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Upasena

1. Upasena Thera.– Maternal uncle of Vijitasena Thera and brother of Sena. He was an elephant-trainer, and having heard the Buddha teach, he entered the Order and, in due course, became an Arahant. He ordained Vijitasena (ThagA.i.424).

According to the Mahāvastu (iii.60 ff), Sāriputta was converted to Buddhism not by Assaji, as recorded in the Tipiṭaka, but by an elder named Upasena, who is, perhaps, to be identified with the Upasena. The Mahāvastu (iii.431 f) also mentions an Upasena who was nephew to the Tebhātika Jatiḷā. When the Tebhātika Jatiḷā accepted the Buddha as their teacher, they cast the garments, etc., which they had used as ascetics, into the Nerañjarā, on the banks of which was Upasena’s hermitage. When Upasena saw the robes, etc., he knew that something must have happened to his uncles. He went at once to see them and, having heard the good tidings of their new found bliss became a monk himself. It is not stated whether this Upasena is identical with the elder of the same name mentioned above as the teacher of Sāriputta.

2. Upasena Vaṅgantaputta.– He was born in Nālaka as the son of Rūpasārī, the brahminee, his father being Vaṅganta. He was the younger brother of Sāriputta (UdA.266; DhA.ii.188). When he came of age, he learnt the three Vedas, and, having heard the Buddha teach, entered the Order. When his ordination was but one year old, he ordained another bhikkhu, to increase the number of holy ones, and went with him to wait upon the Buddha. The Buddha roundly rebuked him for this hasty procedure (Vin.i.59; Sp.i.194; J.ii.449), and Upasena, wishing to earn the Master’s praise on account of the very cause of this rebuke, practised insight and became an Arahant. Thereafter he adopted various ascetic practices (dhutaṅga) and persuaded others to do likewise. In a short time he had a large retinue, each member of which was charming in his way, and the Buddha declared Upasena to be the best of those who were altogether charming (samantapāsādikānaṃ) (A.i.24).

Buddhaghosa says that Upasena was famed as a very clever teacher (pathavighutthadhammakathika), and many joined him because of his eloquence. AA.i.152; also Mil.360, where more details are given of how Upasena admitted monks into the Order and of the conditions imposed on them; for a slightly different version see Vin.iii.230 ff; it is said there that after Upasena’s visit, the Buddha allowed monks who followed the ascetic practices, to visit him even during his periods of retreat. See also Sp.iii.685 f.

He visited the Buddha when the Buddha had enjoined on himself a period of solitude for a fortnight; the monks had agreed that anyone who went to see the Buddha would be guilty of an offence to be confessed (pācittiya), but the Buddha, desiring to talk to him, asked one of Upasena’s followers if he liked rag-robes. “No, Sir, but I wear them out of regard for my teacher,” was the reply.

In the Theragāthā are found several verses ascribed to Upasena as having been spoken by him in answer to a question by his co-residents (saddhivihārika), regarding what was to be done during the dissensions of the Kosambī monks (vv. 577‑86; the first verse is quoted in the Milindapañha 371 and also the fifth 395). The Milindapañha (pp.393, 394) contains several other verses attributed to Upasena similar in their trend of ideas and admonitions. The Udāna states (p.45 f; UdA.266 ff) that once when he was taking his siesta he reviewed the happiness he enjoyed and the glories of the life he led under the guidance of the Buddha. The Buddha, noticing this, proclaimed his approval.

One day, while Upasena was sitting after his meal in the shadow of the Sappasoṇḍika-pabbhāra, fanned by the gentle breeze, mending his outer robe, two young snakes were sporting in the tendrils overhanging the cave. One fell on his shoulder and bit him, and the venom spread rapidly throughout his body; he called to Sāriputta and other monks who were near, and requested that he might be taken outside on a couch, there to die. This was done, and his body “was scattered there and then like a handful of chaff.” (S.iv.40 f; SA.iii.10).

Upasena had been, in Padumuttara’s day, a householder of Haṃsavatī. One day he heard the Buddha declare one of his monks to be the best of those who were altogether charming, and wished for a similar declaration regarding himself by some future Buddha. Towards this end he did many deeds of piety (ThagA.i.525). The Apadāna mentions that he gave a meal to Padumuttara and eight monks, and at the meal placed over the Buddha’s head a parasol made of kaṇikāra-flowers. As a result, he was thirty times king of the devas and twenty-one times Cakkavatti. (Ap.i.62). The verses quoted from the Apadāna in the ThagA. are slightly different.

Upasena is given, together with Yasa Kākandakaputta, as an example of one who observed the Vinaya precepts thoroughly, without imposing any new rules or agreements. DA.ii.525.

See also Vaka Jātaka.

3. Upasena Thera.– Mentioned in the Gandhavaṃsa (61, 66; also Svd.1197) as the author of the Saddhammappajjotikā, the commentary on the Mahā Niddesa. However, see Upatissa (13).

4. Upasena.– Son of Sujāta Buddha. Bu.xiii.22.

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