The inspiration for The Three Wise Monkeys comes from a carving above the portico of a 17th century temple in Japan called the Nikko Toshogu Shrine which includes a carving of the three wise guardian monkeys in a representation of a sacred stable. In Japanese 'don't see, don't hear and don't speak' (loosely known as 'see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil') is translated as 'mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru'. The word for monkey 'saru' sounds the same as the verb-ending 'zaru' (which means 'not') so the origin of these famous monkeys may be a Japanese play on words. The "three wise monkeys" or three mystical apes ("sambiki saru") are the attendants of Shuomen Kongo, sometimes also Sarutahiko or Koshin. They are (1) Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil; (2) Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil; and (3) Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil. However, the maxim probably originally came with Buddhism from India via China in the 8th Century (associated with Vadjra who taught that if we do not hear, see or speak evil, then we will be spared evil). The “fourth” ape is a recent invention and may be seen occasionally in humorous netsuke as “do no evil” (“Shizaru”)
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