Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Three Wise Monkeys - an educational post!

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

I came across this lovely three wise ducks clock recently!  Has anyone seen any other animals portrayed in this way?


  1. Scriptor,
    I am going through something right now that it just amazes me that you posted this about The Three Wise Monkeys. I will write about it shortly, but just remember that what you post always surprises me in how it relates to my life.
    Thank you.

  2. I think your explanation is the right one. Listen to, see and speak no evil so that they do not influence you. The Three Monkeys were a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi.

  3. I know people who collect representations of this trio. It never occurred to me to wonder where the original inspiration came from. So, thanks for the education. I follow another blog from Cheshire: It might interest you.

  4. Kay, I've just seen why my posting struck a chord!

    Thanks for the tip, Oakland Daily Photo.

    Lotusleaf, I didn't know that about Gandhi - thanks.

  5. Thank you - I so love learning something new! And so far, I always only came across the three monkeys in the interpretation of looking the other way, not getting involved etc. But the original explanation is so much better for us!

  6. I had no idea that they ever referred to people who 'looked the other way'.

    Until recently that set had always been on my desk - at work or at home. Their location when you photographed them disappeared after you left (or was it whilst you were in Eagleton?) and they are now in the roll-top.

  7. Alas, it's awfully hard in this world not to have to see evil.

    Wish I could avoid it.


  8. Frogs seem to be popular, but googling with "no evil *insert animal here*" will get you results for a variety of species.
    I had no idea that there was another meaning than turning a blind eye.

  9. Specifically, it is the "speak no evil" and "look the other way" that will be more what I want to write about in the next few days. I had already jottted some notes down about what I wanted to say about Willie B., and came home and read this post. Amazing! It was as if you had read my mind!
    When I do write that post, may I refer to this posting about The Three Wise Monkeys? Please let me know if that is okay to do so. I am always uncertain of blog etiquette!

  10. That's interesting, the cynical view which is what I hear most often,and an uplifting interpretation.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog today.

  11. Haven't ever seen the three wise ducks before but I would guess they're a joking reference to the three wise monkeys. Thanks for the information about these.

  12. Great post. And a great philosophy. I have found that negative directives -- Don't see, don't hear, etc., are very difficult. It is easier to See good, hear good, do good. That way I don't concentrate on the other so much.

  13. I always saw the three monkeys in the most negative way-refusing to get involved no matter how much evil is going on around them. Now I will see them as "The Three Wise Monkeys"-Thank you.

  14. Hi I found your blog a while ago via Adrian of Adrians Images...

    Thanks for made me smile to read that someone from the West Coast of the US pointed you in my direction..

  15. Kay G,
    I agree Blog etiquette can be difficult because different people have different views and wishes. I'm more than happy for pweople to refer to my posts and quote from them and there's no need to noptify me though, of course, I'm always inetersted to know. I do ask that people let me know when they are using my phtos (and they are only avsilable for commercial use after being purchased).

  16. I just was at an antique show yesterday and saw a little figurine of the three monkeys. they are cute with a wise message I would say!


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