Front Three, Back Three

At a time when the government persecution of Buddhism had just abated, monk Mujaku travelled to visit Monju, whose monastery was on Mount Godai in north China. Monju asked him, "Where have you recently come from?" Mujaku answered, "From the south." Monju continued, "Southern Buddhism, how is it faring?" Mujaku said, "Well, the HThird Age monks are more or less observing the precepts." Then Mujaku asked, "How are things in this part of the country?" Monju answered, "Worldly men and holy men are living together like snakes and dragons mixed." Mujaku asked, "Are there many or few?" Monju answered, "Front three, back three."

This koan is a dream story created by Mujaku. That Mujaku perhaps visited Mount Godai in northern China is true. But the conversation in this koan is between Mujaku and the spirit of Mount Godai, Monju (who is the symbol of wisdom). Monju asks Mujaku where he came from, the usual question when a monk visits another temple or monastery. Mujaku came from the south, but this south not necessarily the geographical south. It really indicates how Buddhism is practised: by Third Age monks who merely observe the precepts but cannot convey true Zen. (The First Age of Buddhism is that time in the world when the teachings are correctly practised and lved; the Second Age is a time of only formalities; the Third Age is the last Age when even the formalities have been abandoned.)

Then Mujaku asks Monju the same question. Monju replies, in effect, that there are genuine Buddhists and mediocre Buddhists; one must see clearly. Mujaku asks how many there are. This is a ery foolish question for the truth is not a matter of number. How many Christians and how many Buddhists are there in the United States? One good Christian and one true Buddhist means something; one thousand name-only Christians or Buddhists has no meaning. Monju answers, "Front three, back three," which means that the number is not important and has no meaning.


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