Revealing secrets to an unsuitable person. We incur this downfall by knowingly teaching Secret Mantra to those who have not received a Tantric empowerment. Without the empowerment, it is impossible to attain results. If someone practices without an empowerment, and they achieve no results, they might conclude that Tantra does not work. To understand the wisdom of this vow, we need to be clear on why Tantra does not work without an empowerment. The reason is simple: without a seed, no matter how much water, sunlight and fertilizer you add, a plant will never grow. Receiving the empowerment is like the planting of the seed. We all possess the seed of enlightenment within our mind, it is our Buddha nature. But the seed of the tantric path of a given deity is the special blessing we receive during the empowerment. The karma for being able to encounter the path of Tantra is so rare and precious that we must be very careful. It is entirely possible that others may have only one karmic seed on their mind to meet such teachings, and if we are unskillful we can wind up causing others to burn up such karmic seeds, reach wrong conclusions, and then not encounter the Tantric path again for aeons.
By the same token, we shouldn’t go to the other extreme of depriving people of access to the Tantric path out of our own fear of making a mistake. The story is told in the Lamrim of the man who saw a live fish fall from a fishing cart, and instead of letting it die, he compassionately put it in the pond close by. Unfortunately, though, this fish then proceeded to eat all of the other fish in the pond. When the local fishermen discovered what happened they proceeded to kill the fish the man tried to save. So while his intention was good, the end result of his action was in fact not beneficial. Some people hear this story and mistakenly conclude that until they “know for sure,” it is better to not try help. This is the wrong conclusion from this story. Given the information that the man had at the time, he made the right decision to try save the fish. He cannot be faulted for having tried. However, the story shows why we need to gain the omniscient wisdom of a Buddha, because only then will we not make such mistakes. In the meantime, we continue to try our best to help people in whatever ways we can.
When we make mistakes, we should humbly acknowledge them, learn from them, and try do better next time. I don’t always succeed at following my own principles, but what I try do is the following: I try to only give Dharma when people ask for it and I think their minds are sufficiently open to receive it in a positive way. When talking about Tantra, I explain “about” Tantra, but not “how to do it.” So it is OK to discuss the benefits of Tantra and the general theory of how it works, but not good to discuss how people actually do it unless they have received the empowerment. When we give “Introduction to Tantra” classes at Dharma centers, this is usually the fine line we try to walk.
Some people will misinterpret our “holding back” on explaining to them how to do it, thinking we are withholding explanation of some secret Dharma that is only available to those elite and privileged few who pay extra money and show extra commitment. I can understand why people might misinterpret things in that way, but it is not the case. Our motivation for practicing this vow, like all the others, is love and compassion for the welfare of others.