Personality Philosophy drew John Grimes to India and Sai Baba
He has authored several books which are well known internationally. His book, ‘A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy,' initially published by the New York State University Press, is already into its third edition.
‘Ganapati' (on Lord Ganesha) was his first book and so far he has released a dozen titles, the latest being ‘Ramana Maharishi - The Crown Jewel Of Advaita.' The author is an American, who knew India only on the world map in school. John Grimes, today, is a recognised authority on Advaita Vedanta.
It is during an interview at his sprawling apartment in Poonamalli High Road that details of his spiritual pursuit come to light. “I say I have the samskaras ( latent Impressions) to do all this,” begins Grimes. “I was a pucca American up to the point of my graduation from the University of Washington, U.S., where I learnt western philosophy. One day I was overwhelmed by a desire to go to India to learn philosophy,” he continues.
“It was in the 1970s, when people from the West set foot in India in the course of their spiritual quest. I wanted to learn about Indian sages, who were embodiment of Indian philosophy. The day I left for India, my father Johnson Alan Grimes, who was a city attorney in Beverley Hills, got initiated into the order of Swami Paramahamsa Yogananada. My sister was already a devotee of an Indian saint.”
And how was he received here? “ I met several sages wandering around India and they had one word to sum up my inclination - ‘samskara. Some even felt it was the continuance of an old relationship when they saw me. My thirst to learn Indian mythology grew.” Today John Grimes calls himself an Indian when it comes to Indian spirituality.
What was the search for and where did it end? “In the course of my search for a Guru, a Russian Yoga Instructor showed me the life-size portrait of a person in her studio that moved me. It was Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, of whom I had never heard of till then. I wanted to meet him and I set off for Puttaparthi.
“I met him and on his advice went to Varanasi to study Sanskrit. I was asked to leave the country during Emergency in 1975. Returning to Baba's Bangalore ashram, I was asked to attend his summer courses. Nine months later, he instructed me to go to Madras and do my masters in Philosophy at the University of Madras. My life changed course from that of a sadhak to a student of philosophy and I went on to earn a Ph.D at the Radhakrishnan Institute of Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of Madras.”
It was during his student days in the mid 1970s that John met the child prodigy Bala Meera (Hari Katha exponent), whom he married later. The couple have a son named Isa, who is a Management scholar living in the U.S.
On Sai Baba
On Baba as his Guru. “The moment I saw his portrait, my desire was fulfilled. There wasn't any direct learning. Many of my spiritual experiences happened outside the boundary of Puttaparthi.” How did he dare to do a treatise on Adi Sankara's ‘Viveka Choodamani.' “I had learnt Sanskrit by then and was fascinated by Adi Sankara's Advaita Philosophy. It took almost 10 years for me to complete the book which I wrote in an inclusive style. I have also written a book on Sureshwara's Naikarma Siddhi.”
It was Professor R. Balasubramanian, Director, Radhakrishnan Institute of Advanced Philopshy, who inspired him to write a book on Ramana.
“I would not have embarked upon this without someone prompting me. I have read about Ramana and studied his teachings for the past three years. Earlier, I was looking at it from a sadhak's view point but now it has changed to an intellectual and analytical perspective. Arunachala the mountain, stole my heart.”
Grimes describes the experience. “My sister, a staunch Visishtadvaitin, and I travelled to Tiruvannamalai. During the trip, we argued about the philosophies we learnt. As the silhouette of Arunachala began to emerge, we felt overpowered by a strong force. We became silent. We went to Skandasram and the Virupakshi cave, yet the impact never left us. We could feel the sakti. Arunuchala is a symbol of Brahman and in spite of being an Advaitik, I feel both Ramana and Arunachala are synonymous.”
Close to the heart
Which of his works are close to his heart? “‘Ganapati.' I have read it several times. Many people around the world use it as a reference. In New York when I was teaching Advaita at the University, I was given a grant to do research on Ganesa. It is more of a devotional offering than a book for academicians and students of philosophy. Ganesa is not just an elephant headed deity. He is the beginning of all good things and is present everywhere including the Mooladhara Chakra,” John asserts.
On future plans: “I want to write a book on all the sages and saints of India whom I have met during my spiritual quest and also a book on the gurukula system.
John turns nostalgic when he says he misses the fun he had at Bangalore and Puttaparthi as a budding sadhak with young Baba.