Young Spokanite seeks Buddhist ordination

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Nathan Conover
Nathan Conover

Nathan Robnett-Conover left Spokane with a full head of hair, a stubbly beard and a wardrobe common to most 23 year old.

Now, just more than a month later, he’s donning white robes and a shaved head at Wat Marp Jan, a monastery in a Thailand forest, where he’s serving as a pakow (or anagarika) and preparing to for Buddhist ordination.

Robnett-Conover said he felt the pull toward monastic life several years ago, though it became particularly strong around 2009. He took his parents' advice, however, and waited to pursue ordination until he finished his studies at Portland State University.

“Grad school, back country skiing, and a job no longer interested me. Strangely, sitting still in a robe while living off of a diet of rice in a malaria-prone part of the world did,” he wrote in his blog.

He grew up in a Buddhist home and spent lots of time at Sravasti Abbey in Newport. The nuns at the abbey, he said, showed him the impact monastics can have on the world — especially by slowing down and living simply.

“Being a monk made sense to me,” he said. “It’s always seemed like a worthy pursuit in life. I want to pursue the qualities of compassion and wisdom and fearlessness. The suffering of the world is too urgent to be ignoring it.”

Serving as a Buddhist monk, he said, is an effective way to help others in the world. It starts, he said, by bettering one’s one mind and heart, which monastic life emphasizes.

“You can’t pull people out of the mud if you’re stuck in it too,” Robnett-Conover said.

So in October he sold his possessions and traveled to Thailand in search of a monastery he could call home. He found Wat Marp Jan. He hopes to be ordained as a monk there in coming months.

Venerable Thubten Semkye,  of Sravasti Abbey, said young adults, like Robnett-Conover, have the opportunity to explore monastic life in June during Young Adult Week.

The program, she said, is a reminder that young people, “want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, part of something bigger than what the world is offering now.”

She warns, though, that monastic life isn’t for everyone, at least not right away.

“Don’t rush into this. Pause and think about it,” she said. “This is not like getting a job. This is different. You need to have lived enough to say you’ve lived; experienced enough to know what you’re giving up.”

Robnett-Conover has traveled, studied and worked, and said he’s now ready to take his faith to the next level.

“We forget that we live in a hall of mirrors; that the only way to truly see and interact with the world around us — counterintuitive though it may be — is to look back at ourselves,” he writes.

His goal, he said, is to eventually return to the U.S. and teach meditation classes or psychotherapy.

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Tracy Simmons

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Journalism Instructor at Washington State University.

She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and for the Religion News Service.

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