The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes Upali Mahathera contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as forty-one Arahat-Mahatheras and their Respective Etadagga titles. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

(a) Aspiration expressed in The Past

The future Upāli was born into a worthy family, in the city of Haṃsavati, during the time of Buddha Padumuttara. While he was listening to a discourse being delivered by the Buddha, he witnessed a bhikkhu being designated as the foremost among the bhikkhudisciples who strictly lived by the Vinaya Rules. He wished to be honoured by the same title by some future Buddha. After making extraordinary offerings to the Buddha, he expressed his aspiration before Him, The Buddha predicted that the aspiration would be fulfilled.

(b) Ascetic Life adopted in His Final Existence

The future Upāli spent his whole life in meritorious actions and passed away to good destinations only. During the time of Buddha Gotama, he was reborn in the barber caste and was named Upāli. When he came of age, he served as barber to six Sakyan princes, namely, Bhaddiya, Anuruddha, Kimila, Bhagu, Ānanda and Devadatta. When the six Sakyan princes renounced the world and joined the Buddha at the Anupiya Mango grove in order to get admission into the Order, Upāli also became a bhikkhu together with them. (For details of this episode about the group of Sakyan princes taking up bhikkhuhood, refer to Chapter 19)

After becoming a bhikkhu, the Venerable Upāli listened to a discourse by the Buddha and said to Him:

“Venerable Sir, may the Bhagavā allow me to dwell in the forest.” To which the Buddha replied: “Son, if you live in the forest you will be pursuing Insight-cultivation only. If you live by my side you will be pursuing Insight-cultivation as well as pursuing learning.” The Venerable Upāli gladly agreed, and with due diligence he attained arahatship not long afterwards. Then the Buddha personally taught the Vinaya extensively to the Venerable Upāli.

(c) Etadagga Title achieved

Venerable Upāli proved himself the greatest disciple in the Vinaya Rules by his decisions on three cases, namely: (1) Bhārukacchaka vatthu (2) Ajjuka vatthu, and (3) Kumāra Kassapa vatthu. (Of these three, Kumāra Kassapa vatthu appears in this Chapter: Kumāra Kassapa Mahāthera. The remaining two stories are briefly given below.)

The Story of a Native Bhikkhu of Bhārukaccha

A bhikkhu from Bhārukaccha, a seaport town, dreamt that he had sexual intercourse with his previous wife in his lay life. He had qualms of conscience: “I am no longer a bhikkhu,” he considered himself and returned to his native seaport town, Bharukaccha, intending to return to lay life. On his way, he met the Venerable Upāli and related his experience to him. The Venerable Upāli said: “Friend, what you committed in a dream does not amount to a breach of the Vinaya Rules.” (This episode is recorded in the Vinaya, Pārājika.)

The Venerable Upāli was giving judgment on a matter regarding which no decision had been pronounced by the Buddha because the Vinaya does not take dreams as (acts of volition that are) faulty. But he knew that wet dreaming is not a fault and so he rightly decided that the bhikkhu from Bharukaccha was not at fault.

When the Buddha learnt of that decision, He lauded the Venerable Upāli, saying: “Bhikkhus, Upāli has ruled the matter correctly. He has done something like one who has made a foot-track in the sky.”

The Story of Bhikkhu Ajjuka

Once, in the city of Vesāilī, a certain lay supporter of the Venerable Ajjuka, who had a son and a nephew as his possible heirs, entrusted the Venerable with a weighty personal affair. He said to the Venerable Ajjuka: “Venerable Sir, here is my son and here is my nephew. Of these two boys, may the Venerable shows where my property is located to the one who has devotion to the Triple Gem.” Having thus created a private trust, the lay supporter died.

The Venerable Ajjuka found that the nephew of the deceased man was devoted to the Triple Gem and so he showed him whose the property of the man was located. The boy made proper use of his inheritance by engaging in business, which resulted in the preservation of his uncle’s wealth and enabled him to do acts of charity.

The son of the deceased man brought this question to the Venerable Ānanda, asking: “Venerable Sir, as between a son and a nephew, who is the rightful heir to a deceased person?”

“Lay supporter, the son is the rightful heir.”

“Venerable Sir, the Venerable Ajjuka has shown the property which is rightfully mine to my brother-in-law, my father’s nephew.”

The Venerable Ānanda, without going into the details of this matter, said hastily: “In that case the Venerable Ajjuka is no longer a bhikkhu (i.e. he has fallen from bhikkhuhood).”

The Venerable Ajjuka then said to the Venerable Ānanda: “Friend Ānanda, give me your decision on the matter.” On this problem, the Venerable Upāli sided with the Venerable Ajjuka. (Herein, the Venerable Upāli was not taking sides without a just cause. He was simply taking up the righteous cause of Ajjuka who was blameless under the Vinaya Rules. In other words, he was standing up to uphold the Vinaya.)

The Venerable Upāli put this question to the Venerable Ānanda: “Friend Ānanda, where a certain bhikkhu was told by someone: ‘Show my property to such and such a person’, and the bhikkhu did as he was told, what fault does he incur?”

“There is no fault whatever, Venerable Sir, not even a minor offence.”

“Friend Ānanda, Bhikkhu Ajjuka was under instructions by the owner of the property to show it to such and such person, and he showed it to the boy (the nephew). Therefore, Friend Ānanda, Ajjuka incurs no wrong under the Vinaya.”

The news of this bold decision reached the Buddha who said: “Bhikkhus, Upāli has given a right decision,” and lauded him.

(There are many more remarkable events that revealed the greatness of the Venerable Upāli which may be found in the Therāpadāna, the text and the interpretations are contained in the Chiddapidhānaṃ by the late Mahāvisuddhārāma Sayadaw.)

The Buddha endorsed the three Vinaya rulings given by the Venerable Upāli, lauding him each time.

And based on these three instances, on another occasion, the Buddha, sitting in a congregation of bhikkhus, declared:

Etadaggaṃ bhikkhave mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ vinayadharānaṃ yadidaṃ Upāli.”

Bhikkhus, among My bhikkhu-disciples who strictly live by the Vinaya Rules, Bhikkhu Upāli is the foremost (etadagga).”

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