Practice at the Chicago Zen Center has from the very beginning been built upon a strong teaching tradition. Philip Kapleau, the Center's founding teacher, is widely recognized as one of the major contributors to the establishment of an American Zen in the Harada-Yasutani tradition. His Three Pillars of Zen continues to serve as a sure guide for anyone interested in getting to know something of Zen from the inside out.
At its founding in 1974, the Chicago Zen Center was an affiliate of the Rochester Zen Center, where Kapleau was abbot. When Kapleau passed on the abbotship of the RZC to his Dharma heir, Bodhin Kjolhede, responsibility for the CZC was passed on as well. Both Kapleau and Kjolhede would travel to the Midwest (Chicago or Madison, WI) at least twice a year for sesshins, and CZC members often made the trip to Rochester to attend longer sesshins there.
Their dedication to the Chicago sangha helped the Center to grow, and by 1996 the CZC was large and established enough to warrant its own resident teacher. Sevan Ross, who had trained extensively in Rochester, moved to Chicago that year and was made its first autonomous teacher in 1997. At the same time, the CZC became financially and administratively independent of Rochester, but the CZC continues to maintain strong Dharma ties with RZC and the other sanghas throughout the world that have their roots in the Kapleau-Kjolhede teaching tradition, the Cloud-Water Sangha, and its ordained lineage, the Three Jewels Order.
After almost a decade and a half of tireless service, Ross decided the time was right for a new teaching generation to guide the Center. Yusan Graham was sanctioned as a teacher in 2009, ordained a priest in 2010, and installed as the new abbot that same year. Under his leadership the sangha stabilized and grew both in numbers and in the spirit of dedicated practice.
In 2021 Yusan sanctioned Shodhin Geiman, a priest of the Center since 2010, as a teacher in his own right. In 2023 Yusan retired as abbot and designated Shodhin as his successor.