Kavitha Chinnaiyan wrote an article on the Tantric model of the 3 primary impurities or Malas. These are very subtle, on the level of the self-sense.
1) Anava mala: the sense of incompleteness
2) Mayiya mala: the sense of separation
3) Karma mala: the sense of doership
She describes the first as the primary impurity that leads to the others. It is the root of suffering.
In a more purely Vedic model, the sense of separation, of being a distinct person comes first. But we could argue either way. Do we feel incomplete because we feel separate? Or vice versa?
Both come down to our inability to recognize our true nature. Ignorant of our cosmic nature, we identify with what is here. As a result, we feel separate and incomplete.
The ego tries to expand its territory to feel more complete, so it becomes possessive (asmita) and creates the story of being the doer. “I did that” rather than “that happened.”
One reason this model puts incompleteness first is because of its influence on Vasanas, our unresolved desires. Feeling incomplete leads to the desire for wholeness. But if we don’t experience that within, we look for it outside of ourselves, chasing it where we won’t find it. Possessions, accomplishments, relationships, or family are not where we find wholeness, at least not until we find it within. Failing to complete ourselves leads to suffering.
Frustrated experiences lead to an unwillingness to experience how we feel, leading to repression and unresolved karma. Those unresolved experiences come to the surface as events in our lives designed to experience and resolve them.
But if we don’t understand this, we resist rising events as unfortunate and unpleasant. They’re repressed back again and the wheel of karma turns. Round and round we go until we look within and discover what doesn’t change.
PS: Mala is distinct from Maalaa, meaning a garland or string of beads.