Observance of the five precepts constitutes the minimum moral obligation of a practicing lay Buddhist. These five precepts enjoin against killing living beings, taking what is not given (or stealing), sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxication leading to heedlessness.
The practice of Buddhist moral precepts deeply affects our personal and social life. The fact that they represent a course of training which we willingly undertake, rather than a set of commandments imposed by an external force, has a positive bearing upon our conscience and awareness.
On the personal level, the precepts help us to lead a moral life and to advance further on the spiritual path. Moreover, the practice of morality contributes to the accumulation of merit that supports us in the present life and ensures happiness and prosperity in the next.
On the social level, observing the five precepts helps to promote peaceful coexistence, mutual trust, a cooperative spirit, and general peace and harmony in society. It also helps to maintain an atmosphere which is conducive to social progress and spiritual development.
While most committed Buddhists seek to apply these five precepts in their daily lives, and many do apply them when making financial, social, and environmental decisions, some may not have considered that these precepts should guide our political choices.
When considering supporting a candidate for office, we should apply the 5 Precept Test:
- Does this candidate support or promote the taking of lives, through wars of aggression, capital punishment for convicts, or abortion for the unborn? Has he or she been directly involved in the taking of lives?
- Does this candidate support the forceful confiscation of the labor, resources, or property of others, through exploitation, excessive taxation, mandatory dues, confiscation, or expropriation through “eminent domain”?
- Has this candidate engaged in, or condoned, sexual misconduct? Do his or her speech and actions encourage such misconduct against human or non-human animals (routinely raped in animal agriculture)?
- Does this candidate lie to achieve his or her aims? Does he or she say whatever is expedient at the moment, and does he or she say different things to different audiences?
- Does this candidate act heedlessly and with volatility, as if intoxicated? (Note: intoxication need not be exclusively the effect of the consumption of drugs and alcohol —any heedless conduct is a symptom of intoxication.)
We may be surprised to find that some candidates with whom we currently sympathize do not pass the 5 Precept Test, and some candidates that we have not considered seriously do align more with Buddhist values.