“Upali” is translated as “personal attendant”. When the Buddha was a prince, Venerable Upali served as his attendant. He followed the prince to visit the four (city) gates. The prince was moved by the impermanence of human life and the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. Therefore, under the tree in the garden, he silently contemplated how to end birth and death, and rescue living beings so that they would leave suffering and attain bliss.
One day, the prince suddenly saw a Bhikshu, who said, “Only by leaving the home life to cultivate can one put an end to all sufferings.” After he finished, he soared to the sky and disappeared. He was actually the transformation body of a heavenly being froom the Pure Dwelling Heaven. Soon after, the prince heard a voice from the sky, saying, “If one is greedy for pleasures of the five desires one will definitely sink low.” At night, the prince ordered the charioteer to lead a horse for him. The Four Heavenly Kings held the hoofs of the horse, soared to the sky and left over the city wall. The charioteer followed along and accompanied the prince to cultivate together.
Therefore, Venerable Upali said, “I personally saw the Tathagatha diligently practice austerities for six years; I personally saw the Tathagatha subdue all demons and tame all externalists.” The Buddha established the precepts based on situations that arose and ordered Venerable Upali to announce them in public. Venerable Upali observed the precepts strictly without violating any, and was thus considered the foremost in upholding the precepts. When the Vinaya Pitaka was compiled, Venerable Upali served as the main speaker. Each day he recited one part of the Vinaya, and the recitation was completed after eighty days. The Vinaya Pitaka thus became known as the Eighty Recitations Vinaya Code.
Today I’m going to speak about the Venerable Upali. Upali followed the Buddha and attended upon him all his life: When the Buddha was a prince, he served as a guard to the Buddha; when the Buddha was practicing the Way, he served as a Dharma protector; after the Buddha attained Buddhahood, he became a disciple of the Buddha. In his entire life he never left the Buddha. Since he was never separated from the Buddha, he was called a “male personal attendant”.
His name originally was Chandaka (charioteer). He was also called “Upali”. Upali means “male personal attendant”. He could remember the Buddha’s every single move. This person was strictly upright and correct in behavior, never sloppy by a hair’s breadth. He paid particular attention to the four great aspects of dignified deportment in walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. In these four great aspects of dignified deportment, there wasn’t a single one which he didn’t maintain in accordance with the rules and regulations—he toed the line in all sincerity.
When the Buddha was living in the imperial palace, his father wanted to train him to become the prince. To the best of his ability, the king devised all means to please the prince. Accordingly, everything was done as he wished. Ever since the prince was born, however, he had always been taciturn. Without coveting worldly wealth and position, he aspired to purity and solitude.
His father was afraid that the prince would not inherit his throne. Therefore, he prepared numerous female court attendants to serve the prince. Yet, the prince was one of few desires who was content with his lot. He did not want anything and would not give way to these material temptations.
One day, he requested his father to allow him to have an excursion outside the palace. In order to please him, his father did not dare to go against his will and tell him not to go. What could he do then? As a result, his father had the streets cleaned and all idle loafers driven away. He ordered that no idle loafers or random persons on the street could draw near to the prince. In this way, his going on the excursion would bear no great consequence.
The prince first arrived at the Eastern Gate—the Gate of Birth. Some said he saw an old person. Originally all the idle loafers and random street people had already been removed, and there shouldn’t have been any around. Yet, he happened to come across a lady who was holding her stomach, wailing with great pain. She cried, “Ah, this is so painful!” The prince had never seen such a scene, so he asked the charioteer—the only person who was with him—saying, “What’s happening? This person is wailing and crying, what is she crying about?” The charioteer said, “This woman is going to give birth to a child. When the child is about to be born, she has to suffer pain that is intolerable.” Ah! As the prince heard this, he said, “Let’s go back! I don’t want to see this anymore!” Therefore, they returned to the palace.
On the second day, he went to the Southern Gate and saw an old person. This old person was doddering and frail, with his skin sagging and his hair gray, his teeth gone, his vision blurred and his ears rendered deaf. All his faculties were no longer useful. His eyes were not working;everything he saw was blurred; his ears were dysfunctional; he could not hear what people said. When someone said something loudly, he went, “Eh! What did you say?” When the prince saw this situation, “What kind of a trick is this?” He asked, “What do you think? What happened to this person? What is this
thing?” He had never seen anyone with a long beard, and he did not know what to make of it. He asked the charioteer, “Why did his hair grow on his chin?” The charioteer replied, “That is an old person. His skin is sagging and his hair is gray. When he walks, he is doddering and frail. He is deaf and his vision is blurred. All his teeth have fallen out. When he eats, the food has no flavor. He drools and perspires. He does not even know how to eat and sleep, not to mention how to walk.” The prince said, “This is real suffering! This is too much suffering! Let’s go back, I don’t want to see this anymore!”
On the third day, he went to the Western Gate. As soon as he arrived at the Western Gate, he saw a sick person who would get the chills and become feverish. His body was covered with sores and favus, with pus and fluid flowing, causing his appearance to be especially unsightly. He was groaning and moaning, “Ah! Ah! I’m so uncomfortable! I’m really suffering!” He kept groaning and moaning in this manner. “What kind of a trick is this?” The charioteer said, “This person is sick!” “How did he get sick?” “Oh, in this world, many people get sick. When one is sick, his body is no longer under his control. He can neither sit for long, nor walk. He can’t even drink water or speak.” Hearing this, the prince said, “This is truly meaningless! I don’t want to see this anymore. Let’s go back! This show is unsightly!” Then they returned.
On the fourth day, he arrived at the Northern Gate. As soon as he stepped out of the gate, he saw a dead person whom no one bothered to take care of. The body was covered with maggots, dribbling pus and fluids, and maggots. When the prince saw this, he asked, “What is this then?” The charioteer said, “This person is dead.” “This person is dead? How did he die?” “His breathing stopped, and he is no longer breathing. His life has been cut off.” “Why are there birth, old age, death, and sickness? Must everyone go through these in life?” He said, “For the most part, everyone has to undergo these stages.” When the prince heard this, he said, “Life is meaningless!”
While he was saying life is meaningless, suddenly there appeared a shramana. A shramana is a Bhikshu. The Bhikshu came to the place, saying, “What are you worrying about? If you want to be free of birth, old age, sickness and death, you have to leave the home life and cultivate. If you leave the home life to cultivate, you can put an end to birth, old age, sickness and death.” When the prince heard this, he thought, being free of birth, old age, sickness, and death sounds very good. Therefore he paid special attention to what he said. After speaking those words, however, the Bhikshu soared up into space and disappeared. Actually he was the manifestation of a heavenly being from the Pure Dwelling Heaven. The heavenly being came to give the prince guidance because his potentials and conditions were about to ripen. It was time for him to leave the home life to cultivate the way.
Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha (who was still a prince) returned to the palace in low spirits and remained depressed. At night, he ordered the charioteer to lead a horse for him. He then rode the horse and tried to leap over the wall. The horse, however, was unable to do so. At this time, the Four Great Heavenly Kings manifested themselves. They held the four hoofs of the horse in their palms and he lept over the wall. Shakyamuni Buddha then went to the Snow Mountains (Himalayas) to sit in meditation, and the charioteer accompanied him to cultivate there. Therefore, he said, “I personally saw the Tathagatha diligently practice austerities for six years; I personally saw the Tathagatha subdue all demons and tame all externalists.
At that time, whenever a Bhikshu violated a rule of conduct, the Buddha would establish a precept, saying, “From now on you are not allowed to violate this rule!” Whenever a rule of conduct was violated, the precept was set. Every precept was first told to Upali, who then passed it on to everyone else. Thenceforth, the precepts were compiled into the “Eighty Recitations”. In this way, since Venerable Upali personally heard the Buddha’s instructions, he told everyone to abide by the precepts. He himself was particularly meticulous and strict in upholding the precepts. Therefore, he was the foremost in upholding the precepts.
To be continued