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Life (jãvita) is the ability of the organisms that have it to respond to stimuli, grow, reproduce, absorb nutrition, excrete and persist over time. The two kinds of living things are plants and animals.

In the case of most animals, a newly embodied life begins at conception or soon afterwards. The Buddha said that for conception to take place three things must be present – the sexual union of the parents, their fertility and the presence of the gandhabba, ie. the consciousness of the being who is to be reborn (M.I,265). This consciousness absorbs itself in the fertilised egg and begins to animate it so that it grows into a fully formed being.

The Buddha also said that because all beings cherish their life above everything else and struggle to avoid death at all costs (Dhp.130), to destroy the life of another being is the worst thing one can do to them. Thus respect for life (avihiüsà, Sanskrit ahiüsà), promoting life, improving the quality of life – is the highest Buddhist ethical ideal.