Sevan Ross is a member of the American Zen Teachers Association (AZTA) where he serves on the Membership Committee.
As Director of the Chicago Zen Center, he offers the classic Zen training forms, such as sesshin (meditation retreat), dokusan (private formal instruction), and teisho (formal Dharma talk). He is also involved with local colleges, yoga groups, and other organizations in offering Dharma teaching in venues outside the traditional temple settings.
Ross is an outspoken advocate of Vegetarianism, especially as seen in the context of Zen practice: “I was a member of the Rochester Zen Center from, I think, 1977. The Rochester Zen Center has always emphasized vegetarianism, and within a year I made the identification with animals where I recognized that by consuming them, at some point in the process, I was harming others. I wasn't harming the one that I was consuming, because I couldn't see it die, but I knew it would be replaced by others. And when that realization hit me, it hit like a ton of bricks and I was a vegetarian within a week. I just stopped. I opened the refrigerator one day, I looked at that tuna salad, and I said ‘that's enough of this. I don't need to eat this.’ It's not like I lived in a place where you couldn't get decent food, it's easy, so I quit and I never looked back. My transformation was linked to the identity that whatever flesh food I'm eating is being replaced by another animal that is tortured in some way before being murdered to become the next flesh food meal. So I wanted to stop being part of that chain.”
Sevan Ross’s view of the role of Zen Centers and Zen teaching in our society is one of what he calls “immediate practicality.” He speaks of the need of temples to be available to people, responsive to people’s schedules, and tuned in to the society we now live in. At the same time, Zen Centers should “challenge their members to develop spiritually, and they should not become centers of entertainment or simply social interaction. Sensei Ross asserts that The Chicago Zen Center must be committed to serving its members in the urban area where it is located, and to this end retreats are held right at the temple in Evanston, a location available to all public transportation. Retreats and daily sittings are timed to mesh with members’ work schedules. Ross has also appointed three instructors to share in the teaching responsibilities at the Chicago Zen Center, thus making instruction more available.
He sees Zen Centers as places of intense training, both for residents and for the community of practitioners, or sangha. The Chicago Zen Center concentrates on classic Zen training and sees itself as a community resource of deep, concentrated spiritual exploration. He comments: “While our forms are classic, we have a very open door to people of all stripes. About a third of our community speaks English as a second language. We welcome men, women, professionals, tradespeople, conservatives, liberals, gays, straights, young or old. But there is one common thread in what we do in this community – we don’t come here to simply get a pat on the back, no ‘now, now, there, there’ stuff here – we come together to go deep spiritually. Zen work is the most profound work we can do, and what we have in common in our community is the willingness to work deeply on ourselves.”