in the Family of the Sudra Caste
was born in a family of the lowest caste so he was destined
to be a slave. In ancient India, outcasts were not allowed
to receive education. Hence when Upali grew up, his parents
asked him to learn the skill of cutting hair to support
himself. Upali became the barber of the princes in the palace.
had His Hair Cut by Upali
Upali was twenty years old, Buddha returned to His hometown,
Kapilavatthu. Upali was recommended to do the haircut for
Buddha. The 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 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 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 Buddha again, "Lord Buddha,
what do you think of his skill now?"
breathes in too fast," replied Buddha.
Upali heard this, he concentrated his mind on breathing-in
and breathing-out. It was said that he attained the third
stage of meditation then.
mother asked the Buddha again, "What do you think now?"
breathes out too fast." replied the Buddha.
Upali was mindful of breathing in and out. It was said that
he attained the fourth stage of meditation. We 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. Prince
Aniruddha said to the other princes, "Dear brothers,
Upali has been serving us for years, he is very diligent
and honest. Here is a woolen blanket, throw all your jewelry
on it as we do not need them anymore and we can give them
the princes agreed to do so and they gave all their jewelry
to Upali. They asked Upali to return to the palace and they
went to see the Buddha.
Upali wanted to return to the palace, but he thought, "Even
noble princes are willing to forego the worldly pleasures,
a humble person like me should not remain in worldly life.
I too must enter the Order."
he hung all the jewellery and clothes on a tree and set
forth to find the Buddha, but he stopped when he thought
of his low background. He sat on the roadside and wept.
Suddenly, he heard someone asking him, "Why are you
raised his eyes and saw Sariputra. He wiped his eyes and
knelt before Sariputra, "Venerable sir, may I ask you,
can an outcast like me enter the Order?"
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 ordained."
followed Sariputra to see the Buddha. The Buddha said, "You
have a good nature and you will be able to propagate my
teachings in the future. The princes have also requested
to be ordained, but I want them to practice meditation for
seven days till they forget their noble status."
days later, the Buddha called the seven princes out. The
princes were surprised to see the ordained Upali.
said to all of them,"I ordained Upali before all of
you, hence all of you must pay respect to him."
the seven princes prostrated before Upali. Upali was deeply
moved by the kindness of the Buddha and he made a respectful
prostration to Him.
the Precepts Strictly
observed every rule set by the Buddha and he was pre-eminent
among those who knew the disciplinary rules by heart. However,
those who were careless in observed the rules saw Upali
as a thorn in their flesh. They even made things difficult
Buddha was very concerned and scolded him. He gathered the
people and told them the value of precepts. Buddha said
that one who observed the precepts was like a bright lamp.
Those with pure mind would like the brightness whereas those
with evil mind preferred darkness."The Buddha told
them that they should have respect for people, such as Upali,
who observed the precepts well.
in the First Great Council
was noted for his strict observance of the rules and disciplines.
Whenever the monks or nuns had any doubt of the rules and
disciples, they would consult Upali.
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. Lord Buddha had imparted the Fourteen Rules to
you and you are pre-eminent 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 in the Buddhist