Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil.
This brass casting of the three wise monkeys is GB’s – they were our grandmother’s and probably date back to the late 19th century. I have an identical brass casting that was Mum’s.
The three wise monkeys are a pictorial maxim. Together they embody the proverbial principle to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". The three monkeys are Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil. Sometimes there is a fourth monkey depicted with the three others; the last one, Shizaru, symbolizes the principle of "do no evil". He may be shown crossing his arms.
The source that popularized this pictorial maxim is a carving over a door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine built in 1635-1636 in Nikkō, Japan. The carvings at Toshogu Shrine were carved by Hidari Jingoro, and are believed to have incorporated Confucius’s Code of Conduct, using the monkey as a way to depict man’s life cycle. The philosophy, however, probably originally came to Japan with a Tendai-Buddhist legend, from China in the 8th century (Nara Period).
There are differing explanations of the meaning of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." In Japan the proverb is simply regarded as a Japanese Golden Rule. Some simply take the proverb as a reminder not to be snoopy, nosy and gossipy. Today "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" is commonly used to describe someone who doesn't want to be involved in a situation, or someone willfully turning a blind eye to the immorality of an act in which they are involved. In the Western world the phrase is often used to refer to those who deal with impropriety by looking the other way, refusing to acknowledge it, or feigning ignorance.
But generally, in most interpretations the monkeys can be seen as a way to avoid spreading evil. Do not listen to evil things so they do not influence you. Do not read things that are evil or look upon evil things so they do not influence you, and lastly do not repeat verbally evil things so they cannot be spread about.
Worldwide there are many collectors of three wise monkey statuettes and a lot more can be found out on the website http://www.three-monkeys.info/1/BLOGENG.htm
I came across this lovely three wise ducks clock recently! Has anyone seen any other animals portrayed in this way?