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Williams Bay woman at peace with choice to become a Buddhist nun

By Chris Schultz, Gazette Extra, September 9, 2007

Williams Bay, Wisconsin (USA) -- Judy Franklin was raised in a fundamentalist church in Houston. And now she's clergy in a fundamentalist faith in Williams Bay. Just not the same religion.

Franklin, 58-year-old mother of two, is the first woman in the Midwest to be ordained a nun in the Theravada Buddhist faith. Her ordination was Aug. 25 in Woodstock, Ill., by Sujatha Peradeniye, founder of the Blue Lotus Temple.

A former reporter for the Elkhorn Independent weekly newspaper, Franklin now teaches computer applications and math at Southern Oaks Girls School, a juvenile correctional facility in Union Grove.

Theravada, founded in Sri Lanka, is taken from the earliest writings of Buddha's teachings, Franklin said. In Theravada, there are only lay people, nuns and monks.

With hair cut almost Marine short and wearing a maroon robe, Franklin leads the Saturday meditation sessions at the Sports Lobby at Mercy Medical Center near Lake Geneva.

For Buddhists, meditation is a path to enlightenment.

For Franklin, it is a milestone in a spiritual journey that started during her childhood in the Church of Christ.

Among that Houston church's prohibitions: dancing, women wearing jeans, alcohol and movies, Franklin said.

She said she rebelled against the fundamentalism of her youth.

She moved to California, where she lived from 1973 to 1981, and then took a job teaching English in Japan from 1981 to 1985. She encountered Buddhism in Japan, but it didn't appeal to her then.

Instead, she said, she had to come to Wisconsin to discover Buddhism.

A friend invited her to live with her in Williams Bay.

"I thought, 'I'll stay a year,'" Franklin said.

That was 22 years ago.

Franklin joined a local church, married and divorced. She has a son, Stephen, 18, and a daughter, Kate, 20.

In 1995, Franklin heard a lecture by a Buddhist teacher in Milwaukee.

She started attending classes at the Shambhala Buddhism Center in Milwaukee.

"All the teachers I heard were calm and dispassionate and talked about love and compassion in a way that sounded right to me," Franklin said.

A change in jobs, however, made the commute to Milwaukee more difficult. She said she started to fall away from her meditations.

She learned of Theravada Buddhism at a lecture two years ago in Williams Bay.

"Maybe my old fundamentalist background came into play," Franklin said. "I liked the simplicity of their teachings."

She rededicated herself.

Franklin said her duties as a nun require her to lead a moral life and be chaste.

Western Buddhism is different from Eastern Buddhism because of cultural differences, Franklin said. She won't be carrying a begging bowl here.

But she is selling her house in Williams Bay and is looking for a smaller condo, maybe in Elkhorn.

"I just want something smaller," Franklin said. "I want to keep things simpler and simpler."


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