Religions (Jun 2021)

The Multiple Dialectics of a Text and Author—A Study on Seng Zhao’s <i>Non-Complete Emptiness</i> (<i>Bu zhenkong lun</i>)

  • Kai Shmushko

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 7
p. 462


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In discussing the arrival of Buddhism to China, Erik Zürcher describes the meeting of “a jungle of Buddhist metaphysics” with other local philosophies and practices. This period was a transformative encounter with wide-ranging ramifications, including for textual traditions. Non-complete Emptiness (Bu zhenkong lun 不真空論), written by Seng Zhao 僧肇, is one product of this encounter. While explaining the principle of emptiness, Non-complete Emptiness incorporates Daoist and Confucian terminologies and elements. Nevertheless, the text is considered formative for the development of Buddhist writing and practice during the critical period of Buddhism’s assimilation into China in the third to fifth centuries AD. This study of Non-complete Emptiness looks at the philosophical and cultural relevance of the text. It suggests a methodological solution to some of the tensions that have arisen from Seng Zhao’s notion of emptiness. The article begins by looking into the historical and hermeneutical tendencies in the scholarship of Non-complete Emptiness. The following section provides a textual and cultural analysis of the text and its author, viewing the sage as an “open entity”, to understand Seng Zhao’s idea of emptiness. This analysis suggests that a multiple dialectic approach should be followed to improve the understanding of the text’s Buddhist message and Seng Zhao’s position as a scholar-monk in medieval China.