Little Buddha opens with a story about a monk killing a young goat. The monk changes his life and becomes a protector of goats. What is the point of this?
The Priest dropped to his knees saying, "Forgive me, I beg you. From now on I will be the Guardian and Protector of every goat in the land."
"Now, what does this ancient tale teach us?" says the Teacher.
All the boys in unison slowly and distinctly say: "That no living creature must ever be sacrificed."
The meaning of the story is explained by the boys who are student monks in the Buddhist Paro Monastery in Bhutan, India, Tibet. The story is meant to teach the sanctity of life of even the humblest creatures. Not even the humble goat may be sacrificed to the gods as the High Priest in the story had done and was about to do again.
The story, with drawings shown from a book, tells of a High Priest who was about to perform his duty to the gods he worshipped long ago in India by slaying the goat. Suddenly, the goat laughs and tells the astounded High Priest that "after 499" lives as a goat, he was now about to be reborn as a human.
To the further astonishment of the Priest, the goat begins to cry. The goat says that "500 lives ago" he was also a High Priest who sacrificed goats to the gods. It is this that compels the High Priest to declare that he will no longer sacrifice goats but instead will be "the Guardian and Protector of every goat in the land."
The point of the story is the implication that because the goat who was once a High Priest sacrificed goats, he was reborn as a goat. It may be that he slew 499 goats since he has 499 goat lives. This implication stops the High Priest in his act and causes him to have an epiphany and a change of life because of the realization that if he continues to sacrifice goats, he too will be reborn as a goat again and again to pay recompense for the goat lives he spilled. Thus he vows to make amends by guarding and protecting "every goat in the land."
The cinematic and thematic point of this story is to introduce the topic of reincarnation and to introduce the serious and important nature of reincarnation, since the story is one about the quest for the reincarnated Teacher who had died nine years earlier.