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.
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. It is also considered a virtue in some religions.
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.
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.
In the Indian religions, religious silence is called Mauna and the name for a sage muni (see, for example Sakyamuni) literally means "silent one". 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. 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. 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.
Mahatma Gandhi observed one day of silence a week, every Monday, and would not break this discipline for any reason.
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 speak up against poverty and child labour. 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. Students take a day-long vow of silence to symbolically represent the silencing of LGBTQ students. The Day of Silence has been held each year in April since 1996. From 2011 to 2017, the Day of Silence was held on the second Friday in April except for April 11, 2014; in 2018 it was observed on Friday, April 27. A more ancient example of a non-religious vow of silence is Pythagoras, who imposed a strict rule of silence on his disciples.