Born in the Family of
the Sudra Caste
was born in a family of the Sudra caste so he was destined
to be a slave. In ancient India, outcasts led a dog's life.
An outcasts must kneel aside if he happened to see the Brahmin
or Ksatriya on the road. He must not peep at them, otherwise
his eyes would be dug out. If he argued with the Brahmin
or ksatriya, his tongue would be cut off.
was not allowed to receive education and hence when Upali
grew up, his parents asked him to learn the skill of hair
cutting to support himself. Upali was attentive and obedient
hence he mastered all types of cutting in a short period.
Then his parents asked someone to help arrange Upali to
the palace and Upali became the barber of the princes.
such as Prince Bhaddiya and Prince Aniruddha had their hair
cut by Upali. They liked Upali as he handled their hair
with extra care.
had His Hair Cut by Upali
Upali was twenty years old, Buddha returned to His hometown,
Kapilavatthu. That was three years after the Buddha attained
was recommended to do the haircut for Buddha. He was overwhelmed
by the unexpected favor but hesitated to accept the honor
as he knew the Buddha was the Great Enlightened One and
He possessed thirty-two Marks of the Saint. So he asked
for his mother's advice.
mother comforted him and said that the Buddha was benevolent
and He would not despise outcaste. But Upali was still afraid
of going despite his mother's assurance. His mother could
not do anything but accompanied him to do the haircut for
next day, Upali, in the company of his mother, did the haircut
for Buddha. After a while, his mother knelt before Buddha
and asked, "Lord Buddha, what do you think of his skill?"
bows too low, "replied the Buddha.
straightened his back when he heard this. It was said that
he attained the first stage of meditation.
a while, his mother knelt down and asked,"Lord Buddha,
what do you think now?"
body seems to be too straight," replied the Buddha.
Upali heard this, he concentrated his attention and it was
said that he attained the second stage of meditation then.
a while, his mother asked the Buddha again, "Lord Buddha,
what do you think of his skill now?"
"He breathes in too fast," replied Buddha.
Upali heard this, he concentrated his mind on breathe-in
and breathe-out. It was said that he attained the third
stage of meditation then.
mother asked Buddha again, "What do you think now?"
breathes out too fast." replied the Buddha.
Upali was mindful of breathing in and out and he did not
know what he was holding a razor. It was said that he attained
the fourth stage of meditation.
the instance, the Buddha asked the Brethren to prop up Upali
so that he would not fall down.
could learn from here that Upali was very attentive in his
work. He was strict with himself and could listen to people's
criticisms with an open mind. Hence he was pre-eminent among
those who knew the disciplinary rules by heart.
the Elder of the Princes
Buddha returned to His hometown, many princes decided to
enter the Order after listening to his preaching. For instance,
Prince Bhaddiya, Prince Ananda, Prince Aniruddha and the
other four princes. They brought Upali along so that he
could give the tonsure to them. Upali shed tears while giving
the tonsure to Prince Bhaddiya. Aniruddha was displeased
and said, "You ought to be pleased to see us entering
the Order. Why do you cry?"
replied, "Prince Aniruddha, pardon me for being impolite.
Prince Bhaddiya is very kind to me and I just simply could
not bear leaving him."
felt pity for him and said to the other princes,"Dear
brothers, Upali has been serving us for years, he is very
diligent and honest. We must help him. Here is a woolen
blanket, throw all your jewelry on it as we do not need
the princes agreed to do so and they save all their jewelry
to Upali. They asked Upali to return to Kapilavatthu and
they went to see Buddha.
first, Upali wanted to return to Kapilavatthu, but on second
though, he knew the imperial family would kill him, as he
did not inform them of the princes' decision to renounce
the world. Moreover, he thought,"Even noble princes
are willing to forgo the worldly pleasures, a humble person
like me should not remain in world life. I too must enter
he hung all the jewelry and clothes on a tree and set forth
to the direction where Buddha dwelled.
he stopped when he thought of his lowly background. He sat
on the roadside and wept. Suddenly, he heard someone asking
him,"Why are you so sad?"
raised his eyes and saw Sariputra. He wiped his eyes and
knelt before Sariputra, "Venerable sir, you are the
chief disciple of Lord Buddha. I heard your name when you
accompanied Buddha to the palace, may I ask you, can an
outcaste like me enter the Order?"
is your name?" asked Sariputra.
name is Upali."
reminded Sariputra of a barber entering the fourth stage
of meditation while doing the haircut for Buddha. This man
must be the barber. So Sariputra said to Upali, "Anyone
can become Buddha's disciple if he observes the precepts.
Come with me, Buddha will definitely be glad to have you
followed Sariputra to see Buddha. Buddha gave the tonsure
to him and said, "You have a good nature and you will
be able to propagate my teachings in the future. Prince
Bhaddiya and the other princes have requested to be ordained
before you. But I want them to practice meditation for seven
days till they forget their noble status, I will then give
tonsure to them."
days later, Buddha called the seven princes out to meet
the Brethren. The princes were surprised to see Upali and
did not know how to address him.
said to all of them: "I ordained Upali before all of
you, hence all of you must pay obeisance to him."
the seven princes paid obeisance to Upali. Upali was deeply
moved by the kindness of Buddha and he made a respectful
obeisance to Him.
of the Past Life
attained enlightenment on the same year that he was ordained.
He became the chief disciple of the Buddha and everyone
was shocked by his attainment. Hence Buddha told the Brethren
the story of Upali's past life:
there were two good friends who were poor but kind and always
gave alms. One of them was reborn as a king and the other
reborn in a noted Brahmin family. The Brahmin married a
lovely lady and loved her deeply. Due to some misunderstanding,
his wife quarreled with him and did not want to talk to
him for quite a long time. One day, his wife asked him to
buy some flowers to decorate their house. He was overjoyed
to gain back his wife so he sang love-songs on his way home.
that time, the king was admiring the view in the palace
and he heard the singing of the happy Brahmin. The king
sent for the Brahmin and both of them, became good friends.
king trusted the Brahmin greatly and the Brahmin became
an influential person in the country. He became so famous
that the people of that country regarded him as king. But
the Brahmin was not contented, he thought of assassinating
the king and seizing the throne. But he finally realized
his mistakes and repented before the king. Though he was
forgiven, he decided to renounce the world. Not long after
he renounced the world, he attained miraculous power.
that time, there was a barber in the palace. When he heard
about the story of the Brahmin from the king, he too vowed
to renounce the world and became the disciple of the Brahmin,
who was now a saint. The barber too attained miraculous
the Brahmin and the barber had attained the state of sainthood,
hence one day, when the king paid a visit to the Brahmin,
after paying obeisance to the Brahmin, he too made an obeisance
to the barber.
Buddha finished this story, he identified the Birth, "
In those days, the Brahmin was me and Upali was the barber."
This story has a profound implication: the craving for power
will blind man. Buddha too had this craving in His past
observed every rule set by Buddha and he was preeminent
among those who knew the disciplinary rules by heart.
those who were careless in the observance of the rules saw
Upali as a thorn in their flesh. They even deliberately
made things difficult for him.
while Upali was expounding the Teachings of the Buddha in
a certain place, the Brethren shut their door against him.
Upali even got a scolding from a nun. She scolded him by
saying, "You are a troublemaker, you always ask the
Buddha what we should do and what we should not do. You
are making things difficult for us."
ignored her scolding. But the Buddha was very concerned
for him. Whenever the Buddha saw the Brethren who were back
from preaching, He would ask them, "Have you seen Upali?"
did people treat him?"
some did not show respect for him and did not give him enough
offerings. Some Brethren did not want to see him and some
nuns even scolded him."
Buddha was surprised to hear that.
they felt restrained with him."
Buddha was displeased to hear that and He gathered all the
Brethren and told them about the value of precepts. The
Buddha said that one who observed the training rules was
like a bright lamp. Those with pure mind would like the
brightness whereas those with evil mind preferred darkness.
the Buddha sent for those Brethren and nuns who disrespected
Upali. When they arrived, Buddha asked them, "I heard
that you shut your door against Upali and even scolded him.
Is it true?"
dare not lie and admitted their misdeeds.
excoriated them by saying, "How ignorant you are. Besides
the observer of precepts, who else deserved to be respected?
Precept is the foundation of Truth, showing no respect for
the Brethren who observe the precepts means you have the
intention to violating the Truth."
Buddha About Precepts
often discussed the precepts of the Brethren with the Buddha,
as is shown in the Sutras. I am going to extract some to
Kapilavatthu, there was a written rule for the Sakya clan,
saying that girls of the clan are not allowed to marry to
the other clan, otherwise, she would be severely punished.
that time, there was a young woman whose husband had just
passed away. A young woman like her was naturally the focus
of many young men's attention. This young widow showed interest
in someone but her brother-in-law was interested in her.
When she turned down his proposal, he was very angry and
vowed to put her to death.
he put a drug in the wine he gave her. The young widow drank
it and was drunk. Her brother-in-law beats her and later
reported to the government, saying, " She is my wife
but she had intimacy with a man from other clan."
young widow knew she would be executed so she escaped. She
came to Sravasti and became a nun.
the government knew that this young widow was in Sravasti,
they wrote a letter to the king of Sravasti requesting him
to have the woman arrested and sent to Kapilavatthu.
king, after receiving this letter, asked his ministers whether
it was true that the young widow came to Sravasti.
ministers replied, "This young widow had escaped to
our country but she is now a nun. You had set up a rule
that anyone who offended the Brethren and nuns would be
severely punished. She is a nun now and no one dares to
offend her. So what should we do?"
careful consideration, the king wrote a letter to the government
of Kapilavatthu saying that the young widow has become a
nun and according to their rule, nuns could be exempted
government of Kapilavatthu was indignant. When Upali came
to know about it, he asked Buddha, "Lord Buddha, can
we ordain one who had violated the law?"
the government acquits her, we should not ordain her,"
the Buddha knowing the young widow has innocent of the crime,
did not release her, but at the same time saying that the
Sangha cannot be used as a refuge for people to escape justice.
Proper Way of Looking after the Health of the Elders
Upali asked the Buddha, "Lord Buddha, what is the proper
way of looking after the elders when they are sick?"
replied,"If the elder falls ill, you must transfer
him to a big room. His disciples must attend to him day
and night. They must help him tidy the room, arrange flowers
and burn incense. If other Brethren come to visit the patient,
the disciples must serve them food and drinks. If the patient
is unable to answer the visitors, the disciples must answer
them on his behalf. The Brethren must take the opportunity
to expound the teachings of Buddha when they pay a visit
to the patient. They must help the patient do everything
and provide him food, drinks and medicine. If the devotees
visit the elder, the elder must expound the teachings of
Buddha. If they make offerings to him, he must bless them
and receive it. If the patient wants to relieve nature,
the visitors must leave the room. There must be a person
to stand by the doorway to receive the visitors.
Buddha, what is the proper way of looking after the health
of the younger Sangha?" Upali asked the Buddha.
the younger falls ill, he must not lie on a unsuitable place.
His room must be kept clean. His elders and disciples must
visit him. It he does not have elders and disciples, the
Brethren who live with him must ask someone to visit him.
The number of visitors must not exceed three. The visitors
must attend to the patient if he wants food and medicine.
If the patient does not have food and medicine, the Brethren
must supply him. If the Brethren do not have these, they
must sell the patient's robes and bowls to exchange for
food and medicine. If the patient is unwilling to sell his
things, they must inform the elder. The elder must enlighten
him and try to straighten him. If he is willing to sell
his things but unable to find a buyer, the Brethren must
go begging to help him. If they could not beg anything they
must pick the good food from their daily diet to supply
the patient. If they are unable to get good food from their
daily diet, they must go begging and provide him the good
food they beg."
asking the proper way of inquiring the health of the Brethren,
Upali even asked Buddha about the proper way of handling
things left behind by the deceased Brethren. Upali showed
every concern for the sick Brethren.
in the First Great Council
was noted for his strict observance of rules and disciplines.
Whenever the monks or nuns had any doubt of the rules and
disciples, they would consult Upali.
the Buddha entered Nirvana, Upali was in his seventies.
In the First Great Council, he was selected to summarize
the Rules of the Order. He humbly declined the offer but
Venerable Maha Kassapa insisted that he must participate
in the Council. He said to Upali, "Venerable Upali,
please do not decline our offer. The Buddha had imparted
the Fourteen Rules to you and you are preeminent among those
who know the disciplinary rules by heart. Please recite
the Rules of the Order now."
accepted the offer. When he recited the Rules of the Order,
he was able to say out when, where, to whom and why the
rules were set. His good memory was greatly admired by all
was an outcaste, but he enjoyed high prestige in the community
of monks. He success was a stimulus to people in distress.
His success symbolized the glory of equality that shines