Buddhist Tales of Lü Dongbin


In: T'oung Pao

During the early thirteenth century, a story began to appear within texts associated with the Chan 禪 Buddhist movement, which portrays an encounter between the eminent transcendent Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 and the Chan monk Huanglong Huiji 黃龍誨機 that results in Lü abandoning his alchemical techniques of self-cultivation and taking up the practice of Chan. This article traces the development of this tale across a number of Buddhist sources of the late imperial period, and also examines the ways in which later Buddhist and Daoist authors understood the story and utilized it in advancing their own polemical claims.


Au début du treizième siècle apparaît dans les textes du bouddhisme Chan un récit qui met en scène une rencontre entre le célèbre immortel Lü Dongbin et le moine Chan Huanglong Huiji. Au terme de cette rencontre, Lü abandonne ses pratiques alchimiques de perfectionnement de soi et adopte celle de la méditation Chan. Le présent article retrace le développement de ce thème narratif au travers des sources bouddhiques de la fin de l’époque impériale, et examine la manière dont des auteurs bouddhistes et taoïstes ont compris le récit et l’ont manipulé en fonction de leurs propres objectifs polémiques.


  • 1

     See T. Griffith Foulk, “Controversies Concerning the ‘Separate Transmission’ of Ch’an,” in Buddhism in the Sung, ed. Peter N. Gregory and Daniel A. Getz, Jr. (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 2002), 220-94.

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  • 4

     See Farzeen Baldrian-Hussein, “Alchemy and Self-Cultivation in Literary Circles of the Northern Song Dynasty: Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101) and his Techniques of Survival,” Cahiers d’Extrême Asie 9 (1996-1997): 15-53; Mark Halperin, Out of the Cloister: Literati Perspectives on Buddhism in Sung China, 960-1279 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Asia Center, 2006).

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  • 5

     Joshua Capitanio, “Portrayals of Chan Buddhism in the Literature of Internal Alchemy,” Journal of Chinese Religions, 43.2 (2015): 1-42.

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  • 7

     See Isabelle Ang, “Le culte de Lü Dongbin des origines jusqu’au début du XIVe siècle: Ca­­ractéristiques et transformations d’un Saint Immortel dans la Chine pré-moderne” (Ph.D. thesis, Univ. of Paris VII, 1993); Farzeen Baldrian-Hussein, “Lü Tung-pin in Northern Sung Literature,” Cahiers d’Extrême Asie 2 (1986): 133-69; Katz, “Enlightened Alchemist or Immoral Immortal?”, 70-104; idem, Images of the Immortal: The Cult of Lü Dongbin at the Palace of Eternal Joy (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 1999); Stephen Eskildsen, “Do Immortals Kill? The Controversy Surrounding Lü Dongbin,” Journal of Daoist Studies 1 (2008): 28-66; Guo Jian 郭健, “‘Lü Chunyang feijian zhan Huanglong’ gushi tanyuan” 呂純陽飛劍斬黃龍故事探源, Ming-Qing xiaoshuo yanjiu 明清小說研究 108 (2013): 216-22.

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  • 22

     John R. McRae, Seeing Through Zen (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2003), 77-78.

  • 23

     McRae, “The Antecedents of Encounter Dialogue in Chinese Ch’an Buddhism,” in The Kōan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism, ed. Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), 46-74.

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  • 24

     Ang, “Le culte de Lü Dongbin,” 480-82; Baldrian-Hussein, “Lü Tung-Pin in Northern Sung Literature,” 137-39.

  • 25

     Baldrian-Hussein, “Lü Tung-Pin in Northern Sung Literature,” 138.

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     Baldrian-Hussein, “Lü Tung-Pin in Northern Sung Literature,” 139-40.

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     Baldrian-Hussein, “Lü Tung-Pin in Northern Sung Literature,” 141-44; Eskildsen, “Do Immortals Kill?,” 45-51.

  • 29

     Eskildsen, “Do Immortals Kill?,” 51-59; see also Robert F. Campany, “The Sword Scripture: Recovering and Interpreting a Lost Fourth-Century Daoist Method for Cheating Death,” Daoism: Religion, History and Society 6 (2014): 33-84.

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  • 30

     Baldrian-Hussein, “Lü Tung-Pin in Northern Sung Literature,” 145-47.

  • 36

     Baldrian-Hussein, “Lü Tung-Pin in Northern Sung Literature,” 149. On Lin Lingsu and Huizong’s anti-Buddhist policies, see Michel Strickmann, “The Longest Taoist Scripture,” History of Religions 17.3-4 (1978): 331-54.

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  • 37

     Guo Jian, “’Lü Chunyang feijian zhan Huanglong’ gushi tanyuan,” 218.

  • 69

     X76, no. 1517, p. 214b17-c7.

  • 70

     Wu, “Fo Dao zhengheng,” 101.

  • 72

     On these issues, see Anning Jing, “Buddhist-Daoist Struggle and a Pair of ‘Daoist’ Murals,” Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 66 (1994): 119-81. For more on huahu, see Anna Seidel, “Le Sūtra merveilleux du Ling-pao Suprême, traitant de Lao tseu qui convertit les barbares (le manuscript S. 2081) – Contribution à l’étude du Bouddho-taoïsme des Six Dynasties,” in Contributions aux études de Touen-houang, vol. 3, ed. Michel Soymié (Paris: Publications de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, 1984), 305-352.

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  • 82

     Wu, “Fo Dao zhengheng,” 101-9; Eskildsen, “Do Immmortals Kill?,” 36-45.

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     Gu, Wanli Cangzhou zhi, 66.

  • 92

     Sun, Xiaoshuo pangzheng, 179.

  • 93

     Sun, Xiaoshuo pangzheng, 179.

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     Campany, Signs from the Unseen Realm: Buddhist Miracle Tales from Early Medieval China (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 2012), 30. For more on the notion of cultural repertoires, see Ann Swidler, “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies,” American Sociological Review 51.2 (1986): 273-86.

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  • 102

     Campany, Signs from the Unseen Realm, 38.

  • 110

     Shao, Lüzu quanshu, 61.21b-22a.

  • 114

     Duara, “Superscribing Symbols,” 780.

  • 115

     See T. Griffith Foulk, “Myth, Ritual, and Monastic Practice in Sung Ch’an Buddhism,” in Religion and Society in T’ang and Sung China, ed. Patricia Buckley Ebrey and Peter N. Gregory (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 1993), 147-208.

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  • 117

     Mollier, Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face: Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic Exchange in Medieval China (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai’i Press, 2008).

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  • 119

     Campany, Signs from the Unseen Realm, 38-39.

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