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Knowing that a result must be congruent with its cause - an apple seed cannot grow into a peach tree - we can follow the reasoning of cause and effect to conclude that when we create negative causes, we experience negative results. From this analysis comes the Buddhist understanding that all suffering throughout the universe is caused by negative actions of body, speech or mind. (In Buddhism, "negative action" is defined as any action that causes negative results for oneself or others.) These negative actions that are the cause of all suffering are committed under the influence of negative emotions such as anger, jealousy and craving. Negative emotions arise from ignorance, the ignorance that believes in an inherently existing "self."

When we believe that we, ourselves, have true existence, we greatly cherish that "self" that we imagine exists. Cherishing ourselves, we evaluate everyone and everything else only in relation to "me and mine." We constantly assess every situation in terms of whether it is harmful, helpful or of no consequence to this imagined "self" that we want to protect and nurture.

When something or someone is felt to be harmful to oneself, then fear, anger and hatred arise; and negative actions follow as we attempt to avoid that which is believed harmful. When something or someone is perceived as helpful to oneself, then craving, jealousy and covetousness arise; and, of course, negative actions follow as we seek to possess that which is believed helpful. And just as damaging are those occasions when we perceive someone or some situation as being of no consequence to ourselves and respond with indifference, when we say, "Oh well, that's too bad, but it has nothing to do with me." Out of indifference, we turn away when we should offer help.

Stated concisely, ignorance is the cause of self-cherishing; self-cherishing is the cause of negative emotions; negative emotions are the cause of negative actions; and negative actions are the cause of our suffering.

Therefore, seeing that the root of all our suffering is the ignorance that believes in inherent existence, we must be very determined in our efforts to correctly understand reality. When we develop even an intellectual understanding of reality, we are able to reduce our self-cherishing through realizing that it is without a valid foundation. There is no inherently existing "self" to cherish! We do not exist inherently (meaning that we do not exist eternally, without causes and without change). This is Emptiness, ultimate truth. Our existence is merely relative (meaning that we are constantly changing, brought about in dependence upon causes and conditions, parts and imputation). This is Dependent Arising, relative truth.

As self-cherishing is reduced, positive emotions, such as compassion and love, begin to flourish in our minds, and positive actions follow. Positive actions become the causes of positive results. All happiness is the result of positive actions. As more and more of our actions are motivated by positive emotions, we come to have greater and greater happiness in our lives.

Unlike negative emotions, which can be removed because they are without foundation, being based on the delusion of inherent existence, the positive mental qualities of compassion and wisdom can be developed to a limitless extent - all the way to Enlightenment - because they arise from understanding the inseparable realities of both relative and ultimate truth. The compassion of an Enlightened Being is limitless, because there are limitless sentient beings for whom he or she, seeing the relative truth of their dependent arising, feels compassion. The wisdom of an Enlightened Being is limitless, because he or she, simultaneously seeing the ultimate truth of Emptiness, knows all things, which are limitless, to be without inherent existence.