See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil; but why?

A discussion on an ancient Chinese proverb that inspired religions, movies, and many centuries of wonder.


I think we’ve all heard or seen the depiction, typically monkey’s but sometimes Kermit of; “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. I personally have always found it interesting, as with many proverbs. What does it mean?

It originated from a Chinese proverb of Confucius 2nd-4th century BC; “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety” and was simplified over time.

While the meaning might be interpreted differently to each individual, many have pondered a broader meaning and come up with some basic ideas;

  • The Buddhist take is to not dwell on evil thoughts.
  • The Western World takes the western approach and might imply it to feign ignorance or ‘turn a blind eye’ to actions.
  • To not be a ‘rat’ and share the dark deeds you might witness as a gang.


For me, I believe it means a couple of things. Firstly, speak no evil I believe means ‘don’t tell lies’, simple right? Don’t fabricate stories or speak ill of others, and don’t gossip or spread rumors.  Essentially, don’t speak false-truths or spread them – extra difficult with social media.

As for hearing and seeing, I think that might have something to do with putting yourself in bad situations. You might have that one friend that always getting into trouble and I think this implies not to put yourself in that same category where you will be associated with the questionable deeds. Not to give in to temptation offered by others when you might know better.

Ever heard of the 4th Monkey?


(from left to right) Iwazaru, Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Shizaru


The 4th monkey, covering his genitals; “Do no evil”. He is sometimes seen with his arms crossed, but I felt this depiction was more to the context of, what I feel, the message is. It also seems to be the more date version so it may be more closely related to the original.

While the message here could be as simple as ‘don’t be promiscuous’, I think it might be more of ‘don’t live for pleasures’, right?
Greed (love of things), Gluttony (love of excess), Lust (love of sex), Wrath (love of power), Pride (love of self), Envy (love of pity), Sloth (love of rest) – they are based on the obsession of these pleasures, of these ‘doings’. “Do no evil”, might be not to be seduced by these temptations.

I  would love to hear your thoughts on what this proverb means to you =) please share your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks for checking in!


With love,

M.C. Grimm

2 comments on “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil; but why?”

  1. I agree with what you’ve written. I believe people these days are misguided and take liberties with their freedom. yes you are entitled to your opinions but if it comes at an expense to others then it is not worth throwing out into the world to deal with. The three monkeys, now four monkeys are principles to live by. Sadly, this consciousness is completely absent.

    Liked by 1 person

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