Vow of silence

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.[1]It is also considered a virtue in some religions.[2]


Pythagoras imposed a strict rule of silence on his disciples.

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.[3]

In the Indian religions, religious silence is called Mauna and the name for a sage muni (see, for example Sakyamuni) literally means 'silent one'.[4] In Buddhism, however, "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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

Non-religious examples

Another vow of silence can be made to express a bold statement. This type may be to speak up controversial 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 pop culture

The 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine, featured Dwayne, a Nietzsche-reading teenager, taking a vow of silence until he can accomplish his dream of becoming a test pilot.

"The Cartoon", a season 9 episode of Seinfeld, featured Kramer taking a vow of silence.

The 2009 movie, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra", featured Snake Eyes taking a vow of silence.

The 2011 movie The Hangover: Part II featured a Buddhist monk taking a vow of silence as part of the film's plot.

The 2017 television show, "The Good Place" featured Jianyu, a buddhist monk, taking a vow of silence.

The HBO TV Series Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 8, Episode 5) featured a character taking a vow of silence. The episode title was also called "Vow of Silence".

In literature

In the book "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" (ねじまき鳥クロニクル Nejimakitori Kuronikuru) perhaps the character Cinnamon Akasaka has taken a vow of silence.

See also


 Obrecht, Edmond (1913). "Silence". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 

  1. Sarah, Robert Cardinal (2017). The Power of Silence:Against the Dictatorship of Noise. Ignatius Press. ISBN 1621641910.
  2. Macadam, Heather (2002). The Weeping Buddha. New York: Akashic Books. p. 99. ISBN 1888451394.
  3. Catholic Encyclopedia
  4. Bhalla, Prem P. (2006). Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs and Traditions. Pustak Mahal. pp. 172–. ISBN 978-81-223-0902-7.
  5. Wijayaratna, Mohan (1990). Buddhist Monastic Life: According to the Texts of the Theravada Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0521364280.
  6. Suh, Sharon (2015). Silver Screen Buddha: Buddhism in Asian and Western Film. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. p. 168. ISBN 9781441189257.
  7. Beer, Robert (2003). The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Chicago: Serindia. p. 184. ISBN 1932476032.
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