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#3420 - Thursday, January 22, 2009 - Editor: Jerry Katz

The Nonduality Highlights -

Manuel Schoch was a gifted teacher. He died suddenly at a young age this past October. He was featured in the following Highlights issues:

His teaching method, Time Therapy, is shown in videos:

His latest book is Bitten By The Black Snake: The Ancient Wisdom of Ashtavakra. This book presents each sutra from the extremely nondual scripture Ashtavakra Gita and expounds upon it. I've typed out the first sutra and a portion of Schoch's commentary, with permission of the publisher.

Look inside the book at

Bitten By The Black Snake: The Ancient Wisdom of Ashtavakra

by Manuel Schoch

The First Sutra

Janaka asked, "Oh Lord, how does one attain liberation and how is non-attachment attained? Please tell me this."

Ashtavakra replied, "Oh beloved, if you want liberation, then renounce the passions as poison and take forgiveness and innocence, compassion, contentment, and truth as nectar.
You are neither earth nor air nor fire nor water nor ether.
To attain liberation know yourself as the witnessing consciousness of all these. If you separate yourself from the physical body and rest in consciousness then this very moment you will be happy, at peace, and free of bondage.
You are not a Brahmin or other caste. You are not in any of the four stages of life.
You are not perceived by the eyes or other senses.
Unattached and without form, you are the witness of the whole universe.
Know this and be happy.
Oh expansive one, religion and atheism, happiness and misery, order of the mind -- they are not for you.
You are neither the doer nor the enjoyer.
You have always been liberated."

~ ~ ~

The wisdom of this sutra is that it urges you to see yourself as the witness or the observer. The heart of the sutra has a simplicity and directness that cannot be found elsewhere in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Ashtavakra's wisdom penetrates deeper than any other because his sword of wisdom cuts directly to the root of consciousness. His teachings tell us that every form of existence, including religion itself, should not be taken seriously. He may have lived before the time of the Buddha, but had they been contemporaries, Ashtavakra would not have followed the Buddha's teachings.

Ashtavakra tells us that we are constantly accepting the form of the body as a fact. He does not say, however, that the body is not a fact. In this sutra, he is urging you to see that you are much more than just the body. You are consciousness -- beyond the body, beyond the existence of form.

The Witnessing Consciousness:

How does Ashtavakra arrive at this understanding? What does he mean when he says that if you want to be happy you have to see beyond form? He is encouraging you to see that you are the observer or, in his words, the witnessing consciousness.

Imagine that you are in a pitch dark room full of objects -- plants, pictures, chairs, tables, paintings, a TV, and so on -- and your eyes are closed. Now imagine that you open your eyes, and they shine like two flashlights; suddenly, whatever the flashlights shine on becomes visible. This is consciousness. Consciousness is you being the light. When this light is focused on objects, you can see them.

This does not mean (as some philosophers later claimed) that nothing exists without your consciousness. This is nonsense. For example, a tree exists even if there is no human consciousness observing it. You cannot see the tree, however, if you are not focusing the light on it -- if you are not "being" the light.

So we can all shine like a flashlight if we open the eyes of consciousness. When we are witnessing, we create light in order to see. Without the witness, or the observer, things are there, but there is no consciousness of them. Whatever you are aware of exists because you are the light. A dead body may have its eyes open, but it will not see anything, because there is no light, no consciousness.

Ashtavakra says simply that the basis of all wisdom is the observer. Everything else is an illusion -- not because it doesn't exist, but because its reality is like a dream. While you are dreaming you are very conscious of what's going on in the dream. You are convinced that what you are dreaming is really happening. If you dream that a lion is chasing you, in the dream you will try to escape from it. Upon waking up, you realize that there was no lion chasing you and your fear was based on an illusion.

Ashtavakra asks us to imagine what it would be like to wake up in the middle of such a dream, turn around, and command the lion to stop. The lion would disappear. But we cannot do this in dreams, let alone in daily life. Nevertheless, Ashtavakra tells us that we are nothing other than the observer, and until we realize that, we can never obtain liberation.

The Doer and the Observer:

If this is true, if I am really the observer, then I cannot be the doer. The doer is therefore the mind. This presents a great deal of confusion. In Zen, for example, there is the notion of neti neti and wu wei -- the doing in not doing. There is also the saying that once you are enlightened, every action is a good one. This creates confusion if you think of the doer as the source of action directed toward the outside world.

Ashtavakra says that action resides in the mind, and modern science confirms this precisely. Action starts in the inner world of the mind. Modern science tells us that there is no difference in your brain activity whether you slap someone or merely think of slapping someone, for example. In the brain's limbic system, which is where motor control is expressed, just thinking of slapping someone activates all the muscles that would be used to do it.

We are reminded here of Jesus's teaching that if you just think of being unfaithful to you wife, you have committed a sin. Once you take morality out of the equation, you can truly appreciate the depth of this wisdom.

The brain and everything the mind imagines is the action element of doing. However, if one is the observer, this observer is more than the mind, more than the doer.

Whenever you are taking any action, either in your mind or of a physical nature, you are not in a state of observation. Hence no liberation. Ashtavakra goes even deeper and calls this state "witnessing consciousness." He doesn't say just witness or observe; he calls it witnessing consciousness.

Witnessing consciousness means that observer is consciousness, not that the observer is separated from consciousness. Now recognizing this has a very deep impact. The observer is consciousness, so being connected to the observer provides liberation from the doer or liberation from the mind. Whenever the mind is without observation, then there is no consciousness.

It follows logically that if everything is consciousness, then there is nothing to aim for, nothing to gain, nothing to understand. If you are consciousness, you cannot be more than consciousness itself. Now, this is tremendously important to understand -- not in the sense of intellectually grasping the idea of it, but in the sense of feeling, of seeing it.

~ ~ ~

Bitten By The Black Snake: The Ancient Wisdom of Ashtavakra

by Manuel Schoch

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