Engaging in mandala actions without completing a close retreat.
If we perform a self-initiation, grant initiation to others, or perform a fire puja, and so forth, without having completed the appropriate retreats, we incur a gross downfall.
My understanding is the rationale for this is the same as why we don’t teach Tantra to those who have not received an empowerment and to those who have no faith. If we have not completed the appropriate retreats or preliminaries, it simply won’t work, and then we can lose faith. Likewise, when we think we don’t need to complete the necessary retreats to do self-initiation, for example, then we might think we don’t need to go receive highest yoga tantra empowerments from a qualified spiritual guide. We can just do self-initiation at home. But then it won’t work and we will gradually lose our faith and interest in Tantric practice.
We can also say to do self-initiation, grant empowerments and so forth without having done the necessary retreats is a form of misuse of the practice. These precious jewels have been created for the beings of this world, and the only thing that is asked of us is before we do them we become sufficiently qualified to do so. To do so without having completed the requested preparations is to use something we were not intended to use. We can even argue it is a form of spiritual theft. This is especially true when it comes to granting empowerments because here it is not just our own karma at stake, but that of all those we are pretending to grant the empowerment to. It is pretty safe bet that if you don’t have permission to grant an empowerment to others from a qualified spiritual guide and you do so anyways that it will not only not work, but all involved – especially the teacher – will create all sorts of negative karma for themselves.
To do self-initiation we need to do the close retreat of our Yidam. If we are a Heruka practitioner, this means we need to do the Heruka close retreat to do the Heruka self-initiation; and if we are a Vajrayogini practitioner, this means we need to do the Vajrayogini close retreat to do the Vajrayogini self-initiation. So the question arises, “if I have done a Heruka close retreat, can I do the Vajrayogini self-initiation?” Since Heruka and Vajrayogini are both the same being, just two different aspects, I think we could say “it is not a gross downfall to do the self-initiation of the other deity, but it is not the full empowerment either.” Doing self-initiation when we have done the close retreat is the same as receiving the empowerment at a festival in terms of our receiving the empowerment and restoring our vows. It is not the same, however, in terms of the karmic bonds we create with the others who are receiving the empowerment with us. Venerable Tharchin says everytime we do a puja with others we create the karmic causes to do the same thing with the same people in the future (usually future lives). So receiving the empowerment with the group gives you the empowerment, restores your vows, and creates the karmic causes to reunite with your Vajra Brothers and Sisters again in the future doing the same thing. Doing self-initiation alone simply gives you the empowerment and restores your vows. It is good, but not as good.
However, doing the self-initiation of a deity you have not done the close retreat for (but you have done for that same beings other aspect, namely Heruka or Vajrayogini), I think you can fully restore your vows (because that is the same in both practices), but you can’t receive the full empowerment. But you can receive very powerful and beneficial blessings. So it is still a good thing. I am not 100% if this is correct, but when I was in Paris, I had done my Heruka close retreat but not the Vajrayogini close retreat, and I was nonetheless able to do Vajrayogini self-initiation with others in the center, and I was told I would just receive powerful blessings. So I don’t think this would be considered a downfall, but it is not the full empowerment either.