Zen in the Art of Sherlock Holmes

Five ways in which the great detective teaches us to unravel life's great mysteries

| January-February 2000

“We reach, we grasp, and what is left in our hands in the end? A shadow.”

“You see, but you do not observe.”

“It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

These enigmatic phrases easily could come from some exalted spiritual teacher, imparted perhaps by an Eastern guru or a mystical priest trying to shake listeners free from their everyday perceptions. In fact, they are the words of the world’s most famous private consulting detective: Mr. Sherlock Holmes of 221-B Baker Street, London.

A strange religious sage, this unemotional, logical man!

From the moment of his creation by Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes has been a wildly popular figure, known and revered for his uncanny ability to deduce the truth from the smallest clues. Doyle presents Holmes as being thoroughly skeptical and immune to the lure of the supernatural. In 56 stories and four novels, never once are Holmes and Dr. Watson, the detective’s trusted friend, shown attending a worship service or expressing the slightest interest in organized religion. Even Watson admits that Holmes seems to be immune to sensitive feelings of any sort. Thoughts of love, in particular, are “abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind.” He is, Watson concludes, “the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen.”