Venerable Hae Doh Gary Schwocho, the abbot of Muddy Water Zen, in Royal Oak, Michigan, and the first American-born to be elected a bishop in the Taego Order of Korean Buddhism, has felt called to ministry since elementary school. Born to parents who were active in a fundamentalist Christian denomination that believes, among other things, that the Pope is the Antichrist, Schwocho strayed from the church while in college and was eventually excommunicated.
Still, the ministry called, and he was on track to become a Presbyterian minister when he attended an introduction-to-meditation retreat in 1987, led by Haju Sunim and Samu Sunim at the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Schwocho received the precepts from Samu Sunim in 1997 and was ordained in 2003 by P’arang Geri Larkin, Samu Sunim’s dharma heir. The next year, Schwocho converted his garage into a dharma hall and moved the Muddy Water Zen sangha into his suburban Detroit home.
Schwocho calls himself a true Midwesterner at heart: “I’ve been a Michigander all my life and intend on going nowhere else.” But as a bishop in the Taego Order, one of the two main schools of Korean Zen Buddhism, he is also part of an expanding international web of Korean Buddhist practitioners. The Taego Order split from the Jogye Order, the larger of the two Korean Buddhist schools, in 1970, over differences in celibacy requirements for their monastics. Taego monks, like Japanese Zen monks, are allowed to marry and raise families, part of the order’s effort to be truly engaged with the world, although Schwocho himself is now celibate.
During his four-year term as bishop of the North American Parish, Schwocho is responsible for clergy training and lay education, as well as establishing policy that echoes Western cultural values. Under the current Korean rules, gay men and lesbians are not allowed to fully ordain in the Taego Order, and women must remain celibate to be fully ordained. Schwocho hopes to change that.
A veterinarian for 43 years, Schwocho is as committed to relieving the dukkha of animals as he is to helping people. In some ways he has never totally bucked the Christian values he grew up with. Now a minister, albeit in a faith he never expected to follow, he isn’t hard to imagine as the ultimate good Christian neighbor.
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