Tao Sheng

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Tao Sheng (道生 pinyin Dào Shēng) (ca. 360 – 434) was an eminent Liù Cháo era Chinese Buddhist scholar. He is known for advocating the concepts of sudden enlightenment and the universality of the Buddha nature.[1][2]


Born in Pengcheng, Tao Sheng left home to become a monk at eleven.[3] He studied in Jiankang under Chu Fa-t'ai, and later at Lu-shan monastery with Hui Yüan, and from 405 or 406 under Kumarajiva at Ch'ang-an, the capital of the Eastern Chin, where he stayed for some two years perfecting his education. He became one of the foremost scholars of his time, counted among the "fifteen great disciples" of Kumarajiva.[4]

Seng-chao reports that Tao-Sheng assisted Kumarajiva in his translation of the Lotus Sutra, Tao Sheng wrote commentaries on the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti-nirdesa Sutra and the Astasahasrika-prajnaparamita Sutra (the last of which has been lost).[5] In 408, he returned to Lu-shan, and in 409 back to Jiankang, where he remained for some twenty years, staying at the Ch'ing-yuan ssu monastery from 419.


Tao-Sheng controversially ascribed Buddha-nature to the icchantikas, based on his reading on a short version of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which in that short form appears to deny the Buddha-nature to icchantikas; the long version of the Nirvana Sutra, however (not yet known to Tao Sheng), explicitly includes the icchantikas in the universality of the Buddha-nature.[6] Tao Sheng's bold doctrine of including icchantikas within the purview of the Buddha-nature, even before that explicit teaching had actually been found in the long Nirvana Sutra, led to the expulsion of Tao-Sheng from the Buddhist community in 428 or 429, and he retreated to Lu-shan in 430.[7]

With the availability of the long Nirvana Sutra after 430, through the translation of Dharmakshema, Tao-Sheng was vindicated and praised for his insight. He remained in Lu-shan, composing his commentary on the Lotus Sutra in 432, until his death in 434

Tao-Sheng's exegesis of the Nirvana Sutra had an enormous influence on interpretations of the Buddha-nature in Chinese Buddhism that prepared the ground for the Chán school emerging in the 6th century.


  1. ^ Tanabe 1992, p. 351.
  2. ^ Lai 1991, p. 169.
  3. ^ Kim 1985, p. 38-39.
  4. ^ Kim 1985, p. 43.
  5. ^ Hsiang-Kuang 1956, p. 66.
  6. ^ Blum 2003, pp. 201-202.
  7. ^ Lai 1982 b, p. 135.


  • Blum, Mark (2003), Daosheng, in Buswell, Robert E.; ed. Encyclopedia of Buddhism, New York: Macmillan Reference Lib, pp. 201–202, ISBN 0028657187 
  • Hsiang-Kuang, Chou (1956), A History of Chinese Buddhism, Allahabad: Indo-Chinese Literature Publications 
  • Kim, Young-Ho (1985), Tao-Sheng's Commentary on the Lotus Sutra: A Study and Translation, dissertation, Albany, NY.: McMaster University .
  • Lai, Whalen W. (1982), "The Mahaparinirvana-Sutra and its earliest interpreters in China: two prefaces by Tao-lang and Tao-sheng", Journal of the American Oriental Society 102 (1), 99 - 105 
  • Lai, Whalen (1982 b), "Sinitic speculations on buddha-nature", Philosophy East and West 32 (2), 135-149  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Lai, Whalen (1991), Tao Sheng`s Theory of Sudden Enlightenment Re-examined. In: Peter N. Gregory, ed., Sudden and Gradual. Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, pp. 169–200 .
  • Tanabe, George J. (1992), "Review: Tao-sheng's Commentary on the Lotus Sutra: A Study and Translation, by Young-he Kim", Philosophy East and West 42 (2), 351-355 


  • Liebenthal, Walter (1955). A Biography of Chu Tao-Sheng, Monumenta Nipponica 11 (3), 284-316

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