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One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps

One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps

4.6 5
by Kevin Griffin, Sylvia Boorstein (Foreword by)

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What would the Buddha say to an alcoholic or addict? What could those in recovery offer to the Buddhist path? Kevin Griffin has immersed himself in the Buddhist and Twelve Step traditions, and in One Breath at a Time he gives some surprising and inspiring answers to these questions.
The author, a Buddhist meditation teacher and longtime Twelve Step


What would the Buddha say to an alcoholic or addict? What could those in recovery offer to the Buddhist path? Kevin Griffin has immersed himself in the Buddhist and Twelve Step traditions, and in One Breath at a Time he gives some surprising and inspiring answers to these questions.
The author, a Buddhist meditation teacher and longtime Twelve Step practitioner, weaves his personal story of recovery with traditional Buddhist teachings. The book takes us on a journey through the Steps, examining critical Twelve Step ideas like Powerlessness, Higher Power, and Moral Inventory through the lens of Buddhism. One Breath at a Time presents potent ancient techniques for finding calm and clarity and offers a vision of a Higher Power not tied to traditional Western Judeo-Christian concepts. One Breath at a Time, describes the convergence of two vital traditions, one ancient, the other contemporary, and shows how they are working together to create a rich spiritual path for our times.

Certain to resonate with both meditators and those whose mantra is "One day at a time," One Breath at a Time should find a large, welcoming audience.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In a wise, honest and personal way, Kevin Griffin has written a book that will be truly helpful to Buddhist practitioners and the Twelve Step community alike.” —Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart, psychotherapist, and co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

“A Buddhist goes through the Twelve Steps to find God within. A book of compassion and grace.” —Ondrea and Stephen Levine, authors of One Year to Live and Embracing the Beloved.

Publishers Weekly
Meditation teacher and author Griffin discovered that his Buddhist practice deepened as a result of the 12-step program that freed him from addiction. In examining the relationship of Buddhism and the steps, he learned to escape spiritual traps endemic to the culture of addiction, namely, instant gratification and nihilism. He writes that many addicts are dissuaded from attending 12-step meetings because of the Christian tenor exemplified by faith in a Higher Power. Buddhists in particular are encouraged to wordlessly contemplate Buddha Nature, yet for addicts, retreat-style meditation without sponsorship may become another alcoholic behavior: in the last days of his drinking, "walking around smashed saying, `I'm just a drunken Buddha' " exemplified Griffin's deeply nihilistic version of the concepts of No-Self and the Mahayana principle that everything is a manifestation of Buddha Nature. Intermediary steps that call for personal inventory and interpersonal sharing of past transgressions may seem at odds with the solitary meditation-based practice of letting thoughts dissolve into a reality of "right here, right now," but Griffin says such sharing is part of the Buddhist principle of Right Speech. One theme in this valuable book is that for some, 12-step meetings offer a cohesive sangha when Western Buddhism does not meet the need for honest group support. In the final steps, Griffin learns to let go of the "I," to resist belief in a single transcendent experience and to instead rely on the gentle vigilance exacted by regular meditation, sponsorship and meeting participation. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This book finds its origin in insights so transparent that it comes as a shock to realize that it seems to be the first of its kind. Griffin, a meditation teacher for almost 20 years, writes with affecting simplicity and candor about his own progress through the Twelve Steps of the recovery from addiction and their connections to the meditation practices and insights of the Theravada School of Buddhism. His book is personal rather than academic, but the case implicitly made for the mutual reinforcement of Buddhism's awareness and nonattachment as well as the Twelve Steps' commitment to self-awareness and personal responsibility is powerful and affecting. For most collections. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Rodale Press, Inc.
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5.99(w) x 8.92(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt


If you're an alcoholic or addict, you're probably too impatient to read a preface. "Get me to the important stuff, I don't have time for this." Still, there are a few things you should know about this book before you begin reading.

First of all, the title is wrong. Well, the subtitle. My background is mostly in one school of Buddhism, the Theravada, or Way of the Elders. Out of this tradition comes the very popular Vipassana, or insight, practice of meditation. But, if I'd called the book One Breath at a Time: Theravada/Vipassana and the Twelve Steps it just wouldn't have had the same ring. So, my apologies to the Mahayana, Vajrayana, and other schools of Buddhism.

When I talk about "alcoholics" or "addicts" in the book, I mean these terms in a general way. I include overeaters, sex addicts, compulsive gamblers, codependents, AlAnon members, debtors, adult children of alcoholics, and anyone else who might find benefit in using the Twelve Steps. People from all these groups, and more, have attended my workshops and benefited. Certain concepts will fit more specifically substance abusers, but my experience is that many similar feelings and behaviors appear in people who have all kinds of dysfunctional behavior.

Beyond this obvious audience, I believe the greater population of Buddhists and other meditation practitioners can benefit from applying Twelve Step principles. As I've probed the Steps deeper and deeper, I've seen how they illuminate my meditation practice; they are not just tools for recovery, but an archetypal spiritual path in and of themselves.

Many people when they hear I'm writing a book on Buddhism and the Twelve Steps think I'm going to rewrite the Steps from a Buddhist perspective. I'm not. I love the Steps, I honor and respect them; that's why I'm writing a book about them. I'm trying to translate the Steps and discover their relationship with Buddhism, but I'm not trying to change them.

Some people have asked if they could see my manuscript because they were having a hard time getting sober in Twelve Step meetings and they hoped my book would offer an alternative. I'm a meditation teacher and I've been sober for a while, but I'm not an addiction counselor or a therapist. I'm no expert on substance abuse-except my own. This book isn't really meant to get you sober but rather to deepen your spiritual life in sobriety.

What I think people are really saying when they don't like Twelve Step meetings or programs is, "I don't want to do this. I don't want to admit I'm powerless, find a Higher Power, write an inventory, make amends. Isn't there an easier way?" Maybe, but I haven't found one. The problem isn't really the Steps or the program or the meetings or "those people." The problem is that getting clean and sober and rebuilding your life is difficult and painful work. Whether you use the Twelve Steps or some other system, it's going to be hard. Choose your poison-or I guess I should say, choose your antidote.

The names of all Twelve Step members whose stories are used in the book have been changed, except for one who has published a memoir. A few of the people are composites, and most of the dialogue is from memory. I was fortunate to be able to interview Ajahn Amaro, whose quotations are transcribed from that interview.

May all beings be free from suffering.

Meet the Author

Kevin Griffin has been teaching meditation in the San Francisco area since 1996. He leads workshops on Buddhism and the Twelve Steps that in 2003 took him to New York, Washington, D.C., Denver, and Northern California.

Sylvia Boorstein is a co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Moodacre, California and a senior teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. She has a Ph.D. in psychology and is the author of Pay Attention, For Goodness' Sake and That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist. She currently resides in Sonoma County, California

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One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
fwnation More than 1 year ago
I have believed for a long time that 12 steppers will reach a point in the recovery process where a deeper look at "Living the Spiritual life is not a Theory, we have to live it" found in AA literature. This book provides a means to do that for those who use Buddhist Practice as thier Higher Power. Although not conference approved, it is used as a text for groups who need a non-theistic approach to the 12 steps. It will not replace the Big Book, or the Steps, or a Sponsor but is a terrific way to deepen Spiritual Growth. Kevin Griffin is to be congratualted both for his understanding of the AA program and Buddhist Dharma.
SugarTorch More than 1 year ago
I didn't know when I bought this book that it was aligned with the Twelve Step Program of AA. I thought it was just on Buddhism. When I started to read even just the first few pages I realized I'd stumbled onto a great book with great insight. It's pointed out that we all have addictions and we can all get something from the AA program if there is something in our lives that has a grip on us. It could even be as simple as negative thinking patterns - that's an addiction though not a physical one. This books is beautifully written by someone who didn't know he could write. Well he does, and very well without ego or preaching but with understanding and sharing. If you're interested at all in Buddhism and meditation, this is a good book to read. Its simple language and guidance allows the reader to open their mind to ways to adapt the teachings to their own life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although I've only scratched the surface of this book by Kevin Griffin, it has added new dimension and insights to strengthen my AA program. It complements the principles I've embraced over the last 20+ years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoy this book.