Ven. Vimala was raised as a fundamentalist Christian in Houston. She renounced organized religion at age 17. Instead, life became one experiment in truth after the next. After college, she moved to California, where she met her first husband and encountered Eckankar, a small religious movement founded in 1965 by author Paul Twitchell. Central to Eckankar's teaching is the belief that the soul can leave the body at will.
Suspicious about the organization's leadership, Franklin separated from it about the same time she separated from her first husband. She moved to Japan to teach English and first encountered Buddhism, though it held no appeal.
Born Judy Franklin, she has been devoted to the quest for truth. Her circuitous journey has led her through churches, newsrooms, marriage, motherhood, divorce and cancer. She knew she had reached her destination when she attended a Tibetan Buddhist retreat 13 years ago.
The following year, she attended the Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Milwaukee and took vows as a practitioner within days. She continued to drive the distance for eight years. Meditation opened her eyes to the sad reality that her 12-year marriage had to end.
Franklin credits her fundamentalist background to drawing her toward Theravada teachings. But it was the teaching of Theravada Buddhism that there are 84,000 truths in the universe that appealed to her most of all. Buddhism being only one truth.
She consulted her teacher, Sujatha Bhante of Crystal Lake, who explained that motherhood was no obstacle. In fact, the first Buddhist nun was the woman who had raised the Buddha himself.
That, she said, prepared her even more for full ordination. The 311 vows required for full ordination govern relating with and respecting others and their spiritual paths.
At ordination, Bhante named her Vimala, or clarity. She is currently in Chicago at a temple. In the year 2010 she received the full bhikhhuni Theravada ordination in Sri Lanka.