The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said he learned about Islam, Christianity and Judaism through personal contact and that he has a "genuine admiration and respect and appreciation for those traditions."
A hush had fallen over those at the basketball arena as the Dalai Lama walked on the main floor stage. The audience, as well as monks and others sitting cross-legged on the stage floor, rose as he emerged.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet, arrived in the U.S. last week, a day after the Olympic torch run in San Francisco was changed to avoid a potential demonstration in protest of China's treatment of his people.
Protests have sprung up in Tibetan areas of western China since demonstrations in Lhasa turned violent on March 14.
About 100 pro-Chinese demonstrators rallied outside the basketball arena where Dalai Lama spoke. They waved Chinese and U.S. flags, and held posters showing support for the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing.
"When the riots started (in China), our concern was how to tell the truth to the American people," said Jinhui Chen, a 34-year-old University of Michigan graduate student. He added: "We have a peaceful protest. We don't want to incite riots."
Saturday morning's appearance was the first of the Dalai Lama's four scheduled weekend talks at the university.
Three additional teaching sessions at the arena were planned for Saturday and Sunday under the sponsorship of the Jewel Heart Tibetan Buddhist learning center, The Tibet Fund and the Garrison Institute.
The Dalai Lama also plans a lecture on sustainability on Sunday sponsored the university's School of Natural Resources and Environment.