In ancient daoism, we see both 圣人 and 神人.

The first appears frequently in Dao De Jing, being translated as sage, saint, wise or sensible person.

The second appears in Zhuangzi (4.6), being translated as "spiritual person".

Maybe both have the same meaning?

2 Answers 2


Let's look at some references to the two to see the difference. Here's an early reference from Zhuangzi, Chapter 1, 内篇:


Or in translation:

The perfect man is without self, the holy man is without achievement, the sage is without name.

To quote from Baidu:


To paraphrase:

The early Daoist text Taiping Jing classifies various beings into 6 classes: First is the holy man...5th the sage. The holy man holds up the heavens...the sage holds up the common people.

It's a difference in scope and the initial state of being. The 神人 is a being who is born perfect. They don't need to achieve anything to reach the Dao. The 圣人 is someone who worked to achieve the Dao. They are a person who can help others.

  • Thanks for the answer, Ringil. But don't you think that later daoist texts create a mysticism (immortality, etc) that was not present in the first ones (Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi)?
    – Rodrigo
    Jun 29, 2015 at 14:51
  • 1
    Sure somewhat, but it's generally kinda pointless to just look at old texts without any annotations, whether they be from later in Chinese history or more modern. That said, you might find this more interesting: ruiwen.com/news/47521.htm
    – Ringil
    Jun 30, 2015 at 0:30

In my opinion, Daoist texts tend to use 圣人, 神人, and sometimes also 至人 interchangeably to refer to a person who has understood Dao. Example: 至人无己,神人无功,圣人无名。(《庄子》)

If you have to differentiate them, 圣人 is a person of perfect moral character and learning, and 神人, literally an immortal, is a person who has become free from worldly cares through understanding Dao. However I don't think such differentiation is generally necessary when studying Daoist philosophy, and possibly not intended by the philosophers when writing.

  • Thanks for your observations. I'm thinking of how to translate them.
    – Rodrigo
    Jun 27, 2015 at 0:17
  • @Rodrigo I think the exact translation (I think you mean to English?) depends on the context. I think "sage" is a suitable translation for 圣人 in most cases. Could you please post the excerpt in Zhuangzi 4.6 you mentioned? I'm not quite familiar with the standard numbering of passages in Zhuangzi, and I think 神人 appears quite often in Zhuangzi as well. Is it "子綦曰:「此果不材之木也,以至於此其大也!嗟乎神人,以此不材!」"?
    – tvk
    Jun 29, 2015 at 0:21
  • Yes, it's exactly this part you quoted. And also in the end of that passage: 此乃神人之所以為大祥也。I'm translating to portuguese, but english will do as well. I prefer to translate 圣人 as "sensible (or reasonable) person", "pessoa sensata" in portuguese, to avoid conflicts with the critique of knowledge so fundamental on daoism.
    – Rodrigo
    Jun 29, 2015 at 14:35
  • @Rodrigo I think "spiritual person" is fine. But I think "神人" in these places conveys a kind of clairvoyance or exceptional wisdom. Maybe "sage" or "saint" work as well?
    – tvk
    Jun 30, 2015 at 0:59
  • I don't like "sage" because it gives the idea of accumulation of knowledge, what is not the point here. And I don't like "saint" either, because it's been overused by monotheistic religions, and I prefer avoid contamination. Now if 神人 should be different from 圣人, I don't know. I'm going to do my translation using different words, but I'll explain in the notes that they all probably refer to the same thing.
    – Rodrigo
    Jun 30, 2015 at 1:24

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