Why do stories of past lives and visions of the future play such a central role in many Mahāyāna sūtras? In this presentation, I explore how attending to the narrative and performative orchestration of time in the sūtras can enhance our understanding of their promises to transform the present lives of their listeners, readers, and reciters. This exploration also offers fresh perspectives on the ways in which contemporary approaches to narrating the past and the future may offer comparable, if also quite different, resources for altering the present.
Natalie Gummer, who received her PhD in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University, is Professor of Religious Studies at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. Her research examines textual practices in premodern Mahāyāna Buddhist literary cultures and their potential value in contemporary ethical and philosophical debates. She is editor of The Language of the Sūtras: Essays in Honor of Luis Gómez and is currently completing a book on performativity and embodiment in Mahāyāna sūtras.