The concept of an adept teacher lies at the heart of Upanishadic dialogue in which the guru clarifies the doubts of his pupils and inspires them to think deeply on matters of consciousness. Since experience is the only true touchstone, the ancients focused first on the evolved state of a guru, who could awaken others to a higher consciousness. This focus characterizes the Ashtavakra Samhita, the discourse-dialogue centered on Self-realization, between the young sages. Ashtavakra and the elderly king of Mithila, Janaka, who discussed knowledge as being ever conscious of the eternality of one-self, and understanding it as inextricably linked to the question of what constitutes bondage and liberation.
"Non-attachment for sense-objects is liberation love for sense-objects is bondage..." Ashtavakra describes the nature of knowledge thus, going directly to the central focus that the self alone exists and all else, within the mind-senses matrix, is false and unreal. He draws his disciple's attention to his own restlessness, despite being satisfied king. Ashtavakra talks of the eternal yearning of the mind for its true nature, beyond all objects, beyond all desires. The seeker has only got preoccupied in this world till now to quench this restlessness, not fully comprehending what he seeks. The seeker remains unfulfilled as a result of this material pre-occupation because one can actually only feel satiated in the realization of one's true nature.
Ashtavakra continues with his exposition of the illusory nature of the world by exhorting Janaka to renounce desire in all forms, be it the desire for enjoyment and learning or even of pious deeds, for "bondage consists only of desire and the destruction of desire is liberation..." Heasks him to wake up to the transitory nature of all things, to cultivate dispassion by seeing loss and suffering all around, to understand that the root of this cycle of suffering is attachment born of desire. The Ashtavakra Samhita so completely focuses on the nature of Atmanubhuti, defined within the contours of the bondage-liberation paradigm.
Ashtavakra goes on to annihilate the false sense of identification of the self with the mind, saying that "it is bondage when the mind desires or grieves at anything, rejects or accepts anything, feels happy or angry at anything. " He sums up a free and fearless soul as one who has renounced desire, for "the renunciation desire alone is the renunciation of the world"
Ashtavakra then attempts to describe the state of bliss of the self in which all notions of plurality fall away, in which even intellectual or aesthetic or ethical pursuits seem secondary, where "there is no heaven or hell or liberation .... Nothing but the self in this expanded cosmic consciousness". The fire of knowledge ignited by the guru burns away the desires of the disciple, and the last two chapters allude to the experiential realization of the disciple himself.
Janaka concludes the Samhita by describing his own state to his guru Ashtavakra; where are the elements, where is the body, where is the mind, where is the knower; the means the object of knowledge where is anything, where is the world, where is the aspirant......, "The self alone exists."