What are the three Impurities (Malas)?


According to classical tantra, the individual is covered, and in a way contracted, by 3 impurities (malas). Impurity in this philosophical system has nothing to do with neither physical dirt or immorality but refers to a state of separation.
These three impurities are considered gross (sthūla), subtle (sūkṣma), and subtlest (para).

Table of Contents

Gross Impurity (Mala)

The Gross impurity is known as kārma mala and is connected to action and the sense of being an individual (and independent) agent.
Whenever you experience the contraction around your own actions (such as feeling stressed about an upcoming deadline or expecting rewards or punishment for a particular action) you are sensing this mala.


It can be removed through karma yoga (which according to the Bhagavad Gita means giving up the fruits of one’s actions and according to Kashmir Shaivism means performing all actions in a state of yoga). The deep understanding that the necessary action is available for us at the time when it is needed is the antidote to this mala.

Māyīya Impurity (Mala)

The next impurity is called māyīya mala and is responsible for creating differentiation in one’s own consciousness, meaning it makes us feel different from other creatures, placing us in a state of duality. According to Lakshman Joo, this is the impurity that makes Lord Śiva appear as many rather than as one (this is also why māyā- the power to measure out or to create diversity, is seen as both blessing and curse in this tradition, as it makes the beauty of creation and a multitude of expressions possible, at the same time as it creates separation).

This mala can be removed through meditation and the deep understanding that the necessary wisdom is available for us at the time when it is needed.

āṇava Impurity Mala

The last impurity is called āṇava Mala and is often understood as the primal one as it keeps us from realizing our own nature. It is described as āpūrṇatā- non-fullness, meaning it causes the feeling of being incomplete, of lacking something.

According to Lakshman Joo (the last living master in this tradition), this feeling makes us create abhilāṣā- the desire for completion, which pushes us into endless cycles of compulsive action trying to reach an ever-escaping sense of satisfaction.
According to tradition, nothing but the descent of grace (śaktipāta) can remove this impurity. But in my experience, all of the impurities are removed (even if temporarily) through practice.

And of course, this tradition also claims that we would not even turn towards spiritual practice if the descent of grace had not already been provided. Longing itself is grace.

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