Mala

The Three Kinds of Impurity

Mala—The Impurity of Ignorance

Mala means “impurity.” It is seen as the limiting condition of any human being who has not revealed their Divine Essence. Therefore, it is essentially caused by avidya (ignorance), one of the five kleshas (causes of suffering).

According to Kashmir Shaivism, there are three kinds of malas that limit consciousness: anava, mayiya, and karma.

  1. Anava mala is what makes us believe that we are a limited individual consciousness and not Shiva. It is the innate imperfection of an anu (individual being) or jiva (soul). This kind of mala is considered beginningless but it ends in moksha (liberation).
  2. Mayiya mala is the jiva’s misconception that the physical body is the real Self. It is the bondage caused by maya. This causes pleasure, pain, and the transmigration of the soul. Shaiva Siddhanta yogis regarded maya as real (in a relative sense), eternal, and the material cause of the world. As maya is real, its creation (the world) is therefore also real, not an illusion—as is affirmed in Advaita Vedanta.
  3. Karma mala is the limitation resulting in selfish action in the world of maya. Instead of having the complete freedom to act (which Shiva has), the jiva experiences an attachment to action and the limitations inherent in any personal act. This is regarded as Shiva’s “playfulness”! The Shiva Sutras regards this mala as maha pasa (the “great bondage”), which is not destroyed even when the whole Universe is annihilated in pralaya (cosmic dissolution).

Mala—Prayer Beads

The word mala (transliterated as mālā) may also refer to a “garland” or “rosary” (a string of prayer beads). Rosaries are used in many religions (including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism) to keep count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a prayer, mantra, or the name of a deity.

A mala is usually made of 108 beads from a variety of materials, the favorite being rudraksha. One repetition is said for each bead, usually while turning the thumb clockwise around the bead. Symbolically, the string that unites the beads represents the underlying Supreme Reality, while the beads themselves represent the effort of spiritual practice.