The Four Gatherings
The teachings explain that 'tsok' refers to four different types of
gathering, those of:
2. offering substances,
3. deities, and
4. merit and wisdom.
1. The Gathering of Practitioners
In the teachings this is known as the 'gathering of fortunate
individuals' because only beings with the greatest good fortune can
meet and practise the Vajrayana path. The male and female tantric
practitioners gather together to celebrate the tsok feast on the tenth
day of the waxing moon and the tenth day of the waning moon, as well
as on special anniversaries in the Buddhist calendar.
Tsok can also be offered in gratitude whenever we gain signs of
accomplishment in our practice, or for purification whenever signs of
an impairment or breakage of samaya occur.
An important part of the practice is pure perception, so everyone is
viewed according to his or her enlightened nature—all the male
practitioners as dakas who embody skilful means, and all the female
practitioners as dakinis, who are the embodiments of wisdom.
It is said in the tantras that the male practitioners should sit on
the right and the females on the left, facing each other, with the
Vajra Master in the centre and facing the assembly. Practitioners
should wear their best clothes to provide an auspicious connection for
the accumulation of merit.
Some masters say the practitioners should sit in order of seniority,
according to when they first received empowerment into the Vajrayana,
or according to their levels of experience and realization and their
qualities as a practitioner.
It is best to have an equal number of male and female practitioners,
as this symbolizes the balancing of skilful means and wisdom.
We should consider the place where we gather not as an ordinary room
or building, but as the sacred place where Guru Rinpoche himself
practises the tsok feast, in the company of infinite dakas and
2. The Gathering of Offering Substances
This is traditionally referred to as the gathering of 'delightful substances.'
It refers to the food and drink that will be offered by the
practitioners during the practice. It is said that the edible
substances represent skilful means and the liquids represent wisdom.
It is important that the offering includes many different substances,
especially, it says in the tantras, meat and alcohol.
The teachings also stress that we should be generous in our offerings,
and not offer just a little amount with a miserly attitude. We should
try to avoid polluting the offerings with limited dualistic concepts,
by thinking something is too good or too expensive to offer, or even
that something is too dirty or impure, or only offering things we like
ourselves and leaving out all the things we don't like.
It is important that we consider the substances as offerings, and not
as ordinary food and drink. To anticipate eating or drinking the tsok
is what it says in the practice of Narak Kong Shak is 'tsok wolf'
behaviour. Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche would say that this also
includes bringing cups and plates together with the offerings, which
shows one is already thinking about consuming them.
3. The Gathering of Deities
This is traditionally called 'the gathering of deities who are the
source of accomplishments.' The word 'gathering' signifies that we are
not just offering to a single deity, but to an entire mandala, or even
several mandalas of deities, each consisting of the principal deity
together with the retinue. It is important that we have some image—a
statue, a thangka painting or a photograph of the mandala or of our
own root master—whenever we offer tsok, as a support for the practice.
4. The Gathering of Merit and Wisdom
The final gathering is the result of the first three. The practice of
tsok is a very powerful method for accumulating merit and wisdom.
The definitions of merit vary, but in simple terms we can think of the
practices for accumulating merit as being the more conceptual aspects
of the practice—visualization, generating devotion and compassion,
offering, confessing and so on—and the practices for accumulating
wisdom are the more non-conceptual aspects, such as the dissolution of
On a deeper level, we accumulate merit by not grasping at anything
during the practice, and we accumulate wisdom by remaining with
The Benefits of Tsok Practice
The main benefit of tsok practice mentioned in the tantras is the
accumulation of merit with conceptual focus as well as the
accumulation of wisdom beyond focus. There could be no greater benefit
In the termas, we also find mention of unimaginable benefits. For
example, it is said that Guru Rinpoche himself will come and bless the
tsok practitioners, or that the place where tsok is performed will
become exactly the same as the Zangdokpalri heaven of Guru Rinpoche.
And Yeshé Tsogyal said that to practice tsok just once closes the door
to lower rebirths. It is also said that disease, famine and warfare
will be pacified, and all the practitioners' wishes will be fulfilled
without the slightest obstacle.
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