Gloria I-Ling Chien – Gonzaga University, USA

March 7, 2024

Based on his experience with breathing meditation and influenced by
Thich Nhat Hanh, Joseph Piccione’s book offers meaningful insights on
how to integrate contemplative breathing with prayer to enrich a Christian
practitioner’s Trinitarian spirituality. In a classroom setting, however, the
Christian perspective will need to be complemented with readings that
explain the doctrinal foundations of Buddhist breathing exercises.

Only with this balanced perspective can students sharpen their understanding
of interreligious dialogue and gain a fuller picture of the relationship
between Buddhism and the author’s argument for “a Trinitarian breathing

Piccione’s work aims to offer Christians a sensory method to deepen their
prayer through a breathing meditation, which is founded on his Trinitarian
framework. Piccione builds his framework with arguments drawn from
Scripture and theologians, such as John Ruusbroec, Yves Congar, and
Henri Nouwen. The analysis begins with the life-giving function of God’s
breath, which animated human beings (22-24). Piccione advocates that
through awareness of breathing in various activities in daily life, Christians
can find God’s presence (26).

In Piccione’s proposed breathing meditation, the practitioner breathes in
to receive God’s breath and realizes their identity as beloved in the beloved
(52, 58). Through the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit, a practitioner
receives and responds to God’s gift through breathing in and out, respectively
(67). As breath travels through the body, the Christian meditator “rides” their
breath to access their core and find Jesus (39, 77). Piccione suggests that the
awareness of inhaling can be integrated with prayer and communion (88, 89).
He presents exhaling as a response to self-recovery of our identity in “God
Trinity” and to our brothers, sisters, and the cosmos (58, 62, 83). Through
the cycle of breath-in-and-out, a meditating Christian engages God’s loving
intimacy within themself.
Piccione presents the readers with an innovative application of breathing
techniques for Christian prayer and meditation (92, 93), influenced by his
practice of Cognitive Based Compassion Training (note 10, 18) developed
at Emory University, and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, shaped by
Jon Kabat-Zinn (8). These techniques are, in turn, derived from Buddhism.
His book provides Christian devotees with a practical guide to cultivate
Trinitarian spirituality and a perspective on the interior activity of God
(104). In terms of using the book for academic discussion on interaction
between Zen and Trinitarian contemplation, educators need to investigate
the following aspects further.
Piccione frequently mentions that his interpretation of Zen breathing
meditation is based on Nhat Hanh’s How to Sit (Berkeley, CA: Parallax
Press, 2014), which he primarily applies to set forth his own interpretation
of Christian dogma. Piccione’s references to Nhat Hanh’s work are principally
concerned with the techniques of Zen meditative breathing rather than its
philosophy. The author avoids examining the theological differences
between the two practices. For example, he does not explore the insights
embedded in Buddhist breathing praxis or engage with Mahāyāna philosophy
or the Zen tradition’s understanding of them.
To address Buddhist breathing in the classroom, I recommend providing
excerpts from Thich Nhat Hahn’s masterful book devoted to this subject,
Breathe! You Are Alive: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing (Berkeley,
CA: Parallax Press, 1996). Here, Nhat Hanh translates and comments on
the early, canonical Buddhist meditation manual, Sutra on the Full
Awareness of Breathing, which instructs meditators on employing breath to
examine their physical sensations and investigate doctrines such as impermanence,
no-self, attachment.
Although Piccione’s cover mentions Zen, the author omits Buddhist doctrines
related to breath meditation. His imagined reader is a devout Christian.
There could have been fertile discussion in this interreligious area, such as
that explored by Rōshi Robert Kennedy, SJ, in his Zen Gifts to Christians
(New York: Continuum, 2000). Zen practice is tied to the Mahāyāna
Buddha nature theory that locates the potential for enlightenment in every
human being; it is indifferent to feeling a higher being’s love. To discern
how to negotiate the theological difference between Zen and Trinitarian spirituality
using the breath, educators could include the section “Sitting with the
Buddha” from Nhat Hanh’s How to Sit.
Piccione’s book gives readers concrete guidelines of Christian breathing
meditation interwoven in Trinitarian spirituality. With complementary readings,
this work can be used in class to examine Christian contemplation practice
influenced by techniques derived from Buddhism.

We would love for you to receive our newsletter and update emails. Please subscribe here.