Tassajara Work Practice FAQs

Q: What is the difference between guests, guest-practice students, students, residents, work-practice apprentices, and kitchen apprentices?

A: Guests are paying patrons who come to Tassajara during the Summer Guest Season to relax and enjoy the natural environment, the baths, and the dining room and bag-lunch meals. Guest-practice students are guests who work half-time with Zen students in the mornings and are off in the afternoons/evenings as guests and pay reduced rates for their stay. Students include anyone who lives, practices, and works full-time in the community. All apprentices and long-term resident staff members, in addition to short-term work-exchange participants, are considered students. Kitchen apprentices are five-month work-practice apprentices who have a role in the Tassajara kitchen.

Q: What is the actual cost to come to Tassajara as a student?

A: There is a one-time Summer Work Practice Program application fee of $75 for all work-exchange students and Work Practice Apprentices. Once you have been accepted there is no other fee for being a student at Tassajara. Returning students pay a $25 fee, refundable as long as no changes are made.

Q: Is there any payment given to Work Practice Apprentices?

A: Any Work Practice Apprentice who has limited financial means may request to receive a monthly $25 necessities allowance. In addition to that, all WPAs who fully complete their term receive either one or two practice period credits (depending on whether they are three- or five-month apprentices), to be used pending acceptance at any of the three centers of the San Francisco Zen Center: Green Gulch Farm, City Center, or Tassajara.

Q: Do I need to follow the temple schedule?

A: Yes! Following the temple schedule of zazen (seated meditation) and service (chanting and bowing) is considered the foundational practice of all students at Tassajara. If a student has difficulty and/or resistance to these temple practices they will be encouraged to speak to practice leaders about whether it is an appropriate time to be at Tassajara.

Q: Would it be possible for me to invite my partner, friend or family to visit me during the summer? Where would they stay?

A: All students who are at Tassajara may invite friends or relatives to come visit them at Tassajara as regular paying overnight or day guests. Students who are at Tassajara for three or more months may also invite close friends or relatives who pay $25 a night and sleep in student quarters. This option may be used up to once per month, depending upon housing availability. In addition, there is a discount on guest housing for the immediate family of students here for three or more months.

Q: Do WPAs get a vacation?

A: Three-month WPAs do not receive any vacation time. Five-month WPAs receive four vacation days which may be added on to two regular days off for a total of six days of vacation time. This vacation may be taken between June 15 and August 15, and needs to be approved by the crew head and the Director.

Q: Is it possible to participate in the program on a partial basis, that is, for the early or late portion of the summer?

A: Although Tassajara accepts shorter-term students for work-exchange throughout the entire summer season, in order to be a Work Practice Apprentice one needs to make a commitment for at least three months of the Summer Guest Season. In order to be accepted into the Zen Kitchen Apprenticeship, one needs to commit to being a five-month Work Practice Apprentice. Three-month apprentices are eligible to earn one practice period credit. Five-month apprentices are eligible to earn two practice period credits.

Q: How remote and rustic is Tassajara? What is the closest shopping center? How easy is it to get to town?

A: Tassajara is in the Ventana Wilderness and is approximately two hours away from any stores or other amenities (such as cell-phone access). There is only one phone at Tassajara shared by all residents and guests and there is NO EMAIL or INTERNET availability, although mail comes in and goes out daily. Further, one of the guidelines for first-time students is not to leave the valley except for hikes or for vacations. We ask all prospective students to carefully consider whether Tassajara is appropriate for them as it might be challenging for those who are not used to living in wilderness conditions that may include temperature extremes, assorted animal and insect wildlife, and the absence of many modern amenities.

Q: My car is five-speed manual, without four-wheel drive. Should I drive it into Tassajara?

A: We recommend high-clearance, four-wheel-drive manual vehicles for the Tassajara road even though many guests and students prefer to bring in their own cars. The main issues are the steep grade (manual transmission is recommended as you must be able to shift into low gear), and the rock, mud, or snow that might be on the road in early April through May.

Q: I’ve meditated before, but not on a daily basis. Do you think I will be able to manage the twice-daily zazen schedule?

A: If there is any concern about being able to fulfill the daily sitting practice we recommend spending some time at one of our other centers as a short-term guest student. Our other two centers are Beginner’s Mind Temple (City Center) in San Francisco, and Green Dragon Temple (Green Gulch Farm) in Marin County.

Q: Do I need to apply to the Work Practice Apprentice Program to apply to the Kitchen Apprenticeship?

A: Yes. All prospective apprentices need to fill out both applications. This is true even for returning students, although returning students may waive the $75 WPA application fee.

Q: If I am accepted as a Kitchen Apprentice, will I be guaranteed the work of cooking the guest meals?

A: No. You may be assigned to assist in cooking guest meals; you may also be assigned to work in any of the general areas of the kitchen: prep, baking, student meals, bag lunch, etc. The particular work you are assigned to do will be decided after you have settled into the valley and have received a thorough orientation to the Tassajara kitchen, its crew, and its practices.

Q: Are all kitchen workers in the Kitchen Apprenticeship Program?

A: No. Only a few of the kitchen workers are in the Zen Kitchen Apprenticeship Program. You have to be accepted into that particular program. The kitchen work crew is comprised of resident staff members, other work-practice apprentices, short-term students, and guest-practice students.

Q: If I am accepted as a Kitchen Apprentice, what would my actual kitchen schedule be?

A: Your schedule will depend on the particular task you are assigned for the duration of your stay. The typical kitchen schedule is to work three days, followed by a day off. The daily schedule involves approximately seven hours of kitchen work, which could occur during various shifts of the day. Most students work a split shift of 3½ hrs in the morning, followed by an afternoon break, and returning for a dinner shift of 3½ hrs.