Three Wise Monkeys
“The Three wise monkeys symbolized an old Japanese proverb, “Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil.” In Japanese the proverb reads, “iwazaru, mizaru, kikazaru,” which meaning literally “nonspeaking, non-seeing, non-hearing.” Therefore, it is often said that the names of the monkeys are iwazaru, who speaks no evil: mizaru, who sees no evil and kikazaru, who hears no evil. Each word in the proverb ends with zaru, by adding zaru to a verb in Japanese it becomes a negative adjective. It happens that the Japanese word for monkey is saru, which phonetically becomes zaru when it is preceded by a modifier. Hence the three monkeys became associated with the proverb merely as a pun. Sometimes they are called “The Little Apes of Nikko” because they appear in mural decorations in the ancient tombs in Nikko, Japan. According to some Japanese writers, the three apes symbolize the fact that the Japanese talk too much, the Chinese see too much and the Indian hears too much. Among the Chinese there is a legend that Confucius originated the proverb and its symbols. When the great teacher told his disciples that he was about to leave earth, they begged him to leave them a special message to help guide them through the world of strife and trouble. The sage complied by drawing pictures of the three monkeys on the sand and left his disciples with the maxim, “Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil.”
Stimpson, George W. Nuggets of Knowledge. Detroit, Gale. 1970. Page 75.