Once on a time a Brahmin, who was versed in the Three Vedas and world-famed as a teacher, was requested to host a Feast for the Dead. He arranged to have a goat purchased and told his pupils: "Take this goat down to bathe it in the river. Then feed it with grain, groom it, hang a garland round its neck and bring it back."
"Very good," said they, did as ordered and set the animal on the bank.
The goat suddenly became conscious of the deeds of its past lives and was overjoyed at the thought that on this very day it would be freed from all its misery. Thereupon, it laughed aloud.
Then at the thought that the Brahmin by slaying it would have to bear misery, the goat felt great compassion for the Brahmin, and wept loudly.
"Goat," said the young Brahmins, "Why did you loudly laugh and weep?"
"Ask me your question before your master so that I can asnwer for all of you", said the goat.
So the students brought the goat to their master and told him what transpired. The master asked the goat why it laughed and wept.
The animal told the Brahmin: "In the past, Brahmin, like you, I was a Brahmin versed in the
mystic texts of the Vedas. In order to host a Feast for the Dead, I killed a goat for my offering.
Because of that killing act, I have had my head cut off 499 times. This is my five hundredth and last birth. I laughed aloud because I realized that this very day I will finally be freed from my misery. Then, when I remembered how I was doomed to lose my head 500 times for killing a goat, but you would be doomed to lose your head 500 times. That was why I wept out of great compassion for your impending retribution of great suffering."
"Have no fear, goat," said the Brahmin, "I will not kill you."
The goat replied: "Whether you kill me or not, I cannot escape death today."
"Fear not, goat! I will protect you."
"Brahmin, your protection is weak while the force of the retribution of my evil-doing is strong."
The Brahmin freed the goat and told his disciples, "Let us allow no one to kill this goat."
They thus followed the animal closely about. After the goat was set free, it browsed on the
leaves of a bush growing near the top of a rock. And that very instant a thunderbolt struck the rock, splintering off a piece which hit the goat on the outstretched neck and tore off its head.
If people knew that the penalty would be for killing living beings is birth into sorrow for a great number of lives, they would refrain from taking life. The force of retribution cannot be easily countervailed.