Volume 29, 2022
Collapsing Space and Time: Thich Nhat Hanh’s Ecological Humanism
California Lutheran University
Identifying with non-human organisms, such as flora and fauna, and non-living members of the natural world, such as winds and clouds, was central to Thich Nhat Hanh’s (1926–2022) practice of Buddhism and conduct of resistance during the Vietnam War. This deep affinity with nature enabled him to “become himself” and sustain his public service and humanitarian work under duress. We examine Nhat Hanh’s extended accounts of identifying with the natural world during the war, relevant material from his 1962–1966 memoirs and 1963 poem “Butterflies over the Golden Mustard Fields.” They set out what we call his ecological humanism, his paradoxical overcoming of self-alienation through a close rapport with relatively wild nature. With no critical biography yet available, this focused, ecocritical interpretation, the first of its kind on Nhat Hanh during this major period, contributes to a better sense of the making of this global Buddhist influencer, who at the time was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize.