Demons in Buddhism

There are many supernatural beings in Buddhist literature. Many are referred to as demons. Demons serve many purposes in Buddhism which gives us a different aspect of how they affected Buddha and his struggles to reach enlightenment. Demons represent everything a Buddhist wishes to transcend.

Ancient artworks depict vivid and ominous images. These likenesses have been found in long abandoned caves in the Himalayas; beautiful murals on their walls. Colorful paintings, sculptures and ceremonial ritual objects that are found in museums. All attest to the Buddha’s confrontations with demons.

The Wrathful Deities – are ferocious demonic beings. Terrifying forms, many of them baring fangs, drinking blood or wearing garlands of severed heads. Though these hideous, hair-raising images seem contradictory to Buddhist ideals, they are not the personifications of evil or demonic forces. Rather, the Wrathful Deities are benevolent gods, symbolizing the tremendous task to vanquish evil. These beings inspire determination, destroys negativity and ignorance and instills fear in the enemy. These deities are an embodiment of the “Demonic Divine” and serve as protectors and guardians of the Buddhist faith.

q3Oni – the Oni are great horned demons who appear in a variety of colors. They have three fingers and three toes. Oni is represented as having enormous, thick, misshaped bodies often having the head of an oxen or horse. Sometimes they can be found with three eyes, as well. This demon is a torturer and jailer in the Buddhist hell. Oni is responsible for illness and disease. Buddhist priests performed annual rituals in order to keep the demons at bay. The Oni are cruel and lecherous entities often said to swoop down from the sky to steal the souls of those who lay dying.

Blue Three Eyed Oni

Preta – the Sanskrit word for Hungry Ghost is “Preta”, which means “departed one”. Hungry q2Ghosts are pitiful creatures with enormous empty bellies and pinhole mouths. Their necks are so thin they cannot swallow, so remain hungry. These beings are insatiable; the greedy ones, trapped in agony. The Preta are reborn entities or spirits that are trapped by the evil deeds they have done. Hungry Ghosts are associated with compulsion, greed, addiction and obsession. Preta Hell

Mara – the personification of evil and temptation. Mara is one of the earliest non-human beings to appear in Buddhist scriptures. Mara is a demon, often referred to as the “Lord of Death”. Mara personifies the fulfillment of desire of the “Triple Thirst”; the thirst for existence, the thirst for pleasure, the thirst for power.

Mara’s role in Buddha’s path to enlightenment is significant. The soon-to-be Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama sat in meditation. Mara, the demon of evil and temptation; the seducer; the provider of sensory pleasures; the master of delusions and bringer of spiritual death brought his three daughters, Desire, Fulfillment and Regret to seduce Siddhartha. Siddhartha remained in meditation. Then Mara called upon his army of demons and monsters to attack him. Yet Siddhartha remained untouched.

q1Finally, the Lord of Death claimed that enlightenment seat rightfully belonged to him and not to the mortal Siddhartha. Mara’s horde of demons cried out together, “I am his witness!” Then Mara challenged Siddhartha, “Who will speak for you?”

Mara Attacking Siddhartha

Then Siddhartha placed his right hand on the earth, and the earth spoke, “I bear you witness!” With that, Mara disappeared. As the morning sun broke the horizon, Siddhartha Gautama realized enlightenment and became the Buddha.

In contrast to western representations, the demons of Asia are primarily the powerful ancient spirits of nature, who require recognition and appeasement. Many offerings are set out to this day to placate these demons.


Buddha Achieves Enlightenment


Barbara O’Brien –

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Julie Carter

Julie Carter

I was born in Denver, Colorado. I only lived there until I was four. I next lived in Boise, ID and after that, Edmonds, WA. I graduated from Edmonds High School and went on to Everett Community College where I studied Theatre. I have been married for 36 years and have three grown children and a granddog, who is also grown.
I have had several jobs in my life due to moving around for my husband's job, including: Trade Administrator for a barter type company, selling newspaper advertising for the local newspaper and I taught Theatre to high school kids.
I love The Eagles, and I also love to read, play cards and the paranormal.
I'd like to go on an investigation sometime. For now? I'm content to soak up as much as I can from NPS.
Julie Carter

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