Oral Histories

Interview of Johanna Demetrakas (2017)

Filmmaker. Early student of Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and one of the first Los Angeles area dharma teachers in the Shambhala lineage.
Many Branches, One Root: Buddhist Traditions in the Los Angeles Area
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Filmmaker. Early student of Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and one of the first Los Angeles area dharma teachers in the Shambhala lineage.
Cline, Alex
Demetrakas, Johanna
Persons Present:
Demetrakas and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Demetrakas' home in Los Angeles.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research; musician; member, Order of Interbeing, Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, ordained 2009 by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Demetrakas was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
3.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Many Branches, One Root series traces the histories and practices of a range of Buddhist traditions and communities in the greater Los Angeles area. Beginning in the early twentieth century, a succession of Buddhist traditions have put down roots in Los Angeles, each one providing spiritual support and a sense of community for the tradition’s immigrant population. By the late twentieth century many of those traditions had extended their reach beyond their original ethnic base to include an American-born, often largely Anglo, constituency. The series seeks to document the ethnic and immigrant roots of these traditions, as well as the changes that have resulted as traditions have accommodated to an American context. Series participants included monks, nuns, and lay people from Buddhist traditions from Japan, China, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam and a mixture of immigrants and American-born practitioners.
Family’s Greek Orthodox background—Early spiritual questions—Living and painting in Paris after college—Discovering film and moving to New York—Relocating to L.A. and becoming pregnant—Attending talks by Ram Dass—Finding Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings—Attending Trungpa’s home teaching sessions—Establishing and teaching at Trungpa’s MacArthur Park center—Teaching meditation and Shambhala— Teaching at the Naropa Institute— Relationship with Trungpa— Trungpa’s drinking and sexual behavior— Military wing of Trungpa’s tradition— Demetrakas’ feminism— Director of Shambhala Meditation Center of Los Angeles— Current teachers at center
First hearing Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche speak— Committing to be Trungpa’s student— Trungpa’s openness with trauma and his teaching style— Trungpa brings Vajrayana teachings to Western students— Foundation of knowledge and practice before studying Vajrayana— Vajrayana’s culture of education— Problems early on in Trungpa’s community— Secularized approach of Shambhala teaching— Shambhala characteristics— Importance of teachings in Demetrakas’ professional life— Trungpa’s death and the resulting confusion in the community— Filming cremation ceremony in Vermont— Growth of Shambhala after Trungpa— Teaching meditation at Terminal Island in the 1970s— Demetrakas’ need to practice despite lapsed involvement— Crazy Wisdom film on Shambhala— Abuses of power by teachers— Impact of the secularization of Buddhism— Optimism about Buddhism’s growth in L.A.— Need for Shambhala to adapt to younger students— Buddhism as an alternative to other religions.