Zhao Lun

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Zhao lun (The Treatises of [Seng]zhao) is a collection of writings by Shi Sengzhao (374–414), a primary disciple of KumĀrajĪva (344–409/413). Zhao lun contains the following documents, considered to be chapters by some scholars and independent treatises by others: "Wu buqian lun" ("A Treatise on the Immutability of Things"); "Wu buzhen kong lun" ("A Treatise on the Emptiness of the Unreal"); "Bojo wuzhi lun" ("A Treatise on Prajñā as Distinguished from Ordinary Knowledge"); and "Niepan wuming lun" ("A Treatise on Nameless [Nature] of Nirvāṇa").

The first document dwells, for the most part, on the mysteries of time. It exposes NĀgĀrjuna's (ca. second century c.e.) view that the dharmas are essentially beyond definition and without definite nature. Since all phenomena are dharmas, but dharmas themselves cannot be created or destroyed—they are without beingness or nonbeingness—the category of time is meaningless.

The second document illuminates Nāgārjuna's ideas about ŚŪnyata (emptiness) from a different perspective. In this treatise Sengzhao uses a renowned simile of a man created through magic. Since the person has been created through magic, he is not a real man, but within the frame of knowing that the man has been created through magic, such a man does exist. The simile explains how all phenomena are both existent and nonexistent at the same time.

The third treatise seeks to delineate prajñāpāramitā (perfection of wisdom) as a different state of mind than knowledge. Knowledge is obtained through the investigation of things that are believed to be real. It is marked by a struggle to reconcile beginnings and ends, past and future, and so on. The equality of all things can only be seen through prajñāpāramitā, where the oppositions of existence and nonexistence, future and past, and sorrow and joy are no longer relevant. Similar ideas are presented in the fourth piece in which nirvĀṆa is approached through the use of core Madhyamaka terminology and epistemological devices. Adapting the principle of the four negations used by Buddha Śākyamuni, Nāgārjuna, and Kumārajīva (nirvāṇa is not a form of existence; nirvāṇa is not a form of nonexistence; nirvāṇa is not both existence and nonexistence; nirvāṇa is not neither existence nor nonexistence), Sengzhao speaks about nirvana as being ultimately indefinable, that is, nameless. Along with this classical treatment of the subject, we find the beginnings of a new understanding of this important concept, in which nirvāṇa is equated with the tathĀgatagarbha (rulaizang).

See also:China; Prajñāpāramitā Literature


Ch'en, Kenneth. Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.

Liebenthal, Walter, trans. and ed. Chao lun: The Treatises of Seng-chao, a Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Appendices, 2nd edition, vols. 1–2. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1968.

Tanya Storch