The Mar Ngok Summer Teachings 2022: Day 13
In today’s part of his long exposition on the “Origins of Secret Mantra”, Gyalwang Karmapa related emotive vignettes from Upāli’s life, followed by accounts on his recitation of the Vinaya, then closed the teaching session with a comparative exploration of contemporary scholars’ findings on the process of the Vinaya’s compilation (First Council).
Before his teaching, the Karmapa announced the transmission of Ju Mipham Rinpoche’s “Wangdü: The Great Cloud of Blessings: The Prayer which Magnetizes All that Appears and Exists” (སྣང་སྲིད་དབང་དུ་སྡུད་པའི་གསོལ་འདེབས་བྱིན་རླབས་སྤྲིན་ཆེན) to be given before the intermission. It was at the request of His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, who wished for the increase of the saṃgha’s enriching and magnetizing activity and had pointed out the lack of such a ritual within the framework of practices. It would then be recited during the interval. “Wangdü” is a very powerful prayer with a lot of potential, the Karmapa said, requesting all monasteries and nunneries, and advising individual practitioners, to recite this prayer which helps the spread of the teachings – in particular the teachings of the Karma Kagyu.
The Story of Upāli
The account of Upāli is related in the 55th out of 60 fascicles of the “Abhiniṣkramaṇa-Sūtra” (“The Sūtra of Deliverance”), translated into Chinese in the 6th century. Another version is found in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya’s “Chapter on the Schism”; His Holiness gave the outline of these records.
Upāli was a śūdra who made his living as a barber in Kapilavastu. He was a great artisan with great powers of concentration whose work was so detailed that the Shakya princes became his patrons., Thus, at the time when the Buddha too was a prince residing in the palace, Upāli used to cut his hair and beard.
A few years into his awakening, the Buddha returned to his homeland of Kapilavastu. On that occasion, Upāli’s mother took him by the hand to see the Buddha and, once again, Upāli cut the Buddha’s hair. Knowing that the Buddha was a widely revered and worshipped teacher with great realization, while he himself belonged to the lowest of the castes, the śūdras, Upāli approached the task with quiet trepidation.
While he was shaving the Buddha’s head, his mother asked the Buddha: “How are Upāli’s skills?”
“His technique is very good,” the Buddha said, “But his body is too hunched.”
Upāli’s mother said: “Upāli, when you cut the Buddha’s hair, don’t bend over too much and disturb the Buddha.”
Upāli straightened up and instantly, with ease, entered the first dhyāna.
A few minutes later, his mother asked: “How’s he doing now?”
“Very good but now he is arching his back too much,” replied the Buddha.
Upāli’s mother corrected her son: “Don’t arch your body so much. You are making the Buddha a little uncomfortable”.
This simple altering of posture enabled Upāli to achieve the second dhyāna in an instant.
Again, his mother inquired: “Now, how is he doing?”
“When he’s breathing, he’s inhaling too forcefully,” answered the Buddha, so she instructed her son as before: “Don’t be so panicky. You must relax and relax your breath.”
On that instruction, Upāli effortlessly entered the third dhyāna.
His mother asked the Buddha anew and he said: “Now he is exhaling too forcefully.” She advised her son once more, and immediately he attained the fourth dhyāna.
The Buddha said to the nearby bhikṣus: “Quickly take the razor from Upāli’s hand. Support him well so that he does not fall onto the ground. He has achieved the fourth dhyāna.”
Upāli’s mother immediately took the razor from his hand and held him up.
Upāli had extraordinarily achieved all four dhyānas in an instant with only few instructions on posture while shaving the Buddha’s head. This was not an easy feat.
On one occasion the Buddha was giving a teaching to the public in Kapilavastu, many of the lords and princes of the Śākya clan saw the unsurpassed truth, felt great delight and joy, and wished to go forth.
According to the Tibetan translation of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, King Śuddhodana called for the barber Upāli and said to him: “Go to the Banyan Park (a monastery offered to the Buddha) and shave the heads of the Śākya king Bhadraka and the rest of the five hundred Śākyas. They have chosen to go forth.”
About Bhadraka: When King Śuddhodana, in the presence of the Buddha, saw the truth, he gave the kingship to his brother Śuklodana. In turn, when Śuklodana realized the truth himself, he passed the kingship to their brother Droṇodana. He also saw the truth and gave the title to their last brother Amṛtodana, who saw the truth as well. Having discussed who should receive the kingship next, the brothers all agreed that Śuklodana’s son Bhadraka was the one to be appointed king. And so he was. But later, he too went forth. It was as if the royal family of the Śākyas was being emptied out entirely, the Karmapa noted humorously and added that the often–used term “five hundred” essentially means “many” i.e. of the high-class Śākyas. King Bhadraka and the others prepared themselves, and so Upāli shaved the king’s hair while the others waited in line.
But Upāli was sad. He began to sigh and shed tears. Bhadraka saw this and asked, “Why are you crying today? What is there to be sad about today?” Upāli immediately knelt before the king and said: “In the past, I had the opportunity to serve the foremost of men such as yourself. Now, all of you good kings have gone forth, and I am left without refuge or protector. It would be better to die than to encounter a bad king.”
Hearing this, Bhadraka said: “I hadn’t realized that you had such pure thoughts. Do not worry. I’ll do something to make sure you do not have a bad king.” So Upāli was happy and continued to shave the King’s head. Then, the King requested for a white cloth to be spread out and declared to the five hundred Śākyas: “Listen well. Upāli has been serving us for a while, but he has no wealth or possessions. Let us, of the Śākya line, put all our upper robes, jewellery, and necessary articles we are wearing onto this white cloth. After we have gone forth, we will have no use for the clothes and ornaments of a householder. Instead, let us give them to Upāli.”
The Śākyans gladly put all their upper robes and ornaments on the white cloth and gave them to Upāli who was honoured to shave each of their heads. Upāli was a poor man who never even dreamed of accruing such wealth in his entire life. An ordinary person would have jubilantly taken all the wealth and gone home delighted. But Upāli was a highly discerning person, and he remained thoughtful: “The five hundred Śākyans are all lords, the king and the princes, and now they have abandoned all their power, palaces, wives, jewels and robes to go forth. It wouldn’t be right for me to get attached to all this jewellery.” He sat with his head in his hands thinking: “If I had not been born in such a low caste, I could also go forth and become an arhat. There is no chance for me.” His Holiness reminded the audience of the fact he taught last year about how in the past people of low caste in India weren’t allowed to perform the rituals of the brāhmaṇas.
It is said that the Buddha looks to see the situations of sentient beings three times each night and three times a day; arhats do the same. They can actually see with their perception just as we see with our eyes. In that way, Noble Śāriputra recognized Upāli’s anguish. He went to the place where Upāli sat and asked: “Why are you sitting there worrying, with your head in your hands?”
“Venerable one,” Upāli replied, “I couldn’t do anything but worry. Today King Bhadraka and five hundred Śākyans have given up their power, palaces, wives and immeasurable wealth to go forth. I am here getting attached to these things and accumulating the karma for going to lower realms. If I had not been born of such a low caste, I could go forth, be diligent and achieve arhatship, but I have no chance.”
“In the Buddha’s dharma,” said Śāriputra, “We do not have any suspicions about people of low caste, or low education. If you have the wish to go forth and take full ordination, come with me to see the Buddha. He will give you a chance.” Delighted Upāli abandoned all the robes and jewels right there in the manner one would live one’s spit behind – and went off with Śāriputra to see the Buddha, not looking back.
Having approached the Buddha with Upāli, Śāriputra prostrated at his feet and requested: “This Upāli would like to go forth and become a bhikṣu, so please think of him with compassion and ordain him.” The Buddha immediately said: “Come hither (formal words of the teacher’s invitation at the time of full ordination). Practice chaste conduct (meaning that it’s OK for him to go forth).” Instantly, upon those words, Upāli’s hair naturally disappeared without the need to shave it and Dharma robes appeared on his body. He had no discomfort in his new clothes and spontaneously gained the appearance of a bhikṣu who had been ordained for seven days.
Due to this spontaneous ordination, Upāli was ordained before the King Bhadraka and the five hundred Śākyans. They had all gone through the ritual of the four-part motion with a request and gone forth. Then, as was the vinaya tradition, they first prostrated to the Buddha, followed by the other bhikṣus, according to seniority. While prostrating to the senior bhikṣus, Bhadraka, the king of the Śākyans, suddenly recognized Upāli’s feet. He looked up and realized that he was, in fact, about to prostrateto Upāli’st! He stood straight up and asked the Buddha: “He is Upāli, in the past he was my servant! Do I really have to prostrate to him?”
“We go forth to conquer pride,” said the Buddha. “Upāli went forth before you, so you all must prostrate to him.”
Bhadraka’s pride was instantly shattered, and the ground shook seven times as he was prostrating to Upāli. It was like a palpable metaphor. A king prostrating to a śūdra was an impossible situation in society at that time. Such an outrageous but important event made the ground shake. And it wasn’t just the king, the other 499 Śākyans prostrated – save one. His Holiness teased the younger audience to guess which one. It was Devadatta, of course. He, too, was one of the Śākyan princes. Seeing this, the Buddha said to him: “You too must break your pride and prostrate to Upāli.”
“If I don’t prostrate to Upāli,” said Devadatta, “What is the benefit? What is the harm? I’m not going to prostrate.” The Tibetan translation of the “Chapter on the Schism” reads: “If I don’t prostrate to his feet, how does it harm you?”
It is said that this was the first time that Devadatta rebelled against the Buddha —he had a history of disliking the Buddha, but after the Buddha achieved buddhahood and people began going to refuge to him, that was when Devadatta first disobeyed the Buddha.
The bhikṣus wondered why the earth had shaken seven times when King Bhadraka prostrated to Upāli. To elucidate, the Buddha related stories of Upāli’s past lives but the Karmapa had no time to recount them on this occasion.
In brief, he explained, Upāli was from a very low caste and a poor household and having gone forth, he never violated even the minutest of the precepts – Upāli observed the Vinaya rules to perfection. It was said by the Buddha that, among all his students, Upāli was the foremost upholder of the Vinaya. Many bhikṣus turned to him as a trusted source whenever they had inquiries and doubts about the Vinaya.
From the “Numerical Discourses”, one of the “Four Āgamas”, which was translated into Chinese in the 4th century by Faxian:
“The one who stayed in the realms of the Desire realm gods and would not stay among humans was the bhikṣu called Gavāṃpati. The one who could resolve all doubts with his infinite prajñā was the bhikṣu called Śāriputra. The foremost of those with the divine eye who could see all realms in the ten directions was the bhikṣu called Maudgalyāyana. The one who practiced the austerities of the twelve qualities of training was the bhikṣu called Mahākāśyapa. The one who respected and held the Vinaya rules and never violated them at all was the bhikṣu called Upāli. Among my disciples, the greatest, the one who knows the time and who knows things, who is unimpeded in anything, who never forgets anything, who has the most extensive learning, and who is patient and able to serve is the bhikṣu named Ānanda.”
As mentioned over the past few teaching sessions, the “Four Āgamas” are identified as sūtras by most contemporary researchers but the unfortunate thing is that (apart from a few parts) there is no Tibetan translation. In this passage from the “Numerical Discourses”, the principal disciples of the Buddha are mentioned, each of them foremost in certain qualities save Ānanda, the greatest in manifold qualities.
The Karmapa then recounted another story about Upāli.
One time, a bhikṣu got sick and a physician requested, in no uncertain terms, that he should be given alcohol. That bhikṣu had no desire to violate the precept against drinking alcohol, not even at the cost of his life. Upāli learned of the situation and put the question forward to the Buddha, who said: “If a sick bhikṣu must take alcohol as medicine, that is allowed.” Upāli brought the alcohol himself and gave it to the sick bhikṣu, all the while teaching him Dharma. The sick bhikṣu recovered, and what’s more, achieved arhatship through Upāli’s Dharma teachings. When the Buddha learned of this, he praised Upāli very highly. He said: “Not only does he truly uphold the Vinaya, but he excels in understanding all of its different variables. He is able to lucidly discern what is allowed and what is forbidden in the Vinaya.”
In the wake of the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, at the time of the First Council, there was a controversy regarding the inclusion of Ānanda, the compiler of the sūtras, in the ranks of council. In contrast, there was essentially no dispute over Upāli’s mastery of the Vinaya rules and his appointment as the voice of the Vinaya because he was its foremost upholder. As the saṃgha requested, Upāli sat on a throne and described in detail the place, time, individuals, causes and so forth for each of the rules the Buddha made. What’s more, he recited all the points related to the Vinaya from memory, so it is through his kindness that we now have the basket of the Vinaya.
The importance of the Vinaya is well-established, still, the Gyalwang Karmapa thought it would be beneficial to recite a few passages which the audience might not have heard before to demonstrate its importance.
The “Samantapāsādikā” (Pāli), a well-known Vinaya commentary written by the great master Buddhaghoṣa (Pāli, Skt.) reads (in rough translation):
“The basket of the Vinaya is the life-force of the true Dharma. If the Vinaya remains, then the Dharma also remains.”
In like manner, the Mūlasarvāstivāda’s “Pre-eminent Account” (“Uttara Grantha”) which Tibetans often recite (also found in the Chinese translation of the Mūlasarvāstivāda’s “Rituals of the 101 Actions”) says:
“Venerable one,” asked Upāli, “How can we know whether there is true dharma? How can we know whether it has perished?” “It will be present,” replied the Buddha, “As long as the [Vinaya] actions are assiduously performed. If the [ritual] actions [of the Vinaya] are performed assiduously, then the true Dharma is present. If the [ritual] actions are not performed, and they are not done assiduously, then the true Dharma has perished.”
At this moment the Gyalwang Karmapa imparted the transmission of the “Wangdü” prayer—the supplication for magnetising —by Ju Mipham Rinpoche, and invited the audience to recite it along with his own recording during the intermission that followed.
Upāli’s recitation of the Vinaya as it appears in the “Great Commentary on the One Hundred Thousand”
The Karmapa summarised the account:
Then the arhats said: “Who is learned in the basket of Vinaya and can compile and recite it?” Everyone said: “Elder Upāli is, among the five hundred arhats, the foremost in the Vinaya. We should request him.”
Without delay, they invited Upāli and said to him: “Please get up and sit on the lion throne. Please tell us where the Buddha made the first rule in the Vinaya.” Upāli did as he was asked, sat on the lion throne and said: “Thus have I heard. At one time when the Bhagavant was in Vaiśālī, because of the incident of Kalandaka’s son Sudatta first engaging in unchaste conduct, the first defeat was made…” He then cited the “Two Hundred and Fifty Offenses”, the “Seven Dharmas”, the “Eight Dharmas”, the bhikshuni vinayathe “Numerical Discourses”, the “Sūtra of Upāli’s Questions”, the “Finer Points of Discipline”, in brief, the eighty sections are put together under the name the “Basket of the Vinaya” །
(based on the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya organization into sections)
As the compilation of the three baskets ended, the gods, māras, nāgas, and goddesses lavished a rain of myriad offerings and sweetly scented flowers. They offered parasols, banners and divine robes and recited this verse:
From compassion for worldly people,
You have compiled the three baskets.
You have kindled the lamp of
The Omniscient One with the ten powers.
That was recorded in the “Great Commentary on the One Hundred Thousand”, said to be written by Nāgārjuna.
The Chinese collection of the “Tales of the Teacher and the Gurus” cites a passage from the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya saying that, following the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, the council compiling the three baskets was held at a cave called Pippali-Guhā. Ānanda recited the sūtras, Mahākāśyapa recited the treatises (Abhidharma) and Upāli recited the Vinaya. This is according to the Sthaviravāda tradition which states that one thousand noble beings compiled the scriptures outside the cave.
According to the Mahāsāṃghika tradition, there were two councils. One was held inside the Pippali-Guhācave and presided over by Mahākāśyapa, while the other, composed of one thousand noble beings, was heldoutside the cave.
They are both called the saṃgha’s Vinaya. This is the root of the Vinaya of all 18 Buddhist schools.
The same text, “Tales of the Teacher and the Gurus”, also cites the “Sūtra of the Buddha’s Skillful Means in Repaying Kindness”.
The Tibetan translation is somewhat incomplete, so His Holiness used the Chinese translation to fill in the gaps and he gave a rough translation from the “Chapter of Upāli” from the “Sūtra of the Buddha’s Skillful Means in Repaying Kindness”. He noted that the Tibetan name for the chapter was inaccurate and he was unsure whether this was because of an error by the translator or by the scribe.
At the time of the Buddha, know that “Thus have I heard” is for after the parinirvāṇa. The compilers of the baskets of true Dharma should say, “Thus I have heard.” If, for twenty years, the Buddha taught the Dharma that Ānanda did not hear [because he had not gone forth at that time], how can it be logical for him to say: “I have heard”?
One explanation says: “The gods spoke to Ānanda”.
According to another explanation Ānanda knew when the Bhagavant entered the relative mind from the samādhi.
Another explanation says that he heard it from the other bhikṣus.
There is yet another explanation stating that before Ānanda became the Buddha’s attendant, he requested that the Buddha should teach him all the Dharma he had taught in twenty years. That would mean that Ānanda could testify to all of the Buddha’s teachings with the words: “Thus have I heard…”
The above are primarily two different ways the First Council is narrated in the scriptures and treatises. In essence, the canon contains ample records about the First Council with slight variations. The ones mentioned by His Holiness are best known. The “Four-Part Vinaya” and the “Great Commentary on the Hundred Thousand” are, by and large, used as the primary sources.
A synopsis of certain contemporary scholars’ analyses of the First Council and their research processes
The Aim of the First Council
First position: Some people gloated over the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, so Mahākāśyapa gathered his instructions to allow the teachings to remain.
The Japanese scholar Umada Gyokei states that, when the Buddha was preparing to pass into parinirvāṇa, Mahākāśyapa and five hundred bhikṣus were travelling from Pāvā to Kuśinagara when they met a non-Buddhist carrying a flower. The French scholar Etienne Lamotte says it was a member of the Ājīvika sect. Only then did they learn of the Buddha’s passing into parinirvāṇa seven days earlier. In that deciding moment, the saṃgha members who were free from desire remained in the contemplation of impermanence, while those who were not free of desire felt intense grief and cried. Kāśyapa could do nothing but console them by teaching how all composites are impermanent, and the end of gathering is parting.
Among the saṃgha was a bhikṣu who had been quite old when he went forth. Lamotte explains it was a bhikṣu named Upananda. He proclaimed to the others: “When the Buddha was alive, the Vinaya discipline was too strict, and we didn’t have any freedom to do anything. From today on, we can do what we like.” He goaded them to rejoice in the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa. Seeing this, Mahākāśyapa said: “No more than seven days have gone by since the Buddha passed away, but ignorant bhikṣus such as this are saying such deluded things. If this continues, before long, many incidents that violate the Dharma are sure to follow.” He decided: “While the disciples of the Buddha are still present, they should all gather to compile all the Dharma and pith instructions. Determining their authenticity would prevent the corruption of the Dharma by various misinterpretations and tampering in the future, and ensure stability.”
Second Position: If left as it was, the Buddha’s dharma would have disappeared like a rainbow and given way to liars and charlatans
The Japanese scholar Hirakawa Akira illustrates how, after the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, Mahākāśyapa realized that, if they were to leave the Buddha’s Dharma to chance, it would disappear like a rainbow. Some scholars explain that the aim of the Council was ensuring that the Buddha’s actual words were not corrupted by false, made-up explanations.
Third Position: Mahākāśyapa decided to hold the council when some people disrespectfully spoke about finally being free of their uncaring Teacher
The Indian scholar S.R. Goyal has it that, when bhikṣus were grieving the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, a bhikṣu named Upananda was consoling them saying that they had been freed from the teacher who had no compassion for them and who was too strict. Mahākāśyapa, astounded at such disrespectful words, subsequently decided to compile the Buddha’s teachings to protect the purity of the true Dharma from audacious people, for the future.
The Council’s Location and Time
Gyokei maintains that, after those events occurred, Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana also passed into nirvāṇa. Thus, Mahākāśyapa went to the place where the Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa and cremated his remains. Then he suggested to the saṃgha to hold the council in Rājagṛha. When everyone agreed, they went. The English scholar A.K. Warder says that the reason for choosing the large city of Rājagṛha was its capacity for sustaining a great number of elders gathering continuously for several months, and several other scholars agree.
Umada Gyokei holds that, following Mahākāśyapa’s suggestion, the arhats gathered in Rājagṛha where they were sponsored by the king of Magadha, Ajātaśatru. This king who killed his father, though not a Buddhist at first, felt regret and became a Buddhist and the sponsor of the Council. Outside the city at the Seven-Leaf Cave ((Saptaparṇa-Guhā)) on Mount Vaibhāra, they built a monastery as a gathering place, and began the council on the second day of Āṣāḍa, the second month of the summer. It would have been the 17th of June.
S. R. Goyal follows the scholar N. Dutt who posits that, after the parinirvāṇa, the council (or the group recitation) happened in four stages of the development of the Buddhist cannon. As attested by the accounts in Pāli literature, the first council was held in Rājagṛha under the patronage of King Ajātaśatru during a rains retreat, three months after the parinirvāṇa. He bases this on the premise that the Buddha passed away in the 2nd month, and the rains retreat began in the 4th month, so the council would have occurred in the 5th month. This is clear from the account in the 11th part of the “Khandhaka” (Theravāda Vinaya), the Sri Lankan “Histories of the Continent” and the “Great Histories” which also describe the First Council. It is also included in the records of the Chinese pilgrims, Faxien, Xuanzang and master Yijing, so Goyal considers it historically reliable.
Lamotte states that after everyone (Mahākāśyapa and the saṃgha) discussed it, they all went to Rājagṛha, the capital of Magadha, to hold the council on the Dharma and the Vinaya. Later, having arrived in Rājagṛha, they busied themselves with preparations in the 1st month of the rains retreat and began to hold the council in the 2nd month of the rains retreat.
The Participants in the Council
Gyokei posits there were 500 arhats, including Mahākāśyapa.
According to Lamotte: there were Mahākāśyapa and 499 bhikshus, plus Ānanda.
Goyal identifies the number of bhikṣus selected for the council as 500 and, initially, Ānanda was not included in the first group of 500. But some bhikṣus suggested that although not an arhat, Ānanda had heard much Dharma from the Buddha and had great certainty in the Dharma and the Vinaya, so he should certainly be included. Thus, Mahākāśyapa in the end accepted his inclusion among the participants in the council.
According to another explanation, before Ānanda participated in the recitation, he had achieved arhatship. Some sūtras relate how Ānanda had some difficulties after the recitation of the Dharma and Vinaya. However, the “History of Sri Lanka”, the “Great History”, Buddhaghoṣa’s “Samantapāsādika”, and the “Mahāvaṃsa” do not include any records of accusations against Ānanda. So Goyal questions the accounts of these accusations.
With this, the Gyalwang Karmapa brought the teaching session to a conclusion.