The Bodhisatta was once a blacksmith. He was poor, but highly skilled. The king’s favorite blacksmith, a wealthy, accomplished man, lived in a nearby village and his daughter’s beauty was talked about far and wide. Though he’d never seen her, the Bodhisatta decided to win the daughter’s hand by making the greatest needle ever; a feat he was able to accomplish through the magical abilities possessed by all Bodhisattas. With the best iron he made a tough but delicate needle that could pierce dice and float on water. Then he made seven tiny nested sheaths for it that were as strong as the needle itself.
The Bodhisatta went to the head blacksmith’s village and walked down his street hawking his incomparable creation. The daughter was outside, fanning her father with a palm leaf, and was overcome by bliss at the sound of the Bodhisatta’s voice. She went to meet him and explained how foolish it was to sell needles in a blacksmith village. He replied that his needles were so good her father would be amazed.
The head blacksmith agreed to have a look at the needles, and called all the other blacksmiths in the village to come see them too. The head blacksmith thought the tube was the needle, but the Bodhisatta opened it with his fingernail to show that it was really a sheath. Six more times he opened a sheath, and when the men saw the actual needle they waved cloth in the air and snapped their fingers in delight.
To demonstrate the needle’s strength, the Bodhisatta had two strong men hold an anvil over a bowl of water. He struck the needle hard, pounding it right through the anvil into the bowl of water, where it floated.
None of the other blacksmiths had ever even imagined something this incredible and the head blacksmith was so impressed that he married his daughter to the Bodhisatta right then and there. Later, when the head blacksmith died, the Bodhisatta took his place.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing his supreme wisdom, he told them this story so they knew he’d had been very clever in the past too.
The head blacksmith’s daughter was an earlier birth of the Buddha’s wife.