A Progress Report

April 27, 2009 by     Print This Post Print This Post

Update By Bill Karelis, April 26, 2009

On January 21st, 2009, I wrote a letter to the Vajradhatu sangha and the Shambhala community, stating that from this time forward it is my intention to focus on the propagation of the teachings of my root guru, the Great Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, and his predecessors. It has been about three months since this letter was posted on sangha-announce, and much has happened.

I am grateful for the invitations being offered by the Shambhala Times and to the Radio Free Shambhala website to report on the progress of this work.

Dharma program in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, April 3, 2009

To begin with, the Shambhala Prison Community, which is separately incorporated from Shambhala International, continues strong; and it also has been evolving rapidly. We have begun to authorize meditation instructors, and to create a path into instructorship for those doing prison work. The Shambhala Prison Community is not a non-profit organization in the conventional sense of establishing territory in its field, consolidating that territory, and expanding from its established base. We have no home office function to speak of; we spend 96% of every dollar raised on work in the field, providing service to prison inmates, correctional personnel and volunteers. We have been training case workers in the Polish prison system; last December 2008, I conducted our fourth three-day workshop outside of Warsaw for ten participants. Our organization in Oregon has put on about 18 weekends for offenders in the Maximum Security Penitentiary, originally via Shambhala Training. This year that program is shifting its emphasis to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and other basic Buddhist practice topics.  This March I visited prison workers the SPC trained two years ago in Amsterdam. Three of these individuals now belong to a group of four full-time staff employed by the Dutch government to provide Buddhist services to inmates; that group covers over 80% of the prisons in The Netherlands, which has one of the most progressive governmental systems in the world in the area of concern for the human development of its inmate populations.

Trying out the cushions before the program

Trying out the cushions before the program

While in Europe this winter and spring, I made several prison Dharma presentations, notably with the Amida Trust in Narbrough, UK, at a university conference for mindfulness practice in the field of psychology in Warsaw, and in France.

Most of my activity, as it has been for some years, is conducted outside the prison field—straight Dharma, unmingled with worldly dharmas, presented to meditation groups. This presentation falls generally into the two categories of cutting through spiritual materialism, and Buddha Nature, in the context of all three yanas; and the Shambhala parallels. I have just this April completed a two-month tour of nine countries, mostly in Western and Central Europe (I also presented a program in the United Arab Emirates). My activity is dividing out into three major components:

  • Collaborating with senior students of our lineage on Vajrayana practice and the Shambhala teaching of the Vidyadhara, and maintaining communication generally among the Vajra Sangha, who are often painfully dispersed and isolated—at least as much as I am able.
  • Teaching in Zen, Karma Kagyu and other centers and venues—programs and individual talks, in equal measure.   This activity comprises a great part of my work. It includes relating with teachers of different lineages.
  • Establishing non-aligned groups, which operate under the principle of personal mentorship, rather than that of institutional process, and which follow the teachings of the Vidyadhara. There are now five of these, one in each of five countries.
Dubai harbor by night

Dubai harbor by night

This has been, without question, the most dynamic and creative period of my practice and teaching path. It is characterized by exertion, hopelessness and a tremendous sense of the need for our teaching stream in the world at large. In fact, the world is starving for what we know. My overarching feeling is that we should stop trying to sell the Dharma, and start giving it away to those who request it, for whom the karma is ripe.

Anyone wishing to know more, to collaborate or to help is welcome to write to me or call me at bkarelis@yahoo.com, or 1 303 444 0043.  

 Bill Karelis has been practicing and studying the Buddhadharma and the Shambhala teachings for 37 years. For the last 15 years he has been presenting these teachings internationally.


Photos by Bill Karelis 2009  |  © Bill Karelis 2009


18 Responses to “A Progress Report”

  1. rita ashworth on April 28th, 2009 11:50 am

    Wow…….thats very impressive…….are you leaving the chestnut of being a lineage holder on the shelf……..people still need to access the higher teachings……….or do you see that evolving gradually ………may be from another western/Tibetan lineage holder. re your comment:
    “My overarching feeling is that we should stop trying to sell the Dharma, and start giving it away to those who request it, for whom the karma is ripe.” I think I agree with you here doing the levels is expensive even doing the basic stuff is too dear for some people. I suppose at some point money will raise its ‘ugly’ head but maybe generosity of giving away the teachings for free needs to be more emphasised especially in these troubling times.

    For example recently whilst going round some halls trying to organise some meditation city retreat days I came into contact with Christian and Buddhist groups that had grown into centres after some time just sitting together -that old Christian adage came to mind ‘wherever two or three are gathered I will be there.’

    Are you planning to have a website……would be good to keep in contact and I hope you will post again on this website and keep people updated about what is happening.

    Best for what you are doing now.

    (Are you planning to write anything perhaps another take on the Buddhist/Shambhalian teachings would be good for people)

    Rita Ashworth
    Stockport UK

  2. Edward on April 28th, 2009 11:51 am

    Our organization in Oregon has put on about 18 weekends for offenders in the Maximum Security Penitentiary, originally via Shambhala Training. This year that program is shifting its emphasis to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and other basic Buddhist practice topics.

    Does this shift in emphasis have any relation to copyright issues?

    I think it’s wonderful what you are doing. I agree that many people in the world could greatly benefit from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings. Or at least his ideas / passions in a general sense.

    I think it is great and inspiring that people are finding ways to make those teachings available, in the midst of various seeming obstacles.

    By the way, it might be interesting to re-read the letter Mr. Karelis sent on January 21st. Is this letter published somewhere?

  3. Edward on April 28th, 2009 12:09 pm

    Rita, I believe his website is http://www.shambhalaprisoncommunity.org/ as posted in the article.

    On a personal level, someday, when I am properly trained etc., I would like to go into prisons or other places and pass on VCTR’s Shambhala teachings to people.

    However, it’s my understanding that SI wants to get copyright control of VCTR’s Shambhala teachings if they don’t have them already, and then lock them up in a vault somewhere, to be publicly replaced by Mipham Rinpoche’s version of Buddhism. Which is fantastic for people who can be helped by that, but I personally feel moved to pass on VCTR’s teachings.

    I don’t want to sidetrack this thread into that tired discussion, but I am curious to know if there are any legal issues that would prevent properly trained people– you know, operating under the supervision of a senior instructor– from using “The Sacred Path of the Warrior” to lead meditation retreat weekends. Does it partly depend on whether the weekend involves collecting money or is free?

    P.S. This is very inspiring. Thanks for the update!

  4. Mark Szpakowski on April 28th, 2009 3:58 pm

    Bill’s January 21, 2009 Clarifying my Direction letter is in the sangha-announce archives. You need to be logged in to the shambhala.org members section of the site to access this.

  5. Charles Marrow on April 28th, 2009 8:54 pm

    Greetings Everyone:

    Edward brought up the topic that comes up from time to time about the copyright protection of the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I myself don’t think this is really too much of an issue. It seems more of a consideration that ourselves as dharma students really contemplate and study Rinpoche’s teachings so that they become part of our experience and that we can then communicate them in a heartfelt way to others. This I think will protect and continue to make the teachings beneficial.

    On a more practical note: I would hope that all of us have good quality personal dharma libraries that have a good representation of the teachings of Trungpa Rinpoche. This will go along way to help the teachings continue in the written form and help insure their continuation into an uncertain future.

    Lastly, for those who are interested in the legal issue, I think we are aware as members of democratic societies that value freedom of expression, the flow of knowledge and education generally, that there is a considerable latitude allowed for using the writings of someone respected in their field, quoting from those writings, teaching, commenting on them, etc. In copyright law, this is treated under the legal principle of “fair use”. Here is a section from Wikipedia that discusses this topic. (should we be wondering if I am within my rights to do a direct quote of this nature. I would say that I am under the “fair use” guidelines mentioned) Here goes,

    “Fair Use under United States law is a doctrine that allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission of the rights holders, such as for use for scholarship or review. It provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material into another author’s work under a four factor balancing test. The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such us by reproduction in copies or by any other means specified by that section, for such purposes as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

    1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes;
    2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
    3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relationship to the copyrighted work as a whole, and;
    4. The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    That’s it and thanks to Wikipedia.

    Charles Marrow

  6. Mark Szpakowski on April 28th, 2009 9:43 pm

    Actually, re Wikipedia content, beyond “fair use” use, “All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License“, which basically allows you to fully reproduce anything in Wikipedia as long as the same license is propagated with it (and you can make money off that if you want as well).

    Re Edward’s question about, for example, using Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior in meditation retreats or study courses, I think that’s a non-issue: of course you can (schools use books for content all the time). Reprinting that book is a different issue.

    The key thing is to continue to learn from and to teach from such sources.

  7. Jim Wilton on April 28th, 2009 10:07 pm

    Edward, do you live on the same planet that I do? There have been vastly more editions of CTR’s works published in the past ten years than were ever published in CTR’s lifetime. In addition, CDs are available of most if not all of CTR’s talks. The Boston Shambhala Center, for example, just acquired the complete set — literally hundreds of CDs — all of which are available for members to borrow.

    So how can you say that SI wants to lock CTR’s teachings in a vault and replace them with SMR’s teachings? I am not even arguing with you. I am just baffled.

    In terms of copyright, the fair use doctrine isn’t necessary. If you are teaching a class on the Sacred Path of the Warrior, you need to order enough copies of the book so that each person in the class can buy one. Diana Mukpo gets a royalty on the purchase and the class can use the book.

    I expect that Bill has changed the name of his organization because of trademark issues and because he no longer wants to teach under the banner of Shambhala International. Or it may be because he is approaching the subject more from a Buddhist angle. You would have to ask him.

    Trademark is a different issue than copyright. No one would argue that the Shambhala trademark should be available for anyone — New Age group or Christian group or the Aryan Brotherhhod — to use. Trademark just relates to the title of the organization and the advertising for the program — it would not affect use of the term “Shambhala” in the context of speaking of KOS or presenting Shambhala teachings.

    You may feel that SI is not presenting the Shambhala teachings correctly — but that is a different issue and has nothing to do with intellectual property — whether copyright or trademark. I would disagree with you on that point, by the way — but at least it would be a discussion that two people could have.

  8. Michael Sullivan on April 28th, 2009 10:11 pm

    I think the real issue is with things like sadhanas, especially the privately published ones (along with commentaries), as well as other private circulation texts – texts only received in the context of a training. Since they aren’t publicly available I think there are differences in how it is viewed as regards fair use.

  9. Edward on April 29th, 2009 11:13 am

    Mr. Jim Wilton, I just responded to your question in another thread, as I felt bad for hijacking this one.

  10. Bill Karelis on April 29th, 2009 3:04 pm

    A number of good questions have been raised so far about what happens next. Rita has asked a few, which I will try to answer, to begin with:

    –About the higher teachings, it is true that eventually new people will need them. I am not concerned about trying to arrange for that now. There has been too much ambition, in my view, among some senior students to give transmissions. Better to wait to see what unfolds organically. In the meantime, all the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma abhisekas can be gotten from lineage holders in those traditions. On the Shambhala side, stroke and lungta can be given by many, as can the lung for the Werma Sadhana. Other transmissions from the Vidyadhara are also accessible. Historically, the transmissions have appeared when people are ready both to get and to give them.

    –About a website, yes, I have one ready to go. I have been waiting until it is needed. For now, RFS and other sites seem to be getting the necessary information out to the sangha. But you are right: it would be good to have one site where certain information is consolidated in digestible form.

    –I am planning to write an article on the relationship between the Buddhist and Shambhala teachings, but there is no immediate timetable.

    Thank you very much, Rita, for your encouragement.

    Edward, thank you too. I would be honored to help in some way to bring you into the propagation of the Vidyadhara’s teaching stream. Write me personally if you wish to discuss this. You could start working in a prison venue as soon as we can organize in your locale–the SPC has developed a path for people with this interest.

    –We do need to solve the outstanding copyright and trademark issues, but I agree with Charles and Jim, they should not be obstacles at all, as there is so much in the public domain. As Charles articulates, the main thing is to study, practice and assimilate the teachings; then the rest will come along.

  11. John Tischer on April 30th, 2009 6:42 pm

    I think it’s commendable that Mr Karelis is keeping a distance from the issues around teaching Vajrayana for now. I think his approach is quite accurate.

  12. rita ashworth on May 1st, 2009 12:51 pm

    Dear Mr Karelis

    Thank you for your reply- I may write to you about some other queries but I thought I would ask the following questions online as they may be relevant to other people who are contemplating whether to remain in SI or not.

    I was thinking in relation to the Vajrayogini abhisheka if you did not want to receive it from the Sakyong would you still be able to access Trungpa’s teachings on the abhisheka from SI – I think this may not be the case from my own reading of the matter.

    In relation to the Shambhala teachings I believe that basic meditation has been somewhat altered by the Sakyong from Trungpa’s teachings….are you saying that groups could be set up to teach the Shambhala teachings in a different format than at present culminating in a ‘new’ Kalapa Assembly or some other such programme. Also re the werma sadhana how would people get access to it as it is now incorporated into the Shambhala ngondro. Would there be people prepared to give the lung for the werma sadhana outside of SI.

    At the moment myself I think the two teaching streams should be kept distinct primarily because I dont think at the present time a Western Shambhala lineage has emerged – I think my feelings partially relate to the iconography of the whole thing – I see art as a kind of revelation and I am not sure if the present ‘Rigden King’ image has sprang from that. I mean western in the sense that the Shambhala teachings have not had time to bed down here – I am trying not to be antsy to eastern culture.

    I was also wondering if you advocate people attending Shambhala teachings up to Warriors Assembly to get some taste of the teachings or whether it is best to form new groupings for a possible new Shambhala lineage.

    On larger issues of governance I am feeling that there needs to be a grassroots aspect of spreading the teachings-I really like the idea of giving these teachings to people at a modest price to cover expenses for the room – I am getting tired of the endless bozos going on about fundraising when the proper attitude should be just give out the teachings freely. In this aspect in 1976 when I was with another group in Manchester we hosted Karmapa 16 for the Black Hat ceremony which was given freely – over 1,000 people attended. I also remember Jamgon Kontrul ordering people inside the venue to let the people outside without tickets into the event.. I left this group because I began to attend Trungpas centre in London…….and I had some disagreements with the group leader – I seem to be Regent-averse!?HO-HUM.

    Its funny after I posted my queries to you I went downstairs in the library and purchased two books on ikebana for about a dollar -one was by the leader of the Sogetsu school who Trungpa studied with – perhaps the rich Cheshire ladies studied ikebana in the 60’s.

    Anyway I think thats it – it would be good to hear your replies to the above online.


    Rita Ashworth

  13. Bill Karelis on May 2nd, 2009 12:49 am

    In response to Rita’s post of today:

    Once again, you have asked essential questions. I will do my best to reply.

    Your stories of the 16th Karmapa giving the Vajra Crown Ceremony, and HE Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche making room for the ticketless at this event in Manchester UK in 1976, is very moving to me, and does point the direction in which the Dharma, in my view, should go in the future–that is, as it has gone for 2,500 years, as an open exchange, where the teachings are freely given, and the students freely offer, realizing the pricelessness of what they seek.

    About Vajrayogini Abhiseka, of course one cannot speak for whether Shambhala International will accept receiving that Abhiseka from other Karma Kagyu lineage holders, but it has in the past at certain junctures.

    Regardless, my advice is that that people wanting to do the Karma Kagyu practices according to tradition should not be intimidated. They should just go ahead fearlessly. There are many who will help see them through, if such practitioners do the practices properly, and approach the Vajra Masters according with sincerity and a mind tuned to the Dharma.

    About the Shambhala path, my feeling is that new students can tread that path from beginning to end in somewhat revised format, studying the Shambhala terma thoroughly. Kalapa Assembly as it existed during the time of the Druk Sakyong, both in the literal sense of what was transmitted and in terms of environment, has actually disappeared. It has been replaced by the Rigden Abhiseka. The Werma Sadhana has often been given independent of either Kalapa Assembly or Rigden Abhiseka.

    Your insight into the relevatory evidence, and whether the Shambhala teachings have truly landed in our time I find accurate and worth remembering. This seems to be the central problem, for a certain point of view.

    The teaching streams should be kept distinct, have to kept distinct, for many reasons, beginning with the reality that they are distinct: they address different needs, different states of mind, different situations, and often different people. There is much more to say on this point.

    I do feel that practitioners searching for our teaching stream, or attracted to it, should take advantage of whatever Shambhala International has to offer, as much as they possibly can–including ourselves. It is a question of prajna and upaya, as to when a person might seek beyond. Of course, there is some burden on those of us who have studied, practiced and presented these teachings to provide alternative platforms.

    Your discount ikebana book story is another good one–auspicious coincidence smiling! Thank you.

  14. rita ashworth on May 2nd, 2009 9:39 am

    Dear Mr Karelis

    Thank you for your prompt reply.

    I think I have cleared up my mind about the taking of the Vajrayogini abhisheka re your reply, however, I have a few remaining questions regarding the Shambhala teachings namely about the comments you made on them in your post as following:

    “About the Shambhala path, my feeling is that new students can tread that path from beginning to end in somewhat revised format, studying the Shambhala terma thoroughly. ‘

    …..what do you mean by revised format and are you contemplating devising one? Also if one was to do the shambhala teachings up to Warriors Assembly with SI wouldn’t one be using the revised meditation procedures that the Sakyong has brought in and not be using Trungpa’s direct teachings on the Shambhala path? Therefore in regard to this aspect could ‘alternative platforms’ be devised or do you think it is still relevant to Trungpa’s students to study with SI to a certain degree.

    Also there is chestnut of doing a meditation instructors course – you would sort of be and out of SI in that your prime alleigence would be with the way Trungpa taught meditation instruction and not the Sakyongs way. How would you solve this conundrum?


    ‘The Werma Sadhana has often been given independent of either Kalapa Assembly or Rigden Abhiseka.’

    This is actually news to me ………who can give the werma sadhana lung within the greater mandala – myself I think this would be acutely relevant to other religions melding into the shambhala teachings. Personally and time wise I dont think I want to do the Rigden abhisheka and the new teachings arising within SI but I think I would like to practice the Werma Sadhana as I have taken the shambhala teachings up to Warriors Assembly.

    Re revelation – it is difficult to be accurate in a pinpoint way about what I am feeling…its just that KIng/Queen archetype can come in many manifestations and I dont think at the present time we can close off to the possibility of terma being discovered in the west. Who knows whats going to happen?

    Lastly as to the teaching streams being kept distinct I wish you would write a further essay for rfs or maybe some other publication as to why you think this is appropriate.

    I have really enjoyed this discussion with you and I hope you and others can post further on this site as to the questions I have posed.


    Rita Ashworth
    Stockport UK

  15. John Castlebury on May 6th, 2009 9:27 am


    Translucent fog
    Whitens homes,
    Roads, woods, fields
    All vanish before
    My very eyes –

    That leaning spruce
    At garden’s-edge
    Is horizontal now –
    So’s rose trellis –
    Last night’s winds!

    Nevertheless, I’m
    Soon hallucinating
    Reading in mid-air
    The registered letter
    I sent yesterday:

    Foggy rumination
    Swallows conifer,
    Creeps gardenward –
    Ah! Thinley Norbu
    Is sobering thought!

    [from Aspiration Highway, Samurai Press, 2007]

  16. John Tischer on May 6th, 2009 12:17 pm

    A friend of mine recently attended a Vipassana retreat
    here in Tepoztlan sponsored by a Goenka group. There was no initial charge for the program. At the
    end of the retreat, people were asked to donate according to the value they felt the retreat had for them.They’ve taken this approach for years and they’re still going strong.

  17. Mark Hazell on July 31st, 2009 6:05 pm

    There is a complete syllabus for the new Way of Shambhala curriculum available to all members on the shambhala.org website — I believe you can get the full address from the office of study and practice if you are a Shambhala member. Although Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s two books are central to this curriculum, so are quite a number of Trungpa Rinpoche’s. I would encourage everyone on this list to read this syllabus from start to finish so that future discussion could be fully informed.

    During his lifetime the Vidyadhara gave dozens of different meditation instructions. In recent years I have been struck by how close the instruction given over the five levels of Shambhala Training — and that instruction continues and will continue to be given — correspond to the instructions given in “The Way of Maha Ati” which the Vidyadhara wrote with Rigdzen Shikpo way back in the late 60″s.

    As far as receiving abhisekas from other lineage holders and then having access to the Vidyadhara’s tris and manuals, I know of people who have asked for this prior to receiving an abhiseka from another teacher and who received permission. It is possible that people who are overtly hostile to the Sakyong might not receive such permission, but I know of at least one case where an extremely hostile person did in fact receive permission to own and study the Vajradhatu manuals. Asking does wonders!

    Finally, I just want to add my admiration for all of the work Mr. Karelis is doing — it’s truly inspiring.


  18. rita ashworth on August 1st, 2009 7:24 am

    This is an interesting development that people who feel more affliation to
    Trungpa can still get access to his teachings in SI.

    It might point a way where groups that are forming outside of SI can still
    engage in the greater mandala and see themselves as aligned with creating an enlightened society in the world. I look forward to hearing more about this in future posts.


    Rita Ashworth