Are You a Spiritual Dummy?

"The truth is that everyone is a spiritual dummy, because the essence of God and spirituality is inherently unknowable by the mind. There are spiritual dummies who know they are dummies, and spiritual dummies who don't know they are dummies. Those who know they are spiritual dummies are the smart ones!"

- From the introduction of Spirituality For Dummies

by Sharon Janis

January 2008: The New Second Edition is Now Available!

The first edition of my new book had just rolled off the press when I realized that the "dummies" thing was going to be an issue.  One academic acquaintance expressed concern for what people in his college town would say if they saw him purchasing a book called Spirituality For Dummies at the local Borders. Did he really want to subject himself to the potential teasing and ribbing from any colleagues who might happen to walk into the store at that moment? No, he told me, he would wait until the book arrived at the local Wal-Mart, where he'd be less likely to be spotted by other scholars. (I suggested that he could avoid all this trauma by simply ordering the book from, who would deliver it in a plain brown box.)

Then there was Brian from Saipan, who wrote the following confession:

Dear Sharon:

"Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it."
                             -- P.J. O'Rourke

Given the truth contained in the above quote from your book, it took real courage to walk to the sales counter at the Honolulu Ala Moana Waldenbook's in Hawaii with that yellow and black "Dummies" under my arm. (Actually, I had it covered up with copies of the New King James version of the Bible and the Koran.) I think IDG should publish the same books under another imprint like "______ for Precocious Intellectuals ".


Fortunately, Brian then went on to say that it was worth it. But can you imagine?  Hiding my book between the Bible and the Koran!

Of course, along the way I have also encountered humble souls – some of them quite spiritually accomplished – who have seen or heard the title and quipped, "That's the book for me!" To me, these are the winners of the dummies test. Most of these folks are not saying this to put themselves down at all. Rather, they realize that they don't -- and can't -- fully understand the profound nature and depths of spirituality. This shows that they may have attained a higher knowledge than those who would harrumph at the insinuation that they are dummies. Perhaps some of those who consider themselves to be "serious spiritual adepts" are missing the cosmic joke that exists beyond our limited ideas of who and what we are – the humility, acceptance, and surrender to knowing we do not know.

I share with you the following excerpt from Chapter 1 of (the first edition of) Spirituality For Dummies, to hopefully convince you that you really are a dummy, and that this is a good thing!

From Spirituality For Dummies, Chapter One:

The First Step: Knowing That You Don't Know

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

-- William Shakespeare

A statement in the Indian scriptures states, "He who thinks he knows, knows not; while he who thinks he knows not, truly knows." This statement implies that the person who thinks he knows is the most ignorant. Why is this?

Humans don't – can't – know everything, at least not in the way people usually think of who they are and how they know things. Countless layers of knowledge can be unraveled in every direction you look, from a seemingly infinite sea of galaxies to the invisible atoms on this page. As a four- to seven-foot-tall human being walking upon this floating pebble of water, rock, and moss (that is, the earth) with temporary use of approximately three pounds of electro-chemical brain jelly to work with, you'll never be able to figure it all out. Everybody knows this deep inside, but sometimes people find it more comfortable to try and convince themselves and others that they have it all together and know what's happenin'.

No matter what you're trying to learn, you can only gain a new skill or take in new information if you first admit to yourself that you don't already know everything about that particular field. In the spiritual quest also, the receptive stance that comes when you let go of the need to feel in control is the first step in opening up to greater spiritual expansion.

Two kinds of ignorance

There are two kinds of ignorance: positive ignorance and negative ignorance:

* Positive ignorance is when you don't know and you know you don't know. This awareness keeps you open and receptive to divine guidance. Knowing you don't know brings you to your knees before God and helps you to enter a humble and prayerful state.

* Negative ignorance is when you don't know, but you think you do know. This is really a double ignorance that closes the door to your own divine guidance. Thinking you know when you don't really know is like traveling to a party on the other side of town with no idea of where the house is, but being too proud and stubborn to admit it and ask directions. Negative ignorance makes you drive around in circles and miss the party of spiritual jubilation!

Once, a university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked on and on about all the intricacies of Zen philosophy. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup for several moments, until he could no longer restrain himself, and finally blurted out, "It's overfull! No more will go in!"

"You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen until you first empty your cup?"


He who thinks he knows not, truly knows. Because at least if you think you don't know, you're right!


When you really know you don't know, it may – strangely enough – make you feel a bit more bold and confident than before; because knowing you don't know can bring a greater sense of security and maybe a bit of chutzpah (a Yiddish term for cheekiness or brazenness).

Quotes by smart people who knew they didn't know

The funny thing about empirical knowledge is that it just goes on and on. Every aspect of this world opens into entire new vistas, with seemingly unending divisions, forms, and theories. Each question uncovers more knowledge and even more questions.

Some of the great thinkers discovered this tricky truth and entered into the humility of not knowing:

"We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything." – Thomas Edison

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." – Goethe

"The more I know, the more I realize I don't know." – Albert Einstein

"The fool thinks he is wise . . . The wise man knows himself to be a fool." – William Shakespeare

"I know only that I do not know." – Socrates



READ SAMPLE PAGES from the new 2nd Edition :

The Table of Contents

Chapter 1: "Finding Authentic Spirituality"

The eclectic and extensive index


Every copy of Spirituality For Dummies comes with
A CD of inspiring devotional music!

The Spirituality For Dummies 2nd Edition music CD comes in the back of every book and gives a delicious taste of inspiring spiritual music, including Gregorian chanting, Christian songs, Buddhist texts, Jewish prayers, Hindu chants, Latin hymns, and gospel music, sung by artists including Erik Peterson, Cantor Kathy Robbins, The Eternal OM, the Desert Fathers, Kali Mandir, Premanand Trikannad, Swami Nirvanananda, and the author.

CLICK anywhere on the CD montage to listen to Sample Songs



CLICK HERE to go to Sharon's speaking and workshops page

with more speaking, singing and interview video and audio clips




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