Why the fourth monk is the most important one

See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil and …. What else?

I like pretty gifts. When two of my wonderful colleagues gifted me this 4 monk set (in picture), I was deeply moved.

I knew what the first 3 monks symbolized, “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”.

But there was a fourth monk…

I didn’t fully understand what this one represented.

Judging by the expression and body language, I figured it would either be, “think no evil” or “do no evil”.

Interestingly this wasn’t the case.

It’s much deeper than that.

The 4th monk appears to be thinking deeply, hand on his chin and head tilted with his eyes focused into the distance.

He’s thinking, “What does evil mean?”

Very Meta, I know.

But it makes a lot of sense.

Unless one has a framework of what ‘evil’ means to them, how does one ensure that they see no evil, speak no evil and do no evil.

It’s easy to say, “Killing is evil” and leave it at that. However, if you’re a soldier fighting a war, killing isn’t necessarily evil.

The world does not neatly divide itself into nice square pieces labeled ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

This isn’t very comforting but there is one thing we can do to navigate the murky waters of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

We can consciously take stock of our values and priorities and decide what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable.

Deciding what you will stand for and more importantly, what you won’t stand for is the first step to living a meaningful life.

Will you break the rules because no one’s watching or will you honor them because you hold yourself to a higher standard?

Will you do something you know isn’t right just because ‘everyone else is doing it’ or will you be true to your highest principles?

What is important to you — even if all your wealth and possessions and relationships were taken from you, what will you hold on to?

What do you believe in?

Why do you believe in it?

The fourth monk is asking you to define your standards and values and principles. And once you do, you can heed the advice of the other 3 monks.

For more help on clarifying your values and establishing your value system, I recommend reading this book, chapter 15 specifically. If you want a short version, read this instead.

For any questions regarding this article, please reach out to me on Instagram by following the handle @archstergram or let me know in the comments section below!

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