‘If you turn a blind eye to the world now, history will turn a blind eye to you later. Ignoring an issue makes you a tacit supporter of it.’- Stewart Stapphord.

According to Mahatma Gandhi, silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands that you speak out the truth. He always felt that a 'NO' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'YES' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.

In an exception to his lifestyle of non-possession, was a small statue of the three monkeys. He named them Bapu, Ketan and Bandar. This statue made of china clay was gifted to the Mahatma by a Japanese monk named Nishidatsu Fuji.

This curio of the wise monkeys which inspires us to live life smoothly, soon became one of Gandhiji's favourite collectibles. Maybe because he felt it was an extension of his own ideologies. In Japan though, the same monkeys are known as Mizaru, who covers his eyes to see no evil; Kikazaru, who covers his ears to hear no evil; and Iwazaru, who covers his mouth to speak no evil.

However, there is also a fourth monkey called Shizaru, symbolising the principle of ‘Do No Evil’, who covers his abdomen, crosses his arms, wears a straight- jacket and has a paper bag over his head.

The proverb actually originated in ancient China, where it was included in the Analects of Confucius. Interestingly, a fourth monkey conceptualised by an Odia professor Sanjay Kumar Sathpathy, which stands for ‘Think No Evil’ has also won a copyright license from the Centre. The professor feels that the concept of ‘thinking good’ is the core of humanitarian behaviour and the order for a better world.

Throughout the world, this depiction of the three wise monkeys has been a cultural trope, representing the idea of seeing, hearing, and speaking no evil. It was therefore no wonder that even we grew up thinking that these acts were in association with good mind, good speech and good action.

However, what we did not know is that the proverb is sometimes used sarcastically to those who turn a blind eye to something that is morally or legally wrong. As if by pretending not to see the wrongdoing, they will not be held accountable for it. The phrase thus refers to those who deal with impropriety, by disregarding or overlooking anything unpleasant.

Not wanting to see what is not right.

Not wanting to hear what is not right.

Not wanting to speak what is not right.

And if you think about it seriously, this refusal to acknowledge any irregularity; of looking the other way; of feigning ignorance, doesn’t it indicate a lack of moral responsibility?

Recently I also came across another very interesting interpretation.

‘Don't listen to the truth because it will disturb all your consoling lies.’

‘Don't look at the truth; otherwise your God will be dead and your heaven and hell will disappear.’ ‘Don't speak the truth, otherwise you will be condemned, crucified, poisoned and tortured.’ This interpretation somehow holds true for the present times that we live in.

But since we are always advised by the wise to Be Positive, let us ignore this Negative conjugation of the three verbs. Recently, in a complex where my sister stays, instead of the Monkeys, I came across three Laughing Buddhas placed atop a fountain. Needless to say these wise men add that little bit of Zen to the garden. And since Buddhism is all about peace I’m hoping the tenets of these Little Buddhas would be simple- To NOT dwell on evil thoughts. However, let me try to interpret the maxim in a more constructive way.

The first Laughing Buddha is probably holding his hands to his eyes, NOT to shut them but to focus with his third eye. So he can have a better vision.

The second Laughing Buddha is clasping his hands around his ears, NOT to drown out the sounds of a chaotic and crying world. But to exercise his sensory receptors, so he can improve his hearing.

The third Laughing Buddha is cupping his hands to his mouth NOT to silence himself. But to work on his vocal organs, so that his voice is amplified and more audible.

So it’s like this. Even if you see no evil. Even if you hear no evil. Even if you speak no evil, evil still exists. Don’t fool yourself that it doesn’t. It exists, right before your closed eyes. Your sealed ears. And your muted tongues. And if one is not careful, such a benign neglect of your divine ‘senses’ can one day lead to making them unusable.

Even if most of us are incapable of getting down on the streets for rallies and marches and demonstrations, there is always a gentle way to speak your mind. Learn it. In the words of Elie Wiese- ‘We must ALWAYS take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’