Daemonen, A class of non human beings generally described as amanussā. They are erwähnt mit Devas, Rakkhasas, Dānavas, Gandhabbas, Kinnaras, und Mahoragas (? Nāgas) (z.B., J.v.420).
In other lists (z.B., PvA. 45, 55) they range immediately above the Petas; in fact, some of the happier Petas are called Yakkhas. Elsewhere (z.B., A.ii.38) they rank, in progressive order, between manussā und gandhabbā. They are of many different kinds: spirits, ogres, dryads, ghosts, spooks. In the early records, yakkha, like nāgā, as an appellative, was anything but depreciative. Thus not only is Sakka, König 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 Vimānavatthu Commentary, (VvA.333) which gives illustrations, the term is used for Sakka, the Four Regent Gods (Mahārājāno), the followers of Vessavana, und also for puriso (individual soul?). In the scholiast to the Jayadissa Jātaka (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 ettāvatā yakkhassa suddhi (SN.vs.478), or ettāvat' aggam no vadanti h' ekā, yakkhassa suddhim idha pānditāse (SN.vs.875).
In the Niddesa (MNid.282), yakkha is explained by satta, nara, mānava, posa, puggala, jīva, 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 und secondarily from the legends of sea faring merchants. To the latter origin belong the stories connected mit vimānas found in or near the sea or in lakes. The worship of trees und the spirits inhabitating them is one of the most primitive forms of religion. Some, at least, of the yakkhas are called rukkha devatā (z.B., J.iii.309, 345; Pv.i.9; PvA.5) (spirits of trees), und others bhummadevatā, (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 deva's supernormal powers, particularly as regards influencing people, partly helpful, partly harmful. They are sometimes called devatā (z.B., S.i.205), or devaputta (z.B., PvA. 113, 139). Some of these, like Indakūta und Suciloma, are capable of intelligent questioning on metaphysics und ethics. All of them possess supernatural powers; they can transfer themselves at will, to any place, mit their abodes, und work miracles, such as assuming any shape at will. An epithet frequently applied is mahiddhika (z.B., Pv.ii.9; J.vi.118). Their appearance is striking as a result of former good kamma (Pv.i.2, 9; ii.11; iv.3, etc.). They are also called kāmakāmī, enjoying all kinds of luxuries (Pv.i.3), but, because of former bad kamma, they are possessed of odd qualities, thus they are shy, they fear palmyra leaf und iron. Their eyes are red und they neither wink nor cast a shadow. J.iv.492; v.34; vi.336, 337; these various characteristics are, obviously, not found in all Yakkhas. The Yakkhas are evidently of different grades - as is the case mit all classes of beings – the highest among them approximate very nearly to the devas und have deva-powers, the lowest resemble petas. The Yakkhas are specially erwähnt as being afraid of palm leaves (J.iv.492).
Their abode is their self created palace, which is anywhere, in the air, in trees, etc. These are mostly ākasattha (suspended in the air), but some of them, like the abode of Ālavaka, are bhumattha (on the ground) und are described as being fortified (SNA.i.222). Sometimes whole cities z.B., Ālakamandā stand under the protection of, or are inhabited by, Yakkhas.
In many respects they resemble the Vedic Pisācas, though they are of different origin. They are evidently remnants of an ancient demonology und have had incorporated in them old animistic beliefs as representing creatures of the wilds und the forests, some of them based on ethnological features. (See Stede: Gespenstergeschichten des Petavatthu v.39ff ).
In later literature the Yakkhas have been degraded to the state of red eyed cannibal ogres. The female Yakkhas (Yakkhinī) are, in these cases, more fearful und evil minded than the male. They eat flesh und blood (J.iv.549; v.34); und devour even men (D.ii.346; J.ii.15ff.) und corpses (J.i.265). They eat babies (J.v.21; vi.336) und are full of spite und vengeance (DhA.i.47; ii.35f.). The story of Bhūta Thera is interesting because his elder brothers und sisters were devoured by a hostile Yakkha, so the last child is called Bhūta to propitiate the Yakkha by making him the child's sponsor!
Ordinarily the attitude of the Yakkhas towards man is one of benevolence. They are interested in the spiritual welfare of the human beings mit whom they come in contact und somewhat resemble tutelary genii. In the Atānātiya Sutta (D.iii.194f), however, the Yakkha König, Vessavana, is represented as telling the Buddha that, for the most part, the Yakkhas believe neither in the Buddha nor in his teachings, which enjoin upon his followers abstention from various evils und are therefore distasteful to some of the Yakkhas. Such Yakkhas are disposed to molest the followers of the Buddha in their woodland haunts. Cp. the story of the Yakkha who wished to kill Sāriputta (Ud.iv.4). But the Mahā Yakkhas (a list in D.iii.204f), the generals und commanders among Yakkhas, are always willing to help holy men und to prevent wicked Yakkhas from hurting them. Among Yakkhas are some beings who are sotāpannas - z.B., Janavasabha, Suciloma und Khara (s.v.). Some Yakkhas even act as messengers from another world, und will save prospective sinners from committing evil (Pv.iv.1). The case of the Yakkha Vajirapāni is of special interest. D.i.95. The Commentary (DA.i.264) says he is not an ordinary Yakkha, but Sakka himself.
He is represented as a kind of mentor, hovering in the air, threatening to kill Ambattha, if he does not answer the Buddha's question the third time he is asked. In many cases the Yakkhas are "fallen angels" und come eagerly to listen to the word of the Buddha in order to be able to rise to a higher sphere of existence z.B., Piyankaramātā und Punabbasumātā, und even Vessavana, listening to Velukandakī Nandamātā reciting the Parāyana Vagga (A.iv.63). At the preaching of the Mahāsamaya Sutta (q.v.) many hundreds of thousands of Yakkhas were present among the audience.
It has been pointed out (Stede, op. cit) that the names of the Yakkhas often give us a clue to their origin und function. These are taken from (a) their bodily appearance z.B., Kuvannā, Khara, Kharaloma, Kharadāthika, Citta, Cittarāja, Silesaloma, Sūciloma und Hāritā; (b) their place of residence, attributes of their realms, animals, plants, etc. z.B., Ajakalāpaka, Ālavaka (forest dweller), Uppala, Kakudha (name of plant), Kumbhīra, Gumbiya, Disāmukha, Yamamoli, Vajira, Vajirapāni or Vajirabāhu, Sātāgira, Serīsaka; (c) qualities of character, etc. z.B., Adhamma, Katattha, Dhamma, Punnaka, Māra, Sakata; (d) embodiments of former persons z.B., Janavasabha (lord of men= Bimbisāra), Dīgha, Naradeva, Pandaka, Sīvaka, Serī.
Vessavana (q.v.) is often erwähnt as König of the Yakkhas. He is one of the four Regent Gods, und the Ātānātiya Sutta (D.iii.199ff) contains a vivid description of the Yakkha kingdom of Uttarakuru, mit its numerous cities, crowds of inhabitants, parks, lakes und assembly halls. Vessavana is also called Kuvera, und the Yakkhas are his servants und messengers. They wait upon him in turn. The Yakkhinīs draw water for him, und often are so hard worked that many die in his service. z.B., J.iv.492. Mention is also made (z.B., DA.ii.370) of Yakkhadāsīs who have to dance und sing to the devas during the night. Early in the morning they drink a cup of toddy (surā) und go off into a deep sleep, from which they rise betimes in the evening ready for their duties.
No one, apparently, is free from this necessity of waiting upon the König even Janavasabba has to run errands for Vessavana (D.ii.207). Among the duties of Vessavana is the settling of disputes between the devas, und this keeps him (J.vi.270) much occupied. In this work he is helped by the Yakkhasenāpati, whose business it is to preside over the courts during eight days of each mouth (SNA.i.197). The Yakkhas hold regular assemblies on Manosilātala on the Bhagalavatīpabbata (SNA.i.187; cp. D.iii.201 und DA.iii.967). As followers of Kuvera, lord of riches, the Yakkhas are the guardians und the liberal spenders of underground riches, hidden treasures, etc., mit which they delight men. z.B., Pv.ii.11; PvA.145; Pv.iv.12; PvA.274. These were seven yakkhas who guarded the wealth of Jotiyasetthi (DhA.iv.208f.).
It is difficult to decide whether the Yakkhas, who are the aborigines of Ceylon (Lankā), were considered human or non human. Kuvenī, one of their princesses, und her maid, can both assume different forms, but Vijaya marries Kuveni und has two children by her. (Cp. Vin.iii.37; iv. 20; where sexual intercourse mit a Yakkha is forbidden). The Yakkhas are invisible, und Vijaya is able to kill them only mit the help of Kuveni (Mhv.vii.36); but their clothes are found fit for Vijaya und his followers to wear (Mhv.vii.38). Again, Cetiyā (q.v.) could make herself invisible und assume the form of a mare, but Pandukābhaya lived mit her for four years und she gave him counsel in battle. Later, when he held festivities, he had the Yakkha Cittarāja on the throne beside him (Mhv.x.87). In all probability these Yakkhas were originally considered as humans, but later came to be confused mit non humans. Their chief cities were Lankāpura und Sirīsavatthu.
The commonly accepted etymology of Yakkha is from the root yaj, meaning to sacrifice. Thus: yajanti tattha balim upaharantī ti yakkha (VvA.224), or pūjanīyabhāvato yakkho, ti uccati (VvA.333).