Self-Referential Passages in Mahāyāna Sutra Literature

This study explores self-referential passages in Mahāyāna sutra literature. It argues that these passages serve to mediate a reader or listener’s approach to a text in much the same manner as paratexts mediate one’s approach to a text through external or adjacent devices such as commentaries; these passages, rather than being paratextual and outside of a text, are rather within the body of the text itself. This study explicates the types of self-referential passages in Mahāyāna literature, including encouragement to practice and propagate the text; turning it into a book; preserving the text; statements regarding the text’s benefits; identification of the text with other qualities or principles; the qualifications required for obtaining the text; and passages for the entrustment of the text. After noting the relative absence of such passages outside of Mahāyāna literature, it is argued that such passages reveal that for some of the adherents of the disparate early Mahāyāna, textuality was a medium of unprecedented value and utility in promoting novel texts and doctrines.

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