Buddhist Nun Hopes to Revive Ascetic Way of Life That Started During the Buddha's Lifetime

November 7, 2008

Author: Manya A. Brachear

Source: The Chicago Tribune


It took nearly 60 years for Judy Franklin to figure out that the key to riding the nation's economic roller coaster was to detach from it and observe as if from afar.

Now, as those around her fret about finances, the divorced mother of two rests assured that it is not the end of the world, a perspective she acquired when she became the Midwest's first woman ordained as a nun in one of the earliest Buddhist doctrines alive today.

Franklin and about a dozen American women are trying to revive the lineage of an ascetic way of life that started during the Buddha's lifetime but disappeared in Sri Lanka 11 centuries ago. Reopening one more avenue of devotion for Buddhist women is essential to curbing violence and loosening the devotion to wealth in today's world, Franklin says.

"I'm just a regular person," said Franklin, 59, of Elkhorn, Wis. "It's about making the teachings more accessible to Americans."

Last year, inside the Congregational Unitarian Church of Woodstock, Franklin took the 10 vows of a novice nun and began preparing to take the 311 precepts required to be fully ordained—a path that could take years.

In many ways, adopting ancient monastic rules was a way for Franklin to reclaim her life as her own. Hours after her head was shaved and she donned the maroon robes of a monastic, she took her son, Stephen, to college. Her daughter, Kate, also is away at college.

Without the option of a convent, Franklin converted her new empty nest into a sacred space. She sold her house in Williams Bay and bought a much smaller condominium in nearby Elkhorn. The coffee table in her living room became an altar, complete with a statue of Buddha and candles.