Wikipedia says this about Vajrayana Buddhism:

"According to several Buddhist tantras as well as traditional Tibetan Buddhist sources, the tantras and the Vajrayana was taught by the Buddha Shakyamuni, but only to some individuals."

What precisely is the claim here?

What rationale is given for the Buddha reserving teachings for "only some individuals"?

3 Answers 3


Different people have different levels of being buried in their preconceptions and stereotypes. Preconceptions and stereotypes make people misinterpret the Teaching. The more someone is stuck in harmful stereotypes, the harder it is for them to understand the Teaching correctly. (It's not as much a problem of mental capacity, as it is a problem of overcoming our ego's neurotic defenses. The more someone is lost in Samsara, the more it would hurt one's ego to understand the Teaching, so misinterpretation becomes a mechanism of pathological self-defense.)

Misinterpreting the Teaching causes all kinds of trouble, from the student losing faith and falling away, all the way to literal psychosis and even violence, creating negative karma in this and future lives.

This is why the Buddha came up with a gradual teaching system, where the student is given the simplest and most fundamental principles first, gradually ascending to the more subtle and advanced. This ensures safety and stability on each level of training, as explained in the famous cow metaphor sutta.

The more advanced the teaching is, the harder it is to understand, the easier to misinterpret.

For example, as Max pointed out above, the advanced teachings on so-called Emptiness have a tendency to pull the ground from under one's feet, which both demotivates and confuses unprepared students, hence the restrictions.

That said, tantra is far from being all about Emptiness. There are tons of tantric tricks designed to overcome particular psychological problems and most of these tricks are - to put it mildly - not politically correct and therefore cannot be shared outside of a specific (and private!) teacher/student relationship.

This extreme sensitivity to context, and to the audience's level in general, along with the very real harm that comes from misinterpretation, are the main reasons for restricting the more advanced teachings "to only some individuals".

In addition to being genuinely advanced, Vajrayana plays on people's love for secret teachings and uses the mystery to captivate its students.

That's exactly what the dorje or vajra scepter is supposed to symbolize - the union of Emptiness and Compassion manifesting as the skilful means of liberation.

As for the Musk's vajra sitting on his bedside table next to the pistols, I think the symbolism there is simply that of peace. Apparently the original Indian vajra was an actual weapon with its prongs open and sharpened. Closed vajra then symbolizes non-violence, similarly to how the Christian cross was originally a pacifist play on the obelisk - an ancient symbol of manly power. So I see Musk's vajra as "the weapon of peace", which is a nice image.

  • 1
    Fantastic answer. This sounds entirely plausible to me. Thanks.
    – Alex Ryan
    Nov 29, 2022 at 21:12
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    I am curious to learn more about this topic. If you have any recommendations on resources, that would be much appreciated. I suspect many will want to learn the story behind Elon’s “weapon of peace.”
    – Alex Ryan
    Nov 30, 2022 at 1:23

I suspect because it is a teaching pointing directly to emptiness. In fact, the core principal notion in Vajrayana is an implement called the Vajra, which is actually a helpful conceptual idea. The Vajra is merely a symbol for the effortless scrutiny of emptiness. This kind of direct teaching would only be suitable for a select few people who are not anchored to form all that much. Using Theravada as a corollary and a convenient pivot towards an answer, alongside an excerpt from the Heart Sutra (Vajrayana were heavily influenced by Mahayana scriptures, although they typically lean into Tibetan symbolism and aesthetics - I guess image is everything!) let me try to explain...

So know that the Bodhisattva Holding to nothing whatever, But dwelling in Prajna wisdom, Is freed of delusive hindrance, Rid of the fear bred by it, And reaches clearest Nirvana.**

In the pali canon, the Buddha and his chief disciples would sometimes call out, ‘I see you, Mara!” The Mahayana reference above states that the mind has now become so clear, bright and empty that any disturbance whatsoever is instantly known and seen. Instantly knowing and seeing those disturbances causes them to shrivel away, like how a thief is caught in the act of trying to take what is not there's - inside, they shrivel. Similarly, delusions appear, looking to pilfer and rob the body and mind. Seeing those delusions in the clear, bright knowing (pranja) mind, they disappear under the effortless scrutiny of emptiness. In the Vajrayana tradition, they call this effortless scrutiny the vajra-like awareness - it slices through all bullshit!

In some Chinese traditions this cutting awareness has been personified as the immovable wisdom king. There is only a small reference to this type of awareness in the pali canon, which I think might be called acala. Also in the pali canon, this immovable essence is largely something that is implied rather than overtly spoken about, except in the case of some Therevada traditions who worship figures that represent the immovable nature, but elsewhere in Theravada, that implication is delivered in the phrase 'The job has been done! There is nothing more for this world!'. Therefore, very few people could understand such an advanced teaching; hence, most took upon a progressive approach.

Sorry to have to fuse together all these different traditions! This is based on my personal understanding and not from any other source, so take it with a pinch of salt!

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    Very interesting. Elon Musk made the varja famous yesterday on twitter. I had not heard of it before then. I am very curious about the teachings on how this symbol is used for "effortless scrutiny of emptiness."
    – Alex Ryan
    Nov 29, 2022 at 18:10
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    @AlexRyan - I'm not sure Elon Musk understands the significance of the vajra, but he has found himself drawn to it for whatever reason. Sometimes these Buddhist symbols appeal to us unconsciously and perhaps it is the beginning of slowly slicing through his own delusions. To have a person with such material power moved by this awareness would be an interesting and a very good thing! He might become the modern-day version of Anathapindika of Savatthi! Anything can happen.
    – user17652
    Nov 30, 2022 at 9:15
  • I suspect he might take up spirituality as a new channel for his megalomania… Dec 2, 2022 at 18:57

Vajrayana Buddhism: Teachings the Buddha reserved for "only some individuals"?

There's no mystery here. It's widely known that the Buddha taught by giving mostly individual teachings to people. Everyone didn't get everything but people got what they specifically needed in order to become free from suffering.

Only the Buddha had the ability to see peoples Kamma and past lives and know exactly what that being needed in order to become free from suffering. In that way the Buddha's teachings were perfectly tailored to the individual being.

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