Last Sunday during the opening motivation, Geshe-la gave a slam'n explanation to the three gates to refuge. As I have come to expect from Geshe-la's talks, the clarification was brief yet deep, characteristic of a one who has been studying and practicing for 40 years. Here are my notes….
There are three gates to Buddha dharma: refuge, bodhicitta and empowerment
The gate of refuge: When going for refuge, it only becomes a buddhist practice if the two causes of refuge are present: fear of samsara and conviction that the three jewels can liberate from these fears.
With these factors in mind, there are two different methods for taking refuge, the supreme method associated with the sanskrit tradition, and the foundational method associated with the pali tradition.
We can only call it a supreme method of refuge because it is an expansion from the foundational level of refuge, hence the name maha (great) yana (vehicle). It is also known as the mayayana by comparing the methods and paths: for a foundational vehicle practioner these are oriented towards the self (self liberation), for a mahayana practioner these are oriented towards full enlightenment for all sentient beings.
In summary, there are four ways the mahayana is an extension of the foundational vehicle: the focus, the intention, the method and the fruit. The focus is all sentient beings, the intention is to place all sentient beings in a state of full enlightenment, the method is the six perfections and the four means of subduing disciples and the fruit is full complete awakening, with nothing left out for self or others. As Lama Tsongkahap says “By thinking of others, one’s own needs are fulfilled.”
So it is important to know how to differentiate between the hiniyana and mahayana methods of refuge.