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Human Suffering & The Yogic Perspective

One of my favourite ways to spend my time is to immerse myself in the spiritual teachings and philosophies of yoga. It’s what naturally happens when the heart awakens to the deeper truths of life!  

I think we would all agree that human suffering is something that most of us have tried to understand at some point in life.  Below is a brief outline of what creates human suffering based on classical non-dual Tantrik philosophy. In the Tantrik tradition, there are three aspects of reality that create suffering, referred to as the malas or impurities. 

1. Anava-mala– the impurity of individuality. This relates to the human experience that yoga calls bondage and simply means being stuck in limited identification with the body and mind and with no connection to our original source of existence. In yoga, this source of existence is known by many names such as consciousness, awareness essence-nature, the core of our being, Goddess, God, the heart and ultimate reality. Use whatever term you like, but it is important to note that non-dual Tantra is a theistic philosophy- meaning that they saw this ultimate principle of reality/conscioussness as being innately Divine…hey….they believed in the Goddess/God. To digress a little, most of the Tantrik traditions were worshippers of the Divine Feminine. The tradition that I am the most connected to- the Trika lineage, workshipped Paradevi- the Supreme Goddess!
I recently came across a term to describe this reality or whatever term you prefer,  as boundlessness. I love that so much!!!! Boundlessness….think about it….the true essence of your being is boundlessness. Boundlessness makes me feel so free and powerful- not powerful in a dominant way, but powerful in an unstoppable and unrestricted sense. Your true essence is BOUNDLESSNESS!!

Anava-mala refers to that very deep belief that we are insignificant, incomplete and unworthy. In his book Tantra Illuminated, Christopher Wallis notes that, “This belief is what gets in the way of you revering yourself as divine and as separate from God/Goddess”. 

The original purpose of yoga was to find ways to uproot this belief and the way you could do it was to have a powerful abiding experience of purnata- completeness and fullness. On some level you have all had this experience of purnata- it’s what keeps drawing you back to your yoga mat or meditation seat over and over again!!!

2. Mayiya-mala- the impurity of differentiation. This is the form of ignorance that causes us to see everything and everybody separately from ourselves- me versus you, you versus, them, without seeing the underlying unity of our existence. What you see out there in the world through your conditioned filter and senses is separate and different from you. As Christopher Wallis notes in Tantra Illuminated, “True seeing is seeing all beings within yourself and yourself within all beings”. The capacity to do great things and the capacity to do bad things is present in all of us! When we see an ‘object of perception’ ( an object of perception is any tangible thing we can perceive through our senses as well as intangible thing like our feelings, emotions and thoughts) as separate from ourselves, we suffer. 

3. Karma-mala- impurity of action. This refers to the bondage of karma. This mala is deeply related to the first two malas. The way we see ourselves, others and the world impacts how we relate and how we act in the world. These actions have repercussions that bind us to the cycle of karma. This cycle is also closely related to two of the five klesas of Patanjali Yoga, which we will explore in the next newsletter. Attachment refers to the belief that we need something outside of ourselves to experience purnata- fulfillment. It also relates to the way we cling to things and the inability to let things go- both good and bad things!

Aversion is the other end of the continuum and refers to the belief that we will never experience fulfillment unless we eliminate or avoid certain things. The more we do this, the more extreme our actions become and the more we perpetuate karma. It is impossible to be free of all karma repercussions because we are constantly acting in the world. One solution the Tantrikas came up with to be free of karma-mala was to simply stop being the person to whom the karma applied. This is no easy process and takes commitment, patience and time. The best way Christopher Wallis notes to overcome this mala is to work with it from the root as expressed in the following quote, again from his book, Tantra Illuminated,  “Become thoroughly convinced that there is nothing outside yourself that need be added to make you complete nor is there anything that need be added to make you pure. This profound love and respect for your own being will, if achieved even in part, make it easier for you to perform actions without any selfish grasping motives and thus you will be free from karma”. 

I hope these teachings deeply touch and transform your heart in the same way that they have transformed mine!

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Yes! Peace, Peace, Peace