Going from One Thing to the Next (法次法向 / dhammanudhamma)

While editing (once again) my translation of MĀ 1, I found myself wondering about a particular expression in Chinese, 法次法. After some text searching, it became clear that it’s parallel to dhammānudhamma when I look at other texts and their parallels. In MĀ, it’s led with the verb in active voice (or the more specific 趣向), and in SĀ the expression is usually in passive voice with following it. generally means a facing or heading in a given direction. In both cases, though, the whole verb phrase basically means “to go from (one) dharma to the next dharma” or simply “go from dharma to dharma.” The open question is what these dharmas are. In MĀ 1, it’s easy to read it as teachings, as in the sacred texts that are memorized. But as is often the case with dharma, other passages make this the less obvious choice.

When I looked at the English translation of 向法次法 by Analayo et al, I saw that they didn’t recognize the Indic parallel, or they chose to disregard it, for in both volumes of the BDK translation, they read it as two items. They render it as “progress in the Dharma, follow the Dharma” in Vol. I and more literally “keeps the direction of the Dharma, and progresses in step with the Dharma” in Vol. II.

I looked for the Sanskrit equivalent in Edgerton’s BHS Dictionary to see if there might be any clues in the more direct Skt parallels of the Agamas. Edgerton, however, seems to have been stumped himself by anudharma because of a lack of context. He writes:

anudharma (= Pali anudhamma).

Acc. to PTSD, Pali dhammānudhamma is used as a distributive or intensive cpd., see under 1 anu, the Law in all its parts; while Childers understands anudh° as lesser or inferior dhamma (against which see Lévi on Sūtrāl. xiii.1 comm.). Acc. to CPD anudhamma means (right) method and is a ‘hypostasis of anu-dhammaṃ’ (adv., in accordance with dhamma).

In BHS (as also in Pali, e.g. Dhp. 20) there is some evidence suggesting that dharmānudharma is equivalent to dharmasya anu°, perhaps the true method of the law or the like:

Bbh 284.1 na pratipadyante dharmasyānudharmam, they do not attain (? practise) the anudh° of the dh°;

197.16 dharmasyānudharmaṃ pratipadyamānasya (sc. Bodhisattvasya; not agreeing with dharmasya, which
depends on anudh°);

Gv 383.5 dharmasya cānudharmaṃ pratipadye, and I attain (? practise) the anudh° of the dh°. Without dharma in the context, we find anudharma-cārin Divy 617.16 (°riṇī, f.), anudharma-praticārin Mvy 1123 (°rī).

So we should probably interpret all cpds. of dharmānudharma-, which usually parallel the like cpds. in Pali: dharmānudharma-cārin Dbh 32.21; °rma-pratipatti. attainment (? practice) of the anudh° of the dh° Mvy 1801 (mss. erroneously omit dharma after anu; em. Kyoto ed.); Dbh 33.29; Bbh 204.7; KP 9.2; LV 32.16; °rmapratipanna Bbh 84.4; LV 179.12; 377.14; Mvy 1124. In Mvy 9321 are mentioned ṣaḍ anudharmāh, after 9320 ṣaḍ dharmāh; so also Bhīk 16b.4 ṣaṭsu dharmeṣu ṣaṭsvanudharmeṣu śikṣā; in neither place do I find any clue to what the six anudharma (or dharma) are. I have not noted any adv. anudharmaṃ (parallel to Pali anudhammaṃ).

Basically, he goes by the Pali readings lacking any solid context in Sanskrit texts that mirror the Pali. Which doesn’t help me, because the Chinese translation doesn’t agree with those readings. Indeed, 向法次法 often is paired with Chinese expressions that mean “to accord with the Dharma” such as in MĀ 1:

謂聞法觀義人復有二種,有知法、知義、向法次法、隨順於法、如法行之 … [T26.421c21]

Also, there are two kinds of people who listen to the teaching and contemplate its meaning: those who know the teaching, know its meaning, go from one dharma to the next dharma, conform to the teaching, and practice according to the teaching …

This makes it more than a little bit of a stretch to read 向法次法 as simply to practice in accordance with the teaching. It could certainly be a functional synonym, but the expression just doesn’t mean that literally.

The first and last way to deciphering these problems is actual readings that offer context or direct glosses of the terms involved. It so happens that there are sutra glosses in SĀ and in Pali sources.

SĀ 27 is a classic gloss sutra for this expression:

[5c21] 爾時,有異比丘來詣佛所,頭面作禮,却住一面,白佛言:「如世尊說法次法向,云何法次法向?」
[0005c23] 佛告比丘:「善哉!善哉!汝今欲知法次法向耶?」
[0005c24] 比丘白佛:「唯然,世尊!」
[0005c24] 佛告比丘:「諦聽,善思,當為汝說。比丘!於色向厭、離欲、滅盡,是名法次法向;如是受、想、行、識,於識向厭、離欲、滅盡,是名法次法向。」

Then a certain monk came to the Buddha … and said, “The Bhagavan says ‘go from one dharma to the next dharma.’ What’s going from one dharma to the next dharma?”

The Buddha told him, “Good, good! Now you want to know about going from one dharma to the next dharma?”

The monk replied, “Yes, Bhagavān!”

The Buddha told him, “Listen closely and well consider it; I’ll explain it for you. Monk, when you head for disillusionment, dispassion, and complete cessation of form, that’s called going from one dharma to the next dharma. Thus, when you head for disillusionment, dispassion, and complete cessation of feeling … perception … volition … consciousness, that’s called going from one dharma to the next dharma.”

Ah! Here, we have a sequence of dharmas: disillusionment, dispassion, and cessation. They aren’t teachings, though. Instead, they are states of mind that are steps towards attaining nirvana.

This sutra has parallels at SN 22.39-41. It’s not exactly the same sequence that’s presented, but it begins with disillusionment and ends with liberation, and the one presented in SĀ 27 is well-known in EBTs.

SĀ 364 is another gloss sutra that presents the same definition as SĀ 27, applied to the chain of dependent origination instead of the five aggregates:

[0100c16] 爾時,世尊告諸比丘:「謂法次法向。諸比丘!云何名為法次法向?」
[0100c17] 諸比丘白佛:「世尊是法根、法眼、法依。善哉!世尊!唯願為說,諸比丘聞已,當受奉行。」
[0100c20] 佛告諸比丘:「若比丘於老、病、死,生厭、離欲、滅盡向,是名法次法向。如是生,乃至行,生厭、離欲、滅盡向,是名法次法向。諸比丘!是名如來施設法次法向。」

It was then that the Bhagavān addressed the monks, “There’s the saying ‘go from one dharma to the next dharma.’ Monks, what’s called going from one dharma to the next dharma?”

The monks said, “The Bhagavān is the Dharma root, the Dharma eye, and basis of the Dharma. It’s be excellent, Bhagavān; please explain it. Once the monks have heard it, they’ll accept and approve of it.”

The Buddha told the monks, “If a monk heads for becoming disillusioned, dispassionate, and complete cessation of old age, illness, and death, that’s called going from one dharma to the next. Thus, heading for becoming disillusioned, dispassionate, and complete cessation of birth … activity is called going from one dharma to the next dharma. Monks, this is called the Tathāgata’s definition of ‘going from one dharma to the next dharma.’”

This sutra is parallel to a passage in SN 12.16 that gives this same definition for a monk who dhammānudhammappaṭipanno.

There are a couple other notable sutras in SĀ (SĀ 843 = SN 55.5 and SĀ 929 = AN 8.25) that don’t give us direct glosses but indicate that 法次法向 describes the step-by-step process of becoming liberated after understanding the teaching.

When we look at it through the lens of Chinese Agama translation, it would appear that anudharma is not mysterious in meaning; it simply means “consecutive dharmas,” which is a reading for anu- with nouns. However, I’d argue that the dharmas are consecutive mental states that lead to final liberation, such as disillusionment, dispassion, and cessation, and not the teachings that are memorized.