Yakkha, Yakka: 4 definitions


Yakkha means something in Buddhism, Pali. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

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In Buddhism

Theravada (major branch of Buddhism)

Source: Access to Insight: A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms

One of a special class of powerful "non human" beings - sometimes kindly, sometimes murderous and cruel - corresponding roughly to the fairies and ogres of Western fairy tales. The female (yakkhini) is generally considered more treacherous than the male.

Source: Pali Kanon: Pali Proper Names

A class of non human beings generally described as amanussa. They are mentioned with Devas, Rakkhasas, Danavas, Gandhabbas, Kinnaras, and Mahoragas (? Nagas) (E.g., J.v.420).

In other lists (E.g., PvA. 45, 55) they range immediately above the Petas; in fact, some of the happier Petas are called Yakkhas. Elsewhere (E.g., A.ii.38) they rank, in progressive order, between manussa and gandhabba. They are of many different kinds: spirits, ogres, dryads, ghosts, spooks. In the early records, yakkha, like naga, as an appellative, was anything but depreciative. Thus not only is Sakka, king of the gods, so referred to (M.i.252; J.iv.4; DA.i.264), but even the Buddha is spoken of as a yakkha in poetic diction (M.i.386). Many gods, such as Kakudha, are so addressed (S.i.54).

According to a passage in the Vimanavatthu Commentary, (VvA.333) which gives illustrations, the term is used for Sakka, the Four Regent Gods (Maharajano), the followers of Vessavana, and also for puriso (individual soul?). In the scholiast to the Jayadissa Jataka (J.v.33), the figure of the hare in the moon is also called yakkha. Of these above named, the followers of Vessavana appear to be the Yakkhas proper. The term yakkha as applied to purisa is evidently used in an exceptionally philosophical sense as meaning soul in such passages as ettavata yakkhassa suddhi (SN.vs.478), or ettavat aggam no vadanti h eka, yakkhassa suddhim idha panditase (SN.vs.875).

In the Niddesa (MNid.282), yakkha is explained by satta, nara, manava, posa, puggala, jiva, jagu, jantu, indagu, manuja. The last term is significant as showing that yakkha also means man.

The cult of yakkhas seems to have arisen primarily from the woods and secondarily from the legends of sea faring merchants. To the latter origin belong the stories connected with vimanas found in or near the sea or in lakes. The worship of trees and the spirits inhabitating them is one of the most primitive forms of religion. Some, at least, of the yakkhas are called rukkha devata (E.g., J.iii.309, 345; Pv.i.9; PvA.5) (spirits of trees), and others bhummadevata, (PvA.45,55) (spirits of the earth), who, too, seem to have resided in trees. Generally speaking, the Yakkhas were decadent divinities, beings half deified, having a devas supernormal powers, particularly as regards influencing people, partly helpful, partly harmful. They are sometimes called devata (E.g., S.i.205), or devaputta (E.g., PvA. 113, 139). Some of these, like Indakuta and Suciloma, are capable of intelligent questioning on metaphysics and ethics. All of them possess supernatural powers; they can transfer themselves at will, to any place, with their abodes, and work miracles, such as assuming any shape at will. An epithet frequently applied is mahiddhika (E.g., Pv.ii.9; J.vi.118).

context information

Theravāda is a major branch of Buddhism having the the Pali canon (tipitaka) as their canonical literature, which includes the vinaya-pitaka (monastic rules), the sutta-pitaka (Buddhist sermons) and the abhidhamma-pitaka (philosophy and psychology).

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Pali-English dictionary

Source: BuddhaSasana: Concise Pali-English Dictionary

yakkha : (m.) a demon.

Source: Sutta: The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary

Yakkha, (Vedic yakṣa, quick ray of light, but also “ghost”; fr. yaks to move quickly; perhaps: swift creatures, changing their abode quickly and at will.—The customary (popular) etym. of Pali Commentators is y. as quâsi grd. of yaj, to sacrifice, thus: a being to whom a sacrifice (of expiation or propitiation) is given. See e.g. VvA. 224: yajanti tattha baliṃ upaharantī ti yakkhā; or VvA. 333: pūjanīya-bhavato yakkho ti vuccati.—The term yakṣa as attendants of Kubera occurs already in the Upanishads. ) 1. name of certain non-human beings, as spirits, ogres, dryads, ghosts, spooks. Their usual epithet and category of being is amanussa, i.e. not a human being (but not a sublime god either); a being half deified and of great power as regards influencing people (partly helping, partly hurting). They range in appearance immediately above the Petas; many “successful” or happy Petas are in fact Yakkhas (see also below). They correspond to our “genii” or fairies of the fairy-tales and show all their qualities. In many respects they correspond to the Vedic Piśācas, though different in many others, and of diff. origin. Historically they are remnants of an ancient demonology and of considerable folkloristic interest, as in them old animistic beliefs are incorporated and as they represent creatures of the wilds and forests, some of them based on ethnological features. See on term e.g. Dial. III, 188; on their history and identity Stede, Gespenstergeschichten des Peta Vatthu chap. v.; pp. 39—44.—They are sometimes called devatā: S. I, 205; or devaputtā: PvA. 113, 139. A female Yakkha is called yakkhinī (q. v.).

2. Their usual capacity is one of kindness to men (cp. Ger. Rūbezahl). They are also interested in the spiritual welfare of those humans with whom they come into contact, and are something like “tutelary genii” or even “angels” (i.e. messengers from another world) who will save prospective sinners from doing evil (cp. Pv IV. 1). They also act as guides in the “inferno”: Pv IV. 11, cp. IV. 3. A somewhat dangerous “Mentor” is represented at D. I, 95, where the y. Vajirapāṇī threatens to slay Ambaṭṭha with an iron hammer, if he does not answer the Bhagavā. He is represented as hovering in the air; Bdhgh. (DA. I, 264) says on this: na yo vā so vā yakkho, Sakko devarājā ti veditabbo: it is to be understood not as this or that y. but as Sakka the king of devas.—Whole cities stand under the protection of, or are inhabited by yakkhas; D. II, 147 (ākiṇṇa-yakkha full of y.; thus Āḷakamandā may here mean all kinds of supra-mundane beings), cp. Lankā (Ceylon) as inhabited by y. : Mhvs 7, 33.—Often, however, they are cruel and dangerous. The female yakkhas seem on the whole more fearful and evilnatured than the male (see under yakkhinī). They eat flesh and blood: J. IV, 549; devour even men: D. II, 346; J. II, 15—17, or corpses: J. I, 265; mentioned under the 5 ādīnavā (dangers) at A. III, 256. A yakkha wants to kill Sāriputta: Ud. 4.

3. Var. classes of y. are enumerated at D. II, 256, 257; in a progressive order they rank between manussa and gandhabba at A. II, 38; they are mentioned with devas, rakkhasas, dānavas, gandhabbas, kinnaras and mah’oragas at J. V, 420. According to VvA. 333 Sakka, the 4 great kings (lokapālā), the followers of Vessavaṇa (alias Yama, the yakkhas proper) and men (see below 7) go by the name of yakkha.—Sakka, the king of the devas, is often named yakkha: J. IV, 4; DA. I, 264. Some are spirits of trees (rukkha-devatā): J. III, 309 345; Pv. I, 9; II, 9; PvA. 5; are also called bhumma-devā (earthly deities) PvA. 45, 55. Their cult seems to originate primarily from the woods (thus in trees: Pv. II, 9; IV, 3), and secondarily from the legends of sea-faring merchants (cp. the story of the flyingDutchman). To the latter origin point the original descriptions of a Vimāna or fairy-palace, which is due to a sort of mirage. These are usually found in or at the sea, or in the neighbourhood of silent lakes, where the sense of hauntedness has given rise to the fear of demons or supernatural witchcraft. Cp. the entrances to a Vimāna by means of a dried-up river bed (Pv. I, 9; II, 12) and the many descriptions of the Vimānas in the Lake-districts of the Himavant in Vv. (See Stede, Peta Vatthu translation p. 104 sq.)

4. Their names too give us a clue as to their origin and function. These are taken from (a) their bodily appearance, which possesses many of the attributes of Petas, e.g. Khara “Rough-skin” or “Shaggy” Sn. p. 48 (=khara-samphassaṃ cammaṃ SnA 302), also as Khara-loma “Rough-hair” Vism. 208; Khara-dāṭhika “Rough-tooth” J. I, 31. Citta “Speckled” Mhvs 9, 22; 10, 4; also as Citta-rājā J. II, 372; Mhvs 10, 84. Silesa-loma “Sticky-hair” J. I, 273. Sūci-loma “Needlehair” Sn. p. 47, 48; S. I, 207; Vism. 208; SnA 302.—(b) places of inhabitance, attributes of their realm, animals and plants, e.g. Ajakalāpaka “Goat-bundle” Ud. 1. Āḷavaka “Forest-dweller” J. IV, 180; VI, 329; Mhvs 30, 84: Vism. 208. Uppala “Lotus” DhA. IV, 209. Kakudha “K. -tree” (Terminalia arjuna) S. I, 54. Kumbhīra “Crocodile” J. VI, 272. Gumbiya either “One of a troop” (soldier of Yama) or “Thicket-er” (fr. gumba thicket) J. III, 200, 201. Disāmukha “Skyfacer” DhA. IV, 209. Yamamoli “Yamachignon” DhA. IV, 208. Vajira “Thunderbolt” DhA. IV, 209; alias Vajira-pāṇī D. I, 95, or Vajira-bāhu DhA. IV, 209. Sātāgira “Pleasant-mount” D. II, 256; Sn. 153; J. IV, 314; VI, 440. Serīsaka “Acacia-dweller” VvA. 341 (the messenger of Vessavaṇa).—(c) qualities of character, e.g. Adhamma “Unrighteous” Miln. 202 (formerly Devadatta). Katattha “Well-wisher” DhA. IV, 209. Dhamma “Righteous” Miln. 202 (=Bodhisatta). Puṇṇaka “Full(-moon?)” J. VI, 255 sq. (a leader of soldiers, nephew of Vessavaṇa). Māra the “Tempter” Sn. 449; S. I, 122; M. I, 338. Sakata “Waggon-load” (of riches) DhA. IV, 209 — (d) embodiments of former persons, e.g. Janavasabha “Lord of men” D. II, 205. Dīgha M. I, 210. Naradeva J. VI, 383, 387. Paṇḍaka “Eunuch” Mhvs 12, 21. Sīvaka S. I, 241=Vin. II, 156. Serī “Self-willed” S. I, 57.—Cp. the similar names of yakkhinīs.

5. They stand in a close relationship to and under the authority of Vessavaṇa (Kuvera), one of the 4 lokapālas. They are often the direct servants (messengers) of Yama himself, the Lord of the Underworld (and the Peta-realm especially). Cp. D. II, 257; III, 194 sq.; J. IV, 492 (yakkhinī fetches water for Vessavaṇa); VI, 255 sq. (Puṇṇaka, the nephew of V, ); VvA. 341 (Serīsaka, his messenger). In relation to Yama: dve yakkhā Yamassa dūtā Vv 522; cp. Np. Yamamolī DhA. IV, 208.—In harmony with tradition they share the rôle of their master Kuvera as lord of riches (cp. Pv. II, 922) and are the keepers (and liberal spenders) of underground riches, hidden treasures etc. with which they delight men: see e.g. the frame story to Pv. II, 11 (PvA. 145), and to IV. 12 (PvA. 274). They enjoy every kind of splendour & enjoyment, hence their attribute kāma-kāmin Pv. I, 33. Hence they possess supernatural powers, can transfer themselves to any place with their palaces and work miracles; a frequent attribute of theirs is mah’iddhika (Pv. II, 910; J. VI, 118). Their appearance is splendid, as a result of former merit: cp. Pv. I, 2; I, 9; II, 11; IV, 317. At the same time they are possessed of odd qualities (as result of former demerit); they are shy, and afraid of palmyra leaf & iron: J. IV, 492; their eyes are red & do not wink: J. V, 34; VI, 336, 337.—Their abode is their self-created palace (Vimāna), which is anywhere in the air, or in trees etc. (see under vimāna). Sometimes we find a communion of yakkhas grouped in a town, e.g. Āḷakamandā D. II, 147; Sirīsa-vatthu (in Ceylon) Mhvs 7, 32.

6. Their essential human character is evident also from their attitude towards the “Dhamma. ” In this respect many of them are “fallen angels” and take up the word of the Buddha, thus being converted and able to rise to a higher sphere of existence in saṃsāra. Cp. D. III, 194, 195; J. II, 17; VvA. 333; Pv. II, 810 (where “yakkha” is explained by Dhpāla as “pet-attabhāvato cuto (so read for mato!) yakkho ataṃ jāto dev-attabhāvaṃ patto” PvA. 110); SnA 301 (both Sūciloma & Khara converted).—See in general also the foll. passages: Sn. 153, 179, 273, 449; S. I, 206—15; A. I, 160; Vism. 366 (in simile); Miln. 23.

7. Exceptionally the term “yakkha” is used as a philosophical term denoting the “individual soul” (cp. similar Vedic meaning “das lebendige Ding” (B. R.) at several AV. passages); hence probably the old phrase: ettāvatā yakkhassa suddhi (purification of heart) Sn. 478, quoted VvA. 333 (ettāvat’aggaṃ no vadanti h’eke yakkhassa sudhiṃ idha paṇḍitāse). Sn. 875 (cp. Nd1 282: yakkha=satta, nara, puggala, manussa).

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Pali is the language of the Tipiṭaka, which is the sacred canon of Theravāda Buddhism and contains much of the Buddha’s speech. Closeley related to Sanskrit, both languages are used interchangeably between religions.

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