A vow of silence is a vow to maintain silence. Although it is commonly associated with monasticism, no major monastic order takes a vow of silence. Even the most fervently silent orders such as the Carthusians have time in their schedule for talking.

In Western Christian traditions such as Catholicism and Lutheranism, the Great Silence is the period of time beginning at the canonical hour of Compline, in which votarists are silent until the first office of the next day, Lauds.[1]

Recently, the vow of silence has been embraced by some in secular society as means of protest or of deepening their spirituality. Silence is often seen as essential to deepening a relationship with God.[2] It is also considered a virtue in some religions.[3]


Religious examples

Despite the common misconception, no major Christian monasteries or religious orders take such a vow. However, most monasteries have specific times (magnum silentium, work silence, times of prayer, etc.) and places (the chapel, the refectory, etc.) where speaking is prohibited unless absolutely necessary. Even outside of these times and places, useless and idle words are forbidden. In active orders, the members speak according to the needs of their various duties.[4]

In the Indian religions, religious silence is called Mauna and the name for a sage muni (see, for example Sakyamuni) literally means "silent one".[5] In Buddhism, it is also explicitly stated that "one does not become a sage simply because of a vow of silence" due to the prescription for disciples to also teach the Buddhist doctrine.[6] The vow of silence is also relevant in the training of novices and is often cited as a way to resist the allures of samsara, including those posed by the opposite sex.[7] Buddhist monks who take a vow of silence often carry an iron staff called khakkhara, which makes a metallic noise to frighten away animals. Since they cannot speak, the rattle of the staff also announces their arrival when they start begging for alms.[8]

Mahatma Gandhi observed one day of silence a week, every Monday, and would not break this discipline for any reason.[9]

Non-religious examples

Additionally, a vow of silence can be made to express a bold statement. This type may be to make a statement about issues such as child poverty. An example of this is the November 30th Vow of Silence for Free The Children, in which students in Canada take a 24-hour vow of silence to protest against poverty and child labour.[citation needed]

In the United States, the Day of Silence is the GLSEN’s annual day of action to spread awareness about the effects of the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students. Participating students take a day-long vow of silence to symbolically represent the silencing of LGBTQ students.

A more ancient example of a non-religious vow of silence is Pythagoras, who imposed a strict rule of silence on his disciples.[citation needed]

In pop culture

See also


  1. ^ Ware, Jordan Haynie (1 February 2017). The Ultimate Quest: A Geek's Guide to (The Episcopal) Church. Church Publishing Incorporated. p. 30. ISBN 9780819233264.
  2. ^ Sarah, Robert Cardinal (2017). The Power of Silence:Against the Dictatorship of Noise. Ignatius Press. ISBN 978-1621641919.
  3. ^ Macadam, Heather (2002). The Weeping Buddha. New York: Akashic Books. pp. 99. ISBN 1888451394.
  4. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia
  5. ^ Bhalla, Prem P. (2006). Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs and Traditions. Pustak Mahal. pp. 172–. ISBN 978-81-223-0902-7.
  6. ^ Wijayaratna, Mohan (1990). Buddhist Monastic Life: According to the Texts of the Theravada Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0521364280.
  7. ^ Suh, Sharon (2015). Silver Screen Buddha: Buddhism in Asian and Western Film. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. p. 168. ISBN 9781441189257.
  8. ^ Beer, Robert (2003). The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Chicago: Serindia. p. 184. ISBN 1932476032.
  9. ^ "The day of a silence | GANDHIJI".
  10. ^ Hawker, Tom (20 July 2014). "The 25 Funniest Monty Python Movie Moments". IGN. Retrieved 15 February 2022.