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Stop painting religions in image of their destructive followers: Dalai Lama

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MONTREAL - As the 9-11 anniversary nears, the Dalai Lama is warning that all religions — including his own — have followers who carry the seeds of destructive emotions within them.

The Buddhist spiritual leader said one way to strengthen harmony in the post-9-11 world is to stop criticizing religions based on the actions of a handful of "mischievous" faithful.

He delivered the message to a conference Wednesday in Montreal, an event that examined how religions can promote peace nearly a decade after Sept. 11, 2001.

"Logically, if you criticize Islam due to a few mischievous Muslims, then you have to criticize all world religions," the Dalai Lama told the packed auditorium.

"To create that kind of negative impression to one particular religion — that is totally wrong."

He pointed to his head and said that everyone — himself included — has the potential to develop harmful feelings and it's the job of religions to help people keep them under control.

"Through awareness. . . we try to minimize these destructive emotions and try to increase these constructive emotions," he said.

The one-day conference also featured a panel discussion by prominent religious academics and spiritual thinkers — including Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, Deepak Chopra and Tariq Ramadan.

Experts representing Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism discussed how their religions could work together for peace.

Ramadan urged religious leaders to have the courage to condemn followers who insist they have a right to kill innocent people in the name of the faith.

"If this conference has a meaning, it's also to stand up to say: 'No, we're not going to let you do this with our religion because you are a danger for all of us,' " Ramadan, a prominent Muslim scholar from Oxford University, told reporters at the conference.

"From a religious viewpoint, the one who's going to avoid talking about violence will never get peace."

During the event's keynote address, the Dalai Lama also shared his views on how to tackle global challenges like climate change and corruption — serious issues the jovial man sometimes tried to get across through humour.

At one point, as the Dalai Lama argued how humanity needs both science and religion to thrive, he joked about strong-arming one of the panellists.

"If you do not agree, then I will push (you)," the giggly 76-year-old said to McGill University's Gregory Baum.

He also made light of the fact that death is coming for everyone, something he described as particularly important for a planet under mounting pressure from its ever-expanding human population.

"Otherwise the population: uncontrollable," the Dalai Lama said. "Or, I think half of the population should become monks, nuns, then OK."

Early in his address, the smiling Dalai Lama pulled a visor out of a bag and placed it on his shaved head to shield his eyes from the room's spotlights. The maroon headgear matched the colour of his robe.

"This is very useful to see your face," he said, while pointing into the laughing crowd.

But the Tibetan-born man, who was forced to flee into exile in India in 1959 by Chinese soldiers, also offered many sobering words.

He stressed that individuals — not governments — have the power to bring more honesty into the world.

"The practice of compassion must start with one individual, then share with your own family members," said the Dalai Lama, who was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in 2006.

"That one family (can) then share (with) 10 more neighbours, 10 more families, then 100 families — that's the way to change."

Canada's Opposition leader said his remarks left an impression.

Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel, who also participated in the conference, said she believes Canada must do more to heed the Dalai Lama's warning to remain inclusive.

"We feel that peace is a priority, so to create an environment like Mr. Harper wants to create, where we should feel threatened by everything — it's not working," Turmel told reporters, referring to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's remarks Tuesday that "Islamicism" is the country's biggest security threat.

Later Wednesday, the Dalai Lama spoke again of compassion to a crowd of about 800 on the centre tennis court of Montreal's outdoor Stade Uniprix.

The attendance was much lower than his last visit to the city in October 2009, when around 14,000 people filed into the Bell Centre to listen to him speak.

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