The Jogye Order takes the teachings of the Buddha Sakyamuni as its basis and its principles are transmissional Seon, realization of Buddha nature, and propagation. The order relies on the Diamond Sutra as a guiding text and though sutra study, chanting and devotional practices are integrated into the program, the most important and widely known practice is hwadu meditation.
The Jogye Order has its own constitution based on the Buddhist Dharma and discipline. The charter set out at the monks’ Conference in 1929 stands as a model for the modern constitution which came into being on April 10, 1994. The administrative organization of the Jogye Order includes a Supreme Patriarch or Spiritual Leader, the highest authority in transmitting the order's traditions; a President who overseas administration of the order; a Central Directorate for Religious Affairs comprised of an Administrative Headquarters, a Bureau of Education, and a Bureau of Missionary Activities; a Central Council, the legislative organ, and a Board of Adjudication, the legal organ.
According to 2003 statistics released by the government, 53.9 percent of the Korean population claimed religious affiliation with Buddhism, Protestantism or Catholicism accounting for 97.5 percent of believers. Of these, about 12 million, or about 47 percent were Buddhist. Currently there are 25 Buddhist orders belonging to the Association of Korean Buddhist Orders, among which the Jogye Order is the largest.
There are 25 nationwide districts that include more than 3,000 branch temples and Buddhist centers. Of the 870 traditional temples in Korea which are recognized, preserved and supported by the government, more than 90 percent, or 840, belong to the Jogye Order; these temples house more than 65 percent of Korea's designated National Treasures and Local Treasures. In addition, there are 90 Seon meditation monasteries. More than 2,000 of the 12,000 ordained Buddhists participate in the intensive three-month winter and summer meditation retreats at these meditation facilities. There are also some 1,500 monastics attending the 17 colleges operated by the order nationwide.
The order runs extensive programs for lay people. Every temple has training and teaching programs and many lay Buddhists play active daily roles in the temple management, administration and life in general. There are different kinds of retreats for children, teenagers, young adults and the older generation. The support and participation of the laity is absolutely essential to the running of temples and of the order because it is their dedicated in-put which gives monastics time to practice and teach.
Jogye Order is the representative order of traditional Korean Buddhism with roots that go all the way back 1,200 years to Unified Silla National Master Doui, who brought Seon and the practice taught by the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng, from China about 820 C.E. In 826, the "Nine Mountains of Seon" adopted the name "Jogye-jong" and all were instrumental in the development of the nation during Unified Silla and thereafter.
During Goryeo, National Masters Bojo Jinul and Taego Bou led major Seon movements. The Jogye Order was thus established as the representative Seon order until the persecution of the Joseon Dynasty.
For nearly 500 years, however, Buddhism was repressed in favor of Confucianism. During the reign of Joseon King Sejong (r. 1418-1450), two sects were formed, one of all the doctrinal schools and another of all the Seon schools. These were then temporarily disbanded under the reign of King Yonsangun (r. 1494-1506), resulting in great confusion. However, during the Hideyoshi invasions of the late 15th century, National Masters Seosan and Samyeong raised armies that protected the nation which improved the situation of Buddhism for a time. However it was not until the political reforms of 1895 that monks were permitted in the cities again. Then in 1899, under the leadership of Seon Master Gyeongheo (1849-1912), monks petitioned from Haeinsa Temple to reestablish the traditions and the philosophical basis for a reconstructed Buddhist order. Eventually, the Wonjong and Imjejong (Linji) orders were founded, and attempts were made to revive the doctrinal schools and to reestablish activities in the cities, but these movements were soon suppressed following the Japanese Occupation in 1910.
Leading resistance and liberation fighters against the occupying forces included such famous monks as Yongsong and Manhae, and efforts continued to keep Korean Buddhist traditions alive. In 1921 the Sonhakwon Seon Meditation Center was established and in 1929, a Monks’ Conference of Joseon Buddhism was held. In 1937, a movement for the establishment of a Central Headquarters began which was successful with the building of the Main Buddha Hall of Jogyesa Temple in Seoul in 1938. Finally in 1941 the Joseon Buddhism Jogye Order which was distinctly Korean and free from Japanese influence, was established. This was the first legal Buddhist order in modern Korea and the precursor of today's Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.
Following liberation from Japan in 1945, Seon monks who had preserved and cherished Korean Buddhist traditions began a purification drive to re-establish the traditional celibate orders and take back the temples from married monk, a remnant of the Japanese Occupation. Finally, in 1955 the Jogye Order was established centered around celibate monks; however, as a result of mediation between the elder monks and the government, already-married monks were also included.
On April 11, 1962 Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism was officially established with three main goals: training and education; sutra translation into Korean from Chinese characters; and propagation. These goals continue to guide the Jogye Order today as well. It was in 1947-1949 that a group of monks at Bongamsa Temple began a movement advocating "Living According to the Teachings of the Buddha" and this provided the opportunity for the establishment of fundamental principles and traditions as well as the accepted ceremonies of the order.