Posted by ESC on January 30, 2000
A while back someone posted an inquiry about the phrase "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil." I found some new information...
HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL --"...Said of people who don't want to be involved. The origin of the proverb is unknown. The proverb is often represented by three monkeys covering their eyes, ears, and mouth respectively with their hands. The seventeenth century legend related to 'The Three Wise Monkeys ' is said to have read, 'Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.' The saying was carved over the door of Sacred Stable, Nikko, Japan..." From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).
Hiroko Matsuda posted, You can see a photo of the carved monkeys at: http://www1.sphere.ne.jp/oh-world/oh-world/oasis/toshogu/monkey2.htm
Here's additional information from "How Did It Begin: A fascinating study of the superstitions, customs, and strange habits that influence our daily lives" by R. Brash (Pocket Book, New York, 1969) : "It is a fallacy that the Three Wise Monkeys, who hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil, are indigenously Japanese. It is true that they have had their domicile there for many centuries. But originally they came from China and were introduced into Japan by a Buddhist monk of the Tendai sect, probably in the 8th century A.D. The monkeys were at first always associated with the blue-faced deity Vadjra, a fearsome god with three eyes and numerous hands.
Their characteristic gestures of covering their ears, eyes and mouths with their paws were a dramatic pictorial way of conveying the command of the god. This shows an early realization of the psychological fact that a striking picture is more impressive and lasting more than a spoken message. Nevertheless, the story has been told in various traditions in prose and poetry. It dates back to at least the 7th century and is part of the teaching of the Vadjra cult that if we do not hear, see or talk evil, we ourselves shall be spared all evil.
In the folk etymology and by a play on words the very names of the three monkeys - Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru - express their three gestures and thus anyone by merely referring to them immediately proclaims their message."