The wisdom of Buddha on the 123 bus

Listening to two young men having an argument was a reminder of the impermanence of life

I was reminded of the wisdom of the centuries on the 123 bus in Dublin the other day when listening to two young men having an argument.

It appeared they had been staying with the girlfriend of one of them and that she had thrown them out. Now they were on their way to visit one of their mothers to stay until, I presume, the girlfriend cooled down.

Most of the talking was done by the companion of the man whose girlfriend had thrown them out.

He called his friend an “effing moanbag” who was doing his girlfriend’s head in because of his constant complaints about everything she did. Nothing was ever right and even though “I warned yeh, I warned yeh,” he kept on moaning at her, especially about her dog, which seems to have been the breaking point.


“I warned yeh to shut up about the dog, man, and not be going on and on and on about it.”

His friend, glaring darkly out the window, grunted that “she’s a narky bitch” and lapsed into silence.

His companion digested this remark and then said in a more conciliatory tone, “I know she’s a bit, you know, but you can’t have everything the way you want. There’s always something, you know?”

His friend grunted again and we had reached my stop.

While I walked on, wondering what reception they’d get from the mother, I was struck by how the whole event did, indeed, encapsulate the wisdom of the centuries.

At one end of the timeline is the Buddha, who is famous for saying that life is suffering but who probably meant that life is a series of dissatisfactions.

To him, this is because everything in the world is impermanent and you can’t rely on anything to stay the same – like your girlfriend taking you in out of love and then getting narky with you or the dog demanding that you get off the sofa, where you have settled, to take him for a walk.

The antidote isn’t to find ways to avoid dissatisfaction but to have a different relationship with it. I am well aware the Buddha wasn’t sitting on the 123, having been shown the door, when he said this but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Changing the relationship means taking things lightly instead of desperately clinging on if you like them or desperately pushing them away if you don’t.


At the more recent end of the timeline is Albert Ellis, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. He regarded our common insistence that things should go our way as irrational. Where, he would ask, is it written down that things mustn't go wrong in your life? In which of the Ten Commandments does it say that your girlfriend mustn't have an irritating dog?

I thought of them all a couple of weeks ago when I finished my tax accounts, an unpleasant project which I was glad to see the end of. But that was followed within the hour by an insurance renewal demand that threw me into a bad humour. No sooner had I paid that than the car presented me with a flat tyre and another bill. And so on and on.

I had to take myself for a walk and remind myself that “there’s always something” and that the beginning of wisdom is to accept this fact and enjoy the good for as long as it lasts, which won’t be forever.

On another topic, I wrote recently about the importance for separated parents of working out arrangements for Christmas sooner rather than later. My focus was on situations of possible or actual conflict. However, one reader tells me that 15 years after their divorce, she and her sons always go to her ex for Christmas dinner. They also meet for New Year's Eve. Their daughter brings their grandchildren to visit her ex. "It has brought about much healing in the family," she says.

So, yes, there are other ways of doing Christmas, even when you’re definitively apart.

Padraig O'Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Kindfulness. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (