Is Devaduta Sutta authentic?

Hello all,

In the Buddha’s teaching generally and particularly in Theravada Buddhism there is no superior being passing judgement. Suffering is caused by one’s own kamma. In Devaduta Sutta, a person who failed to see deva messenger (birth, old-age, sickness and death) as in addition to “no respect for mother, no respect for father, no reverence for contemplatives, no reverence for brahmans, no honor for the leaders of his clan” is judged and punished.

I think there are not many people who see birth, old-age, sickness and death as the messenger of deva, does it mean everyone has to face Lord Yama in order to be judged? The notion of “superior being” does not make this Sutta closer to Buddha’s teaching either. Can anyone shade some light, is this Sutta authentic/ words of Buddha or not? Thank you.

Dear SC1100,

IMO, Devaduta Sutta is an authentic EBT, because it has a paralel in the Chinese Agama (MA 64 and EA 32.4). So, it’s not just in Theravada tradition only. For the concept of birth, old age, sickness, and death as the divine messenger, Bhante Analayo’s research on this sutta and it’s parallels shows that this is precursor of the later legend of Bodhisatta’s going forth after seeing four sight (birth, old age, sickness, and death). For more information on this, you can open this link: https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/pdf/5-personen/analayo/divine-messengers.pdf

As for Yama king, I think it’s only adaptation of ancient Indian mythology of that time which is used by the Buddha to teach Dhamma.

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Here is the sutta text (AN 3.36) on the fist divine messenger:

“Here, bhikkhus, someone engages in misconduct by body, speech, and mind. In consequence, with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the plane of misery, in a bad destination, in the lower world, in hell. There the wardens of hell grab him by both arms and show him to King Yama, saying: ‘This person, your majesty, did not behave properly toward his mother and father; he did not behave properly toward ascetics and brahmins; and he did not honor the elders of the family. May your majesty inflict due punishment on him!’

(1) “Then King Yama questions, interrogates, and cross-examines him about the first divine messenger: ‘Good man, didn’t you see the first divine messenger that appeared among human beings?’ And he replies: ‘No, lord, I didn’t see him.’

“Then King Yama says to him: ‘But, good man, didn’t you ever see among human beings a man or a woman, eighty, ninety or a hundred years of age, frail, bent like a roof bracket, crooked, wobbling as they go along leaning on a stick, ailing, youth gone, with broken teeth, with grey and scanty hair or bald, with wrinkled skin and blotched limbs?’ And the man replies: ‘Yes, lord, I have seen this.’

“Then King Yama says to him: ‘Good man, didn’t it occur to you, an intelligent and mature person: “I too am subject to old age, I am not exempt from old age. Let me now do good by body, speech, and mind”?’ —‘No, lord, I could not. I was heedless.’

“Then King Yama says: ‘Through heedlessness, good man, you failed to do good by body, speech, or mind. Surely, they will treat you in a way that fits your heedlessness. That bad kamma of yours was not done by your mother or father, nor by your brother or sister, nor by your friends and companions, nor by your relatives and family members, nor by the deities, nor by ascetics and brahmins. Rather, you were the one who did that bad kamma, and you yourself will have to experience its result.’

It is easy to be mislead by the first paragraph of the sutta, in which the wardens of hell ask King Yāma to inflict appropriate punishment. But if you read the whole sutta carefully, you will see that King Yāma does in fact not inflict any punishment. Instead he says: “Surely, they will treat you in a way that fits your heedlessness. … Rather, you were the one who did that bad kamma, and you yourself will have to experience its result.” King Yāma is just reminding the person of what they have done.

I believe this is very similar to what many people experience during NDEs. People often experience a life review, and then a sense of judging whether they have lived well or badly. Just as in the story with King Yāma, it is the person who judges themselves. Even the idea of a King Yāma presiding over the questioning may not be purely allegorical. Apparently there are people who experience this sort of questioning by an authority figure during NDEs.

It was in fact Bhante Sujato who pointed this out to me many yeas ago.

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i think it means that one who fails to recognize those as messengers, be motivated by them to emend one’s own imperfections and impurities, leading to continuous flounder in samsara, will keep reaping the results of one’s unskillful actions and experience suffering

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I’ve read some NDE stories before, I think partly is because Lord Yama was introduced to them before or part of their culture. It’s somehow ingrained in their consciousness. Other people who experience NDE do not meet such superior figure. Obviously Lord Yama does not judge everyone, could that be the mind plays trick on us?