King of Hell and hell wardens?

In the past, I read Devaduta Sutta and many other Suttas that speak of “Yama King” and “Hell wardens”.

I know that the Yama king is a Vemānikapetarājā (Lord of spirits with celestial mansion?)

Collectively, is Yama King considered as a Deva?

But nothing much about the “hell wardens”. Who are they actually? What is the answer according to classical Theravada?


I cant remember where I read it, (I think in a paper), but I recall reading something about King Yama being a type of half deva/half hungry ghost ( vimānapeta) being according to commentaries. He presides over judgement of other beings for some part of the day and then in the other parts of the day pots of burning oil appear and he is grabbed by the wardens and tortured like a hell being until the next phase of the day begins and he returns to being a judge or something like that. This is pretty similar to other such mixed state beings found in the vimanavatthu. I would imagine the kamma to be born a King Yama being is similar to the kamma committed by other vimānapeta beings described in the vimanavatthu. As for the actual guards of hell, I’m not sure, I do recall hearing that is also some kind of mixed-karma state like King Yama, although the source I heard that one from is not reasonably traceable to the commentaries or suttas and is just hearsay (although it could still be true)

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Whoever reborn to such existence is truly a tragedy. Reading the Suttas that related to Hells, really put a great deal of stress on me and a sense of urgency… I used to take it lightly and take it as metaphorical. But I don’t think Lord Buddha jokes about it or use the concept as simile. To him, it is just part of world nature.

As long as we remained as Putthujjana, there is no escape from Hells. If we can escape in the immediate next life, there is no guarantee that we will can escape again next existence. There is no telling what kind of suffering is going on there (Suttas gave only little description), and this is really scary.

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From this thread, it was mentioned that hell wardens are belong to Catumaharajikā realm. In that case, I guess King Yama of Hell was rules by Catumaharaja?

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I can try to find a reference, but a similar question was asked to Sayadawgyi about those who do the torturing (different from yama). He said they are not beings and more like creations of their own kamma. Sort of like torture-bots.
I’ll try to find more on this later. Send me a message if I forget or lose track.

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Then it seems the Sayadawgi is sharing Andhakas’ view.

From Kathavathu:

  1. Of the Guards of Purgatory Controverted Point: That in the purgatories there are no guards.

From the Commentary: Some—for instance, the Andhakas—hold that there are no such beings, but that the hell-doomed karmas in the shape of hell-keepers purge the sufferers.

Sakavadin: Do you imply that there are no punishments inflicted in the purgatories? You maintain the contrary?

But you cannot maintain both propositions. You admit that on earth there are both punishments and executioners? Yet you deny that the latter exist in purgatory …

Moreover, was it not said by the Exalted One:

“Not Vessabhu nor yet the Petas’ King, Soma, Yama, or King Vessavana — The deeds that were his own do punish him who ending here attains to other worlds”?
Hence there are guards in purgatory.

Again, was it not said by the Exalted One:

“Him, bhikkhus, hell’s guards torture with the fvefold punishment; they thrust a hot iron stake through one hand, then another through the other hand, then one through the foot, then an-other through the other foot; they thrust a hot iron stake through the middle of the chest. And he thereupon feels painful, piercing, intolerable suffering, nor does he die till that evil deed of his is cancelled”?

Again, was it not said [further] by the Exalted One:

“Him, bhikkhus, hell’s guards make to lie down and fay him with hatchets …they place him head downwards and fay him with knives …they bind him to a chariot and drive him to and fro over burning, blazing, glowing ground …they lift him up on to a great hill of burning, blazing, white-hot coals and roll him down the fiery slope …they double him up and cast him into a hot brazen jar, burning, blazing, glowing, where he boils, coming up like a bubble of foam, then sinking, going now to this side, now to that. There he suffers fierce and bitter pain, nor does he die till that evil karma is cancelled.

Him, bhikkhus, they cast into the Great Purgatory. Now this:

“In districts measured out four-square, four-doored, iron the ramparts bounding it, with iron roofed, iron its soil welded by fiery heat, spreading a hundred leagues it stands for aye?"

Hence there surely are guards in purgatory.

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My friend just confirmed that you are correct.

The ruler of the great hell is called Yama or Yamaraja. But there is not only one Yamaraja for one Mahaniraya; there are actually four Yamaraja who are in charge of the four gates. Thus for eight great hells there are altogether thirty-two Yamaraja. Apart from these Yamaraja there are a number of hell-guardians called Niraya-pala.

The duty of the Yamaraja is to consider the case of each hell creature and give orders for punishment; the Niraya-pala’s duty is to inflict the penalties typical of each hell on the hell-creatures. Yamaraja and Niraya-pala are actually not hell beings but belong to the heaven of Catummaharajika.

They are described as Vemanikapeta, the beings that sometimes enjoy the fruitions of their meritorious kamma in heaven and sometimes suffer the results of their evil deeds in hell. By particular kinds of karnma they are sent to perform their duties in this realm of misery by inflicting penalties on the hell creatures.

He said that those that torture others in hell are “living beings”.

Interviews will open again in 2 days. I can ask Sayadawgyi himself. I think the question I heard almost 10 years ago was whether those torture beings get akusala for doing their job. It was quite a long time ago and Saydawgyi is old. I will see if I can ask.

We also have other experts I can verify and one already did verify they are living and create akusala… However, it was a long time ago, and I might be recalling wrong. But it was strange to hear, and that was why it stuck.

Please let us know what is their answers too. Thank you for sharing Bhante.

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They are doing that as a part of their own suffering in hell (naraka). They are a type of peta or asura. There are asuras who attack each other in order to get blood to eat. Some have to eat their own flesh.
A type of asura is to suffer during daytime and live like divine at night. Some suffer at night and live like divine during the day. They suffer that way for their good kamma and bad kamma.

King Yama is a type of Vemanika Peta - a type of peta who govern other peta(s). So there are many many King Yama(s) governing certain hells. Vemanika Peta - Google Zoeken

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Bhante, what was the answer of Sayadaw?

Ven Pa-Auk Sayadawgyi is old and he is not as nimble as he used to be and we cannot ask him to look things up for us like we used to do. I asked the senior monk on this and he confirmed what we already know. The commentaries did say there were some mahatheras who thought otherwise, but it was decided in favor of the katha vathu.

I think the question has been answered.

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