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 Sākiyan princes. When Anuruddha and his cousins left the world and sought ordination from the Buddha at Anupiya Grove, Upāli accompanied them.
At the request of the Sākiyan youths, the Buddha ordained Upāli before them all, so that their pride might be humbled. Vin.ii.182
Upāli’s upajjhāya was Kappitaka. Vin.iv.308
In the assembly of the Saṅgha, the Buddha declared him to be the most proficient of those who were learned in the Vinaya AN.i.24 Vin.iv.142 In the First Council, Upāli took a leading part, deciding all the questions relative to the Vinaya, in the same way as Ānanda decided questions regarding the Dhamma. Vin.ii.286f.
In accordance with this tradition, ascribing to Upāli especial authority regarding the rules of the Order, various instances are given of Upāli questioning the Buddha about the Vinaya regulations. Thus we find him consulting the Buddha as to the legality or otherwise of a complete congregation performing, in the absence of an accused monk, an act at which his presence is required. Vin.i.325f. Again, he wishes to know if, in a matter which has caused altercations and schisms among members of the Order, the Saṅgha declares re-establishment of concord without thorough investigation, could such a declaration be lawful?. Vin.i.358f. When a monk intends to take upon himself the conduct of any matter that has to be decided, under what conditions should he do so? What qualities should a monk possess in himself before he takes upon himself to warn others?. Vin.ii.248f. In what case can there be an interruption of the probationary period of a monk who has been placed on probation?. Vin.ii.33f.
A whole list of questions asked by Upāli and answers given by the Buddha on matters pertaining to the Vinaya rules is found in the chapter called Upāli-Pañcaka in the Parivārā Vin.v.180–206 AN.v.70ff.
It is said Vin.iv.142 that even in the Buddha’s lifetime monks considered it a great privilege to learn the Vinaya under Upāli. The monks seem to have regarded Upāli as their particular friend, to whom they could go in their difficulties. Thus, when certain monks had been deprived by thieves of their clothes, it is Upāli’s protection that they seek. Vin.iii.212
The canon contains but few records of any discourses connected with Upāli, apart from his questions on the Vinaya. In the Aṅguttara Nikāya AN.iv.143f. 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, Upāli could be sure that such things did not form part of the Buddha’s teaching. There is a record of another sermon AN.v.201ff. which the Buddha is stated to have preached when Upāli 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.
Three verses are ascribed to Upāli in the Theragāthā Thag.249–251 where he admonishes the brethren to seek noble friends of unfaltering character, to learn the monks’ code of discipline and to dwell in solitude.
A lad of Rājagaha. His parents, wishing him to live a life of ease, did not have him instructed in any of the usual means of livelihood, lest he should be inconvenienced while learning them. After much consideration, they decided to have him ordained. He joined the Order with sixteen other companions equally young, and it is said that they rose at dawn and started shouting for food. This was the reason for the rule that no one under twenty years of age should receive the upasampadā ordination. Vin.i.77f.
He was present when Dīgha-Tapassī reported to Nāṭaputta an account of his visit to the Buddha in the Pāvārika Mango-grove. Upāli undertook to go himself to the Buddha and refute his views, in spite of the protestations of Dīgha-Tapassī. At the end of his discussion with the Buddha, which is recorded in the Upāli Sutta, Upāli is converted and invites the Buddha to a meal. Although the Buddha enjoins upon Upāli that his benefactions to the Nigaṇṭhas should not cease because of his conversion, Upāli gives instructions that no Nigaṇṭha be admitted to his presence, but that if they need food it shall be given to them. Hearing a rumour of his conversion, first Tapassī, and later Nāṭaputta himself, go to Upāli’s house, where they learn the truth. When Nāṭaputta is finally convinced that Upāli has become a follower of the Buddha, hot blood gushes from his mouth. MN.i.371ff.