Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 21.The Buddha’s Attitude Towards Other Religious Teachers

Upali*was a millionaire, and one of the best pupils of another religious teacher, Nigantha Nathaputta, whose teaching differed from that of the Buddha. Upali was also a very good debater and was asked one day by his religious teacher to challenge the Buddha on certain points of the law of cause and effect (karma). After a long and complicated discussion, the Buddha was able to convince Upali that his religious teacher’s views were wrong.

Upali was so impressed with the Buddha’s teaching that he immediately asked to become his follower. He was surprised when the Buddha advised him, “Upali, you are a famous person. Be sure that you are not changing your religion just because you are pleased with me or that you are under the influence of your emotions. Thoroughly investigate my teaching with an open mind before you decide to become my follower.”

Hearing the Buddha’s spirit of free inquiry, Upali was even more pleased and said, “Lord, it is wonderful that you have asked me to think this over carefully. Other teachers would have accepted me without hesitation, taken me through the streets in a procession and proclaimed that the millionaire had renounced his former religion and embraced theirs. Yes, indeed, I am sure now, Lord please accept me as your follower.”

The Buddha agreed to accept Upali as his lay follower, but further advised him, “Although you have now become my follower, Upali, you should practise tolerance and compassion. Continue to give alms to your former religious teachers as they still depend very much on your support. You cannot just ignore them and withdraw the support you used to give them.”

The advice the Buddha gave that day about tolerance, free inquiry and not accepting his teachings for emotional reasons has led to the clean record in the history of Buddhism. There has never been any Buddhist religious fanatic who forced people to accept the religion by torture or fear of punishment. Buddhism spread through peaceful means mainly because of its beauty and goodwill.

This is not the Venerable Upali, a barber before he became a monk, who answered questions on the Vinaya rules at the First Buddhist Council (see Part 2 Number 32.)