Statues of the Three Wise Monkeys can often be found rummaging through cheap trinket shops. They are mostly tacky, which is a shame because the various myths behind them are discerning.
There are various meanings ascribed to the monkeys and the proverb. Most common are: interpretations that relate to being of good mind, speech and action. The phrase is often used to refer to those who deal with corruption, misuse of power and cruelty by turning a blind eye.
The shrine at Nikko, which I visited, is a Shinto shrine. The monkey is believed to be the messenger of the Hie Shinto shrines, which also have connections with Tendai Buddhism.
The Three Wise Monkeys are:
• Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil
• Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil.
• Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil
Just as there is disagreement about the origin of the phrase, there are differing explanations of the meaning of “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.”
• In Japan, the proverb is regarded as a Japanese Golden Rule.
• In Buddhist tradition, the creed relates to not dwelling on evil thoughts.
• In the Western world, it refers to a lack of moral responsibility. People who refuse to acknowledge impropriety, ignorance and disregard of the law. It may also signify a code of silence in gangs and organised crime.
Do you know about the fourth wise monkey?
Intermittently and scarcely known is a fourth monkey depicted with the other three wise monkeys . He is Shizaru, who symbolizes the principle of “Do No Evil”. He may be shown crossing his arms. “Do no evil” is an ideal way to sum up the way to live life.
If you have a travel story or comments about the wise monkeys, please scroll down to share