
on the Polish tour. They are reorganizing it as a legal foundation,
arranging all the festivals for the spring, summer and autumn tours, and
handling all the initial preparations for the gigantic Woodstock festival
in Zary. Recently they were in Zary looking for accommodations for the 400
devotees we expect to join us for our preaching at Woodstock in August.
I called them they reported that the local priest in Zary is doing
everything he can to place obstacles before us. During the past two
Woodstock festivals we stayed in a large school, not far from the center
of town. But when Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda visited the school to
rent the facilities, the authorities adamantly refused. At every school
they went to in the town they encountered the same cold mood. Finally one
school authority informed them that the local priest had sent word that no
school should cooperate with the Hare Krsnas in their attempt to get
facility for Woodstock. The priests are very powerful in Poland,
especially in small towns. People are afraid of them, because if they
don't cooperate with the priests they may lose their jobs. Determined to
find accommodation, Nandini and Radha Sakki Vrnda persevered and finally
found two schools which agreed to rent facilities to us. Nandini said that
the local mayor, who is our friend, had stepped in and used his influence.
down the phone, my heart was pounding and I was back in the fighting mood
I live in for six months of the year in Poland. I mentioned to Uttamasloka
that I couldn't think of many places in the world, aside from China and
Islamic countries, where our movement still faces so much aggressive
hostility. He replied that he sees the aggression in proportion to the
amount of preaching that we have done in Poland.
is a devoutly Catholic country where countless numbers of Srila
Prabhupada's books have been distributed. The hostility arises from the
church due to our success in preaching, but it's not easy to live with
that hostility year after year. It also means that we can't ease up on our
preaching for a moment. If we were to slow down, the church would
immediately appropriate any gains we have made over the years. We have to
keep up a blistering pace, especially on the tour, but after 10 years of
festivals my body is showing signs of aging. I pray the Lord will give me
the strength to go on. But what can He do with this aging body? He can
inspire us in the heart to do His service, but He can't bring back our
suppose the answer lies with disciples like Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda.
As I looked out the window, I thought of their constant engagement and
struggle to set up our festival programs. They are working day and night,
even now in the winter season. I eventually drifted off to sleep, thanking
the Lord for disciples like them and asking Srila Prabhupada to bless
of a Traveling Preacher
3, Chapter 4
the night I tossed and turned, unable to get proper rest as our train
wound its way through the Siberian countryside. Several times I woke up
and peered out the window. Though it was total darkness the white snow
acted as a contrast that seemed to shed light on the frigid, winter scene.
Sometimes we would pass villages and I could see lights on in little
wooden houses. Our "Trans-Siberian Express" would stop at larger
towns and passengers would board. Several times I saw dogs on the platform
looking for food. They had thick, furry winter coats, but I wondered how
they survived the bitter cold. Anyone who was outside moved quickly from
place to place, unable to bear the misery.
one sense the passing countryside looked very beautiful, but that's the
way maya works - she appears attractive, but in essence she is there to
make us suffer. Lord Siva is called Rudra and his wife, Durga, who is in
charge of the prison house of material existence, is sometimes called
Rudrani, which means she who makes you cry forever. Once, Srila
Prabhupada's secretary suggested that Srila Prabhupada take some
much-needed rest in a chalet in the mountains of Switzerland. After
spending only a few days there one December Srila Prabhupada wanted to
leave, referring to the place as a white hell.
noon our train pulled into the station in Krasnoyarsk. Within moments a
strongly built man in his mid-forties was at the door of my compartment,
offering obeisances in the hallway. He said loudly, "Srila Gurudeva,
welcome to Krasnoyarsk!" He identified himself as my disciple, Guru
Vrata dasa, the president of the Krasnoyarsk temple.
moments Guru Vrata's men had secured all our baggage and had it neatly
lined up on the platform outside. Then he led myself, Sri Prahlad, Rukmini,
Uttamasloka, Jananivasa and the four matajis accompanying us to waiting
vehicles. We found four nice cars parked neatly in a row, complete with
drivers standing at attention by the doors. Within seconds our bags were
loaded in the trunks of the car and we were gone! The whole affair came
off like a well-planned military procedure. It reminded me of Srila
Prabhupada's purport to the thirtieth verse of the third chapter of
Bhagavad-gita, wherein he says:
verse clearly indicates the purpose of the Bhagavad-gita. The Lord
instructs that one has to become fully Krishna conscious to discharge
duties, as if in military discipline."
the car I inquired from Guru Vrata if he had ever been in the military. He
smiled and replied with a resounding, "Yes!" He said he had been
the personal driver and assistant to the commander of his army battalion.
That explained his military precision in picking up the "troops"
at the train station!
a quick shower at the apartment, and a few moments of writing this diary,
we were again on our way to a big hall for a program. On the way I asked
Guru Vrata about the city of Krasnoyarsk and our preaching there. He said
the city, which is literally in the middle of Siberia, is populated by
more than one million people. The temple has only 12 devotees, but a large
and active congregation. There are more than 20 Nama Hatta centers. Guru
Vrata praised the area regional secretary, Laksmi Narayana dasa, a
disciple of Nirajana Swami, for successful preaching in the region. Laksmi
Narayana prabhu has made many devotees as he travels giving seminars on
Krishna consciousness. As we entered the hall, I saw first hand the
results of his efforts: there were 500 blissful devotees waiting for us!
wasn't prepared for such an amazing scene. The hall itself was bright and
beautiful by Russian standards, but the real light came from the effulgent
devotees. I remembered the story when Srila Prabhupada was walking across
the street in London, and a policeman grabbed the arm of one of his
disciples and said, "Look! That man is glowing!"
I proceeded to the stage, devotees made a clearing and bowed down as I
came by. I felt unqualified to receive such respect, and kept in mind a
similar scenario in a photo where Srila Prabhupada is walking into a
temple and devotees are offering him respectful obeisances from all sides.
I thought, "Srila Prabhupada, they're all your children. Let me help
you by bringing them to your lotus feet." I was soon speaking from
the stage about Srila Prabhupada's original visit to Moscow in the early
1970s, and how by his grace alone Krishna consciousness has met with
success in Russia.
recounted to the audience how I had gone in disguise a number of times to
preach in Moscow in the late 1980s. In those days there were only about 50
devotees in Moscow and I never imagined the movement would grow bigger,
considering the severe repression we were experiencing under the Communist
government at the time. Brahmananda prabhu once said that when he was a
devotee in ISKCON's first center at 26 Second Avenue in New York, he never
imagined Krishna consciousness would go beyond the boundaries of the
Bowery! But Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada have their plans for a
worldwide movement, and so it was that I found 500 glowing devotees deep
had kirtan and I gave a class about the glories of Lord Caitanya and the
holy name. I felt happy with the class, but later on Jananivasa pointed
out that many of the people in the audience appeared to be intellectuals.
I think he was indicating that the class could have been deeper for them.
The other day when I asked Uttamasloka if a class I had given was
understandable by another audience, he also remarked that my classes are
generally simple. He didn't mean it in a derogatory way; but after hearing
from both these disciples that my preaching was simple, I felt a little
uncomfortable. The fact is I never was an intellectual, and neither am I
so advanced that I can deliver classes like Bhakti Caru Maharaja or
Radhanatha Swami. In general it seems devotees are happy with my classes,
but I took the remarks of Uttamasloka and Jananivasa to be from the Lord
Himself, and resolved to study harder in order to become a better speaker.
I must also strive
to become more pure, for that is the real potency behind preaching. If we
are tinged with material desire, then certainly the Lord's message will
not appear attractive as it comes down through us. Srila Prabhupada,
please help me to become qualified. Traveling and preaching are my main
services to you!
© CHAKRA 3 April 2001
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