Are there really three wise monkeys?

Anyone who knows me reasonably well will know I’m fairly obsessed with monkey-related things. So perhaps it’s not that surprising that one of my favourite maxims is the idea of the ‘three wise monkeys’ that represent the proverb: ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.’ I was thinking about this the other day, so did a bit of research, which was quite interesting.

Firstly, there can be a fourth wise monkey, representing ‘do no evil‘, which I shall ignore for now. The thing that amused me was that the original Japanese teaching that lead to this (probably passed down from Confucius-derived Chinese philosophy) is mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru, meaning literally don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak. The zaru part of each word denotes the ‘don’t’ part – and sounds a lot like saru – which means monkey. So the monkeys are part of a bit of clever wordplay!

But anyway, whilst the origins of the proverb/maxim is very interesting, I was thinking about whether or not the three more commonly referenced monkeys were – in reality – all that wise. Given the way the world is today, full of malcontents be it on the streets or virtually trying to take advantage of people, I’m not sure of the wisdom of being unable to see or hear evil.

I do like the idea of speaking no evil though – and certainly the little-known fourth monkey who is compelled to do no evil is probably, whilst incredibly naive, the wisest of all. If you think about it a little more perhaps the idea is that if we were all in an environment where we saw, heard or spoke no evil then perhaps the fourth monkey becomes the reality, and we live in a happy utopia free of cynicism and general malaise that seems to typify the modern world.

I also wondered whether the evil monkey from Family Guy is perhaps some kind of reference to the wise monkeys, as obviously he is some kind of embodiment of evil who is typically visible only to Peter and Lois’s son, Chris. He clearly abandoned the path of wisdom, some sort of anti-monkey. I quite like that idea too! You see, no matter what else, monkeys are just inherently genius!

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