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The 19 Scariest Demons And Monsters From Buddhism

List RulesVote up the scariest monsters and demons that come from Buddhism.

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 possesses 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 an 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 from generation to generation, Buddhist demons will scare the sh*t out of you, no matter your religious affiliations. 

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    Yama

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Yama is one of the eight dharmapala, 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 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, as well as Japanese, Korean, and Chinese mythology. He's of Hindu origin

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    The'u Rang

    The’u Rang is a group of spirits with, depending upon the account, nine, 11, or 360 members. They pre-date the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet, but were absorbed into Buddhist beliefs as the majority of Tibetans became Buddhist. Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, authors of Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry, describe the The'u Rang as "impish miniature goblins." Some Tibetans believe they're the ghosts of deceased children. 

    In some instances, The'u Rang are considered benign. However, some Tibetans believe they are malevolent spirits that cause violent, destructive lightning and impregnate women. Debrong Pano, the kind of the The’u Rang, has nine heads, 18 arms, and 1,000 eyes (so about 111 eyes per head).

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    Preta

    Photo: Temple, Richard Carnac, Sir / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Preta are known as hungry ghosts, a translation taken from a Chinese version of an ancient Indian text (it's a little confusing). In Sanskrit, the word "preta" simply means "(one who is) gone forth." Preta appear in various myths and religions. In their most common form, they are constantly hungry and thirsty, to the point of existing in a state of insanity. In Buddhism, they are often pitied; some monks leave food and drink out for them.

    In some forms, preta cannot eat or drink because their throats are too narrow. In others, they eat and drink constantly but cannot sate their hunger and thirst. Hungry ghosts aren't typically dangerous, though in some cases they lust after things that put them at odds with human life - blood, for instance. They appear in many forms. Sometimes they look mummified. In Japanese scrolls, hungry ghosts (which are called gaki and jikininki in Japanese) are emaciated, with swollen bellies. 

    The hungry ghosts of Japanese Buddhism are the cursed souls of those whose lust and greed destroyed them in life. As such, they exist as warnings against excessive lust and greed. Japanese hungry ghosts often hunger for something repugnant (corpses, feces) as a punishment for their behavior in life. 

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  • 8

    Rolangs

    Rolangs are Tibetan folkloric zombies. The word “ro" means "corpse," while "langs" means "to rise up;" together, they mean “a risen corpse." Rolangs come into existence in phases. After a person perishes, the corpse moans, then tries to sit up. Eventually, it succeeds, then starts muttering to itself, then becomes strong enough to stand up and move about.

    Like zombies, rolangs can turn living people into rolangs by biting them. Rolangs are mentioned in Tibetan Buddhist history, in which a Buddhist votary cuts off a rolang’s tongue, turning it into a sword, and converts the rolangs' body into gold.

    It's possible to prevent a corpse from becoming a rolangs. In one story, a Buddhist monk performs phowa, a meditative act of conscious dying, on behalf of a corpse on the verge of becoming a rolangs. Through phowa, the spirit of the corpse leaves the body, which then ceases its rising. 

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