From the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment (A. Charles Muller’s translation), among other things, we learn there are four maladies people suffer from who want to engage with Buddhism. They are as follows:
1) Contrivance: The belief that perfect enlightenment can be attained by contrivance, for example, through study, meditation, ritual, chanting, doing good deeds, etc. Contrivance, in other words, is linked with the idea of “practice” such as doing zazen or chanting. The adept believes that a particular practices will lead to perfect enlightenment.
2) Naturalism: The belief that perfect enlightenment can be attained by not cutting off samsara and not seeking nirvana, that is, letting things follow their natural course. One generally comes across this malady when some teacher talks about letting thoughts naturally arise and fall as if this is perfect enlightenment, which it is not.
3) Stopping: The belief that perfect enlightenment is attained by stopping thoughts. This should be self-evident. The suppression of thoughts does not work.
4) Annihilation: The belief that perfect enlightenment is attained by the annihilation of defilements in both body and mind. This sounds like the practice Siddhartha did when he practiced asceticism.
Of the four maladies I think the first malady is the one modern practitioners suffer from the most. In Muller’s translation of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, Kihwa is the Korean commentator who provides the exegesis which Muller has added to the Sutra. According to Kihwa, the chapter, Universal Enlightenment Bodhisattva, in which the subject of the four maladies appears is for those of an inferior capacity. It should also be fairly obvious, from this, that these same people have not attained gnosis of pure Mind. If they had done so, why pursue worthless practices?
I think it is important for newbies who are serious about Zen to review these maladies and get Muller’s translation of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment (there is a used copy for $0.01 on Amazon—hurry!).