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Former Shambhala Teacher Arrested in Colorado; Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Implicated in Sexual Misconduct

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William Lloyd Karelis, left, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. From apnews.com and flickr.com
William Lloyd Karelis, left, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. From apnews.com and flickr.com

William Lloyd Karelis, 71, a former teacher and retreat leader in the Shambhala International Buddhist community, was arrested last week by police in Boulder, Colorado, on suspicion of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust. According to police, Karelis sexually assaulted the girl numerous times beginning in 2000. 

Shambhala International’s interim governing board has said that Karelis was the subject of two conduct complaints in the 2000s and that his teaching credentials were suspended in 2004 and then revoked in 2008. After this he began teaching in a separate community that he had founded.

Boulder police believe there were more victims over a period of 30 years. There is no statute of limitations on sex offenses involving children under the age of 15 and anyone who believes that they or someone they know was victimized by Karelis is asked to call Boulder police Detective Ross Richart at 303-441-1833 or Detective Heather Frey at 303-441-3369. The news comes in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct surrounding Shambhala’s leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. (Associated Press)

Leslie Hays, who was a sangyum, or secret wife of Shambhala founder Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the 1980s, told Buddhistdoor Global that, “Pedophilia has been rampant in this community since the 1970s. Countless girls and boys were abused by people in positions of trust. I hope they can draw strength from this brave survivor and come forward to tell their stories of horrors as well.” 

Hays added that she thought that at least three women were involved in the 2008 complaint that led to Karelis’ teaching credentials being suspended, and that Shambhala had failed to report criminal activity to the authorities when it should have.

Buddhistdoor Global also contacted Pam Rubin, a women’s trauma counsellor and lawyer who created a series of short videos on recognizing and addressing abuse in religious communities for Lion’s Roar magazine. 

“The publicity may help more survivors come forward.” said Rubin. “In the Shambhala community, however, there are factors that may still be inhibiting survivors from coming forward on this and other cases: the very ugly shunning that survivors and their supporters have experienced within that community, religious beliefs that make people fear spiritual punishment, and the lack of any ongoing suitable supports for survivors and their loved ones.”

In a statement over the weekend, Shambhala’s interim board said, None of the complaints received by Shambhala involved minors or reports of criminal behavior.  Shambhala has always and will continue to comply with mandated reporting concerning minors. We also have and will continue to cooperate with and fully support the ongoing BPD investigation.”

On Sunday, Shambhala released the delayed findings of the Wickwire Holm report into the sexual misconduct allegations, specifically looking at Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The report notes that: “There was enough consistency for the investigator to paint a picture that the Sakyong’s behavior in the 1990s and up to 2005 included frequent sexual contact with women who were his students . . .” 

Out of 100 individual contacts to the independent law firm commissioned by Shambhala International, 42 concerned sexual misconduct, with 10 naming Sakyong Mipham. Wickwire Holm began its investigation in July 2018 after Buddhist Project Sunshine (BPS) released its second report, which implicated Sakyong Mipham. 

While the report adds to the body of evidence of widespread sexual misconduct in Shambhala International, more allegations are likely to emerge as some survivors of alleged abuse have expressed a lack of confidence that Wickwire Holm would fairly investigate their claims. One alleged victim told Andrea Winn of BPS, “I have no doubt that Wickwire is a respected firm, but I question whether it can serve as a neutral third-party investigator when its client is the organization that has covered up Mr. Mukpo’s [also known as Sakyong Mipham] egregious behaviors for many years.” (andreawinn.com)

While Andrea Winn described the arrest of Karelis as “hopeful news,” she told Buddhistdoor Global that, “There are currently police investigations of both Mukpo and John Weber, and I’m hopeful witnesses will come forward very soon to help with all three criminal investigations.”

She noted: “I do not see how this would impact the current leadership in Shambhala as it appears their efforts remain in the direction of minimizing and covering up the alleged sexual assaults of women and girls by Osel Mukpo.”

See more

Shambhala Community Care (Shambhala)
Teacher at Boulder’s Shambhala Accused of Sexually Assaulting Girl (Associated Press)
Assault survivors share why they are not participating in Shambhala’s Wickwire Holm investigation (andreawinn.com) 

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