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One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps

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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 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.

256 pages, Paperback

First published June 9, 2004

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About the author

Kevin Griffin

41 books47 followers
Kevin Griffin is the author of One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps, the breakthrough book that established him as a leader in the mindful recovery movement. Since its publication, Kevin has toured extensively, giving workshops and lectures at places as diverse as Harlem, the Colorado Rockies, and Hawaii. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, he teaches “Dharma and Recovery” at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. In addition, Kevin is co-founder and board member of the Buddhist Recovery Network (www.buddhistrecovery.org), an international organization that serves people in the recovery community through training, treatment, and research. He continues to offer workshops, lectures, and retreats around the country.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews
Profile Image for Steve Woods.
618 reviews61 followers
July 8, 2016
As someone who had a long experience with the AA program and who was not able to apply it in a time of crisis so that addiction again became a part of my life this little book was a life saver! After 10 years of sobriety and then a further 10 years of using, my return to the rooms was very shaky indeed. At another bottom, coming after 10 years of drinking with a head full of AA and no faith, things were looking pretty bad. The alcohol had stopped working and I was trapped with my demons, I knew that there was a solution in the rooms but it soon became clear that the same intellectual approach I had taken before would serve me no better this time than it had the last. I knew that the key was the Higher Power, I had no felt sense of what that meant and I had to have one. The Christian bias that comes through in AA from the both the historical context(the 1930's, 40's and 50's)and the geographical context (the US Bible belt)and the cultural context (Judeo Christian) offered a concept of a Power outside myself that held no weight for me. Intellectually it just made no sense, the clutter of ideology surrounding it was antipathy for me and my life's experience just made mockery of it's basic tenets.

I had been introduced to Buddhism in Vietnam in the 70's and had had exposure to it again in Thailand and Laos during the darkest hours, there was something there but I knew not what nor could I see how it related to my problem with Higher Power.

Kevin Griffin's book helped me make the fundamental connection and pointed the way forward to me. His struggle wit addiction and his exposure to Buddhism came together for him over a long period and in the way of the fellowship his sharing of his story gave me identification and some simple introduction to Buddhist concepts in a twelve step context. He was able to show me that there was a higher power and I didn't need a name and Buddhism offered a connection. That was the starting gun for me, and for the insight, the aha! I will forever be grateful.

For anyone in contact with any 12 step program struggling with the leap of faith that is seemingly being asked of them as a prerequisite for their own survival don't panic! There is a way forward here. In the words of the Buddha "ehi passikho"; come and see for yourself. Believe only what rings true for you on the basis of your own life's experience. Buddhism may ultimately not be the room behind the door for you but it did offer a key that opened the door to my prison and it is providing the signposts. More shall be revealed
Profile Image for Gary.
8 reviews6 followers
October 27, 2012
Probably the most important book for my sobriety. While working each of the 12 steps, I would start by reading the little section in the Big Book, on that particular step, then I would read the chapter in the 12 and 12 and then I would drive it home reading the chapter, with all the lovely stories, on the chapter on that step in Kevin's book. I was finally able to work thru all the steps successfully. An amazing book for anyone in any 12 step program.
Profile Image for Morgan Blackledge.
621 reviews2,034 followers
July 27, 2018
Wonderful integration of contemporary American Buddhist (non theistic) practices and ideals, with the quintessential homegrown, Democratic (with socialist undertones) American spiritual path better known as the 12 steps of AA.

I have been kicking around meditation circles, and recovery cliques, and therapy people for a good bit.

Part of me can get down with each headspace, but a majority of me can’t.


Meditation people are frequently loopy at the core, and nearly invariably use eastern religions and practices as a buffet style, all you can eat hog trough of cultural appropriation and spiritual bypassing. How many depressed, bong ripping, acid tripping, bipolar Buddhists does it take to live in a van?

AA people are frequently anti intellectual Christians in disguise, who regurgitate thought limiting slogans, and act like you’re threatening their very existence if you dare challenge even one article of their childish 1940’s era dogma e.g. the allergy theory of alcoholism posited in the doctors opinion.

Therapy people commonly act as though sitting in an office, talking about getting in touch with your feelings and gaining insights about your early life will some how change everything (let alone anything). And we charge an arm and a leg for the privilege.

For those of you who remember the horror classic the Blair Witch Project, there is this scene where one of the characters yells ‘why can’t you just admit we’re lost and walking around in circles’!

That’s how I feel when I’m talking to Buddhists, Book Thumpers and Therapists.

What I actually do is breath, smile, say something like ‘that’s so true man’ in my best reverent ‘yoga/church voice’ and head for the nearest exit.


But meditation actually is a profoundly life altering practice when you actually do it. And there is actual profound healing wisdom and heart in the 12 Step traditions. And good therapy changes minds, heals broken hearts and wakes the dead.

Kevin Griffin’s life’s work of integrating Buddhism, and the 12 Step traditions is a low key, humble masterwork.

There is a lot of philosophical heavy lifting contained in his simple, lucid teachings. He makes it look easy, but ironing the wrinkles out of Buddhism and 12 Step, and quilting them together is no easy task.

This book set the stage for Refuge Recovery. But with an important difference. Griffins work integrates the traditions where Refuge seeks to revolutionize, upend and re-invent 12 Step via recreating it in a Buddhist context.

Although I am a therapist, who utilizes Buddhist practices and ideas in my work in addiction recovery, I have historically been pretty critical of what I perceived as the glaring shortcomings of Buddhism, 12 Step and Psychotherapy.

This book has helped me soften, accept and go with as opposed to scorn, reject and resist. And as each of these traditions clearly states.

Resistance is the royal road to suffering.

Thank you KG.

Ring the bell, say the serenity prayer and get the fuck out of my office because our time is up. If you’re still suffering, save yourself some time and money and read this wonderful, humble, powerful little book.
Profile Image for Charlane.
265 reviews36 followers
February 25, 2018
A brilliant account of a man coming to terms with his disease, sobriety and practicing Buddhism - written in an easy to understand format and with just enough detail. This book is especially good regarding meditation.

Profile Image for Ellie.
1,493 reviews378 followers
March 12, 2021
Well-written and engaging, this book brings together the principles and practices of (as the title states) Buddhism and 12 step programs. Griffin shows how the two connect and can reinforce and illuminate each other through a combination of exposition and personal experience.

Griffin interweaves his life experience in a way that is both non-self-dramatizing, matter of fact but at the same time interesting. I felt I got to know him but more importantly that he used his personal experience as a way of showing how the two practices (Buddhism and the 12 steps) come together for him as well as sharing how it has worked for other people.

There are chapters devoted to each of the steps. In each chapter, Griffin shows how he came to the step, how it has worked in his life and how it connects to Buddhist principles and practices. Or, it could also be said that through each step, Griffin also shows how Buddhism has guided him and how he has connected it to the Steps. The two practices weave seamlessly together.

Obviously relevant to anyone involved or interested in these practices, One Breath at a Time is helpful, practical, and enjoyable.
Profile Image for Meen.
539 reviews97 followers
February 15, 2010
It's been happening for a while, but I just can't get into the 12 Steps anymore. I just can't get into "programs." I thought it was because they are so Judeao-Christo-centric and so maybe a Buddhist perspective would be helpful. But Mel Ash's The Zen of Recovery was much better at removing the God than this book. That may be b/c Ash is Zen and Griffin is Vipassana. Either way, it seems that "spirituality" in any kind of supernatural or touchy-feely, non-empirical sense is just not my thing anymore. Still, I do like Buddhism as a sort of "life philosophy" (and it's terribly interesting from a comparative religion perspective) and I'm still interested in meditation (lots of cool empirical brain science about it!), and this book did have a lot of information in those two departments. If you are someone who is in recovery and wants a (mostly) non-theistic alternative to the traditional 12 Steps, this is a really good book. (But try Mel Ash's too.)
Profile Image for Anne-Marie.
316 reviews33 followers
July 1, 2021
The best recovery book I've ever read. It's a must have for anyone who is struggling with the Higher Power facet of the Twelve Steps. In fact, I think (and I'm sure many would disagree) that this should be "approved literature" in AA. There is a meeting in my area that uses this book rather than the Big Book and it's pretty powerful.

I loved this book too much, I think. I underlined everything. Then I went out and got the Eight Fold Path tattooed on my wrist. I could really kick my own ass for that. I am so tired of explaining what it means to everyone and people always ask because it's so visible. It was a real douche bag move on my part but that was just one of many bad decisions I made during that period of my life. You know, like, last year.
Profile Image for Anita.
654 reviews12 followers
September 25, 2019
I read this book to see how Buddhism and the Twelve Steps might connect. I got a lot out of the book even though I'm not doing Twelve Steps nor am I a Buddhist. The author has made this a very interesting read by putting in short segments of his personal experience. His story of recovery is one that gives hope for personal change at any level, I would say. There is some really good material on meditation which could pertain to other forms than his own or could give one a good start if not already into meditation. I think that anyone who has any interest in Twelve Step programs would find this most helpful, especially with concerns about what it actually is like to do those steps.
2 reviews
April 29, 2009
This book went a long way to helping me realize that I don't have to believe in a white-haired western old man in order to be a part of the fellowship of a twelve-step program for recovery from drugs & alcohol.

I was especially impressed with the author's faithfulness to both traditions. He doesn't feel compelled to modernize the steps and illustrates with sincere ease how Buddhism (a non-theistic spiritual tradition) and AA work together for him. I really enjoyed it and found it helpful.
Profile Image for Mark  Reiter.
67 reviews
November 23, 2014
A worthwhile and personal look at the 12 Steps through the eyes of a Buddhist. There's a lot here for people looking for ways to work the eleventh step in a more meaningful way. Also, pretty good for people struggling with old ideas of a higher power. A worthy read for folks looking to deepen their spiritual program which is really the point, right? Good stuff!
3 reviews
February 19, 2010
I did not know how Buddha fitted into my 12-Step Program until I read this book. Now I am not so hung up on trying to figure out the verbage of my Higher Power and what that really meant to me. This book spoke to me like no other I have recently read. Thank you Kevin Griffin
Profile Image for Jigme Datse.
99 reviews5 followers
July 1, 2017
I did not really enjoy this anywhere near as much as I really thought I would. It is more "The 12-steps looking pretty much exactly as they are, but explaining how exactly how they are, is entirely Buddhist." In a way it helped to look a little differently at it, but it really didn't feel very much like a "Buddhist view of the 12-steps" but a "12-steppers' view of Buddhism".

Admittedly, this might be a tad better than what I have experienced in 12-step meetings from people who I know fully that they *are* Buddhists. They don't put anything any differently than anyone else, and very much the 12-steps are a Christian Philosophy.

The "adherents" to 12-step programs say "it is a spiritual program, not a religious one", but looking at it through the lens of "spiritual vs. religious" it is hard to see it as "more spiritual than religious".

OK, while there are words like "God of your understanding" in the text rather than simply "God", it really does not present anything other than an Abrahamic view of God.

The chapter called "We Agnostics" in "The Big Book" is not so much about how agnostics can stay agnostic, and follow the 12-steps, it is about how the 12-steps for agnostics lead agnostics to "find God". Yes, God always capitalized.

Maybe I was expecting too much from this book. It was good. Well, good enough that I would say it was "OK". I did find it very difficult to read. Especially a couple of topics that got mentioned at least once each.

One was the mention of Adjustment Disorder, and from what I can see, he either misunderstands, or he is using the wrong term.

The other was around sexual misconduct. There are well and truly some things that everyone seems to agree is sexual misconduct. Which really wasn't so much the problem. It was just that his mention of it, brought up memories of a lot of things that feel very painful, and possibly things I cannot heal.
Profile Image for Dylan.
28 reviews5 followers
August 3, 2020
What I liked:
* Personal anecdotes related to addiction, recovery and spiritual practice.
* Identification and enquiry about core questions that a Buddhist would have with regards to the 12-step program.
* Specific Buddhist aspects that can be incorporated in the daily reflection of step 10.
* The hopeful and balanced message: spirituality as an important part of life and recovery, but not as a replacement. And the fact that even with noble effort, and mindfulness, a life free of pain and setbacks is an illusion. We can only strive and improve.

Where it fell short:
* With regards to 'Higher power' and 'surrendering your life and will', it gives pointers, but these answers do not make the practice of doing so any easier. Questions still remain for me on this, but I suspect this is at least in part due to my own process.
6 reviews
July 8, 2020
Incredible book that takes the 12 Steps and looks at them from a spiritual angle. For many, the “higher power” can be a frightening concept but Kevin breaks it down into simple, easy to digest principals, ideas, and exercises. Although there is the obvious overtone of addiction/sobriety, it also serves a fresh approach to living a full and present life for those who are not affected by addiction or seeking sobriety etc. What I enjoyed most was his honesty with his own suffering (to use the language of the book) and how although he is an experienced meditator and has a few years under his belt (34+), that he too goes through the day to day even when he doesn’t always feel like it. Something that makes him easily identifiable to the best of us.
Profile Image for Ryan.
67 reviews1 follower
February 27, 2018
Griffin’s funny, raw, and insightful book reconciles the issues I have with the patriarchal, Christian influences embedded in AA and the Big Book; helping me to see that the program can work with Buddhism and even atheism (“we agnostics”). The focus is on the results the program makes in helping alcoholics stay sober, which is what matters most. “It works if you work it and you’re worth it”.

Looking forward to getting his workbook.
Profile Image for lily.
667 reviews25 followers
May 1, 2023
this book is good and has a lot of great insights and teachings. i really wanted a helpful book that relates recovery to buddhism since that's what i find myself aligned with more than christianity. at times this book gets tedious in its mentions of meditation retreats & belabors the point a bit too much. if it weren't for that and the last couple of long chapters, it'd be rated higher for me.

overall a great book i will continually come back to.
2 reviews2 followers
April 25, 2019
Read this now!

Read it, it's worth your time and effort. Griffin's sincerity and experience make for a rousing and comforting reading experience with unexpected connections between the Dharma and Twelve Steps. It is grounded in basic sanity, the truth of alcoholism and spiritual treatment presented in a plain-spoken honest way
Profile Image for Tim Behle.
10 reviews
October 3, 2019
Exactly what this Recovering Addict needed!

This book was by far, the best thing I've ever read tying Buddhist principles to the 12 steps of recovery. I will highly recommend this book to anyone, regardless of religious belief, who has worked the 12 steps, and now seeks further insight and a whole new perspective on their lives. Thank you so much for writing this book!
Profile Image for Corrie Ventura.
23 reviews7 followers
January 27, 2020
Wonderfully insightful and beautifully helpful. I really loved the similarities and overlaps of Buddhism and Recovery. I feel more of a connection with my husband who is living a life of recovery and sobriety. I have a deeper understanding now because of my love of meditation and it’s presence in my life.
60 reviews
July 22, 2021
For me this was the right book at the right time. I identified and appreciated Griffin's interpretation of the steps, and slightly with his starting with meditation before starting recovery. This is a book I will return to and re-read once every few years, certain I will get something new each time as my journey in Buddhism and recovery continues
1 review
June 22, 2017
Beyond steps...

The book have changed my life, giving amazing strength to keep my soberiety. In the perspective of Buddihism, the author shows how steps can be integrated into the mindfulness.
Profile Image for Daniel.
60 reviews15 followers
December 7, 2018
a worthwhile read for people who are struggling with addiction, emotional issues, learning meditation or simply studying Buddhism in the West and seeing how it can be applied. It took me a while to read the whole book, but I do remember liking it and finding it valid and useful.
August 12, 2019
This book has been a breakthrough for me, any words would fall short to express how much help I found in these pages, this eureka feeling that I hope the ones in need would find as well, thank you so much Kev (please excuse my english)
255 reviews3 followers
July 21, 2020
Excellent book full of helpful guidance and support, a lot of personal input from his own experiences and many suggestions of how to translate many different messages into one. I learned quite a lot from this book even though I am not an alcoholic. I think many would find it very useful.
Profile Image for Hadiqa.
363 reviews34 followers
September 16, 2020
Couldn't find no flaws but even though it's targeted towards alcoholic /drug addicts, one who's not any of these can still take advantage from it, and that I did. Some really good thoughts about letting go. *clap clap *.
Profile Image for Sinyi Shi.
1 review4 followers
September 25, 2021
Such a wise addition to the recovery and Buddhist communities

Can’t thank Kevin Griffin enough for this book. It really helped me to understand the 12 Steps and the Dharma better. Would recommend to anyone in recovery who is looking for a non-theist conception of a Higher Power
Profile Image for Christin.
173 reviews1 follower
January 28, 2022
Very good aligning of Buddhism to twelve step recovery programs. I appreciated the author’s candor of his own sobriety story interspersed with making the correlations and his practical endorsement of sitting meditation.
Profile Image for Amber Atwood.
25 reviews
March 8, 2022
This book is essential for anyone in any recovery program who is trying to maintain or create a sustainable spiritual practice. Although the writer mainly talks about drug and alcohol addiction I found it was easily applicable to any recovery program.
Profile Image for Shaun E..
12 reviews
September 29, 2018
As someone who struggles with addiction, this book is great. Great to expand your meditation.
Profile Image for Betty Foerster.
14 reviews
December 20, 2018
Very touching

This book rocked my world. I found it honest, and added a depth to both meditation and the 12 steps I haven’t understood before this read. Thank you.
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