Despite devoting his life to the study of Buddhism, Tibet's spiritual leader said he was convinced that all people -- and often even animals -- shared basic moral values regardless of their religion.

"In the West, there is some connotation that secular means a little negative, or disrespect, towards religion," the Dalai Lama told a packed arena at the University of Maryland at College Park in Washington's suburbs.

"But according to the Indian understanding, secular means respect for all religions -- and respect for non-believers," said the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since 1959.

"That is the only way it can be acceptable to a whole universal level," he said.