The Shaivite system of thought tells us that the individual is kept from realizing the universal because of the triad impurities (malas) – the impurity of anava, the impurity of karma, and the impurity of maya.
Anava comes from the word anu (atom) and implies the idea of an atomic self (the small self or ego), the individual entity. The very idea that you are an individual entity or an individual packet of consciousness separate from everything else is in itself an impurity. Shrouded by anava, one forgets one's true self as none other than Shiva, and sees oneself as distinct – the small self – as opposed to the true Self (universal Self).
The next impurity is karma, the impurity of cause and effect. The impurity of karma keeps us bound to the world, to causes and effects, to actions and reactions, to the cycle of desire and dejection. The impurity of karma keeps our consciousness engaged in worldliness and activity, and away from the primal silence, the realization of oneness.
Next is the impurity of maya. Maya in the Shaivite system is not treated as illusion, per se, but as mirific energy. Maya creates worlds of opposites, of happiness and sadness, of beauty and ugliness, of fear and fearlessness, of divine and demonic, of births and deaths. Therefore, maya is the basis of all duality. Engaged in a dualistic reality, our consciousness fails to grasp the unity that lies behind it all, that which is beyond the grasp of the senses.
Such are the triad impurities as revealed to us by the Shaivite system of thought. The impurities are not to be taken in a negative sense, but used as stepping stones to hop beyond them. To paraphrase Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, the impurity of maya is the classroom, the impurity of karma is the teacher, and the impurity of anava is the student’s ignorance. So, the impurities themselves exist for the sole purpose of instruction, and as a means to understand the truth behind them. Or, as the saying goes, 'one must know what is darkness, before one can understand what is light'.
Dualistic Shaivism begins with the premise that individual souls are shrouded beginninglessly by these three impurities. And creation is an act of compassion on the part of Shiva to free these souls from the triad impurities by allowing them a chance to realize Him. Monistic Shaivism, on the contrary, teaches that Shiva has willed these impurities onto Himself through His sovereign will (svantantrya-shakti). Outflow of creation is an act on the part of Shiva, a singular effort to understand Himself by Himself.
© Agnideva, 2007. All rights reserved.