Three Wise Monkeys


Early at school millions like me were introduced to the Three Wise Monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi , symbolising the Gandhian thought that one must not See / Hear / or Speak Evil . The Monkeys  were nameless symbols of Propriety .

Some years later , one gathered that they did in fact have Japanese names :

  • The one covering his eyes is Mi-zaru :  literally meaning Don’t See
  • The one covering his ears is Kika-zaru : literally meaning Don’t Hear
  • The one covering his mouth is Iwa-zaru : literally meaning Don’t Speak 

Where did this Monkey- business start ! One theory traces this back to the Confucian code of Good Conduct :

  • 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

The first three tenets conform to the three Zarus of Japan. Where , one might ask , is the fourth symbol of propriety

Indeed , in a carving in a Buddhist shrine in Nikko , Japan , there reportedly appears a fourth monkey , with his arms crossed across his chest , by the name Shi-Zaru : literally meaning Don’t Do : symbolising Do No Evil

Possibly this facet of  Confuscianism originated in  China ( where else !! ) & travelled to Japan , where it was typically miniaturised & converted to the ubiquitous symbol of propriety ( inexplicably to the exclusion of the fourth monkey ) . At some point in time , this symbolism travelled all around the world : to GB where it got frightfully truncated & awfully abridged to what eventually came to be known as the Gentlemen’s code of ” Looking the other way “ ( especially from inconvenient reality ) , & to India through the goodness of MG who might have found an appropriate verisimilitude between his philosophy & the symbolism of the three wise monkeys. Indeed , the Mi / Kika / Iwa threesome may in fact have inspired a part of MG’s philosophy ( no disrespect intended )

In our present state of Societal transition , we are probably a nation that has less comfort with MG’s three Monkeys than with the Omerta  , a code of silence associated with the Italian Mafia :  “Non vedo, Non sento, Non parlo” ( literally meaning “See nothing,  Hear nothing, & Say nothing) .

Cheers & have a GN

About lkkanuga

65 , Mumbaikar in Gurgaon , celebrates Loneliness interspersed with occasional extended- family & old friends' reunions . Good Music , Single Malts & watching the world go by from his 11th floor terrace are his favorite pursuits. Also into pursuit of Safe & Secure Mid Day Meals for Primary School Children , in association with like minded individuals & institutions
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