One wears dark suits and white shirts, the other richly colored robes that leave one shoulder bare. One presides over a conservative Western religion that is slowly encircling the globe; the other directs an Eastern faith whose adherents are flooding into the West.
To the first, the trajectory toward heaven is linear and one step at a time; to the second, it spirals through time and many lives.
The two, President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, will meet for the first time when the Tibetan Buddhist leader visits the Mormon heartland in May.
For all their differences, there are clear similarities, not least that both have written best-selling books that frame their religious and social philosophies in language accessible to a secular readership.
And those books reflect that each in his way is a charismatic leader whose appeal reaches beyond the boundaries of their own tradition.
"Gordon B. Hinckley allows his inner personality to bubble to the surface often enough that people really like it and him," says Ted Wilson, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "The same thing is true of the Dalai Lama."
And each uses a gentle humor to relate to people, Wilson said.
"They are saying, in essence, 'I am no better than you. I am just trying to get through, but here's what I have learned,'" he said. "They are at ease in their skin."
There also are historical parallels in the leaders' faith traditions.
In 1847, Mormons were forced from their homes in Illinois in a desperate search for Zion in Utah. Today, the LDS Church counts 11 million members worldwide. Likewise, the Dalai Lama and his followers were driven from Tibet by the Chinese in 1950. His Tibetan government-in-exile in India represents his 6 million.
The experience of oppression and suffering by their people has been formative for both men. Although the Tibetans' travails are much more recent, many Mormons continue to view themselves as a persecuted minority, and both groups draw on their history to sustain their faith.
Today's journalists find both Hinckley and the Dalai Lama to be media friendly. Both use the news media to advance their political agendas--the Dalai Lama to constantly remind the world of his people's plight, and Hinckley to speak out on issues the church deems to have moral implications: abortion, same-sex marriage and gambling.
"If the world is to be improved, the process of love must make a change in the hearts of humans," Hinckley writes. "As we serve others with no apparent recompense for ourselves, there will come a greater sense of service toward our fellow human beings."
To the Dalai Lama, the world needs a "radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self."
Both condemn greed and hedonism. They advocate mental discipline, moral responsibility, compassion and patience.
The Dalai Lama sends a message to people that "you are responsible for your behavior," says his niece, Khando Chazotsang, who works at the Utah State Department of Health.
Although they warn of the troubles plaguing the world, Hinckley and the Dalai Lama are optimists at heart, believing in healing and hope.
Reading the two books consecutively "was like a 'wow' experience in terms of the similarities," says Pamela Atkinson, an executive with Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City and tireless advocate for the downtrodden. "Here's two people of different faiths who were both writing about similar value systems, reaching out and loving people.
"I found myself saying to myself, 'Of course, he's right,' to both books," said Atkinson, a Presbyterian who has been involved with Utah's Tibetan Resettlement Program and is a member of the committee that organized the Dalai Lama's visit.
Still, for all their apparent correlations, there are clear distinctions between the two men's styles, books and religions.
Mormonism teaches that it is "the one true church" of Jesus Christ, although Hinckley recently has said that converts should "bring their truths with them" and let the LDS Church "add to that."
Moreover, the 10 virtues his book describes require faith in God. "People who carry in their hearts a strong conviction concerning the living reality of the Almighty and their accountability to him for what they do with their lives are far less likely to become enmeshed in problems that inevitably weaken society," he writes.
By contrast, Buddhism is a life philosophy that can accompany any other religion or system of belief, the Dalai Lama writes. Indeed, the path he describes need not involve organized religion or even faith in the divine.
"I have come to the conclusion that whether or not a person is a religious believer does not matter much," he writes. "Far more important is that they be a good human being."