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Police Arrest a Second Former Shambhala Member Accused of Sexually Assaulting Children

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Michael Smith, accused of the sexual assault of a child, appears in court on Friday. Photo by Cliff Grassmick. From dailycamera.com
Michael Smith, accused of the sexual assault of a child, appears in court on Friday. Photo by Cliff Grassmick. From dailycamera.com

Police in the US state of Colorado say they have arrested a former member of the Shambhala center in the city of Boulder. Michael Smith was arrested on Friday after being accused of sexually assaulting a child he was introduced to through the Buddhist community. A second woman has also come forward to police saying she, too, was victimized by the same suspect.

Smith, aged 54, is accused of assaulting the girl on multiple occasions beginning when she was a teenager. The second alleged victim told police that Smith victimized her during a Buddhist retreat when she was 11 years old. Police say the two are not acquainted.

Smith’s arrest is the second this year related to the widening sexual abuse and misconduct scandal that has embroiled the Shambhala International Buddhist community since last year. In February, William Lloyd Karelis, 71, a former teacher and retreat leader in Shambhala, was arrested in Boulder on suspicion of sexual assault of a child.* Karelis has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty to all charges. His case is currently pending trial in August.

“The victim was sexually assaulted by Smith multiple times beginning in 1997, when she was 13 years old,” Boulder police said in a press statement. “Smith was introduced to the girl through his membership in the Boulder Shambhala [center].” (Boulder Police)

According to media reports, Smith surrendered to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office early on 28 June after an arrest warrant was issued by Boulder Police Department on one charge of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. The victim and her parents said Shambhala officials were aware of the allegations at the time of the allegations but decided not to involve police in the matter.

The second accusation was leveled by a woman who alleged that Smith sexually assaulted her at Karme Choling, a Shambhala International meditation center in rural Vermont, when she was 11 years old. The law enforcement authorities in Vermont are investigating that allegation, according to the Boulder Police statement.

According to the arrest affidavit, the girl first met Smith at the same Shambala retreat in Vermont when she was nine or 10 years old. The alleged victim told police that Smith subsequently rented a room in the family home for two or three years, during which time he sexually abused her on numerous occasions. In 1998, the girl reported the incidents to her parents and other adults, who confronted Smith about the allegations. Her parents told police this year that Smith was asked to leave the house, but that Shambhala officials chose not to report him to police if he agreed to certain conditions.

Michael Smith. Image courtesy of Boulder County Sheriff’s Office

Boulder Shambhala’s executive director, Melanie Klein, said the organization had no information regarding the latest allegation of sexual abuse.

“We have a member named Michael Smith but he’s not the one being reported on,” Klein stated in an email. “There may have been another Michael Smith who was a member of the Boulder Shambhala community 22 years ago, but we have no information about that. His alleged crimes should be prosecuted vigorously.” (Daily Camera)

Smith’s bond was set at US$10,000 and formal charges are due to be filed today. Smith reportedly declined to comment when contacted by local media.

Shambhala International has been rocked by a series of accusations of sexual assault and misconduct by the community’s leader, Sakyong Mipham, and other senior teachers and members after, the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine began publishing a series of reports detailing the abuse allegations in February last year.

Founded in Boulder, Colorado, and currently headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Shambhala community is an international network of more than 200 meditation centers and groups with over 12,000 members spanning some 50 countries and six continents, in addition to online communities. Sakyong Mipham, the current lineage holder, was enthroned as sakyong in 1995.

A prominent Buddhist teacher in the Nyingma tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism and the spiritual head of the Canada-based Shambhala International Buddhist community, Sakyong Mipham, in February announced his withdrawal from all teaching and administrative duties “for the foreseeable future.” The announcement, which Sakyong Mipham shared with the Shambhala community by email, came in the wake of new allegations of impropriety and the release earlier that month of an independent investigative report into allegations of sexual abuse within the community.**

On 3 February, Shambhala’s interim board released the final report of the findings of an independent investigation by Halifax-based law firm Wickwire Holm into the allegations of widespread sexual misconduct by Sakyong Mipham and other senior members of the Buddhist community. The report states: “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 and, thus, characterized by a power imbalance. Although some of the women reported feeling special or honored for being asked to see the Sakyong privately, some of these relationships left the women feeling abandoned. Often, they had little to no communication with the Sakyong after their encounter. This added to their confusion and feeling of being dismissed. No one reported criminal behavior.”

The allegations against Sakyong Mipham and other community members were first covered extensively in a series of independent reports published by Buddhist Project Sunshine, a grassroots initiative started by Andrea Winn, a second-generation Shambhala Buddhist who grew up in the early years of the community. The Buddhist Project Sunshine Phase 3 Final Report include details of two harrowing alleged assaults, which members of Shambhala’s governing Kalapa Council and some senior teachers allegedly witnessed or even participated in. It also identifies community leaders alleged to have taken part in a group sexual assault or individual rape, who were allegedly present during such assaults, or who allegedly procured women on behalf of Sakyong Mipham.

Former Shambhala Teacher Arrested in Colorado; Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Implicated in Sexual Misconduct (Buddhistdoor Global)

** Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Steps Down from Teaching as Misconduct and Abuse Allegations Continue to Emerge (Buddhistdoor Global)

See more

Boulder police arrest man for sexually assaulting a child; additional victims suspected (Boulder Police)
Buddhist official tells police alleged abuse victim was exploring her sexuality (Religion News Service)
New arrest for child sex abuse at the embattled Buddhist group Shambhala (ThinkProgress)
Another former Boulder Shambhala member accused of sexual assault on a child (Daily Camera)
Second former Boulder Shambhala member accused of sexual assault on a child (The Denver Post)
Shambhala Community Care (Shambhala)

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