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Sengzhao (or Seng-Chao) (Chinese: 僧肇; pinyin: Sēngzhào; Wade–Giles: Seng-chao; Japanese: 僧肇, Sōjō; 384–414)[1] was a Chinese Buddhist philosopher from Later Qin. Born to a poor family in Jingzhao, he acquired literary skills, apparently including the capacity to read Pali, and became a scribe. This exposed him to a variety of uncommon documents. He was influenced by Taoists, Laozi and Zhuangzi,[2] and although we are told he enjoyed Lao Tzu’s Daodejing (Tao-te ching, Dotokyu-kyo), he was overjoyed when he discovered the Vimalakirti Sutra. This encounter transformed his life and he became a Buddhist. He was known as being among the ablest of the disciples of Kumārajīva.[3]

Sengzhao was recognized as both a scholar of high skill and someone of profound understanding relating to religious matters. He was involved in translating Indian treatises, which formed the only source of study for early Chinese Mādhyamika Buddhism. He also authored a small number of texts, but is famous for the book Zhaolun. Its chapters are as follows: Things Do Not Shift, Non-Absolute Emptiness, Prajna Is Without Dichotomizing Knowledge, and Nirvana Is Without Conceptualization.[4][5]

He is mentioned in the Memoirs of Eminent Monks.

Sengzhao criticized earlier Chinese Buddhist schools for believing in being or non-being. He concluded that all dharmas are empty.[citation needed]


He composed a series of treatises published under the title Chao Lun or Zhao Lun, which was first translated (1948) into English as The Book of Chao [6] by Walter Liebenthal, and later (1968) republished in a revised edition with the revised title of Chao Lun, the Treatises of Seng-chao. .[7]

Later References

A number of other accounts exist concerning the life of Sengzhao, though they rarely shed any new light on his work or activities. The Weishou [a collection of canonical texts] accords Sengzhao preeminence among the eight hundred or so scholars gathered at Chang’an: “Daorong and his fellows were of knowledge and learning all-pervasive, and Sengzhao was the greatest of them. When Kumrajva made a translation, Sengzhao would always take pen in hand and define the meanings of words. He annotated the Vimalakrtinirdesha Stra and also published several treatises. They all have subtle meaning, and scholars venerate them.” (Hurvitz 54)

While adding nothing substantively new, this version highlights Sengzhao's importance as a liaison between the Indian Kumarajiva and the Chinese language. All indications point to the foreign master's reliance on Sengzhao's ability to “translate” the Indian terminology into stylistically acceptable Chinese. The gong’an (meditation puzzle) collection known as the Biyen lu (Blue Cliff Record) contains a tale concerning Sengzhao's death which by all accounts is apocryphal. Despite its spurious legend regarding Zhao's demise, within the gongan commentary supplied by the Chan (“meditation”; Japanese Zen) master Yunmen, we find another reference to his life that provides some insight into his correspondence with Liu Yimin. According to the Biyen lu, Sengzhao not only took Kumrajva as his teacher, but “he also called upon the bodhisattva Buddhabhadra at the Temple of the Tile Coffin, who had come from India to transmit the mind-seal of the twenty-seventh Patriarch. Sengzhao then entered deeply into the inner sanctum.” (Cleary, Thomas, and J.C. Cleary, trans. The Blue Cliff Records. Boulder, CO: Shambala, 1978.)"


  1. ^ Chan, Wing-tsit (translated and compiled). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963: 343.
  2. ^ Chan, Wing-tsit (translated and compiled). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963: 344.
  3. ^ Shibayama, Zenkei (2000). The Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mummonkon. Shambhala. pp. 176–177. ISBN 1-57062-726-6.
  4. ^ Alternative renderings of section titles: 物不遷:"Objects Do Not Move" (T45n1858_p0151a08); 不真空:"Unreal Emptiness" (T45n1858_p0152a0); 般若無知: "Wisdom (Prajna) Has No Knowing" (T45n1858_p0153a07): and 涅槃無名: "Nirvana Has No Name" (T45n1858_p0157a12)
  5. ^ "Sengzhao (Seng-Chao) | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 2017-02-09.
  6. ^ The book of Chao;: A translation from the original Chinese with introduction, notes and appendices, Monumenta Serica. Journal of Oriental Studies of the Catholic University of Peking, 1948.
  7. ^ Liebenthal, Walter (translated), Chao lun; the treatises of Sengzhao. A translation with introduction, notes, and appendices, 2nd edition. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; sold by the Oxford University Press, New York, 1968.

Further reading