Thursday, 1 January 2015

Upali, the barber, saves the Sakya widow.

Upali was a humble barber. Lord Buddha gave him ordination and seniority over aristocratic young monks. How did he justify this revolutionary step?
He told the following story- 'Once, there were two good friends who were poor but kind and always gave alms. One of them was reborn as a king and the other reborn in a noted Brahmin family. The Brahmin married a lovely lady and loved her deeply. Due to some misunderstanding, his wife quarreled with him and did not want to talk to him for quite a long time. One day, his wife asked him to buy some flowers to decorate their house. He was overjoyed to gain back his wife so he sang love-songs on his way home.
'At that time, the king was admiring the view in the palace and he heard the singing of the happy Brahmin. The king sent for the Brahmin and both of them, became good friends.
'The king trusted the Brahmin greatly and the Brahmin became an influential person in the country. He became so famous that the people of that country regarded him as king. But the Brahmin was not contented, he thought of assassinating the king and seizing the throne. But he finally realized his mistakes and repented before the king. Though he was forgiven, he decided to renounce the world. Not long after he renounced the world, he attained miraculous power.
'At that time, there was a barber in the palace. When he heard about the story of the Brahmin from the king, he too vowed to renounce the world and became the disciple of the Brahmin, who was now a saint. The barber too attained miraculous power.
'Both the Brahmin and the barber had attained the state of sainthood, hence one day, when the king paid a visit to the Brahmin, after paying obeisance to the Brahmin, he too made an obeisance to the barber.'
When Buddha finished this story, he identified the Birth, " In those days, the Brahmin was me and Upali was the barber."

In other words, a 'Shudra' barber, like Upali, could gain Enlightenment and a position of the highest respect both under both Brahminism and Buddhism. Furthermore, unlike Jainism, a Buddha could be born either from a Brahmin or a Kshatriya womb.

Interestingly, Upali, the barber was instrumental in the rescue of a Sakya widow who had taken refuge in the Sangha.
The story is as follows- 'In Kapilavatthu, there was a written rule for the Sakya clan, saying that girls of the clan are not allowed to marry to the other clan, otherwise, she would be severely punished.
At that time, there was a young woman whose husband had just passed away. A young woman like her was naturally the focus of many young men's attention. This young widow showed interest in someone but her brother-in-law was interested in her. When she turned down his proposal, he was very angry and vowed to put her to death.
Once, he put a drug in the wine he gave her. The young widow drank it and was drunk. Her brother-in-law beats her and later reported to the government, saying, " She is my wife but she had intimacy with a man from other clan."
The young widow knew she would be executed so she escaped. She came to Sravasti and became a nun.
When the government knew that this young widow was in Sravasti, they wrote a letter to the king of Sravasti requesting him to have the woman arrested and sent to Kapilavatthu.
The king, after receiving this letter, asked his ministers whether it was true that the young widow came to Sravasti.
The ministers replied, "This young widow had escaped to our country but she is now a nun. You had set up a rule that anyone who offended the Brethren and nuns would be severely punished. She is a nun now and no one dares to offend her. So what should we do?"
After careful consideration, the king wrote a letter to the government of Kapilavatthu saying that the young widow has become a nun and according to their rule, nuns could be exempted from punishment.
The government of Kapilavatthu was indignant. When Upali came to know about it, he asked Buddha, "Lord Buddha, can we ordain one who had violated the law?"
"Before the government acquits her, we should not ordain her," replied Buddha.
But the Buddha knowing the young widow has innocent of the crime, did not release her, but at the same time said that the Sangha cannot be used as a refuge for people to escape justice.

Upali was unpopular with the Bretheren because he always asked pertinent questions. His emphasis was on the letter of the law- he saw that Buddhism could become a countervailing Universalistic source of Law to combat the ad hoc Aristocratic rules of petty Princedoms.
Unfortunately,Monastic Religions face 3 quite separate problems-
1) They are an attractive way to hold or gain Wealth. Thus local elites will seek to capture their operations. Thus Monastic Religion ends up reinforcing Aristocracy. At best it can operate like the Jesuit Order. At worst it degenerates into the rule of a Dalai Lama or Bogdh Khan. It has no path to the Universal Rule of Law because the encumbrance of it's own property and privileges militate against this.
2) Either they provide Elite Credentials or else they peddle Popular Magical remedies. In the short term, they can do both. Longer term, this isn't possible because Magic doesn't work. More generally, they need to ration Elite Credentials by Class in order to keep their cachet.
3) Once a tipping point for vernacular  literacy is achieved, Mummies and Daddies do a better job bringing up bright kids than Monks and Nuns. Time spent praying is time wasted. 

No comments: