(Last Updated on : 31/01/2009)
Upali belonged to the Sudra
Caste and hence ranked lowest in the social hierarchy. In ancient times Sudras were not allowed to receive education. As a result Upali grew up to become a barber. This was the profession of his father. As he grew up he became the barber of the princes in the palace. The most important change in Upali's life occurred when he was summoned to cut Buddha's hair. Gautama Buddha
returned to Kapilavastu
when Upali was twenty years of age. The next day Upali, along with his mother, arrived to do the haircut.
It is here that he learnt from Buddha to meditate. Upali disciplined himself and took the criticisms of Buddha in his stride. Such a quality made Upali one of the finest disciplinarians Buddhist. Impressed by Buddha most of the princes decided to renounce the worldly pleasures and follow him. They agreed to give away their valuables to Upali for his dedicated service. Upali was first very pleased with his gifts. Then he realized that if the princes can give up every comfort for Buddhism
then a poor person like him too could follow the same path.
However he hesitated because of his humble background. He sat at roadside and was crying to himself when Sariputra came to his aid. When Upali revealed his dilemma Sariputra said that anybody could become Buddha's disciple regardless of Casteism. Upali was ordained even before the seven princes. Moreover on Buddha's instructions the seven princes recognized Upali as the eldest one to be ordained and paid him his due respect.
His disciplinarian nature made him follow the Buddha marga strictly. Because of such nature Upali even faced a lot of problems, as he did not go down well with a lot of Buddhists. Buddha, however, regarded him highly and said that the individual who followed the precepts strictly was similar to a bright lamp. They are like the brightness and are disliked by evil, as the latter prefers darkness.
Upali is also known as one of the 500 monks who had participated in the First Buddhist Council
. Coming from a community, which was looked down upon Uplai proved to be the most learned Buddhist about Vinaya. His greatest achievement was that he rose above the difficulties posed by his low birth as well as the society and immortalized himself in the Buddhist history.