Zen literature references not only death but the act of killing in describing the path to liberation. Koans from the Blue Cliff Record advise that a disciple must be ready to take life to grasp the dharma fully. Seeing life and death as no different is said to be the attitude of the ancient sages.

These statements reflect confrontational interpretations of Buddhist philosophy. All of them can be interpreted charitably and aligned with the framework set down in even the most ancient lineages of the tradition. Yet, the Zen tradition reaches for provocative inferences within that framework. The vivid images and incongruous claims require the student to address deeply held attachments such as identifying with the body or illusions of permanence. Violence is not given prominence, highlighting that we bring assumptions of violence into thinking about death. Zen practice directs students to examine, question, and abandon assumptions because they often obscure attachments that should be let go.