Buddhist teacher arrested for alleged child sex abuse

A string of sex scandals have rocked Shambhala Buddhism.

William Karelis. CREDIT: Boulder County Sheriff's Office
William Karelis. CREDIT: Boulder County Sheriff's Office

Police in Boulder, Colorado arrested a former teacher in the Buddhist group Shambhala International on allegations he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl.

William L. Karelis, 71, turned himself in on Friday after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest on Wednesday. Karelis faces one felony count of sexual assault on a child.

ThinkProgress was first to report in December that police were investigating allegations of sexual assault against Karelis. His arrest was first reported by The Daily Camera.

At Karelis’ arraignment Friday, a judge set a $10,000 cash-only bond. He was no longer booked in the Boulder County Jail as of Saturday morning.

Karelis’ attorney Frederick Bibik said his client denies the allegations.

“Mr. Karelis is innocent of these charges and allegations leveled against him,” Bibik told ThinkProgress by email.

“He has been fully cooperative with the detectives in this investigation, and voluntarily surrendered himself when asked. We look forward to working with the Office of the District Attorney to resolve this case, and we anticipate Mr. Karelis will be fully exonerated.”


Karelis also denied engaging in any criminal sexual conduct during a phone interview with ThinkProgress several weeks ago.

“I welcome the visibility,” Karelis said of the investigation in December. “I’m in the business of helping people. So obviously, it’s all right with me if there’s scrutiny.”

Calls to the home Karelis shares with his wife went unanswered Friday night, and the family did not return voicemail messages requesting comment.

Karelis was charged with misdemeanor harassment in Boulder County in 1995, according to court records. His ex-wife, who now goes by the name Fionna Bright, received a temporary protection order against him three days later. A judge vacated that order not long after, and the district attorney dismissed the harassment case against him.

Bright told ThinkProgress that the stalking allegation in 1995 was a case of mistaken identity on her part, but she also described Karelis as “emotionally abusive.”


“I didn’t fully expect this with children.” she said in a phone interview Friday night, “But I guess he’s a predator. He’s always been a predator.”

News of the investigation into Karelis comes after police in Larimer County, Colorado, announced an investigation into “possible criminal activity” at Shambhala’s retreat center in Red Feather Lake.

ThinkProgress first reported that the Larimer County investigation is related to allegations of sexual assault and child sex abuse by the head of Shambhala, Sakyong Mipham. He has denied those allegations.

The alleged victim in the Boulder case met Karelis in 1995, when she was eight years old and he was assigned as her meditation instructor for a coming-of-age ceremony, according to the publicly released arrest warrant affidavit. They became increasingly close in the years after that, and she started spending the night at his home in Boulder when she was 11.

That’s where the repeated sexual assault began, according to the affidavit. Karelis would allegedly visit the guest bedroom where she was staying after his wife fell asleep. At first, the affidavit said, she and Karelis would just talk. But Karelis slowly escalated from hugging to kissing to sexual assault.

“Bill was very masterful at saying ‘here is the boundary let’s just push it an inch, because if it’s just an inch it is not a big deal,'” the affidavit quotes the alleged victim saying.


Karelis was a longtime student of Shambhala International’s founder, Chogyam Trungpa. He taught in Shambhala before leaving several years ago to start his own Buddhist group, A Place to Sit.

Karelis also runs the Shambhala Prison Community and the Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche Library Project, which are separate from Shambhala International.

In a lengthy statement Friday, Shambhala International’s Interim Board revealed two previous complaints against Karelis for sexual misconduct but said neither involved minors.

Shambhala has been in crisis since last February, when the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine began to publish a series of four reports detailing allegations of sexual assault by Mipham and other members — parts of which Mipham and Shambhala have refuted. Shambhala’s board announced its “phased departure” on July 6. Mipham temporarily stepped aside the same day pending an investigation Shambhala commissioned from the Halifax law firm Wickwire Holm.

The new Shambhala board said last year that it would release information on the findings of that investigation in January, but so far has failed to so do.

Do you have information about sexual misconduct in Shambhala or another religious organization? Contact reporter Joshua Eaton by email at or by Signal at 202–684–1030.