24 May 2013


For some reason the three wise monkeys commonly known as See No Evil (Mizaru), Hear No Evil (Kikazaru) and Speak No Evil (Iwazaru) - Zaru pronounced the same as Saru meaning monkey - have always captured my imagination.

Also known as The Three Mystic Apes, The Guardian Of The Stables and The Attendants of The Gods Of The Roads what I didn't know was there is also a fourth monkey - no, not Post No Evil as seen below - Shizaru (Do No Evil) who, accompanying the other three, is portrayed sitting with crossed arms.  

Though pretty much all of the sites I visited made reference to a 17th century wooden carving at the Toshogu shrine in Nikko, Japan it is not exactly clear as to where, when or why the 'monkeys' originated or as to what exactly the phrase "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" means.

However ......

Largely regarded in Japan as one of the Golden Rules, in the Buddhist tradition as being about not dwelling on evil thoughts and in the Western world as a reference to a lack of moral responsibility on the part of people who refuse to acknowledge impropriety I was surprised to learn that it also may be used as a way to signify a code of silence amongst the criminal fraternity. 

Anyway, fascinated by these three (should I make that four?) monkeys, I was delighted to find mention of the below poem in The Clock Of Time by Nancy Klann-Moren (my review of which can be found HERE).

“O’er the door of the sacred Temple
They sit in their wisdom the three –
The little deaf Monkey,
The little dumb Monkey,
The Monkey who will not see;
With their eyes shut to evil,
Ears that hear only the right,
Lips that are dumb to scandal,
They sit in their silent might”
- Unknown.

Or how about this .....

Thou shalt make a covenant with thy senses,
With thine eye, that it beholds no evil.
With thine ear, that it hear no evil.
With thy tongue, that it speak no evil.
With thy hands that they commit no evils.
-Thomas Paine, 1802

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NRIGirl said...

How is it that your posts never make me grin from ear to ear? You are so much fun Tracy! Glad we are friends.

Have a fun weekend!

NRIGirl said...

Oh my goodness! I meant to say, "... Never fail* to make me grin..."

Kelly said...

This was a fun post. I don't think I even realized those little monkeys had names.

Mama Zen said...

I never knew there was a fourth monkey!

Yvonne@fiction-books said...

Hi Tracy,

I too, never knew there was a fourth monkey, nor that they had given names!

I actually think that 'speak no evil' and 'do no evil', are probably the two most important little fellows, so I am glad that you have enlightened me about the new boy on the block!

I also have 'The Clock Of Time' in my review pile, so if this is an example of what I can expect to find in the book, then I shall certainly be looking forward to reading it.

Have a great weekend and like the wise monkey, keep those arms crossed so that those hands don't get you into any mischief on the keyboard LOL!


Brandi Kosiner said...

Too cute. I like the gifs

Melissa (Books and Things) said...


The 4th monkey should be a standard now. :)

Suko said...

This post is more fun
Than a barrel of monkeys
(sorry, couldn't resist!).

Stephanie@Fairday's Blog said...

I learn something new every time I come to your blog. :)

Brian Joseph said...

I never knew the history of these mythical creatures. Very enlightening indeed!

Interesting how the Western interpretation is in some ways the opposite of the original eastern meaning.

Betty Manousos said...

fun post, dear tracy.

i never knew there was a fourth monkey!

happy weekend,

sorry for only just now commenting.

big hugs~


Kalyan said...

lol...it was nice reading about them and is very popular in jokes in this part of the world.

Naida said...

Nice post Tracy, and I like that cartoon with them about blogging ;)

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Interesting. Never thought about where this originated from and I was unaware there was a fourth monkey!

Alexia561 said...

Another interesting post! Never realized the monkeys had names or that there was a fourth monkey. Although I like the Post No Evil monkey too, so maybe he could be number five? :)

Gina R said...

Ha! Love it. ^_^

Anonymous said...

Hi Tracey,
I was just googling to find a reference to the origins of this, and came across your post.

The phrase goes back even earlier than that - Oriental in origin (from China - don't remember it's origins beyond that - maybe Taoist), and the way we interpret it in the western world is backwards to its original intent!

Loosely (don't remember all the details, which is why I was googling it) - the whole phrase in its Oriental origins had nothing to do with denial - quite the opposite. It was an instruction not to associate oneself with evil in any of its forms. So 'see no evil' meant that if you are witnessing something unsavoury don't participate or encourage it by watching. If you hear harsh words, shouting, or gossip - don't participate by listening to them. Don't speak gossip, harsh words, etc... yourself. And lastly, the monkey with arms crossed means don't commit evil.

The original phrase in Chinese (that had nothing to do with monkeys, btw!) was later translated to Japanese. Part of the expression translated to a word that was similar to 'monkey' in Japanese - hence this became 'The four wise monkeys' - which you see carved on that temple doorway.

For some reason westerners mistranslated this to 'don't see/hear evil' which became associated with denial. I assume the fourth monkey got dropped (shizaru - do no evil) because it obviously wasn't about denial and made no sense with the other three. For some reason 'speak no evil' got twisted into a version of 'don't acknowledge uncomfortable truths'.

My FIL is Chinese and owned an antique shop so is up on his Oriental history, and explained all this to me.

If I can find a good link myself I'll come and post it.

Anonymous said...

Follow up to my last comment: These aren't the best links, but are the closest to what my FIL explained to me, and the best I could find on short notice:

Oh, and apparently the origin was a mix of Confucian and possibly Buddhist/Tiendan(sp?) - not Taoist.

Wishing you Happy Chinese New Year!