In his first public appearance at UC Irvine since 2004, the Dalai Lama discussed compassion, happiness and interfaith harmony before a sold-out crowd Wednesday at the Bren Events Center.

Wearing his traditional red and saffron robes and an Anteaters visor, the Tibetan spiritual leader started his talk by expressing appreciation for UCI’s XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholars, who took the stage with him and Chancellor Michael Drake.

According to the Dalai Lama, the goal of education should be to “develop sensible, compassionate leaders who are realistic and warmhearted.” He also stressed the importance of respect for all religions – and nonbelievers as well – which elicited cheers from the audience.

“This is not a new idea from my mind,” he said. “India has a 1,000-year tradition of respecting different religions.”

Asked how to encourage interfaith friendship and communication, the Dalai Lama emphasized the value of meeting with scholars from varying religious traditions and learning from them.

He illustrated his point with an anecdote about participating in silent meditation under a Bodhi tree with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews.

“People with different philosophies and viewpoints often have the same purpose, the same goal,” the Dalai Lama said. “We all want to be better, sensible human beings.”

He concluded his talk by presenting Drake and other special guests with white silk scarves called “khata” as a sign of admiration and respect.

When a sociology undergraduate asked about the secret to happiness, the Dalai Lama replied with his distinctive sense of humor: “If there is a secret, I must keep it.”