Colorado police investigate alleged sexual assault by former Shambhala teacher

It's the latest in a string of scandals to rock the Buddhist group.

William L. Karelis. CREDIT: YouTube
William L. Karelis. CREDIT: YouTube

Police in Boulder, Colorado, have launched an investigation into at least one allegation of sexual assault by Buddhist teacher William L. Karelis while he was a member of the group Shambhala International, ThinkProgress has learned.

The investigation, which has not been previously reported, began in August, according to Boulder Police Department spokesperson Shannon Aulabaugh. Karelis has not been arrested or charged at this time, Aulabaugh said, but the investigation is ongoing.

“Boulder police are currently investigating Bill Karelis for a possible sex crime that occurred while he held a position at Shambhala as a teacher and leader at mediation retreats,” Aulabaugh told ThinkProgress by email.

“Police ask that anyone with additional information call Boulder Police Detective Heather Frey at 303-441-3369 or Detective Ross Richart at 303-441-1833,” Aulabaugh added.

Karelis, 71 of Boulder, denied engaging in any criminal sexual conduct and said he was not aware of the investigation before ThinkProgress reached out to him for comment.


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

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.

A Place to Sit did not return an email seeking comment.

In a statement to ThinkProgress, Shambhala International said it is cooperating with the investigation.

“It is our understanding that the Boulder Police Department is investigating allegations against a former member of the Shambhala community,” the group said in a statement. “The BPD has communicated to us that is an investigation into an individual, not the Shambhala organization. As this is an open investigation, Shambhala will not publicly provide further details at this time.”

On July 3, 1995, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office charged Karelis with one count of misdemeanor harassment, according to court records. His ex-wife, Melanie A. Crawford, received a temporary protection order against him three days later. A judge vacated that order on July 13, 1995, and the district attorney dismissed the harassment case on Aug. 19, 1995. The couple divorced in 1991.


News of the investigation into Karelis comes the week 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.

Shambhala has been in crisis since 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 has said it will release information on the findings of that investigation in January.

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.