The existence of demons and monsters is often crucial to a religious system. These scary Buddhist monsters don't exist just to spook you, they symbolize vile and evil aspects of human nature. Buddhists believe every human being posses Buddha nature, and can achieve enlightenment, but also that humans are inherently predisposed to giving in to their basest desires, such as greed, ego, lust, and anger. Scary demons from Buddhism typically embody impure thoughts and desires that lead to negative behavior, though some are simply frightening reminders to do only good things.
The world is full of things both good and bad. The same applies to monsters in Buddhism. Some of the monstrous creatures on this list are benevolent, while other Buddhist demons are troublemakers with evil intentions. One thing they all have in common: supernatural abilities and otherworldly appearance, which makes them terrifying.
Beyond being fearsome fictional characters, these weird Buddhist demons are central to the belief system of many Buddhist sects, which gives them the power to influence human behavior. Depicted in archaic scriptures and passed along generation to generation, Buddhist demons will scare the sh*t out of you, no matter your religious affiliations.
Rakshasas, demonic man-eaters, come from Hindu cosmology. Because the historical Buddha was from India, a number of ideas from Hinduism informed Buddhism at its inception. Rakshasas appear in the Maha Samaya and Alavaka, ancient Indian Buddhist texts, in the latter of which Buddha convinces the demon to give up its evil ways and strive for enlightenment.
Traditional Hindu and Indian Buddhist rakshasas posses black magic, and have long, toxic fingernails, in addition to their human-devouring obsession. They are hardly your garden variety fearsome brute; some Rakshasa were very clever and deceitful. Some stories also mentioned Rakshasas attempting to munch not on gods as well as mortals. Beyond India, rakshakas appear in numerous forms, as you'll see throughout this list.
Mara’s fearsme appearance and evil character live up to his title, Lord of Death. The personification of evil and temptation, Mara, according to some scriptures, tempted and attacked Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, just before he achieved enlightenment. Mara holds the distinction of being one of the oldest Buddhist demons, and one of the first non-human beings to appear in Buddhist writings. Buddhism was originally atheistic, and evolved to incorporate tales of gods and demons after the Buddha's death, and in the words of his acolytes.
When Mara met Siddhartha, he attempted to use his power of delusion to bring about the Buddha's spiritual death, with the help of his daughters Desire, Fulfillment, and Regret. When that failed, Mara called his army of demons to attack Siddhartha. Generally speaking, Mara opposes religion and is capable of inflicting coma and illness on humans.
Yama is one of the eight dharmapalas, wrathful protectors of Buddhism. Despite Yama’s role as one of the good guys, he looks terrifying. As the King of Hell, Yama judges the dead wearing a crown of five skulls, which accentuates his association with death and naraka (hell). Yama created old age, disease, and deterioration to teach humans the value of life and encourage them to behave well while they're alive, and, as such, represents impermanence. People who do not heed his warnings will face eternal suffering.
Yama is a prevalent figure in many Asian countries, making appearances in Tibetan and Southeast Asian Buddhism and Japanese, Korean, and Chinese mythology. He's of Hindu origin.
The story of Alavaka, from Indian Buddhism, is so similar to that of Mara's encounter with Siddhartha, one was probably based on the other, or they arose from the same myth. According to this story, Alavaka was an evil man who feasted on human flesh and performed other feats so horrible he was known as "the demon." To some, he was never a man, but a demon in human form.
At the time of his encounter with Alavaka, Buddha was an itinerant ascetic. He arrived in the city of Alavi while it was being terrorized by Alavaka lived. Concerned for the people of Alavi, one of whom was being eaten by Alavaka, each day, Buddha visited the demon. Alavaka tried to trick Buddha, scare him, and otherwise bring about his death, but all in vain. He then tried to outsmart Buddha, though through a series of questions and answers, Buddha was able to show Alavaka the value of compassion, and the demon became an acolyte of Siddharth. He accepted the Dharma and became vegetarian.