In this article, I consult commentarial and bibliographical texts from the early Tang dynasty to better understand the history of the Heart Sutra. As in a palimpsest, there appears to be another, earlier his- tory partially preserved beneath the text of the received history. This early layer says that the Heart Sutra was composed in China, prob- ably by Xuanzang. He combined a selection of popular extracts from the Large Prajñāpāramitā sūtra with a dhāraṇī to produce a “condensed sutra.” Even before the death of Xuanzang, this earlier history was being effaced and replaced by elements of the received history. It appears that both the Sanskrit text and the translation attributed to Kumārajīva were knowing forgeries produced to make the new his- tory plausible.
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 regard- ing 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.