Evil has a first name. Four actually. Yes, there is a fourth monkey.
Above the door of the Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko, Japan is the first known representation of the Three Mystic Apes; carved by Hidari Jingoro in the 17th-century. The carving is homage to Confucius’s Code of Conduct, and to the artist’s own sense of humor.
The monkeys are a play on words.
In Japanese, the saying is mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru, which translates to “see not, hear not, speak not.” The negative conjugation, “not” is “zaru.” A modified form of zaru is saru, or monkey. Notice the original saying excludes any reference to evil, a later addition to the maxim.
It is from the original Japanese that the monkeys get their names. Mizaru sees no evil. Kikazaru hears no evil. Iwazaru speaks no evil. And though he isn’t part of the original carving, a fourth monkey is sometimes depicted covering his genitals. Shizaru embodies “do no evil.”
Monkeys were a good choice for the Tosho-gu temple for another reason. It is a Shinto Shrine. Monkeys are known as important messengers in the Shinto religion, and there are special festivals celebrated every twelve years—in the year of the monkey.
The philosophy the monkeys represent predates the Nikko carving by many centuries. It most likely originated in China in the 8th century, and came to Japan through Tendai-Buddhist teachings, where the concept meant not to obsess over evil thoughts.
Today, many cultures have adopted the saying, even gangs, where it has come to symbolize their code of silence. The next generation may only recognize the Three Mystic Apes as popular emoticons.
- Mizaru 🙈
- Kikazaru 🙉
- Iwazaru 🙊
It seems unicode has left out Shizaru.