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What Is a Vow of Silence?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A vow of silence is a personal, voluntary oath to refrain from speaking. There are numerous reasons to take such a vow, with many people associating this concept with expressions of religious faith. The duration depends on the purpose, with common reasons for refraining from speech including contemplation, repentance, the desire to sacrifice, control or manipulation and political protection and statements. Committing to not talking doesn't necessarily hinder communications. People should differentiate these pledges from medically- or psychologically-based silences.


The time limits on a vow of silence vary and depend on the circumstances that bring it about. An oath to stop talking permanently is the least common, although some people do accept this level of commitment. Others pledge to stay quiet for a set period of time, such as a year or just a particular part of the day, while some vow to remain silent until they achieve something or a certain event takes place.

Greater and Lesser Silence

In some regions, those in cloisters or monasteries participate in what is known as the Greater Silence. They may not speak at all during this period, which usually covers the time between evening and morning prayers. Individuals also engage in the Lesser Silence, which lasts from morning to evening prayers. People may speak to pray or to convey truly critical information, but they do not welcome unnecessary conversation.

Purpose and Goals


When an individual takes a vow of silence, the main intent often is to promote religious contemplation. He usually believes that, when a person stops talking, he is forced to look inward, to think about the nature of faith and his own personal beliefs. In theory, with the distractions that come with conversation gone, he is better able to concentrate on spiritual development or activities. Many individuals connect this to the idea that God or another Higher Power does not always communicate in words, that true connection and understanding comes in moments of divine stillness.


Sometimes, a person stops talking because he wants to show he is sorry for something he's done. He gives up his voice, which he sees as valuable, as a way of dealing with guilt. If someone he's wronged offers sincere forgiveness, or if the person taking the vow comes to feel he's somehow made up for what happened, he typically ends his silence.

Substitute for Material Sacrifice

It is relatively common for people of faith to adopt a fairly minimalistic approach to living, buying and using only what they really need. They focus on the underlying principle that too much "stuff" makes it difficult to be active in religion, because so many tasks and responsibilities come with material wealth. Christians, for example, point to the command of Jesus to leave material things behind to follow Him. When someone already has reduced his belongings, his voice can be an additional thing to sacrifice.

Relationship Control and Manipulation

A vow of silence sometimes is part of relationship or social manipulation. A young child, for example, might give the "silent treatment" to punish other kids, or to get across that he's not happy. Even some adults use this technique as a way of passive-aggressively asserting some control, particularly when they are angry.

Political Protection and Statements

In some cases, a political or other prisoner stops talking because he does not want to reveal incriminating or sensitive information to his captors. Usually, this type of vow applies only when someone tries to interrogate the prisoner, although some individuals won't talk to anyone at any time because they don't know which people are trustworthy. More rarely, someone uses the tactic simply as a political statement, knowing that the media might pick up the story of his silence and unavoidably have to bring attention to his cause.

Nonverbal Communication

One misconception about a vow of silence is that it effectively stops a person from communicating completely. In reality, an individual who doesn't want to talk can get ideas across quite clearly in many cases with nonverbal gestures and expressions, such as hugging someone he's happy to see. Writing things down is another strategy, with contemporary individuals even using tools like email and smartphones. Even sign language occasionally comes into play. Although stopping speech doesn't completely cut a person off from others, he might pick specific ways of interacting so as to maintain the intent of the vow.

It is worth noting that an individual might stop talking specifically as a way to shift his ways of communicating on purpose. When a person cannot rely on speech, what he does get across with body language, notes or other tools often is more honest and brief, lacking much of the fluff and drama that takes up unnecessary time and drains energy. With someone expressing in this improved way, relationships and a general appreciation of the world often deepen once the vow ends.

Perception of the Vow

Speech is a normal part of everyday social interaction, although the amount of talking that is acceptable varies from culture to culture, and as a result, friends, family and acquaintances do not always understand a vow of silence. They might see a person who takes one as being unstable, for example, or as being out of touch with the rest of the world. The ability of the community to understand the motivations behind it matter, however. Other nuns, for example, are generally accepting of another nun who stops talking because they share the mindset that the vow can yield spiritual benefits. It is not unheard of for a person to travel to a different location before putting it into effect so that he doesn't suffer as much social disapproval.


Vows of silence are usually completely voluntary, which means that, even if an individual starts one to repent or sacrifice, he wants to stop talking on some level. They should not confused with the silence that sometimes happens after a physical or emotional trauma and which is associated with psychological difficulties, because this problem often requires the person to get professional help before his mental and social functioning is restored. People also need to separate it from the physical inability to talk, which can be the result of many different medical conditions and procedures. "Vocal rest," which is a common treatment for inflammation of the vocal cords and surrounding tissues, falls somewhere in the middle, because people often willingly stop talking to protect their vocal health.

Why Do Monks Take a Vow of Silence?

Monks living in monasteries are often prohibited from speaking between the evening prayers and the morning prayers. This prohibition bans idle words and useless conversation, teaching the monks to be more purposeful in how they talk.

There may be other times such as work hours or prayer periods throughout the day where speech is prohibited, as well as places such as the chapel where no talking is allowed.

Both Eastern and Western religions use a vow of silence as an opportunity for the monks to preserve their inner peace. The practice allows them to silence not only their outer voice, but their inner voice as well.

In Buddhism, having a “monkey mind” means being restless, confused or unsettled. It’s the part of the brain that tells you that you can’t do anything right, that you’re worthless and that you’re never going to achieve your goals. Monks may partake of silent meditation or take a vow of silence for a time to quiet their monkey mind. This may also be a good reason for you to take a vow of silence.

How To Take a Vow of Silence?

To take a vow of silence, you may simply decide not to speak for a certain period of time. You may want to take a sabbatical from your job and visit another city for the period your vow will last, to avoid your family and friends denigrating or making fun of you for taking this vow.

You may have various reasons for wanting to take a vow of silence. You might want to communicate better with your personal Deity. You may see it as a chance to truly listen to other people without pre-planning what you’re going to say when they’re done talking.

Another reason for wanting to take a vow of silence is the introspection you develop. You could view it as an opportunity to develop better self-awareness, self-compassion or self-love.

You can take a vow of silence to make a statement. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) supports a day of silence every April to drive awareness of the harm caused by the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students in U.S. schools. Students will refrain from speaking to represent the silencing of LGBTQ students.

Everyone does a vow of silence differently, depending on the reason they want to avoid speaking. For example, if you realize you’re belittling co-workers, you may want to take a vow of silence at work. If your aim is introspection, you might want to marry your silent time with alone time so you’re not distracted by other people.

You could take a vow of online silence, refraining from social media, email and web browsing for a while. This could break an internet addiction or give you time to pursue hobbies or passion projects you never seemed to be able to find time for when you were online all afternoon.

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it’s crucial to get some time away for peace, to rest your brain and nervous system, and just be. You deserve the chance to discover your true self by reflection, soul-searching and introspection.

Choosing the right length of time for your vow of silence is important. You could choose a set amount of time, or you could elect to stay silent until breaking the silence feels right. Pick a time limit that’s meaningful to you to get the most out of your vow of silence.

Can You Write During a Vow of Silence?

When it comes to taking a vow of silence, the rules are really up to you. If you don’t want to communicate in any way with others, you can choose not to write.

If, on the other hand, you need to communicate important information, you could opt to allow yourself to write in that case. However, it may turn into a case where you’re writing furiously to respond to people, defeating the purpose of your vow of silence.

One form of writing could be helpful during your vow of silence: journaling. Write out your thoughts, insights and "aha" moments. Write about what you’ve learned about yourself, other people and the state of the world.

A vow of silence may serve to connect you more closely to your Deity and to yourself. The lessons you learn will be with you for life, and if you feel them fading away, you’re free to make another vow of silence to rediscover your self-awareness, calm and inner peace.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon959551 — On Jul 05, 2014

So one could calm down his mind and think about his inner issues so he could get time to work on them. When the heart and mind is relaxed they create silence and in this silence one can hear the chimes of 'vice' to ponder upon.

Sometimes this vow is taken as oath that he would not share something he has learned, e.g., when you read that Moses talked to God face to face, but Jesus said in Matthew that no one has seen God. Actually, Jesus spoke the truth. Otherwise, he would have taken the vow of silence.

In every system, there are pros and cons that one cannot go out and share with common man. A lot of events take place in the public but someone knows the truth about them, but his vow of silence does not allow him to share them with everyone.

Especially leaders take a vow of silence because inside their offices there are many things they cannot share with the 'common man' about how they work or how they handle such things which control them.

Just imagine the 2008 economical crisis. You think they did not count the money in the Leman Bank crisis? No, they did every day. Those on the inside who did this drama took a vow of silence not to share the reality.

This vow can be taken for other reasons such as you are trying to teach yourself to speak less, because it hurts your character and integrity. So you make a promise that you will forcefully overcome this chaos.

A vow is a promise, or covenant, testament or an oath. It's like fighting with oneself or fighting with defiance for a reason with an oath that I am ready to that or I would prefer something tough. It is a kind of oath that you make with yourself that you will do and overcome something. Second, people who make this vow do not talk about it. Third, this vow is taken in the presence of witnesses.

By anon286149 — On Aug 19, 2012

I have a question on the matter and am hoping someone here can please help. I had heard a long time ago and honestly don't remember where, that if you don't talk for an extended period of time that you will lose the ability to?

I remember thinking it was bull at first but the more I thought I came to this reasoning. Vocal cords have muscles in them and over a period of time if muscles aren't used you lose strength and full control over them, I figured that this would hold true to the muscles in your vocal cords as well.

By anon281964 — On Jul 26, 2012

I am going to take a modified vow of silence. I am only going to speak out of necessity for work and to my adult children who live with me every other week. I am recently divorced and I have gone though some rough relationships. I thought 80 percent was their fault, but I have to take 50 percent of the blame. I come off as arrogant, a know it all, self-righteous, etc. I am also always long winded and arrogant with friends. No one wants to call someone if they think the call will take too long. I talk too much about myself.

The corny saying is that God gave us two ears to listen. I couldn't hear anything the last 20 years because I was too smart for myself. I'm going to stop calling people and shut up for a month! I am then going to limit my words from now on. As the earlier person said, people will listen to you if they rarely hear you speak. If you are always gabbing or texting, nothing is meaningful. See how long this post is. I truly have a problem. Wish me luck.

By anon278302 — On Jul 05, 2012

Is it a vow of silence if you still talk online?

By anon272412 — On Jun 01, 2012

Eastern religions make true vows of silence. There are buddhist monks who take silence until they die. Why are there so many people on the internet blabbing their opinion to the world as fact? Read a book, not a webpage soundbite.

By anon262925 — On Apr 22, 2012

My vow of silence will end in a couple of weeks. Due to my studies, if I'm called upon by a faculty member, I am allowed to respond briefly.

My reasons for doing this are personal, though to abolish slavery is one of the main ones.

Other methods of communication are allowed so long as no sounds come from my mouth. Wish me luck!

By anon257052 — On Mar 24, 2012

I want to take a vow of silence because I talk to danged much! I'm relentless. It's killing me. I regret what I say. I'm unhappy that I'm so shallow because I never shut up. People do take my voice for granted and it even irritates them because I'm always talking.

I'm tired of hearing myself talk. I went online to find out about vow of silence and when I read "as a way of focusing more inwardly and practicing faith" it struck a chord. Interesting that someone says you stop talking in your head to yourself because that is quite a miracle I'd love to see and you can get more done? Wow! I really would love to see that one. Focus sharpens and concentration increases? Sounds good. But I realize this is a serious commitment and takes a tremendous deal of discipline. I want to. I'm just not sure I'm ready. So I'll try.

By anon253446 — On Mar 09, 2012

I've realized silence gives you ample room to reflect

on your actions, and also make you realize you have inner resources for solving some problems you think are hard to solve. I've learned to respect the power of silence.

By anon189826 — On Jun 24, 2011

I'm taking a vow of silence to get in touch with my inner self.

By anon159896 — On Mar 14, 2011

I will admit my curiosity was founded by snake eyes from Gi Joe, but i have thought for quite some time what it would be like to stop talking.

I haven't been that much of a talker all my life. Now i realize i have been talking more and more just because i feel like i need to. I also have some things deep inside that i am not proud of and feelings about mistakes that i need to think through and eventually let go.

Even though "closing up" doesn't seem like a helper for letting go, i believe it will work because it has before. It is hard to explain. I am thinking of taking a vow of silence that will hopefully last until i go to college and then we will see. The problem is if i did take a vow of silence, it would be no talking, texting, calling, facebooking, or even writing notes on paper (unless school essays and such). Therefore when i work or am at school this would be difficult. I am still thinking it through but i am definitely leaning toward a vow of silence.

By anon109961 — On Sep 09, 2010

Silence is one of the best things to happen to me. It is different than being "quiet". I think it helps us process our place in the social universe as well as ourselves as deeper beings.

I read a book called "In the company of Eck masters" that stated that Pythagoras had a secret school in Greece where one had to be in silence for five years as the first part of study if one was accepted as a member. Good luck! -MG

By anon101235 — On Aug 02, 2010

I just took a vow of silence two days ago. Partially inspired by Snake Eyes from GI Joe.

My vow is not as strict because I work in costumer service, so I have to speak from time to time. However, whenever possible, I remain mute.

I believe remaining silent can actually serve beyond religious purposes, especially when you have the bad habit of spending more time talking to yourself than getting things done. I know because I have that very problem.

My focus has actually sharpened a great deal since taking this vow. Now that I'm no longer wasting my mind on speaking, I have more energy to concentrate.

It's kind of cool. Plus, when people hear your voice less, it creates a kind of scarcity that makes others pay more attention when you do speak. When people take your voice for granted, it is easier to ignore it. When they hear it less, they notice it when it finally heard.

In addition, the whole thing is kind of fun. I feel like Snake Eyes from GI Joe.

By anon99247 — On Jul 25, 2010

I want to stop gossiping. I hear myself talk and am ashamed of what I say. I think it will protect me from constantly saying bad things.

I want to become more mindful of what I say and more selective of what I say.

By anon87254 — On May 29, 2010

There is no such thing as a vow of silence. You can only make a vow for a better thing and there is nothing better or worse about deciding to be silent.

No nuns or monks make vows of silence. That is a myth. They may have a tradition of silence within their houses as they believe that silence fosters prayer but no vows. Sorry mates.

By anon48822 — On Oct 15, 2009

my name is Christopher Montoya and i am going to take a vow of silence for Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity. people from all over this nation will give up their voices for a day in solidarity for these children. Red arm bands and duct tape will identify them as taking part in the Pro-life Day of Silent Solidarity. They will carry fliers explaining why they are silent and educate others about the plight of the innocent children we are losing every day. i am so excited about this day :)

By anon37592 — On Jul 20, 2009

You have a conversation with someone whom is silent by text messaging - emails - writing notes! Most individuals only have a problem with individuals that take a Vow of Silence in most cases because they don't like the individual in the first place and they feel as if it is directed toward them and or another unthought of reason that they don't even know about. I have taken a Vow of Silence as of July 9th of this year and the last day for the Vow is July 27th - so on July 28th I can start talking again. The reason why I had to take my vow is because I am in seminary and I have 12 lessons to finish before the end of July - and I have individuals that are always in my face asking for information, because I am a Pastor of a church - so my vows have even removed move from the pulpit until that time also! In most cases if individuals want a better understanding as to why a person is taking a Vow of Silence - they will have someone to tell you or they will write it down to explain the reason why or in some cases they won't tell anyone! My vow of silence is for my workplace and my homefront - in order for me to be focused on what I am doing for God and I have a major timeframe - I must do this for myself if for no other religious reason! These comtemplation practices not only brings your visible being intact with what is happening around you, but you also can hear from God more profoundly!

By anon33895 — On Jun 13, 2009

I met someone the other day who took a vow of silence. He smiles and nods, but does not talk. I found it interesting that other people seemed to be able to have long conversations with him. How do you have a conversation with someone who is silent?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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