The classic story of the “three wise monkeys” of the Toshogu sanctuary contains a simple teaching that never goes out of style : we must be careful with what we say, with what we hear and also with what we see.
This sanctuary is located in Japan, and the sculpture that encumbra with the three classic monkeys (one covering the mouth, others the eyes and the last the ears) dates from 1636.
Few images have crossed so many borders and so many decades to reach us almost as an icon.
And as it always happens with these things, often, its meaning is forgotten a bit to be combined with other ideas or explanations that have little to do with its original root.
For the Japanese, for example, it refers to a philosophical and behavioral code in which to extol the need to be prudent:
“Do not see the evil, do not listen to the evil, do not speak evilly”
A teaching that comes from the writings of Confucius and that, for many, offers a certain image of “surrender”.
However, historians see in the image of the three monkeys a parallelism with the story of the “three filters of Socrates”.
Thus, undoubtedly, it transmits a much more useful message for our modern life , perhaps removed from the old oriental servility where the population was invited to surrender to the system under the recommendation of not seeing or hearing injustices.
We propose to reflect on these teachings.
The 3 filters of Socrates
To understand the similarity between the 3 wise monkeys and the 3 filters of Socrates, it is interesting to first know the lesson that the wise Athenian wanted to give to a disciple of his when he arrived at his house ready to explain that someone had been criticizing him.
Before the nervous student opened his mouth, Socrates posed these three these three “filters” in which he had to reflect before addressing him .
- Filter of truth: What are you going to say is it really true? Have you contrasted with success, thoroughness and restraint everything you are going to tell me to know that everything is true?
- The filter of goodness: What are you going to tell me now is good?
- The filter of necessity: What will you communicate is essential? Is it so necessary that you tell me?
These three filters guide us, undoubtedly, to be much more prudent, cautious and demanding with everything we say .
This teaching, for many is related to that of the 3 wise monkeys of the Toshogu sanctuary.
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The teaching of the 3 wise monkeys
The monkey that covers his mouth: Iwazaru
Iwazaru is the little monkey that we have on the left.
For Japanese philosophy, this figure represents the need not to transmit the evil , and even now it is also related to the recommendation not to put aloud the own discomfort or dissatisfaction.
- Prudence is also related to not showing too much the emotional world itself, to be tempered and, above all, restrained.
For its part, according to the teaching of the three filters of Socrates, has much to do with the need not to spread gossip .
And these are not always true, nor are they good or have a practical need to put them out loud.
The monkey that covers his ears: Kikazaru
Kikazaru is the monkey that is in the center and to the right of the one who keeps silent or who covers his mouth.
In Japan, people who often spread criticism, rumors or negative news are often seen in a very negative way.
Hence, they prefer to cover their ears before a certain type of information to preserve their balance .
This idea, of traditional roots, can hit us a bit in the western world, where negative news, as well as gossip and criticism , fly over our surroundings as something common and always present.
If we apply in this idea the 3 filters of Socrates we will realize that there are some nuances:
- Sometimes, even if the information is negative, it is necessary to transmit it because it is useful information ( I inform you that your clients are not happy and that you should make an effort to strengthen them ).
If the information is not useful and, in addition, it is harmful, it is advisable to follow the lesson of the monkey Kikazaru: cover our mouths.
The monkey that covers the eyes: Mizaru
For the philosophical and moral santai code , injustice is better not seeing it, not listening to it or talking about it. This idea, at present, does not hold; we know.
- However, if we focus the image of this third monkey from the Socratic vision, we realize that it is a direct invitation to close our eyes to what is not useful, to what is not useful , not good …
- The advisable thing is to close the eyes to the darkness to raise our glances towards that brighter, more hopeful and significant side.
To conclude, the teaching that leaves us the image of the 3 monkeys, that where one is silent, the other covers his ears and the other covers his eyes, has to do with our own needs and with the recommendation to be always cautious and prudent:
. “Take care of your words, cover your ears towards what does not serve you or does not help you and cover your eyes with what hurts you to seek only what gives you happiness . “