The Buddha is said to have ten names, each describing an auspicious quality. The first, Tathagata, means “he who has come to us through the right path,” “he who comes from the wonderful reality of life and will go back to that wonderful reality,” and “he who has arrived from suchness, remains in suchness, and will return to suchness.” “Suchness” is a Buddhist term pointing to the true nature of things, or ultimate reality. It is the substance or ground of being, just as water is the substance of waves. Like the Buddha, we too have come from suchness, remain in suchness, and will return to suchness. We have come from nowhere and have nowhere to go.
One Buddhist sutra tells us that when conditions are sufficient, we see forms, and when conditions are not sufficient, we don’t. When all conditions are present, phenomena can be perceived by us, and so they are revealed to us as existing. But when one of these conditions is lacking, we cannot perceive the same phenomena, so they are not revealed to us, and we say they do not exist. But that is not true. In April, for example, we cannot see sunflowers around Plum Village, our community in southwestern France, so you might say the sunflowers do not exist. But the local farmers have already planted thousands of seeds, and when they look at the bare hills, they see sunflowers already. The sunflowers are there. They lack only the conditions of sun, heat, rain, and July. Just because you cannot see them does not mean that they do not exist. In the same way we say that the Tathagata does not come from anywhere and will not go anywhere. He comes from ultimate reality and will go back to ultimate reality, unbound by space and time. If you walk past the fields near Plum Village in April and ask them to reveal to you the ultimate dimension of reality, the Kingdom of God, the fields will suddenly be covered with beautiful, golden sunflowers. When St. Francis looked deeply at an almond tree in winter and asked it to speak to him about God, the tree was instantly covered with blossoms.
— Thích Nhá̂t Hạnh (pronounced “Tick-Naught-Han”) in Living Buddha, Living Christ, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2007), p. 41. Originally published 1995.
"The Buddha is said to have ten names"
Nikos Kazantzakis on the creation of the legend of St. Francis and the almond tree
The second time [he saved my life] was when I was very ill so, all of a sudden, I thought about Saint Francis of Assisi. I mean, I wanted to think about a man who was able to conquer death. And right away I thought about Saint Francis of Assisi. And while… I had a fever, fever, 40, 41, I don’t know how. And my wife would come, she told me: “Take this pen and I will dictate”. And I started to dictate to her Saint Francis of Assisi. And poetic things, especially. One day, I remember that I told her… Because, you know, this book isn’t a biography, it’s a summary of a biography, the poetry and things that Saint Francis didn’t say but that he could say because he was [inaudible]. So I told my wife: “Take the pencil and write. I’m going to dictate something that Saint Francis didn’t say but that he could have”. One day, Saint Francis saw an almond tree in the middle of winter. So Saint Francis told him: “Brother almond tree, talk to me about God”. And all of a sudden, the almond tree became covered with flowers. That’s very Franciscan, isn’t it?
— Nikos Kazantzakis, in a televised interview by Pierre Dumayet and Max Fouchet on May 22, 1957. Translated from the French transcription.