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 that we have direct experience of 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 coincide Ý the sexual union of the parents (sannipatita), the mother's ovulation (utunã) and the presence of the gandhabba, i.e. the consciousness of the being who is to be reborn (M.I,266). This consciousness absorbs itself in the fertilised egg and begins to animate it so that it grows into a fully formed being. As with modern medicine, the Buddha recognized that the embryo passes through four stages: fertilization (kalaka), cleavage (abbuda), gastrulation (pesi) and organogenesis (ghana) before developing recognizably human features at around 17 weeks, after which it is known as the foetus (S.I,206).

The Buddha 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 Ý is the highest Buddhist ethical ideal. See Death.