Support The Moscow Times!

Being Here: Hare Krishna Path Leads to Russia

Paul Turner may be a devout follower of Hare Krishna's four principles of purity -- abandoning meat, alcohol, sex and gambling -- but a sense of humor is one thing he did not give up.

A native of Sydney, Australia, Turner, 32, first joined the Hare Krishna faith 13 years ago.

"I was interested in healthy living, and Krishna consciousness had answers to a lot of my questions about life," said Turner. "It provided a positive alternative lifestyle."

As a student he joined the Hare Krishna temple in Sydney and went through the requisite two-year training as a monk -- a title he still holds today.

"Most people think I'm crazy," Turner said with a smile, adding that many of his friends who went through the training with him left monastic life to start families of their own.

But Turner chose a different path -- one that led him indirectly to Russia as the director of the Hare Krishna Food for Life program, a vegetarian food-relief program which operates in nearly a dozen locations throughout the former Soviet Union.

In the 4 1/2 years since Food for Life has been operating in the Commonwealth of Independent States the organization has served some 3 million hot meals to victims of natural and man-made disasters -- from the earthquake in Sakhalin to the bloody conflict in Sukhumi, Turner said.

Founded in India in 1972, Food for Life now operates in 60 countries throughout the world. Dividing his time between Washington and Moscow, Turner travels to project sites around the world. He said he has visited about 200 cities since he became program director in 1991, but in the past two years he has given particular emphasis to his work in Russia.

"My main objective in being here is to expand our program," said Turner. "In Russia there is more of a need than anywhere else in the world right now -- not because there is a lack of food. It is just mismanagement."

Turner's purpose in being here is not just to feed people, but to educate them and expand Hare Krishna programs throughout Russia.

"Seven times more people die every day from malnutrition than from starvation," Turner said. "We want to develop a health and cultural educational program for schools and students to teach them about healthy living habits and introduce them to the ancient culture of India."

While the Hare Krishnas claim some 100,000 believers throughout Russia, they have also stirred up some negative emotions. Several of their followers have been attacked, and repeated reports in the Russian press have compared the Krishnaity to satan worshippers and carriers of the plague.

"We want to demonstrate to Russian leaders, and in particular, the Russian Orthodox Church, that Hare Krishna can make a positive social contribution to society -- we are not a threat," said Turner, emphasizing that Hare Krishnas should not be associated with the hippies of the 1960s, but are, in fact, followers of an ancient Indian religion predating Christianity.

"We're not here to change people's faith and deviate people from their culture -- we simply want to contribute," he said. "We're all part of the same family, in spite of our religious differences."

… we have a small favor to ask.

As you may have heard, The Moscow Times, an independent news source for over 30 years, has been unjustly branded as a "foreign agent" by the Russian government. This blatant attempt to silence our voice is a direct assault on the integrity of journalism and the values we hold dear.

We, the journalists of The Moscow Times, refuse to be silenced. Our commitment to providing accurate and unbiased reporting on Russia remains unshaken. But we need your help to continue our critical mission.

Your support, no matter how small, makes a world of difference. If you can, please support us monthly starting from just 2. It's quick to set up, and you can be confident that you're making a significant impact every month by supporting open, independent journalism. Thank you.


Read more