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Buddhist-Taoist rivalry and the evolution of the story of Lü Dongbin’s slaying the Yellow Dragon with a flying sword

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Going through the evolution of the body of stories about Lü Dongbin’s slaying the Yellow Dragon with a flying sword from a perspective combining the history of religion and the history of literature, this paper suggests that those stories are religious myths constructed during the prolonged rivalry between Buddhism and Taoism, and that they reflect not only the inherent conflict between the Zen theory of mind and spiritual nature (xinxing) and the theory of the integrated cultivation of spiritual nature and bodily life (xingming shuangxiu) of the “interior elixir” (neidan) school of Taoism, but also the changes in Taoist theory of alchemy and in the discourse of Buddhism and Taoism. For Taoism, the meaning of the story eventually changed from cultivation in seclusion (qingxiu) to cooperative cultivation between men and women with sexual intercourse (nannü shuangxiu), and the meaning was gradually secularized as the religious backdrop of the story faded. Meanwhile, such conflict and changes not only furnished basic themes and materials for literature, but, more importantly, provided literature with means of expression, figures of speech, and power of literary construction.


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