The Practice of Tsok

Tsok offerings and practice

Today, I would like to teach about the practices of ganachakra and ganapuja, and the differences between these two.  We find ganapuja throughout all of the tantric traditions, both lower and higher tantras.  Ganachakra is distinct to the higher yoga tantras, especially the old tradition.  Historically in Tibet, we did not distinguish between ganachakra and ganapuja, we considered them to be the same practice.  However, there are differences between these two practices that we should understand as tantric practitioners.  

Ganachakra, or in Tibetan tshogs-kyi-‘khor lo, is a high level tantric practice performed by individuals with very pure samaya with their Root Teacher and Sangha.  This samaya must be profound, very pure, and perfect.  Only such practitioners truly practice ganachakra, with or without the presence of the Guru.  Ganapuja, or tshogs-kyi-mchod-pa, is shorter than ganachakra.  Ganapuja simply involves a text, visualization, prostrations, and offerings.  We could say that ganapuja is concise and ganachakra is extensive.    

External Ganacakra

I will explain the meaning of ganachakra in the context of external, internal, and secret practice.  In the external tantric context, gana or tsok means offering, blessings, or accumulation of merit.  Chakra or khorlo means vehicle, but has the connotation of being continuous.  We continue our spiritual practice and have an inseparable connection to the Guru, Yidam, and Sangha.  Continuous means throughout this lifetime and beyond, during all future lifetimes.  Vehicle means that these blessings and karmic connections are continuous.

Some traditions understand chakra in the context of lineage.  The teacher gives the external, internal, and secret oral instructions to his disciples in an unbroken lineage.  In this sense, chakra means continuous lineage from teacher to student.  We shouldn’t think of chakra here as being the energy centers within the body, it has a different meaning here.  Chakra means vehicle or continuous, like a wheel that keeps on turning. We can also understand gana as meaning the great accumulation of blessings that are the result of enlightenment.  This is the meaning of ganachakra in the external context.  

Externally, gana or tsok refers to the samaya substances.  In the Higher Yoga Tantras we offer three important substances- nectar, blood, and torma.  In the lower tantras, these substances do not matter and they use various other substances, like vegetables, fruits, and so on.  In the Higher Yoga Tantras we offer the five meats and the five nectars.   

In the Tibetan tradition these offerings have been symbolic.  We did not use real nectar or blood.  However, in the ancient Indian traditions they performed real ganachakra with the master and consort in union, the nectar from this union was put into the kapala.  During such practices, the yogis and yoginis never entertained doubt about the purity of the substances.  This example of Highest Yoga Tantra used to exist in India.  I have heard that during Guru Padmasambhava’s time the same level of practice existed in Tibet, but it has disappeared by now.  

In Tibet, the monks would perform these tantric practices externally, but internally they were still monks so they could not touch a woman or eat meat.  They would worry about breaking their monk vows if they fully participated in all aspects of the ganachakra practice.  There is nothing wrong with this attitude, but it does convey a little disrespect towards the tantric tradition.  We follow the tantric path, along with its rules and discipline.  As a tantric practitioner, if we have aversion towards blood or meat, this attitude harms the practitioner, not the tantric practice.  As tantric practitioners we should follow the system of tantra, including its traditions.  

These tsok substances are part of the object.  They include the five meats and five nectars, and shouldn’t be conceived as normal or ordinary offerings.  We also shouldn’t fall under the concept of possessing these offerings.  Of course, we need to go out and purchase them, but after that we should not think that they belong to us.  Before we offer them, we should bless them by transforming ourselves into our yidam deity, inseparable from the Guru, then recite OM AH HUNG RAM YAM KHAM to bless and purify them.  There are many other methods to bless the offering, but it is important to transform the offerings into nectar and then offer them to the four guests- the Guru, yidam, dakas, and dakinis.  This is all connected to the external substances of the tsok.   

It is also important to understand the tantric practitioners’ view and conduct when they engage in the external ganachakra.  In Tibetan we say naljorpa and naljorma, or yogis and yoginis.  We can also say ngakpa or ngakma, for male and female ngakpas.  Ngakpa or ngakma doesn’t only mean a practitioner who has received empowerment and heard the tantric teachings, or that they have some experience in the generation and completion yogas of the tantric practice.  Ngakpa or ngakma clearly understand the tantric vows and take them very seriously.  They know all of the external, internal, and secret teachings and techniques and perform them correctly.  

There are two different types of ngakpas and ngakmas.  The first kind is someone who possesses the union of knowledge and accomplishment.  This type of practitioner is extremely hard to find.  The second kind is someone with knowledge, everyone likes knowledge so it is easy to find this type of practitioner.  It is very difficult to find a true practitioner, one who has both knowledge and has accomplished the practice.  

It is important to understand that these practitioners truly understand the tantric view.  The view is very important.  This is different from the view of the Mahayana sutras.  You might see some teachers of the Sarma tradition saying that the sutric and tantric views are the same because they are both based on emptiness.  Of course they are based on emptiness, because emptiness is the foundation of the Buddha’s teachings.  This is not the key point.  The point is that if we want to practice real tantra and follow the tantric path, first we need to understand the tantric view, how to meditate, and how to apply the correct techniques.  We need to understand the view and practice in general, especially when it comes to the Higher Yoga Tantras and the teachings of the ancient Nyingma tradition.  

The tantric view is based on kadag, or original purity.  Everything is part of enlightenment.  This is very difficult for people to accept.  We see in the ancient tantras that all appearances manifest as Vajrasattva or Samantabhadra and are manifestations of the five Buddha families or five dakinis.  The ancient tantras say this very clearly.  

We tend to have a misconception about enlightenment, thinking that achieving enlightenment is very difficult.  We think that first we need to meditate, then something changes or transforms and then we have no emotions or thoughts, and finally we experience enlightenment right there.  If we carry these expectations into our tantric practice, it is very difficult to accept the tantric view that everything is already a part of the primordially awakened state.  

The tantric tradition used to be very popular in India around the sixth century.  However, this trend did not last very long and it soon disappeared altogether.  Why did this happen?  Because it is extremely rare to find a real tantric practitioner.  They practice secretly, sometimes in charnel grounds.  They act strangely.  Most people, like laymen and practitioners of the common vehicles, tend to think that these tantric practices are not part of the Buddha’s teachings.  They give rise to doubt and fail to understand these practices.   

There is the story of Saraha who was a monk and then when he met his tantric teacher he began practicing tantric activities.  Many people doubted and criticized Saraha.  This is not only the case for Saraha, but also many other tantric practitioners.  It is important that we know these stories because the tantric path is not easy.  First off, the tantric view is difficult to accept- that everything is part of one’s yidam deity and that we are primordially the Guru, yidam, and dakini.  We don’t think of ourselves as primordially enlightened Buddhas, that we can manifest dakas and dakinis, and that everything is enlightened right from the beginning.  We say all the three kayas are spontaneously present in any given moment.  This is a difficult point to accept.  We should not think that this is too difficult, but we should recognize how fortunate we are to know the view and path of tantra.  This view and conduct are very important for tantra and especially Dzogchen, and it is very difficult to maintain the view and conduct.  Therefore we need to rely on merit to help us maintain the correct view and practice.  The practice of ganachakra allows us to accumulate merit and restore our samaya.  It is an essential part of the tantric and Dzogchen practitioner’s path.  

Today, when we talk about ganachakra we should understand that everything exists as part of the deity’s mandala.  This is because our own mind is the basis, path, and result of tantra.  The basis of tantra is our own buddhanature, our own Buddha mind.  The basis of tantra or ground continuum does not need any accumulations.  However, we have not realized the primordial essence of the mandala of buddhanature, and we have not connected with our own buddhanature at that stage.  Therefore, we need to make effort.  We may have a little taste of that stage of realization, we may get a little closer, but then obstacles arise.  We need to rely on various methods, both external, internal, and secret, in order to purify our broken samaya or impure vision.   


The external methods involve visualizing one’s own yidam deity and the entire mandala, everything one sees, as a pure vision.  From this pure vision we offer pure motivation and engage in activities.  Then we offer our own body, speech, and mind, all that appears and exists, to the Root Guru, yidam and dakinis.  Each of these substances, millions of different kinds, we offer to the Three Roots and the Three Jewels.  The Guru is the root of blessings, the yidam the root of siddhis, and the dakinis the root of activities.  We are offering these substances to the Three Roots with pure motivation, profound and vast bodhicitta, without any hope or doubt.  These are the powerful offerings that result in accumulation during the ganachakra.  

We discussed how chakra means continuous.  We should understand that the merit from our practice will never stop.  When you dedicate your tantric view and meditation with pure vision, as being inseparable from the yidam deity and Sangha, that merit will never disappear.  It is like a vast treasure, no matter how much we use it, it becomes more and more powerful.

This is the external mandala of the yidam deity.  It is our responsibility to have pure vision, pure samaya, and pure bodhicitta.  In American we usually just visualize that everything transforms into the yidam’s mandala.  There are different types of mandalas- sand, painted, visualized.  We don’t have any real mandalas here, so we visualize the mandala.  This can be difficult for some people, especially if they do not have any experience of the completion stage yogas.  

Internal and Secret Ganacakra

The internal mandala is connected with the channels, winds, and drops.  With pure vision towards the Guru, yidam, dakas, and dakinis we present the inner offering, transforming our ordinary contaminated body into the pure vajra body of the channels and winds.  First, we transform the impure channels into the pure channels.  All substances are a part of the form, which is offered to the Three Jewels and Five Buddha Families.  We offer all that we have to our karmic yidam deity.  Our ordinary speech or wind transforms into indestructible vajra sound, which is offered to the yidam deity.  Then the impure bindus are transformed into the pure bindus, or wisdom drop, which we offer to the mandala of the yidam deity.  This is the internal offering of one’s own vajra body, with its three channels and five chakras.  It is important to offer this to one’s own yidam deity.  

For the inner offering, the first offering means to visualize.  The second offering means that everything is inseparable, everything is primordially pure, just as it is.

In the secret ganachakra, there is the realization that one’s own external, internal, and secret body are in union with or inseparable from the yidam’s body.  You are completely inseparable from the outer, inner, and secret mandala of the yidam.  Not only in this lifetime, but in all future lives.  This is what secret ganachakra means.  

Tsok offerings
Practice Advice

The tradition of practicing ganachakra has changed slightly with time.  In the ancient times, the Sangha would gather when there was a special omen or auspicious time.  The Vajra master would be present, and the Sangha would gather in equal numbers of men and women.  Everyone would begin by offering three prostrations and then they would offer very pure vajra sound.  That was the old tradition.  Nowadays, in monasteries no one has the time for that.  They just do the sadhana, read texts, and offer substances.  

Some of the older traditions still remain until today.  Usually in those times the Vajra master would wear a hat, and the ngakpas and ngakmas would wear white cloths and use a bell, dorje, and damaru.  This was the case in the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions and is still a general rule today.  

The result of practicing ganachakra is that we generate merit and purify broken samaya.  It is very easy to break samaya, even if we do not say anything negative, a single negative thought or failure to generate pure vision can result in broken samaya and create negative karma.  This negative karma can create obstacles on our path, therefore we need to purify negative karma and restore pure samaya.  For that purpose, practitioners gather twice a month on the 10th and 25th lunar days for Guru and Dakini tsok to restore samaya.  

My advice to you as members of my Sangha is to gather once or twice a month for tsok, as these are the main practices of my lineage.  As Dzogchen and tantric practitioners we need to focus on these practices.  Our view is Dzogchen and we use tantric methods.  This lineage is more than a thousand years old, coming from Guru Padmasambhava who brought it from Oddiyana.  This lineage has been maintained since then and is respected by both Nyingma and Kagyu traditions.  

Now in the West, it is our responsibility to keep that lineage.  We do not have any high aspirations to build a big Sangha with a big center.  I am not focused on that.  We are a small group of practitioners and I like that.  I encourage everyone to keep pure samaya, without criticizing or gossiping about each other.  Also try to avoid chop suey, mixing different traditions like Sakya, Nyingma, and Gelug, or Hinduism and Christianity.  We should be respectful of other traditions, not dividing them or taking only the parts we like.  From our standpoint, we maintain the Nyingma tradition.  It is okay to study Sakya, Gelug, or Kagyu, but we cannot practice all the traditions at the same time.  There are a hundred yidams, if we cannot practice a single yidam in one lifetime, how can we practice a hundred?  This is my advice.  

It is important to remember why we practice ganachakra.  Our lifetime is very short.  We want to follow the tantric path, but the view is subtle and the practice is not easy.  Obstacles are constantly arising on the path, therefore we need to remove these obstacles.   

Our inner obstacles arise from having difficulty controlling our own emotions, which distorts our vision and result in broken samaya.  Therefore, in order to purify and repair our samaya we perform ganachakra. 

We may let some cultural differences get in the way of our tsok practice.  I have been teaching this topic in multiple countries and in different cultures.  I think it is important that we know how to address this practice when it comes to our own cultural views.  Within the practice of tsok, some people may not want to eat meat.  However, in ganachakra practice, one has to consume meat because it is not actually meat.  It is the samaya substance of blessings.  Just taste a little bit, this will suffice.  It is the same with alcohol, some people may avoid alcohol for various reasons, but alcohol serves in the same capacity.  Just taste a little bit, place it on the tip of your tongue.  This is part of the samaya.  Once you have had a taste, you don’t have to finish it or even consume a lot.  We are not pushing you to eat a large amount of meat or drink a lot of alcohol, instead we are following the tradition and not rejecting the samaya substances.   

Some people may not want to eat meat or drink alcohol because they think they are breaking previous commitments.  This is not the true commitment of a tantric practitioner.  The true commitment is to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime for the benefit of all beings.  This is the commitment that we must follow.  All other types of commitments are just worldly, arising from our own attachments to various concepts or names.  These concepts simply feed our ego.  Clinging to these types of  concepts make it difficult for us to maintain the pure view required in the tantric path.    

Therefore, it is important for us to understand the real samaya commitments and what the vows mean.  Our vows and samaya have to support realization.  We need to maintain an open heart and open mind so that we can achieve realization.  This is why we take tantric vows and uphold our samaya. 

I have witnessed people in the United States and in Hong Kong who do not want to touch any meat or alcohol.  I think this is a good intention and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is a healthy practice to avoid meat, alcohol, and smoking.  However, when we are practicing ganachakra in the context of the tantric path, you need to at least touch the samaya substances with the tip of your finger and place a small amount onto your tongue.  These substances are not going to harm you, they are pure substances which symbolize the Five Buddha families and five wisdoms.  We need to respect the tantric tradition. 

The practice of tantra does not focus on meat and wine, they are merely part of the tradition.  However, if we generate aversion towards these substances we are deviating from the practice.  If we start deviating from certain parts of the practice, soon the rest will quickly unravel and disintegrate.  If the meat and wine are not important, what happens when we apply that label to everything else?  Soon the bell, dorje, and damaru are not important, then everything becomes unimportant.  What do we have left?  What is important?  We can use that same logic to say that visualization is unimportant?  At least we might have mantras left!  It is very easy to fall into nihilism like this. 

It is important that we don’t make mistakes in our practice.  It is okay to not eat meat or drink alcohol, but at the time of ganachakra we should taste a little bit while maintaining pure view of the environment and beings.  If people do not want to touch any meat or alcohol, then I suggest that they do not come to ganachakra.  They can still listen to the teachings and participate in the generation and completion stage yogas, but during ganachakra if they entertain doubt or fear it would be better for them to skip the practice.  It is not good if someone generates negative views about the practice. 

I am emphasizing these points so that you know what my advice is.  My advice comes from my own teacher, who had an ancient tradition tantric practice.  Therefore, I want to share what my teacher shared with me.  This is my simple advice. 

To summarize, the difference between a ganachakra and ganapuja is that ganachakra is much more elaborate than ganapuja.  You can practice ganapuja by yourself, using your sadhana and a simple offering.  For example, if you are practicing tsok on your own, this is ganapuja.  Ganachakra is always performed in a group, especially amongst your vajra brothers and sisters with extensive offerings, the mandala, song, and dance.  This is a very special occasion to be happy and joyous.  We should enjoy each other’s company and practice.  We should be free from jealousy and negative attitudes towards others.  This is very important to keep in mind.   

When accomplished yogis are practicing, their practice tends to be ganachakra because their practice never stops.  They visualize everything as the mandala of the deity, directly connect with their yidam deity and offer everything to the deity.  Today, we are not talking about such high level practice, but practicing within our Sangha.  The practice of yogis is different from group practice, that is the nature of their path.  The yogic path is the path of ganachakra.  We need to make an effort and try to follow that path, to try to build a solid foundation.  

It is also important for tantric practitioners to take tantric vows.  After you take tantric vows, you should wear the tantric shawl and follow the tantric tradition by having a mala, bell, dorje, damaru, and kapala.  This is very important for tantric practitioners.  

In the Nyingma school, we have many other implements- the big damaru for chod, and a kangling.  Nyingma yogis need to bring a bunch of stuff.  This is the Tibetan tradition, it was different in the ancient Indian tradition.  In India, yogis would only have a stick and kapala for food, no bell, dorje, or other things.  They would practice their yoga, meditate, visualize, and beg for food.  They never stayed in one place.  This was the tradition in South India before it traveled to Nepal, Tibet, and onto China.  

This is a general commentary on the practice of ganachakra according to tradition.  While we may not be able to fully follow this path in this lifetime, we should make the aspiration to follow it in future lifetimes.  We should make an effort to connect with the practices of the yogis and yoginis path.  This lifetime is very important.  This is my advice. 

Seattle 2008.