Every character has a story #36: U+1F648/U+1F649/U+1F648A -- [SEE|HEAR|SPEAK] NO EVIL

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2012/02/17 07:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2012/02/17/10269019.aspx

In the past, I have tended to be rather hostile toward Emoji.

But there are some Emoji that I simply love, love, love.

Like some of the ones friend/colleague Alexander Sklar mentioned over in Facebook yesterday:

🙈  U+1f648    SEE-NO-EVIL MONKEY



Just in case you aren't reading this blog on your Windows 8 machine, here they are in NoteWordpad on Windows 8:


It's worth noting that font fallback was in full force - I never specified the font, but Wordpad/RichEdit had no problem finding the font!

The origin of these three mystic apes -- originally named Mizaru (the one covering his eyes, who sees no evil), Kikazaru (the one covering his ears, who hears no evil), and Iwazaru (the one covering his mouth, who speaks no evil) -- are described in the Wikipedia article:

The source that popularized this pictorial maxim is a 17th century carving over a door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan. The carvings at Toshogu Shrine were carved by Hidari Jingoro, and believed to have incorporated Confucius’s Code of Conduct, using the monkey as a way to depict man’s life cycle. There are a total of 8 panels, and the iconic three wise monkeys picture comes from panel 2. The philosophy, however, probably originally came to Japan with a Tendai-Buddhist legend, from China in the 8th century (Nara Period). It has been suggested that the figures represent the three dogmas of the so-called middle school of the sect.

In Chinese, a similar phrase exists in the Analects of Confucius from 2nd to 4th century B.C.: "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" (非禮勿視, 非禮勿聽,非禮勿言, 非禮勿動). It may be that this phrase was shortened and simplified after it was brought into Japan.

It is through the Kōshin rite of folk religion that the most significant examples are presented. The Kōshin belief or practice is a Japanese folk religion with Chinese Taoism origins and ancient Shinto influence. It was founded by Tendai Buddhist monks in the late 10th century. A considerable number of stone monuments can be found all over the eastern part of Japan around Tokyo. During the later part of the Muromachi period, it was customary to display stone pillars depicting the three monkeys during the observance of Kōshin.

Though the teaching had nothing to do with monkeys, the concept of the three monkeys originated from a simple play on words. The saying in Japanese is "mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru" (見ざる, 聞かざる, 言わざる, literally "don't see, don't hear, don't speak". However, -zaru, an archaic negative verb conjugation, is pronounced the same as zaru, the vocalized form of saru (猿?), "monkey", so the saying can also be interpreted as the names of three monkeys.

It is also possible that the three monkeys came from a more central root than a simple play on words.[contradiction] The shrine at Nikko is a Shinto shrine, and the monkey is an extremely important being in the Shinto religion. The monkey is believed to be the messenger of the Hie Shinto shrines, which also have connections with Tendai Buddhism. There are even important festivals that are celebrated during the year of the monkey (occurring every twelve years) and a special festival is celebrated every sixteenth year of the Kōshin.

"The Three Mystic Apes" (Sambiki Saru) were described as "the attendants of Saruta Hito no Mikoto or Kōshin, the God of the Roads". The Kōshin festival was held on the 60th day of the calendar. It has been suggested that during the Kōshin festival, according to old beliefs, one’s bad deeds might be reported to heaven "unless avoidance actions were taken…." It has been theorized that the three Mystic Apes, Not Seeing, Hearing, or Speaking, may have been the "things that one has done wrong in the last 59 days."

According to other accounts, the monkeys caused the Sanshi and Ten-Tei not to see, say or hear the bad deeds of a person. The Sanshi (三尸) are three worms living in everyone's body. The Sanshi keep track of the good deeds and particularly the bad deeds of the person they inhabit. Every 60 days, on the night called Kōshin-Machi (庚申待), if the person sleeps, the Sanshi will leave the body and go to Ten-Tei (天帝), the Heavenly God, to report about the deeds of that person. Ten-Tei will then decide to punish bad people, making them ill, shortening their time alive, and in extreme cases putting an end to their lives. Those believers of Kōshin who have reason to fear will try to stay awake during Kōshin nights. This is the only way to prevent the Sanshi from leaving their body and reporting to Ten-Tei.

An ancient representation of the 'no see, no hear, no say, no do' can be found in four golden figurines in the Zelnik Istvan Southeast Asian Gold Museum. These golden statues date from the 6th to 8th century. The figures look like tribal human people with not very precise body carvings and strong phallic symbols. This set indicates that the philosophy comes from very ancient roots.

There is a fourth monkey, named Shizaru, the "DO-NO-EVIL MONKEY", which has been seen in two different forms:

That fourth monkey is not in many of the legends and stories, and it is not in Unicode either.

If it were up to me, a space would have been reserved at U+1f64c for this fourth monkey, and if it was eventually added I would have been quite content to go with the PG version for the reference glyph

Alas, no such luck.

Perhaps it was an oblique criticism of Google's "Don't be evil" since there are so many people who question that it is really a guiding principle anymore -- so that's why Unicode chose to not "do no evil.":

But this seems really unlikely to me (I wasn't the one who originally suggested it).

Plus I don't want to violate the U+1f64a principle!

Anyhow, the story, though originally Chinese, has a unique importance in Japanese culture, where these three figures embody the Golden Rule there, providing a moral center that is almost the opposite of the "ignoring immorality" that it often means in Western culture.

But the cultural meanings in Japan are something that gives them a place in the Emoji... perhaps the three that redeem the whole set, in the eyes of some!

On the other hand, trivializing them my offend some even more.

But it serves, they serve, as a reminder that every character has a story.... :-)

Paul van Brenk on 9 Mar 2012 11:14 AM:

Looks like the Character Map application (even on Windows 8 CP) only supports Unicode up U+FFFF, which is a shame.

Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Mar 2012 12:19 PM:

Very true.

The "Word|Insert Symbol..." dilog supports 'em , at least!

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