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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 around 384-417 at Chang'an. 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 Dotokyu-kyo (Tao-te ching), 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]

Seng-Chao (also known as Sojo) was recognized as a 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]

One of the literary works attributed to him by Zenkei Shibayama, Hozo-ron, contains a chapter on a specific distinction which holds between “ri” ( silence, entering, negation, oneness, fundamental equality), or ‘separateness’, and “bi” (speaking, emerging, affirmation, differentiation, phenomenon), or ‘subtle’. This formulation is part of the Zen Koan Abandon Words and Speaking in the Mummonkan:

“A monk once asked Master Fuketsu, “Both speaking and silence are concerned with ri-bi relativity. How can we be free and nontransgressing?”

Master Fuketsu replied: “How fondly I remember Konan in March! The partridges are calling, and the flowers are fragrant.”[3]

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 under the name Zhao Lun, which was translated into English as The Book of Chao by Walter Liebenthal.[5]


  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. ^ a b Shibayama, Zenkei (2000). The Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mummonkon. Shambhala. pp. 176–177. ISBN 1-57062-726-6. 
  4. ^ "Sengzhao (Seng-Chao) | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 2017-02-09. 
  5. ^ 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[edit]

  • Robinson, Richard H. (Oct. 1958 - Jan. 1959). Mysticism and Logic in Seng-Chao's Thought, Philosophy East and West 8 (3/4), 99-120

External links[edit]

  • Sengzhao, by Jeffrey Dippmann, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy