Michael A. Karr Wins the Best Undergraduate Paper in Buddhist Studies for 2019–20, Tying with Vivek N. Tanna

photo of Michael Alexander Karr


"To See a World in a Grain of Sand: Self-reference and Chronology in the Lotus Sūtra"

In the Lotus Sūtra, the name of the text is in many instances referred to by Śākyamuni himself in the scripture. It is stated by Śākyamuni in his current delivering of the scripture, in Śākyamuni’s past seeking of the scripture from Devadatta, and the bodhisattvas’ future spreading of the scripture in their next lives. As such, the Lotus is able to define a full chronology of history relative to this telling of the sūtra. If a beginning and end of the text are explicitly defined, the internal logic of the Lotus Sūtra would collapse as the scripture would not be able to maintain its existence if not for its previous and future iterations. Furthermore, in treating the Lotus as a character in its own story, the reflexive nature of the text refers to its presence directly on Vulture Peak. This produces insight into the structure of the sūtra itself, and at the same time sheds light on the relationship between bodhisattvas and their respective chapters in the scripture. More broadly, this paper offers a close reading of the Lotus with regard to how the text is able to ground itself in an infinite timeline, and consequently, the implications of such grounding. Since some of the contents of the Lotus are references to the sūtra itself, an analysis through this lens could offer new insights into why the name of the sūtra alone can generate so much power for the follower. 

Michael is a graduate of the Class of 2020 with a Bachelors degree in Computer Science and minors in Economics and Religious Studies.