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  • We Walk the Path Together: Learning from Thich Nhat Hanh and Meister Eckhart
  • Seung Hee Kang
We Walk The Path Together: Learning from Thich Nhat Hanh and Meister Eckhart. By Brian J. Pierce. New York: Maryknoll, 2005. 202 pp.

Being that he is a contemplative, Pierce’s Trinitarian Christian love beautifully manifests itself in this book in his art of interdialoguing on the Buddhist-Christian religious traditions. Pierce’s manner of interdialoguing resonates with what Ann Belford Ulanov also attempts: “I am writing not about how to prove that God exists but rather about what happens religiously when psyche and soul create a space for conversation [End Page 178] out of which life can flow.” 1 If someone asks whether Pierce and Ulanov point to two different absolute realities, my response would be, “Absolutely not!” The sacred inner space that Pierce points to, in light of the two contemporary mystics from different religious traditions, namely Thich Nhat Hanh and Meister Eckhart, also reminds me of Lao Tzu’s wisdom that permeates the Tao Te Ching, specifically in his concept of “useful emptiness.” 2

We Walk the Path Together is neither an abstract account nor sheer philosophical speculation. The whole of the book is rooted in Pierce’s faith-based lived experience (pp. 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 113, 163); this renders the book life-giving and deeply ecological in terms of its transcendence of either/or dichotomies.

Chapter 1 summarizes the meaning and art of dialogue. Pierce utilizes mystical language to illustrate what the dialogue is. For Pierce, dialogue connotes “a mutual giving and receiving, and it posits a profound sense of being of one heart and mind” (p. 3). Pierce extends his personal experience of a vow of obedience into the meaning of dialogue. For Pierce, this vow means to “transcend any illusion of separateness” and thus “obedience liberates him from his tiny world of ego” (p. 4). In the process of dialogue, according to Pierce, “our hearts are challenged to grow larger, all-inclusive and universal” (p. 8). This expansion of the heart is what mystics call “magnanimity.” As Pierce is acutely aware, “magnanimity is one of life’s un-planned for graces; it teaches us to see and hear and learn things that we never dreamed were possible” (p. 9).

Chapter 2 discusses mindfulness as a gateway to eternity. Pierce asserts that home is everywhere in the present moment; it is where freedom is possible. This particular point echoes with what Thomas Merton spoke about in reference to the prodigal son who turned away from his father: “sin is our refusal to be what we are, a rejection of our spiritual reality hidden in the mystery of God” (p. 23). However, when the prodigal son was restored his senses, he was able to attune himself back to present moment: “I’ll get up and go to my father” (cited by Pierce, ibid.). He became free from his sin, returning home. In this chapter, Pierce highlights the words of the mystics (St. Irenaeus, St. John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, St. Augustine, Jan van Ruusbroec, and St. Catherine de Siena) who lived this present moment in order to help the readers understand the intrinsic relationship between our mindfulness of the present moment and eternity. He argues that Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and Christianity’s tradition concerning the kingdom of God are mutually informative (pp. 19, 21).

In chapter 3, Pierce expands the meaning of present moment through its association with breathing; being present is not a concept, but a living reality, as we experience the Holy Spirit in our breathing practice, such as centering prayer and meditation (p. 36). Pierce carefully states, “contemplation is authentic only if it flows out in loving-kindness to others. When we breathe in all the spiritual energy of the universe, thus, we literally implode—a spiritual ego intoxication” (p. 40). Pierce explains further what contemplation means; breathing in the Holy Spirit and breathing out the Holy Spirit may mean two separate phenomena. Contemplation is, for Pierce, authentic, only when the Spirit that is breathed in reaches out to our community. [End Page 179] This is also Pierce’s ecological aspect...