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See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

The ancient Japanese proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” is often said to have been popularized in the 17th century as a pictorial Shinto maxim, carved in the famous Tōshō-gū Shinto shrine in Nikkō, Japan.

 

Early Chinese Confucian philosophy could have also played a role in the birth of the adage, as a Confucian phrase from the third or fourth century B.C. reads, “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.”


Just as there is disagreement about the origin of the phrase, there are differing explanations of the meaning of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

 

In Buddhist tradition, the tenets of the proverb are about not dwelling on evil thoughts.

 

In the Western world both the proverb and the image are often used to refer to a lack of moral responsibility on the part of people who refuse to acknowledge impropriety, looking the other way or feigning ignorance.


It may also signify a code of silence in gangs, or organised crime.

 

Whilst intrigued by the ancient proverb, I find it especially fascinating how ancient propaganda too can be interpreted and manipulated in such vastly varying ways, much like any message can be in contemporary society.

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