John Grimes

I seldom read spiritual books anymore but a few days ago I ran across a mention of John Grimes and for some reason, I can’t remember why, decided to read his book on Ramana. All I knew was that he is a retired professor of philosophy who specialized in Advaita Vedanta.

The book turned out to be extremely well written in an academic sort of way, the kind of book that’s based on other books and not the author’s experiences. Then, two-thirds of the way through the book, in the chapter on Ramana’s method (which is excellent), I got pulled up short by the words I’ve highlighted in the quotation below. I’ll print the whole paragraph because it won’t hurt anybody to read the entire thing and might even help someone:

When a practitioner begins the process of Self-enquiry, it starts as a mental activity. The mind commences its enquiry into the “I”-thought again and again, but is often distracted by other habitual thoughts that arise throughout the day. As the practice deepens and the seeker is able to hold onto its investigation into the source of the “I”-thought, there arises a subtle subjectively experienced feeling of “I” that persists. When this feeling ceases to connect and identify with thoughts and objects, even this feeling subsides. Then, what remains is direct experience of Being in which all sense of individuality temporarily ceases to operate. At first, this feeling will be intermittent, but with repeated effort it gradually becomes easier and easier to maintain. At this level, Self-enquiry has become as effortless awareness in which individual effort is no longer possible since the “I” who makes effort has temporarily ceased to exist. This is not yet full and complete Self-realization since the “I”-thought periodically reasserts itself. When this experience is repeated as often as is necessary, it begins to weaken, and often destroy, the latent mental tendencies that were causing the “I”-thought to reappear. Finally, when the latent tendencies are sufficiently weakened, the power of the Self destroys them all and, being destroyed, they will never rise again. This is complete Self-realization.

Why was I astonished? Because I know from my experience that the words are true but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them written anywhere before. They should be written, because they are incredibly important, but I don’t remember seeing them. It is exactly this sort of experiential description of Ramana’s method which is almost entirely lacking in the Ramana literature. If my memory is correct (never trust a 70-year-old person’s memory) then John Grimes knows this from experience.

Let me emphasize what I’ve highlighted because it’s very important. “There arises a subtle subjectively experienced feeling of ‘I’ that persists.” (I would describe the experience a little differently but I’m sure we’re talking about the same thing. For me, that ‘I’ isn’t subtle and I would say not that it arose but that the ability to focus on it developed. This ‘I’ is the goal of Self-enquiry in its initial stages.)

Suddenly I was curious about John Grimes. I could find only one video of him on the Internet. I also read another book of his, his autobiography. Nowadays I seldom have much interest in people’s biographies but I found his life to be extremely interesting. Also turns out that both these books contain long passages with extremely interesting accounts of his spiritual experiences. Links below.


Ramana Maharshi: The Crown Jewel of Avaita

A Song Sung in the Key of Sai

6 thoughts to “John Grimes”

  1. Thank you.
    Very good description of being more and more with the Self until one is established there.
    Looks like he has a few other books. Here from Amazon:
    John Allen Grimes received his B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Indian Philosophy from the University of Madras. He has taught at Universities in the United States, Canada, Singapore and India. A few of his books include: The Vivekacudamani: Sankara’s Crown Jewel of Discrimination; A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy; Ganapati: Song of the Self; and Problems and Perspectives in Religious Discourse: Advaita Vedanta Implications. He currently spends his time writing and traveling between California and Chennai.
    Thank you, Freddie

    1. Thanks Brian. His autobiography (A Song Sung in the Key of Sai) contains wonderful descriptions of deep experiences, and it’s also surprising and peculiar. I like peculiar, it’s entertaining. 🙂 He’s had a wonderful life full of travel and adventure and close, long-term relationships with two famous gurus. Some people might find his choice of gurus a bit surprising. 🙂

      Another “first” that I noticed in his biography: he describes what Arunachala’s energy field felt like to him. I’ve been reading the Ramana literature for a quarter of a century, which of course is filled with writings about Arunachala, and I don’t remember seeing such a description before. But my memory is not reliable.

  2. The exact same description is mentioned in other books on Ramana – these are taken directly from Ramana’s own explanation of the process of self-enquiry. They don’t seem to be the authors own words.

    1. Dear Freddie,

      Came to your blog after a few months.

      That is truly a great description from John Grimes. It actually helps me because I’m beginning to experience the disappearance of the i thought, where as he says it becomes effortless awareness. But the i thought or ego keeps coming back which is when you can make effort again. This term “I thought” caused me a lot of confusion in the early days. Now I get it because of my own experience.

      In ramana literature there are words like “aham sphurana” in the work “self enquiry” chapter 2. Which is when the i thought inheres in the Self. It also says that “This is not something apart from the Self; it is a sign of the forthcoming realisation of the Self. However this is not the state of Primal Being.” So basically I would say it’s the same thing being described.

      However all these distinctions caused me confusion in the early stages. As far as I’m concerned, when one becomes aware of himself he is in the Self. But the job is not complete yet.

      1. Same here. It has been my experience that until we see for ourselves what the words were intended to mean, we can’t know what they mean. There are people on the Internet who seem to think that if they pay extremely close attention to the words they will understand exactly what they refer to. I don’t see how this is possible. Ramana often said that the Self can only be found in ourselves and not in books.

        Because of this difficulty of describing the Self with words, genuine instructions (those that aim at knowing rather than what we know, i.e., those that aim at the subject rather than objects) always seem vague. Other instructions are crystal-clear but that’s because they describe phenomena.

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