Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163) (Wade–Giles: Ta-hui Tsung-kao; Japanese: Daie Sōkō) was a 12th-century Chinese Chan (Zen) master. Dahui was a student of Yuanwu Keqin (Wade–Giles: Yuan-wu K'o-ch'in; Japanese: Engo Kokugon) (1063–1135) and was the 12th generation of the Linji line of Chan. He was the dominant figure of the Linji school during the Song.
Dahui introduced the practice of concentration on the Hua Tou ("word-head") of a kung-an (koan). This method was called the "Ch'an of kung-an (koan) introspection" (k'an-hua ch'an). Although he believed that koans were the best way to achieve enlightenment, he also recognized the teaching of Confucius and Lao-tzu as valuable. Dahui was a vigorous critic of what he called the "heretical Ch'an of silent illumination" (mo-chao hsieh-ch'an) of the Caodong (Wade–Giles: Ts'ao-tung; Japanese: Sōtō) school.
Dahui was born in Xuancheng, Anhui Province, to the Xi family. He left home at sixteen and became a Buddhist monk at seventeen. His initiatory name was Zong Gao. Following the tradition of the day, he wandered from Chan community to community, seeking instruction. He studied under a Caodong master and mastered the essentials of the Five Ranks in two years. He studied all the records of the Five Houses of Chan, being particularly drawn to the words of Yunmen Wenyan (Wade–Giles: Yün-men Wên-yen Japanese: Ummon Bun’en), 864-949, founder of one of the "Five Houses" of Chan. He sought out instruction on the sayings of the old masters collected and commented on by Xuedou Chongxian (Wade–Giles: Hsüeh-tou Ch’ung-hsien; Japanese: Setchō Jūken) which became the basis for the koan collection, the Blue Cliff Record.
Dissatisfied with intellectual study, at the age of twenty-one he went to Treasure Peak, near the modern city of Nanchang in Jiangxi Province, to study with Zhan Tangzhun (Wade–Giles: Chan-t'ang Wen-chun), a master of the Huang-lung branch of the Linji School. Although Dahui developed a great intellectual understanding of Chan, enlightenment eluded him. Recognizing his potential and great intellectual abilities, Zhan Tangzhun made Dahui his personal attendant. One day Tangzhou asked Dahui.
Dahui continued his studies with Yuanwu Keqin. On his way to T’ien Ning Monastery in the old imperial city of Pien, Dahui vowed to work with Yuanwu for nine years and if he did not achieve enlightenment or if Yuanwu turned out to be a false teacher, giving approval too easily, Dahui would give up and turn to writing scriptures or treatises.
Dahui also moved south and taught both monks and laymen. It was at this time that he began his severe criticism of the "heretical Ch'an of silent illumination" of the Caodong school which he would continue for the rest of his life. He became a great favorite of the educated and literate classes as well as Chan monks and in 1137, at the age of forty-nine, the prime minister, Zhang Jun, a student of Dahui, appointed Dahui as abbot of Ching-shan monastery in the Southern Song capital of Lin-an (Hangzhou). Within a few years his sangha grew to two thousand and among his lay followers were many high-ranking officials. Dahui became the acknowledged leader of Buddhism of the Southern Song dynasty.
The enlightenment experience as the answer to the riddle of life and death, and the great doubt necessary to have the determination to break through, became central to Dahui’s teaching.