A selection of quotes by Osho about the meaning of the mala and orange/red clothing (in chronological order).
[…] you want to know about the mala and its meaning. Nothing in this universe is meaningless. It is different if something loses its meaning through long usage. Everything wears out and becomes dirty after being in currency for a long time. The same has happened with the mala. But it is meaningful.
There are one hundred and eight beads in a mala. Do you know what this number stands for? There are one hundred and eight techniques of meditation, ways of meditation, and this mala will be with you to remind you of the hundred and eight possible paths to meditation. And if you and I continue to be related I am going to acquaint you with all the different techniques of meditation.
The hundred and eight beads of the mala represent all the techniques of meditation there are.
And when a witness like me gives this mala to an initiate into sannyas, he only tells him through this symbol that while he has explained only one path to the unknown to him, there are really many others, as many as one hundred and seven. So don’t be in a hurry to say that people who are on paths other than yours are wrong. And always remember that there are countless paths, all of which lead to the divine.
At the bottom of the mala hangs a large bead which says that whatever path you follow you will reach, because all paths lead to the one, to the ultimate one. So all the beads, including the large one, are symbolic and meaningful.
Krishna: The Man and His Philosophy, Ch 22, Ch 7 (excerpt, translated from Hindi)
Sannyas is not a new program. The orange and the mala and the new name are just a gesture from your side that you are ready to drop all the programs, a gesture from your side that you are open to me. It is just a gesture; that’s why it is so simple. Anybody can take sannyas, with no conditions attached to it, no strings attached to it.
Unio Mystica, Vol 2, Ch 4, Q 1 (excerpt)
You say: “What of those who take sannyas in Poona, only to drop it back in their home environment?”
They have never taken sannyas. Once you take sannyas, it cannot be dropped. It is not something that can be dropped. It is a milieu, an experience that goes so deep into you that it becomes your very heart. It permeates you.
Sannyas is not just the orange clothes and the mala; that is just symbolic. Sannyas is something totally different, far more deep-going. It is not in the clothes. Once you have taken sannyas it is impossible to drop it – but the real crux is whether you have taken it. If you can drop it, that will simply show that you had never taken it in the first place. And if you have not taken it, you will not be benefited by it. Then naturally the mind will say, “What is the point? For three months you have been a sannyasin, and nothing has happened. Why not drop it?”
And nothing has happened because from the very beginning you were not in it. You were not a participant; you were being tricky, you were being diplomatic.
The Book of Wisdom, Ch 6, Q 2 (excerpt)
I have allowed you complete freedom from any outer symbols – now it is up to you. You are free, and all the colors of the rainbow are yours. You are free to use the mala or not. Only one thing remains: it is your journey inwards, which is the essence of religiousness.
From Bondage to Freedom, Ch 19, Q 2 (excerpt)
Beloved Master, When I hear people say that they have dropped sannyas, I wonder if this is possible. I feel that once you have started on this parth of sannyas, there is not return. Please comment.
You are right. Once you are a sannyasin, you are a sannyasin forever. You can drop the clothes, you can drop the mala, but sannyas is something that has entered into your being.
You cannot drop it, unless you drop your heart. And I don’t think anybody is going to drop his heart.
Sannyas is initiation of the heart: the individual heart moving towards the universal heart. There is no way to drop it.
So before you enter, think twice!
From Bondage to Freedom, Ch 26, Q 4
You have been clapping because I have dropped red clothes, malas. And when you clap, you don’t know how it hurts me. That means you have been a hypocrite! Why have you been wearing red clothes if dropping them brings you so much joy? Why have you been wearing the mala? The moment I say, “Drop!” you rejoice. And people rushed to the boutique to change their clothes, they have dropped their malas. But you don’t know how much you have wounded me by your clapping and by your changing.
Now I have to say one thing more, and I would like to see whether you have the guts to clap or not: that is, now there is no buddhafield. So if you want enlightenment, you have to work for it individually. The buddhafield exists no more. You cannot depend on the energy of the buddhafield to become enlightened.
Now clap as loudly as you can. CLAP!…
Now you are completely free: even for enlightenment only you are responsible. And I am completely free from you. You have been behaving like idiots! And this has given a good chance to see how many people are really intimate with me. If you can drop your malas so easily… Even in my own house there is one sannyasin who immediately changed to blue clothes, with great joy. What does it show? It shows that those red clothes were a burden. She was somehow managing to be in red clothes against her will.
But I don’t want you to do anything against your will. Now I don’t want even to help you towards your enlightenment against your will. You are absolutely free and responsible for yourself.
From Bondage to Freedom, Ch 24, Q 2 (excerpt)
Beloved Master, We dropped red clothes, malas, temples, gachchhamis, worship. Did we forget something – like dropping our egos?
Just look how easily you can drop red clothes, how easily you can drop your malas, how easily you can drop gachchhamis, because you were never authentically and sincerely in love with them. You pretended, you were hypocrites.
You had pretended you loved your mala, but the moment you found the chance to drop it, you dropped it immediately. And you must be thinking you dropped it because I have said so. But I have been telling you for years continuously to drop the ego – that you don’t drop.
Strange… I said only one day, “Drop the malas,” and you were so happy and so clapping, rejoicing. But when I say, “Drop the ego,” you don’t clap. You know that you are not going to drop it. Ego seems to you to be very precious, and ego is nothing but poison. The mala cannot harm you, red clothes cannot harm you. But the ego is constantly harming you.
The ego means your ambition to be superior to others, to be higher than others, to be bigger than you really are; in every field to be more important, to be somebody who has power over people either through politics or through money. All these are different dimensions of your ego. And if you go on fulfilling these desires you can never come to a state of contentment, fulfillment, because the ego is just like the horizon. It looks so close – as if you just have to walk a little more and you will reach it. But by the time you have reached there, the horizon has also moved away.
[…] But when I say to you, “Drop the ego,” you all become deaf. “Drop the mala,” and you are immediately ready. But all have not dropped the mala. Those who had loved it, those who had accepted it as symbolic of a relationship with me – they have not dropped it. Neither have they dropped their red clothes, because red clothes have become their remembrance of being a sannyasin, that they are initiated into a mystery school. Those red clothes twenty-four hours a day remind you that your work is to find yourself. They have not dropped them.
A few immediately dropped… and it was simply a great experiment to see who is really an initiate, and who is here just by accident. Those who did not drop the mala and did not drop the red clothes may perhaps be able to drop their egos first. Then those who dropped the mala and the red clothes and rushed to the boutique to find new clothes, they will be the last to drop the ego.
And I am not Jesus, who said, “Blessed are the last” – no. Blessed are the first! Cursed are the last!
From Bondage to Freedom, Ch 29, Q 2 (excerpts)
Last night you renounced your Rajneeshism and the religion. By extension are there no longer sannyasins?
No. Sannyasin is a totally different thing. It has nothing to do with Rajneeshism. Sannyas simply means they have accepted a way of meditation and a life of joy and rejoicing. It is accepting to create your life into a blissfulness. So sannyas is a totally different thing. Sannyasins will continue. I have dropped all outer symbols of sannyasins. If they want to keep them, it is up to them. From my side I have dropped. They don’t need any mala. They don’t need red clothes. All that I would like… My advice to them, that if you are a sannyasin, that meditation is the only essential thing that you should carry.
The Last Testament, Vol 3, Ch 11 (excerpt from a press interview)
Now sannyasins will not be having any uniform, so that sannyas becomes available to many more people. Many intelligent people were simply prevented because of the red clothes – their jobs are there, their parents are there, their wife, their children, their friends, and everywhere they feel in a kind of embarrassment, the mala is no more needed – it is all optional. You can use any color, if you want you can use mala, if you don’t want you don’t need – only meditation remains the central core, which is something inner, which has nothing to do with outside.
The Last Testament, Vol 3, Ch 17 (excerpt from a press interview)
Beloved Osho, The device of mala and saffron clothings gives us an integrity, freedom from social norms and courage to stand alone. Now, with a free sannyas, are you going to create more subtle devices to achieve this?
I am certainly – because it is time that your meditation should make you different from anybody who is not meditating. Your silence, your love, your compassion, your friendliness, should make you aloof from anybody else.
Mala and clothes are very material things. I would like now some spiritual distinctions to be created – and they are already there. It has happened many times – people have reported it to me. They had gone to do some work, and perhaps the mala and the clothes might have been a hindrance in the work, so they went in plain, ordinary clothes, but they were recognized. The shopkeeper said, “But something is different about you. You are not the usual kind of person who comes.”
And that will be far more beautiful – that you are recognized by your spirituality, by your integrity, by your individuality, by your compassion, by your love.
But I have not said that people who want to remain in orange and mala have to drop it. Even new sannyasins who want to choose the mala and red, they can. And my feeling is that none of the old sannyasins are going to leave the mala and red clothes. They have become almost part of them – without them they will feel almost naked.
And the new people who come, even if they come with plain clothes, soon they will start wearing red and the mala, because they will look so much like foreigners, outsiders – and nobody wants to look like an outsider. Everybody wants to be an insider, in the innermost circle.
So I have opened the doors so people can come in who are just sitting on the fence, who are sympathizers, who always wanted to be sannyasins, but just because of the clothes and the mala, they are afraid. So I want them to get down from the fence and enter into the temple; and the temple is full of red people. Once they are down off the fence, it will not be a long time before they will be in red.
Red is not going to disappear. It is going to grow more and more. And opening the doors for people who cannot suddenly change their clothes – let them take their time, why keep them out? Let them meditate – that will give them courage.
Sannyas will remain red and sannyas will remain with malas. I have opened the door only for those who are half-heartedly standing outside. It does not look good – let them come in. Painting their clothes will not be very difficult.
Light on the Path, Ch 1, Q 8
[…] before I left I did everything: I dissolved the religion, because that gives hope to people – and they start believing that the responsibility is mine, that they should be raised in consciousness, awareness, and finally made enlightened.
I made them free – saying that you need not wear red clothes, you need not wear a mala, it is not compulsory anymore – simply to drop all the load of responsibility that they were unknowingly putting on me. They were hoping that just by wearing red clothes and putting the mala on, their work was finished, that now it is my responsibility to make them enlightened. I dropped that. They think that I was giving freedom to them; in fact I was simply making my own life as light as possible.
I was simply dropping unnecessarily imposed responsibilities. And finally, not to let them feel that they were inferior to me in any way, I told them, “I am your friend and you are my friend.”
And the people who wanted it, who had been waiting for it, rejoiced.
But the people who understood cried and wept.
Beyond Psychology, Ch 24, Q 1 (excerpt)
[…] because I have dispersed the organized form of religion that had taken place because I was silent, now each individual is responsible for himself. There is no organized, centralized system which will be taking care of you. And that’s actually what freedom means: it means responsibility. But to the idiots it means licentiousness.
My effort was to give you more responsibility, more freedom. I allowed sannyasins… I left it up to them whether to use the mala or the red clothes. Those who had really understood have not changed anything; those who were reluctantly wearing the mala, forcing themselves to use the red clothes, they have dropped. It is not a loss. I am relieved of a great burden of idiots who have come into the sannyas movement without understanding why they are joining it. And they must be telling others also to drop the mala, to drop the red clothes “because Osho has said it.”
I have not said to drop them; I have simply given you the choice. It is up to you now to keep them or to drop them. But why are they telling other people? They must be feeling guilty that they have dropped and others have not dropped; perhaps they are doing something wrong. If others also drop, that will help them feel a certain relief that they are not the only ones who have dropped. And the strangest thing is that I had told them, “You can drop the mala, you can drop the red clothes; still you will be a sannyasin.”
But it is very difficult to forecast what the stupid minds will do, will understand. They are not simply dropping red clothes, they are saying they have dropped sannyas “because Osho has said so.” What I had said is that I will be accepting sannyasins even without red clothes and a mala. But they are thinking that now they are no longer sannyasins, and they are trying to have others also do the same – and making it a point of freedom.
The others should reply to them, “It is our freedom to use red or not, and we decide to use it. You decide not to use it – that is your business. Who are you to suggest to us or to try to impress your idea upon us? That is against freedom – trying to convert anybody is against freedom.”
All missionaries are against freedom.
But as far as I am concerned, I am happy that a lot of the load has been taken off my shoulders because I feel responsible for you, I want you to grow. I don’t want your life to be wasted. If you cannot grow, even while I am here, then when are you going to grow up?
The Path of the Mystic, Ch 37, Q 4 (excerpt)