For the Turkish film, see Three Monkeys.
"Sanzaru" redirects here. For the game company, see Sanzaru Games.
"See no evil hear no evil" redirects here. For the 1989 comedy film, see See No Evil, Hear No Evil.
The three wise monkeys(Japanese: 三猿,Hepburn: san'en or sanzaru, alternatively 三匹の猿 sanbiki no saru, literally "three monkeys"), sometimes called the three mystic apes, are a pictorial maxim. Together they embody the proverbial principle "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.
There are various meanings ascribed to the monkeys and the proverb including associations with being of good mind, speech and action. In the Western world the phrase is often used to refer to those who deal with impropriety by turning a blind eye.
Outside Japan the monkeys' names are sometimes given as Mizaru, Mikazaru, and Mazaru, as the last two names were corrupted from the Japanese originals. The monkeys are Japanese macaques, a common species in Japan.
The source that popularized this pictorial maxim is a 17th-century carving over a door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan. The carvings at Toshogu Shrine were carved by Hidari Jingoro, and believed to have incorporated Confucius’s Code of Conduct, using the monkey as a way to depict man’s life cycle. There are a total of eight panels, and the iconic three wise monkeys picture comes from panel 2. The philosophy, however, probably originally came to Japan with a Tendai-Buddhist legend, from China in the 8th century (Nara Period). It has been suggested that the figures represent the three dogmas of the so-called middle school of the sect.
In Chinese, a similar phrase exists in the late Analects of Confucius from 2nd to 4th century B.C.: "Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety" (非禮勿視，非禮勿聽，非禮勿言，非禮勿動). It may be that this phrase was shortened and simplified after it was brought into Japan.
It is through the Kōshin rite of folk religion that the most significant examples are presented. The Kōshin belief or practice is a Japanese folk religion with Chinese Taoism origins and ancient Shinto influence. It was founded by Tendai Buddhist monks in the late 10th century. A considerable number of stone monuments can be found all over the eastern part of Japan around Tokyo. During the later part of the Muromachi period, it was customary to display stone pillars depicting the three monkeys during the observance of Kōshin.
Though the teaching had nothing to do with monkeys, the concept of the three monkeys originated from a simple play on words. The saying in Japanese is mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru(見ざる, 聞かざる, 言わざる) "see not, hear not, speak not", where the -zaru is a negative conjugation on the three verbs, matching zaru, the modified form of saru(猿) "monkey" used in compounds. Thus the saying (which does not include any specific reference to "evil") can also be interpreted as referring to three monkeys.
The shrine at Nikko is a Shinto shrine, and the monkey is an extremely important being in the Shinto religion. The monkey is believed to be the messenger of the Hie Shinto shrines, which also have connections with Tendai Buddhism. There are even important festivals that are celebrated during the year of the Monkey (occurring every twelve years) and a special festival is celebrated every sixteenth year of the Kōshin.
"The Three Mystic Apes" (Sambiki Saru) were described as "the attendants of Saruta Hito no Mikoto or Kōshin, the God of the Roads". The Kōshin festival was held on the 60th day of the calendar. It has been suggested that during the Kōshin festival, according to old beliefs, one’s bad deeds might be reported to heaven "unless avoidance actions were taken…". It has been theorized that the three Mystic Apes, Not Seeing, Hearing, or Speaking, may have been the "things that one has done wrong in the last 59 days".
According to other accounts, the monkeys caused the Sanshi and Ten-Tei not to see, say or hear the bad deeds of a person. The Sanshi(三尸) are the Three Corpses living in everyone's body. The Sanshi keep track of the good deeds and particularly the bad deeds of the person they inhabit. Every 60 days, on the night called Kōshin-Machi(庚申待), if the person sleeps, the Sanshi will leave the body and go to Ten-Tei(天帝), the Heavenly God, to report about the deeds of that person. Ten-Tei will then decide to punish bad people, making them ill, shortening their time alive, and in extreme cases putting an end to their lives. Those believers of Kōshin who have reason to fear will try to stay awake during Kōshin nights. This is the only way to prevent the Sanshi from leaving their body and reporting to Ten-Tei.
An ancient representation of the "no see, no hear, no say, no do" can be found in four golden figurines in the Zelnik Istvan Southeast Asian Gold Museum. These golden statues date from the 6th to 8th century. The figures look like tribal human people with not very precise body carvings and strong phallic symbols. This set indicates that the philosophy comes from very ancient roots.
It is not clear how or when the saying travelled; in Ethiopia the Ge'ez language has the saying "Let the eye fast, let the mouth fast, let the ears fast."
Meaning of the proverb
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 Buddhist tradition, the tenets of the proverb are about not dwelling on evil thoughts.
- In the Western world both the proverb and the image are often used to refer to a lack of moral responsibility on the part of people who refuse to acknowledge impropriety, looking the other way or feigning ignorance.
- It may also signify a code of silence in gangs, or organized crime.
Sometimes there is a fourth monkey depicted, Shizaru, who symbolizes the principle of "do no evil". He may be shown crossing his arms or covering his genitals. Yet another variation has the fourth monkey hold its nose to avoid a stench and has been dubbed "smell no evil" accordingly.
According to Osho Rajneesh, the monkey symbolism originated in ancient Hindu tradition and Buddhist monks spread this symbolism across Asia. The original Hindu and Buddhist version contains 4 monkeys and the fourth monkey covers his genitals.The Buddhist version means this as "Don't do anything evil".
In Hindu original version the meaning of the fourth monkey is totally different from the popular Buddhist version. It means, "Hide your pleasures. Hide your enjoyment, don't show it to anybody."
Osho Rajneesh gave his own meaning regarding this. The first monkey denotes 'Don't listen to the truth because it will disturb all your consoling lies'. The second monkey denotes 'Don't look at the truth; otherwise your God will be dead and your heaven and hell will disappear'. The third monkey denotes 'Don't speak the truth, otherwise you will be condemned, crucified, poisoned, tortured by the whole crowd, the unconscious people. You will be condemned, don't speak the truth!' The fourth monkey denotes "Keep your pleasures, your joys, hidden. Don't let anybody know that you are a cheerful man, a blissful man, an ecstatic man, because that will destroy your very life. It is dangerous".
The three wise monkeys, and the associated proverb, are known throughout Asia and in the Western world. They have been a motif in pictures, such as the ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock printings) by Keisai Eisen, and are frequently represented in modern culture.
Mahatma Gandhi's one notable exception to his lifestyle of non-possession was a small statue of the three monkeys - Bapu, Ketan and Bandar. Today, a larger representation of the three monkeys is prominently displayed at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where Gandhi lived from 1915 to 1930 and from where he departed on his famous salt march. Gandhi's statue also inspired a 2008 artwork by Subodh Gupta, Gandhi's Three Monkeys.
The three monkeys are depicted in the trial scene in the 1968 Planet of the Apes. An example of semiotics, as the judges mimic the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkeys.
The maxim inspired an award-winning 2008 Turkish film by director Nuri Bilge Ceylan called Three Monkeys (Üç Maymun).
Unicode provides emoji representations of the monkeys in the Emoticons block as follows:
- Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path: Right speech and right action
- Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta, "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" in Zoroastrianism
- Lashon hara, prohibition of gossip in Judaism
- Manasa, vacha, karmana, three Sanskrit words referring to mind, speech and actions
- Three Vajras, a formulation in Tibetan Buddhism referring to body, speech and mind
- The colloquial expression "brass monkey", a possible reference to the three monkeys
- Willful blindness, knowingly refraining from pursuing available information, or knowingly sheltering oneself from information
- Plausible deniability, being able to convincingly claim ignorance of something incriminating
- ^"Three Mystic Apes" term (1894) predates "Three Wise Monkeys" (1900) in Google Books
- ^Wolfgang Mieder. 1981. "The Proverbial Three Wise Monkeys," Midwestern Journal of Language and Folklore, 7: 5- 38.
- ^Oldest reference to the correct monkey names in English. Source:
- ^ abPornpimol Kanchanalak (21 April 2011). "Searching for the fourth monkey in a corrupted world". The Nation. Thailand. Archived from the original on 28 August 2015. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
- ^Oldest references (1926–1984) for Mikazaru in Google Books
- ^Oldest reference of the incorrect Mazaru in Google Books. Source:
- ^Worth, Fred L. (1974). The Trivia Encyclopedia. Brooke House. p. 262. ISBN 0-912588-12-8.
- ^Shipley, Joseph Twadell (2001). The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 249. ISBN 0-8018-6784-3.
- ^Original text: 論語(in Chinese), Analects(in English)
- ^Joly, Henri L. (1908). "Legend in Japanese Art". London, New York: J. Lane. p. 10. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
- ^Cultures and Civilisations in Southeast Asia. Private museum in Budapest, Hungary.[not in citation given]
- ^Afeworq Tareqeny. 2008 (Ethiopian calendar). Anəggarä məsale zägə'əz. Addis Ababa. p. 9.
- ^Tom Oleson (29 October 2011). "How about monkey see, monkey DON'T do next time?". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- ^Osho, Chandra Mohan Jain. "I Celebrate Myself: God Is No Where: Life Is Now Here"(PDF).
- ^Osho on zen. "I celebrate myself: God is no where, Life is now here". Chapter 1: The grand Rebellion. Question 1.
- ^"QMA unveils Gandhi's 'Three Monkeys' at Katara". Qatar Tribune. 28 May 2012. Archived from the original on 6 June 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
- ^Unicode 6.0.0 characters in Emoticons block: SEE-NO-EVIL MONKEY ‹🙈›, HEAR-NO-EVIL MONKEY ‹🙉› and SPEAK-NO-EVIL MONKEY ‹🙊›.
- Titelman, Gregory Y. (2000). Random House Dictionary of America's Popular Proverbs and Sayings (second ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-70584-8.
- Archer Taylor, “Audi, Vidi, Tace” and the three monkeys
- A. W. Smith, Folklore, Vol. 104, No. ½ pp. 144–150 "On the Ambiguity of the Three Wise Monkeys"
Hear No Evil
See No Evil
Speak No Evil
folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 243A
D. L. Ashliman
- A Brahmin Asks Two Parrots to Keep an Eye on His Wife (India, The Jataka).
- How a Parrot Told Tales of His Mistress and Had His Neck Wrung (India, The Jataka).
- Of Maintaining Truth to the Last (England, Gesta Romanorum).
- The Three Roosters (Germany/France, Johannes Pauli).
- Links to related stories.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's , a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
A Brahmin Asks Two Parrots to Keep an Eye on His Wife
The JatakaOnce on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a parrot. A certain Brahmin in the Kasi country was as a father to him and to his younger brother, treating them like his own children. Potthapada was the Bodhisatta's name, and Radha his brother's.
Now the Brahmin had a bold bad wife. And as he was leaving home on business, he said to the two brothers, "If your mother, my wife, is minded to be naughty, stop her."
"We will, papa," said the Bodhisatta, "if we can; but if we can't, we will hold our peace."
Having thus entrusted his wife to the parrots' charge, the Brahmin set out on his business. Every day thenceforth his wife misconducted herself; there was no end to the stream of her lovers in and out of the house.
Moved by the sight, Radha said to the Bodhisatta, "Brother, the parting injunction of our father was to stop any misconduct on his wife's part, and now she does nothing but misconduct herself. Let us stop her."
"Brother," said the Bodhisatta, "your words are the words of folly. You might carry a woman about in your arms and yet she would not be safe. So do not essay the impossible."
And so saying he uttered this stanza:
How many more shall midnight bring? Your planAnd for the reasons thus given, the Bodhisatta did not allow his brother to speak to the Brahmin's wife, who continued to gad about to her heart's content during her husband's absence.
Is idle. Naught but wifely love could curb
Her lust; and wifely love is lacking quite.
On his return, the Brahmin asked Potthapada about his wife's conduct, and the Bodhisatta faithfully related all that had taken place. "Why, father," he said, "should you have anything more to do with so wicked a woman?" And he added these words, "My father, now that I have reported my mother's wickedness, we can dwell here no longer."
So saying, he bowed at the Brahmin's feet and flew away with Kadha to the forest.
- Source: The Jataka; or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births, edited by E. B. Cowell, vol. 1, translated from the Pali by Robert Chalmers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1895), no. 145, pp. 309-310.
- Part of the canon of sacred Buddhist literature, this collection of some 550 anecdotes and fables depicts earlier incarnations -- sometimes as an animal, sometimes as a human -- of the Bodhisatta, the being who would become Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha. Traditional birth and death dates of Gautama are 563-483 BC. The Jataka tales are dated between 300 BC and 400 AD. In spite of the collection's sacred and didactic nature, it nonetheless includes elements -- obviously derived from ancient folktales -- whose primary function is entertainment.
- Now called Varanasi, Benares is a city in north central India on the Ganges River. One of the world's oldest cities, Varanasi is the most sacred place for Hindus. Buddhists and Muslims also have important religious sites nearby. According to tradition, Buddha began his teaching at Sarnath a short distance from this city.
- Return to the table of contents.
How a Parrot Told Tales of His Mistress and Had His Neck Wrung
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came into the world as a young parrot. His name was Radha, and his youngest brother was named Potthapada. While they were yet quite young, both of them were caught by a fowler and handed over to a Brahmin in Benares. The Brahmin cared for them as if they were his children. But the Brahmin's wife was a wicked woman. There was no watching her.
The husband had to go away on business, and addressed his young parrots thus: "Little dears, I am going away on business. Keep watch on your mother in season and out of season. Observe whether or not any man visits her." So off he went, leaving his wife in charge of the young parrots.
As soon as he was gone, the woman began to do wrong. Night and day the visitors came and went. There was no end to them. Potthapada, observing this, said to Radha, "Our master gave this woman into our charge, and here she is doing wickedness. I will speak to her."
"Don't," said Radha.
But the other would not listen. "Mother," said he, "why do you commit sin?"
How she longed to kill him! But making as though she would fondle him, she called him to her. "Little one, you are my son! I will never do it again! Here, then the dear!" So he came out. Then she seized him, crying, "What! You preach to me! You don't know your measure!" And she wrung his neck, and threw him into the oven.
The Brahmin returned. When he had rested, he asked the Bodhisatta, "Well, my dear, what about your mother? Does she do wrong, or no?" And as he asked the question, he repeated the first couplet:
I come, my son, the journey done, and now I am at home again,
Come tell me, is your mother true? Does she make love to other men?
Radha answered, "Father dear, the wise speak not of things which do not conduce to blessing, whether they have happened or not." And he explained this by repeating the second couplet:
For what he said he now lies dead, burnt up beneath the ashes there.
It is not well the truth to tell, lest Potthapada's fate I share.
Thus did the Bodhisatta hold forth to the Brahmin. And he went on, "This is no place for me to live in either." Then bidding the Brahmin farewell, he flew away into the woods.
Of Maintaining Truth to the Last
In the reign of Gordian, there was a certain noble soldier who had a fair but vicious wife. It happened that her husband having occasion to travel, the lady sent for her gallant. Now, one of her handmaids, it seems, was skillful in interpreting the song of birds; and in the court of the castle there were three cocks. During the night, while the gallant was with his mistress, the first cock began to crow.
The lady heard it, and said to her servant, "Dear friend, what says yonder cock?"
She replied, "That you are grossly injuring your husband."
"Then," said the lady, "kill that cock without delay."
They did so. But soon after, the second cock crew, and the lady repeated her question.
"Madam," said the handmaid, "he says, 'My companion died for revealing the truth, and for the same cause, I am prepared to die.'"
"Kill him," cried the lady, which they did.
After this, the third cock crew.
"What says he?" asked she again.
"Hear, see, and say nothing, if you would live in peace."
"Oh, oh!" said the lady. "Don't kill him." And her orders were obeyed.
- Source: Gesta Romanorum, translated by Charles Swan, revised and corrected by Wynnard Hooper (London: George Bell and Sons, 1906), no. 68, pp. 121-22.
- The Gesta Romanorum or Deeds of the Romans was compiled in Latin in the early fourteenth century by an English cleric. It was first published about 1473. Its title notwithstanding, only a few of the work's some 283 stories deal with the Romans. Instead, the collection presents a mixture of anecdotes, legends, and fables, gleaned from many sources and presented in a context appropriate for incorporation into Christian sermons.
- Return to the table of contents.
The Three Roosters
Germany/FranceWe read about three roosters that crowed in the night while the lady of the house was lying with an adulterer. Now the kitchen maid understood the language of birds.
The first night the one rooster crowed, "My mistress is unfaithful to my master."
The kitchen maid reported this to the lady of the house. The woman said, "That rooster must die," and the rooster was broiled.
The next night the second rooster sang, and when the kitchen maid was asked about it, she said that the rooster had crowed, "My companion died for telling the truth."
Then the lady of the house said, "He too shall die," and this rooster was immediately broiled.
The next time the woman went to bed with her lover, the third rooster crowed, as interpreted by the kitchen maid, "See, hear, and remain silent, if you want to live in peace."
Audi, vive, tace,
Se vis vivere in pace.
- Source: Johannes Pauli, Schimpf und Ernst, selected and revised by Karl Simrock (Heilbronn: Verlag von Gebrüder Henninger, 1876), no. 8, pp. 7-8.
- Translated by D. L. Ashliman. © 2011.
- Johannes Pauli was born about 1455 and died after 1530. His Schimpf und Ernst, a collection of 693 humorous anecdotes, was first published in 1522 in Strasbourg (Strassburg), Alsace.
- Return to the table of contents.
Links to related stories
Revised May 1, 2011.