In his wanderings, Gautama one day saw a herd of goats and sheep winding their way through a narrow valley. Now and then the herdsman cried and ran forward and backward to keep the members of the fold from going astray. Among the vast flock Gautama saw a little lamb, toiling behind, wounded in one part of the body and made lame by a blow of the herdsman. Gautama's heart was touched and he took it up in his arms and carried it saying, "It is better to relieve the suffering of an innocent being than to sit on the rocks of Olympus or in solitary caves and watch unconcerned the sorrows and sufferings of humanity". Then, turning to the herdsman he said, "Whither are you going, my friend, with this huge flock so great a hurry ?". "To the king's palace" said the herdsman, "We are sent to fetch goats and sheep for sacrifice which our master - the king - will start tonight in propitiation of the gods."
Hearing this, Gautama followed the herdsman, carrying the lamb in his arms. When they entered the city, word was circulated that a holy hermit had brought the sacrifices ordered by the king. As Gautama passed through the streets, people came out to see the gracious and saintly figure of the youth clad in the yellow robes of a Sadhu (renunciate) and all were struck with wonder and awe at his noble mien and his sweet expression. The king was also informed of the coming of the holy man to the sacrifice.
When the ceremonies commenced in the presence of the king, there was brought a goat ready to be killed and offered to the gods. There it stood with its legs tied up and the high priest ready with a big bloodthirsty knife in his hand to cut the dumb animal's throat.
In that cruel and tragic moment, when the life of the poor creature hung by a thread, Gautama stepped forward and cried, "Stop the cruel deed, O king!". And as he said this, he leaned forward and unfastened the bonds of the victim. "Every creature" he said, "loves to live, even as every human being loves to preserve his or her life".
The priest then threw the knife away like a repentant sinner and the king issued a royal decree throughout the land the next day, to the effect that no further sacrifice should be made in future and that all people should show mercy to birds and beasts alike.