In Tantric teaching the word for impurity is mala. Mala arises through the atman’sassociation with maya, the Divine’s own power of limitation. The imperfect finite soul is only a contracted form of the perfect, infinite Self. Mala is the impurity of our finitude, and it takes three forms.
The impurity called anavamala is the consciousness of limited individuality: “I am small (anu) in my own sense of separateness, lack, and inferiority.” Anavamala is the imperfection of a diminished sense of self. It is also the root impurity that gives rise to the other two malas.
As the sense of individuality evolves into a sense of separation, it produces the sense of “I and other.” This further condition of impurity is known as mayiyamala: “I am apart from what I experience around me.” Mayiyamala plunges us into the world of duality, and our mental activity gets caught up in a process of contrast, comparison, and exclusion. Focusing on the diversity around us, we are distracted from the unity within that is our original, divine nature.
The third impurity involves the interaction of the limited interior I and the multiple exterior other. This is karmamala, the bound and binding state of human action: “I act out of necessity, driven by my own sense of want.” Our actions are never free and spontaneous; they always bow to the conditioning that binds us, and their effects in turn prolong the bondage.As long as the malas color our awareness, they hold us captive. As long as we chase after the conventional notions of purity and piety and shun their opposites, we are caught up in a reactive chain.