The Story of Upali


The Story of Upali (as told by Ven. Narada in The Buddha and His teachings)

On one occasion Upali the millionaire, a follower of Nigantha Nataputta, approached the Buddha and was so pleased with the Buddha’s exposition of the Dhamma that he instantly expressed his desire to become a follower of the Buddha. But the Buddha advised him, saying–“Of a verity, O householder, make a thorough investigation. It is well for a distinguished man like you to make a thorough investigation.”

Upali, who was overwhelmed with joy at this unexpected utterance of the Buddha said: “Lord if I had become a follower of another teacher, his followers would have taken me around the streets in a procession proclaiming that such and such a millionaire had renounced his former religion and had embraced theirs. But, Lord, you advise me to investigate further. The more pleased am I with this salutary advise of yours.” And he appreciatively repeated–for the second time, “I seek refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.”

Though Upali became a Buddhist by conviction, the Buddha, quite in keeping with his boundless compassion and perfect tolerance, advised him to support his former religious teacher in accordance with his practice.

The story of Upali reminds me of a conversation between Jesus Christ and the Samaritan woman, as recorded in the fourth Chapter of the book of John. Jesus Christ told the woman that the Samaritans worship a God that they do not know while the Jews direct their worship to a God that they know (John 4:22). We all need to ask ourselves this question; do I truly understand the God I worship or am I worshiping a mental idol?

Why is knowledge important?

Jesus Christ said that “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). It’s the truth that we know that has the power to deliver. However, most religions thrive merely on believing the accounts of the leaders or what’s said. Which, in turn, directs the people to worship a “God” that have no idea of besides what they believe. 

The Buddha here was virtuous. He knew how often people follow a path based on emotional attachments or the accounts of others. I agree that there is a part where we have to trust what others say. With that said, it’s vital to direct one’s object of worship, devotion, life, and totality to the truth and not a mere illusion of the truth. 

The bible says that they that know their God shall be strong and do great exploits (Dan. 11:32). The emphasis is on knowledge. In other words, they that do not know their God shall be weak and be exploited. This is the sad reality of most religions of the world today. The strong prey on the ignorance of the weak. Some leaders have either placed themselves or the followers have placed them on a pinnacle that represents God. The ignorance of God is at the heart of a lot of injustice perpetrated under the name of God by religious zealots. What revelation of God do you know? Do you know the God you claim to serve? It’s easy to take believing as knowing, but the aspect of knowledge is crucial. 

I hope many religious/spiritual leaders could learn from the Buddha. Leaders wield a significant level of influence over others, and it’s essential that we don’t let this influence leads us down the wrong path by controlling others. Our responsibilities ought to be to lead others to the truth. We point others to the way and encourage them to search for the truth for themselves and not live off others revelation. Just as Jesus said, it’s the truth that we know that will liberate us from the illusion of this world. Have you come to see the truth for yourself?