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SENGZHAO (373414), Chinese Buddhist monk of the Eastern Jin period (317420) and scholar of the first Chinese Mādhyamika tradition. According to the standard biography in the Gaoseng zhuan (Biographies of eminent monks), Sengzhao was born in the vicinity of Chang'an (modern Xi'an) and as a young man earned his living as a transcriber and copyist. Exposed in this way to the Chinese classics, he initially acquired a secular education. He developed a liking for the writings of Daoism, the Dao de jing and the Zhuangzi. However, his biography states that upon reading the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa Sūtra, a text expressing the Buddhist concepts of emptiness (śūnyatā ) and nonduality, he was converted to Buddhism and became a monk. Although his reputation in the Buddhist community of his day was initially established as a debater, Sengzhao's mark on Chinese Buddhism and his stature as a leading Buddhist literary figure were fixed as a result of his association with the famed Kuchean translator of Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist literature, Kumārajīva (344413). From 401, when Kumārajīva arrived in Chang'an, Sengzhao served as one of his personal disciples and translating assistants. A gifted stylist, the author of a commentary on the Vimalakīrti Sūtra and the writer of prefaces to Indian sūtras and sāstra s, Sengzhao was one of the most prolific Buddhist writers of his age. His fame as an independent thinker, however, rests primarily on four seminal essays, now collected as the Zhao lun (The treatises of Sengzhao): "Wisdom Is Not Knowledge," "Things Are Immutable," "The Emptiness of the Unreal," and "Nirvāa Is Nameless." Through these essays Sengzhao interpreted for his contemporaries the Mādhyamika teaching that Kumārajīva brought to China for the first time. Historically, the essays were formative in the thinking of the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā) tradition during the sixth century, which later came to be known in East Asian Buddhism as the Sanlun (Three-Treatise) tradition. These essays also show that Sengzhao, while remaining true to the core of Buddhist teaching, utilized the insights of Daoism to expand and clarify certain problems in Buddhist texts and, conversely, utilized Buddhist texts to answer fundamental problems posed for him in Daoist writings. His use of a basic Daoist paradigm of "origin and end" (benmo ) and its variants (benji, "root and trace," and its later cousin, tiyong, "essence and function") eventually became the basic framework for the analysis of Buddhist doctrine beginning in the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (420589). Because of his innovative attempts to bridge Indian Buddhist and Chinese concepts and ideals, Sengzhao remains a pivotal figure in the transmission of Indian Buddhism to China as well as in the transformation of Buddhism into its Chinese form.

See Also



The most comprehensive work on Sengzhao is the two-volume Jōron kenkyū, edited by Tsukamoto Zenryū (Kyoto, 1955). See also reviews of this work by Arthur Waley in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) 19 (1957): 195196, and by Paul Demiéville in T'oung-pao 45 (1957): 221235. Critical analysis of Sengzhao's essays can be found in Richard H. Robinson's Early Mādhyamika in India and China (Madison, Wis., 1967). Robinson's work also contains annotated translations of "Wisdom Is Not Knowledge," "Things Are Immutable," and "The Emptiness of the Unreal." Sengzhao's fourth essay, "Nirvāa Is Nameless," has been translated by Chang Chung-yüan, Journal of Chinese Philosophy 1 (1974): 247274. Walter Liebenthal's Book of Chao (Beijing, 1948) remains a serviceable introduction to the text.

New Sources

Gregory, P. N., and Kuroda Institute. Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought. Honolulu, 1987.

Ichimura, Shohei. "On the Paradoxical Method of the Chinese Madhyamika: Seng-chao and the Chao-lun treatise." Journal of Chinese Philosophy 19, no. 1 (1992): 5171.

Kuppuram, G., and K. Kumudamani. Buddhist Heritage in India and Abroad. Delhi, 1992.

Aaron K. Koseki (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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