At the dawn of November 12, about 550,000 people will be reading the holy scriptures of the Guru Granth Sahib. This is a mission of a man who has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to spread the message of Guru Nanak Dev in his own small ways – by his own telling. But the works of Jatinder Singh Uppal aka Paul Uppal is far from small. As the world celebrates the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus this month, Paul has been working round the clock through the year to bring it to a grand momentum (more on that later).

It was in 1984 that Paul moved to Thailand from Australia to open an office there. He admits the business was not at its best financial health. But life took a turn when he met a holy man by the name of Gyani Arjan Singh, who imparted a lot of wisdom and guided him thereon. “Sometimes when you meet the right company it brings the right thinking in you,” he reflects.

Prior to meeting the holy man, Paul had never prayed much in his life, but he felt the desire to do so after meeting him. He asked what he should pray and was told to chant the Mool Mantar, which is the words first spoken by the spiritual master Guru Nanak after enlightenment and is the first composition in the Sikh holy text, the Adi Granth. Paul began praying in 1985 and has not stopped since.

After he started praying, Paul believes he got a clear message in English: ‘Make God your partner’. He admits he was not on the ‘divine holy track’ and was perplexed by the message. When he thought deeper, he decided to open an account in God’s name. On the Gyaniji’s next visit home, Paul took him along to open an account for God, whereby he decided to put every 5 cent or one Thai Baht for every garment exported, he being in the textiles and fashion business. So, every month Paul put in 5,000 baht for every 5000 garments. What happened next is the stuff miracles are made of! The business began doubling and by the time he realised, he had accumulated 16 million baht or 650,000 dollars in God’s account. He would use that money to buy the Blackburn gurudwara in Melbourne, which was eventually transferred to the congregation on Guru Nanak’s birthday in 1994.

But the philosophy that guided Paul was simple and it is something that he lives by. “This is the 10 per cent factor that every religion/faith believe in. If you give God 10 per cent of your income, you have done the right job. So why are we successful is because we are his partner. Only for that reason.”

The 10 per cent factor in his life has armed Paul with the resources and good will to carry on with many projects to help the poor and the needy and to guide them on to the spiritual path in India and around the world. As the milestone 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev’s draws near, Paul is busy coordinating and organising events. He shares an insight into his work, life and philosophy with The Indian Weekly.

Firstly, what is the significance of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji?
Guru Nanak Dev ji came to this planet for one reason: to tell us human beings not to create divisions, that we are humans. We all have the same blood; we may have different skin colours but everything in our body is created by one Creator. We split ourselves into religions and millions of people have been killed, so God sent Nanak to stop the killing and bring peace to this world. Nanak came to tell us ‘na Hindu, na Musalmaan’, there is no religion but one religion – the religion of mankind, the religion of praying to the one Creator. Nanak’s mission in life was to spread the word of God; He is one, the truth, creator, fearless (Ik Onkaar, Satnaam, Kartaa Purakh, Nirbhau, Nirvair).

When Nanak passed away, both the Muslims and Hindus claimed ownership of his mortal remains. At the time of this death, there was going to be a big fight. During the evening, the warring factions decided they will leave Nanak’s mortal remains, cover it with flowers and a sheet of cloth and discuss the funeral rites next morning.
The Sikh, Hindu and Muslim devotees returned the following morning on September 22, 1539 A.D. They carefully removed the sheet which had been placed over the guru’s body. All were amazed and astonished to discover that no trace at all remained of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s mortal body. Only fresh flowers remained, for not a single bud had wilted of any blossom which had been left by either Sikhs, Hindus, or Muslims, the night before.

The Sikhs, Hindu and Muslim devotees responded by erecting two separate memorials in order to commemorate Guru Nanak Dev and revere him as their own. Two shrines, one built by Sikhs and Hindus and the other by the Muslims, were placed side by side on the banks of the River Ravi in Kartarpur, a part of Punjab located in modern day Pakistan.

So, Nanak’s birthday is an event that will be celebrated by everyone – Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and many other people that know Nanak came to earth for a mission.

What has been your special projects leading to November 12?
I started a project last year for this 550th birthday. It is to bring 550,000 people to take part in the Sehaj Path (the reading from beginning to end with no time-limit for completion of the Sikh Scriptures). The finishing line will be the dawn of November 12 where people the world over will be reading the scriptures in temples. 550,000 is quite an ambitious ask. I don’t think we will get there but we will get to at least half. We can’t get an accurate figure, but we are hopeful of touching 350,000. We give the scriptures free to whoever wants to do it all over the world. Many temples in Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Sydney have started the reading.

There is another big celebration in Sultanpur, Punjab, where Guru Nanak lived with his sister with about 9000 villagers who will gather there for the reading of the scriptures. At other five centres in Punjab, over 10,000 people will finish the reading. In Delhi, we are targeting around 9000 at the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. I will be at the Golden temple or the house of God as some of us would like to call it. We have a prayer there to thank God for allowing this to happen. We also have a prayer in Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, the birthplace of Guru Nanak. I will be in Nankana Sahib on the 12th to offer my thanks with the Akhand Path there. It is a point of satisfaction. Many, many organisations around the world are doing different things. In Melbourne too we have a lot of celebrations coming up.

Why is it important to read the scriptures?
Nanak gives the answer to the question ‘why are we born’ in his scriptures. He says this is an opportune time to meet your Creator. So how do you meet your creator? Only by worshipping Him, if you don’t worship Him, you lose the chance. Of all the life forms that God has created, the human life form is the only one that can worship. We were born to join the Creator but we run after money, properties, life and we forget the reason for our existence.

How would one incorporate Sikhism in everyday life?
I have introduced the Mool Mantar to so many people from non-Sikh backgrounds and whoever has done that has found satisfaction because the Mool Mantar dispels all your doubts, sorrows, improves your health and changes your faith. There is one particular book called the Sacred Nitnem, I have given out 500,000 copies around the world. I give this book to anybody who wants to know the path of the Creator as written by Nanak. Nanak’s mission was to spread the word of God through the scriptures. That’s why I give out this book whenever I see anybody so that they can take part in that divine journey. The divinity circle or journey is a difficult one, you have to be lucky and strong to make the journey. To know the essence of life is to join God, and Nanak has given us the path and the guidance through his scriptures.

How do you build your personal divine wealth?
You need to enjoy, otherwise you can never do this. I have an office in Amritsar where I have 80 staff working for me. I have projects in England, Australia and in other countries too. I feel I have all the time in the world and can do more. I ask Him for more, but He will only give that much because he doesn’t want you to get stuck or be in danger. Religion is a dangerous game.

How has the Sikh community in Victoria changed over the past 30 years?
It is very sad to say that not only the Sikhs, but everybody is moving away from religion. People are not connecting to God. The temple gets full only on the main days i.e., Sundays. There is a big shift away from religion and the divinity. That is because the negative energies are greater today, so you have to be very lucky to remain in the divine circle. You have to fight to remain in the divine circle. You have to ask Him, only then He lets you pray otherwise you cannot pray. It will only get worse as time goes by because we live in the age of Kaljug (age of downfall, it is the fourth and final era in the spiritual evolution of man). So, we are living in this age where other things such as money, property and building fortunes are more important than building our personal divine wealth. Generally, everybody is lost.

What is your message to younger Sikhs?
If you can read the scriptures, please do. Those who want the scriptures can call me, we send them out to anybody in the world. So, whoever can pray, do it as many times as you can. And those who can’t, then try and do the Mool Mantar as many times as possible, do it for Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday.

What is Guru Nanak’s principles that you live by?
Guru Nanak ji laid out three principles: Naam Japna, Kirat Karna and Vand Chhakna. It means, keep God in mind at all times, earn an honest living and share your wealth with others. A hungry man cannot pray, so if you look at the message closely and if you live by these rules, you are on the path to meeting God.

Why did you start your projects with India and not elsewhere?
Punjab is the land of the gurus and home to the Golden Temple. Unfortunately, it is also a land with the greatest poverty coupled with the problems of drug addiction, high number of suicides and worse living conditions. I began by supporting an organisation and distributing over millions of copies of the Sacred Nitnem, but somehow it didn’t work out well because there was no honesty in what was being done. That is against my principles. So, I started on my own and set up a small office with two staff. But soon my staff grew, and we eventually bought our own office.

Most of our staff are on the road, knocking the doors of schools, colleges, temples etc., telling people to do the right thing: make your birth a reason to meet the Creator. The kids who have started to pray won’t drink or do drugs because their conscience has been awakened. The candle has been lit and darkness dispelled not by us but by them reading the scriptures through which they find the strength to adopt the three principles of Nanak and become successful in their lives. We have surpassed 500,000 children so far.

Some of our projects are Save Our Sikhs and Save Our Souls. The latter is a long-term project because we are looking at one family to adopt a child and we are targeting 250,000 families to educate 250,000 children and help change lives.

Other projects include Sewa (service), joining people with God through the scriptures. We are successful in that. In Divine Dastar, we have a team of 30 volunteers who teach people how to tie turbans and the reasons behind it. For Guru Granth Sahib ji Ki Sewa, we have eight staff in Patiala go to temples every day to clean the Guru Granth Sahib. We cover their expenses and I get the report every day. They have covered around 2000 temples to date and it’s a very difficult sewa.

Then we have Kriya Guidance programs in schools where we ask the children to dream big and emulate successful people from all walks of life. We have a big chart with many examples of successful people in different careers nailed on to the school wall for their inspiration. We have prevention of suicide project, which is not big at the moment but we are trying to educate the farmers who are poverty-stricken on how to increase their income. We have printed a booklet and give out thousands which tell them how, through direct farming, they can increase their income tenfold. We have been looking to find the right people to carry out the work but as in anywhere in the world, it’s hard to find the right people.

But our crown sewa is the distribution of the Guru Granth Sahib which I started on July 12, 1994. This is a program where families come to take the Guru Granth Sahib to their homes from our Melbourne house. I believe, all other sewas I undertook started from there. They are branches of one tree. When God needs more money, he increases the business. Now that the grandkids are coming, we pray that they join this path and make this grow.

(As told to The Indian Weekly)