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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas


[228] At the top, Beggars, of those of my Beggars who carries on the Rules (vinayadharanam) is Upali.


(DPPN: One of the most eminent of the Buddha's immediate disciples. He belonged to a barber's family in Kapilavatthu and entered the service of the Sakyan princes. When Anuruddha and his cousins left the world and sought ordination from the Buddha at Anupiya Grove, Upali accompanied them. They gave him all their valuable ornaments, but, on further consideration, he refused to accept them and wished to become a monk with them. The reason given for his refusal is that he knew the Sakyans were hot-headed, and feared that the kinsmen of the princes might suspect him of having murdered the young men for the sake of their belongings.

At the request of the Sakyan youths, the Buddha ordained Upali before them all, so that their pride might be humbled.. . When Upali went to the Buddha for an exercise for meditation, he asked that he might be allowed to dwell in the forest. But the Buddha would not agree, for if Upali went into the forest he would learn only meditation, while, if he remained amongst men, he would have knowledge both of meditation and of the word of the Dhamma. Upali accepted the Buddha's advice and, practicing insight, in due course won arahantship. The Buddha himself taught Upali the whole of the Vinaya Pitaka.

In the assembly of the Saṅgha, the Buddha declared him to be the most proficient of those who were learned in the Vinaya (vinayadharanam). He is often spoken of as having reached the pinnacle of the Vinaya, or as being its chief repository ... In the Rajagaha council, Upali took a leading part, deciding all the questions relative to the Vinaya, in the same way as Ananda decided questions regarding the Dhamma.

It is said that even in the Buddha's lifetime monks considered it a great privilege to learn the Vinaya under Upali. The monks seem to have regarded Upali as their particular friend, to whom they could go in their difficulties.

The canon contains but few records of any discourses connected with Upali, apart from his questions on the Vinaya. In the Anguttara Nikaya (A.iv.143) he is mentioned as asking the Buddha for a brief sermon, the Buddha telling him that if there were anything that did not conduce to revulsion and detachment, Upali could be sure that such things did not form part of the Buddha's teaching. There is a record of another sermon which the Buddha is stated to have preached when Upali expressed the desire to retire into the solitude of the forest. The Buddha tells him that forest-life is not for the man who has not mastered his mind or attained to tranquillity.

From the Psalms:

He who for faith's sake hath renounced the world,
And stands a novice in the Order new,
Friends let him choose of noble character,
Pure in their lives, of zeal unfaltering.
He who for faith's sake hath renounced the world,
And stands a novice in the Order new,
Among the Order let that bhikkhu dwell,
And wisely learn its code of discipline.
He who for faith's sake hath renounced the world,
And stands a novice in the Order new,
Skilled in what should be done, or left undone,
Let him uncompanied hold on his way.

From: PTS, Hare, trans., The Book of the Gradual Sayings, IV: The Book of the Sevens: VIII: The Discipline, ix(#79).

The message

Now the venerable Upali came to the Exalted One, saluted and sat down at one side. So seated, he said: "Well were it for me, lord, if the Exalted One were to expound Dhamma briefly to me, so that, having heard it, I might abide resolute, alone, secluded, earnest and zealous.'

'The doctrines, Upali, of which you may know: "these doctrines lead one not to complete weariness (Footnote: nibbidaya) (of the world), nor to dispassion, nor to ending, nor to calm, nor to knowledge, nor to the awakening, nor to the cool" — regard them definitely as not Dhamma, not the discipline, not the word of the Teacher. But the doctrines of which you may know: "These doctrines lead one to complete weariness, dispassion, ending, calm, knowledge, the awakening, the cool" — regard them unreservedly as Dhamma, the discipline, the word of the Teacher.'