Paul Kinsey re-emerged in Sunday night’s episode of “Mad Men” after a long absence — if only to remind the Heinz-hawking ad execs at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce about life’s spiritual side. (For a Mad Men recap, check out Jen Cheney in Celebritology today.)
So the former copywriter Kinsey is a Hare Krishna devotee. What is the Hindu spiritual movement and why did it surge in popularity during the 1960s and ’70s?
It’s not all Beatles songs and airport evangelizing: “Hare Krishna followers worship the Hindu god Vishnu in his earthly manifestation as Krishna,” the religion Web site Patheos explains in their religion library. Writing for Newsweek, Michael Kress explained the popular movement’s millennia-old roots in Hinduism:
“Founded in 1966 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the movement — formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) — became known largely for proselytizing in airports and for its influence on Beatle George Harrison. Critics called it a cult, and a sex-abuse scandal also cost it both money and members. Using the teachings of 15th-century philosopher Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Hare Krishnas worship by repeatedly chanting God’s name. They believe in simple living and are prohibited from eating meat, gambling, intoxication and sex outside marriage.”
The Hare Krishnas may have been seen as a highly visible, though fringe, movement in the ’60s, but today the ideas they worked to popularize are as mainstream as ever.
Writing for Newsweek in 2009, current On Faith columnist Lisa Miller suggested that it’s Hinduism, a 5,000-year-old tradition that teaches a cycle of rebirth and God’s many manifestations — and not Christianity — that best captures the religious beliefs of most Americans:
Conceptually, at least, [Americans] are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, ourselves, each other, and eternity.
And the 50 years since Hare Krishnas invaded popular American culture have also seen marked transformations in American religion.
Kress in Newsweek, again:
While Hare Krishnas have changed, so has American culture. The spiritual mainstream embraces yoga, vegetarianism and concepts like karma and reincarnation.
’A lot of people on the streets now believe in those things,’ says Anuttama Dasa, ISKCON spokesman. ‘A lot of things that were considered outlandish or threatening are now taking place in the basements of Christian churches.’