In 2001, the Infinite Smile Sangha came into being as a way for seekers to integrate relevant spiritual practices with 21st century living. It continues today with members of the Sangha (Sanskrit for “community”) working to embody the transformation that they wish to see in the world through the secular, meditative practices that Michael McAlister both leads and teaches.
Michael’s own spiritual journey began in 1987 with his practice and study with the Zen community at Green Gulch Farm in Sausalito, California. Over the years his journey led him to study abroad with teachers in both Thailand and Nepal, where, in addition to broadening his exposure to Buddhist teachings, he also experienced different ways of walking the Path to Spirit. While his teaching is Zen-inspired, he works to integrate several of the Nondual teachings from the contemplative traditions of Vedanta Hinduism, Christianity, Kabbalah, and Sufiism.
His journey began after becoming frustrated after college with what he came to regard as “the basic superficiality” of his life. It was here that Michael began looking for spiritual meaning that had depth and integrity. He exposed himself to several religious practices, hoping to find deeper balance and peace in a tradition. But over time he became increasingly discouraged with the hypocrisy and the exclusivity of traditional versions of faith.
Then a friend introduced him to Zen meditation and things began to shift. “I initially viewed Zen like every other tradition: trapped by its own sense of self-worth,” he said. “But the more I sat still and simply watched my experience, just as the priests trained me to do, the more that things began to make sense in a way that went past any intellectual understanding or physical sensation. Plus my ego liked the fact that wearing a priest’s robe didn’t mean that you were any closer to God than the next person,” Michael explains. “Women were also seen as equals,” he added, “and the teaching, rather than the teacher, fueled the journey for each of us on the Path to Awakening. And enlightenment, or Christ consciousness, or God sense, or Atman, or whatever you want to call it, can be directly experienced by anyone right here in this very moment.”
While McAlister’s active participation in the Zen community lasted for many years, his experiences with various teachers from various traditions rounded out an approach to contemplative practice that incorporated Mahayana, Vajrayana, and Theravadan schools of Buddhism as well as other traditional practices. After his travels, he had a series of profound realizations that helped him decide to go outside tradition, consciously integrating various approaches to Spirit.
Currently Michael’s teachings are reaching a global audience through his writing, videos and his podcast at InfiniteSmile.org.