An Inquiry Into the Value of Engaged Zen Buddhism in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh for Nursing Ethics

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sherry Hartman

Advisor Department



Ethics in nursing is grounded in nurses' relationships and in the day-to-day practices of nurses confronting the suffering and enhancing the well-being of people during various periods of life. In spite of a continuing long, rich history of caring for people in both the physical and emotional sense of caring, many people claim that the nursing profession today is in a state of unsatisfactoriness. Examples of unsatisfactoriness in nursing include nurses' moral distress and/or moral suffering, routinization in nurses' work, nurses' search for professional autonomy and respect or what can be described as a collective nursing self, and the unsatisfactory relationships and community among nurses. Nurses have sought ways to alleviate their professional unsatisfactoriness through such things as the development of esoteric concepts, theories, nursing diagnoses, and evidence-based criteria for guiding nursing practice. However, the true heart of nursing that influences nursing relationships and thus nursing ethics may be based on, and necessarily begin with, the broader philosophies that guide nurses' work that are beyond the realm of traditional practice theories and measurable outcomes. By using the method of philosophical inquiry and analysis, this research was conducted to explore and analyze whether or not Zen Buddhism, specifically engaged Buddhism, based on the tradition of Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, has a value for nursing ethics. An argument was made that the Zen tools of interbeing, nonself, the Four Noble Truths, the Four Immeasurable Minds, and the model of the Buddhist Sangha can be used by nurses to guide them in deciding what type of nurses they want to be and to advance the ethical nature of nurses' relationships with their patients and with other nurses. Nurses and nursing will not flourish as long as nurses draw a distinction between themselves and others, and if nurses perceive that they are being marginalized by powerful other people. It was revealed through the research that nurses can experience joy in the fact that nursing, when viewed in terms of its enlightened nature in a Zen sense, already has the characteristics that nurses aspire to develop.