Upāli (Sanskrit उपालि upāli) was a top master of Vinaya. He was born in the Shudra class and worked as a barber.
He belonged to a barber's family in Kapilavatthu and entered the service of the Sakiyan princes. When Anuruddha and his cousins left the world and sought ordination from the Buddha at Anupiya Grove, Upali accompanied them. They gave him all their valuable ornaments, but, on further consideration, he refused to accept them and wished to bevome a monk with them. The reason given for his refusal is that he knew the Sakyans were hot-headed, and feared that the kinsmen of the princes might suspect him of having murdered the young men for the sake of their belongings.
He asked the Buddha if a person of "low birth" such as he could join the order. Buddha ordained him before the princes and asked the princes to pay homage to Upali, who by then had become an Arahant with Buddha's sermons while Buddha was getting a haircut.
Upali's, upajjhaya was Kappitaka (Vin.iv.308). When Upali went to the Buddha for an exercise for meditation, he asked that he might be allowed to dwell in the forest. But the Buddha would not agree, for if Upali went into the forest he would learn only meditation, while,if he remained amongst men, he would have knowledge both of meditation and of the word of the Dhamma. Upali accepted the Buddha's advice and, practising insight, in due course won arahantship. The Buddha himself taught Upali the whole of the Vinaya Pitaka (ThagA.i.360f,370;AA.i.172).
He became the chief disciple in knowing the rules of the order and the foremost disciple in keeping precepts. In the assembly of the Sangha. the Buddha declared him to be the most proficient of those who were learned in the Vinaya (vinayadharanam) (A.i.24; see also vin.iv.142, where the Buddha is mentioned as speaking Upali's praises). He is often spoken of as having reached the pinnacle of the Vinaya, or as being its chief repository (Vinaye agganikkhitto), (E.g., Dpv.iv.3,5; v.7, 9) and three particular cases - those of Abiuka (Vin.iii.66f), the Bharukacchaka monk (Vin.iii.39) and Kumara-Kassapa (AA.i.158;MA.i.336;J.i.148;DhA.iii.145) - are frequently mentioned in this connection as instances where Upali's decisions on Vinaya rules earned the special commendation of the Buddha.
In the First Buddhwt council, the Vinaya was compiled based on his memory. In the Ratagaha Council, Upali took a leading part, deciding all the questions relative to the Vinaya, in the same way as Ananda decided questions regarding the Dhamma.
Upali's death was in the sixth year of Udayibhadda's reign.