Suttas on social and political organization in non-human realms?

In the EBT, monarchy seems to be the prevailing form of government in the human realm, and the caste system and contemporary norms on the social and economic roles of men and women are also reflected.

Are there suttas that describe political and social structures that emerge in other realms, for example, among the various devas, or the hungry ghosts?

If yes, which suttas are they?

In particular, I am curious if the EBT envision more egalitarian organizations of public and private life in realms in which desire, suffering, and delusion are present to different levels than among humans.

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Generally yes, human hierarchies are projected into the divine realms too:

  • In SN 11.9, SN 11.18-20, SN 11.23 Sakka is called devaraja - king of devas.
  • In DN 32 (and a few other places) the ‘Four Great Kings’ explicitly rule over the Gandhabbas, Kumbhaṇḍas, Nāgas, and Yakkhas.
  • DN 21 mentions the office of ‘brahmapurohitas’, i.e. the High Priests of Brahma (or of the Brahma realm). The purohita was historically the office of the High Priest at the king’s court.

But these are not really Buddhist inventions, and I also doubt that these suttas go back to the Buddha (by far not). There were ‘kings of gods’ already in the Rgveda. Also Bṛhaspati is already the purohita of the Gods in the Brahmanas. Only the Four Great Kings are a Buddhist (or local) innovation, but not divine kingship itself.

Also, in AN 3.36 and MN 130 Yama rules the realm of the dead, which is again based on pre-Buddhist mythology (already in the Rgveda).


Thank you for the answer and the sutta references!

Do you know if there are also mentions of worldly livelihood in non-human realms? For example, are devas supposed to be subject to dilemmas about right livelihood?

And if there are also descriptions of personal relationships? Are there mentions of female and male devas in intimate relationships where their roles within a “household” could be discerned?

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I don’t recall any livelihood issues with supernatural beings. A few times there could be references to devas eating (donated) food. Eg DN 9, AN 5.166, and AN 11.13 mention beings (probably devas) which are solid (oḷārika) and consume solid food.

Ancestor rituals and food donations are sometimes mentioned in the suttas (mostly by brahmins of course), but there is one sutta, AN 10.177, where the Buddha suggests that the food donated actually goes to that realm and benefits one being or another.

But while some supernatural beings eat solid food this - at least to my knowledge - doesn’t translate to an issue of livelihood. But then again devas are not ‘monastics’ for whom livelihood is the most complex (whereas right livelihood for lay people seems relatively simple). The closest to a ‘monastic’ god is Brahma Sahampati, but he has neither food nor livelihood issues.


Thank you for sharing your knowledge on these!