The essence of a Sikh is the the search for Waheguru. The path towards reaching this goal is most elusive. It requires tempering ones mind, colouring ones mind with thirst for reaching this goal and love for Waheguru and everything within Wahegurus creation.
Ultimately, it is the mind alone that holds the key. But the mind is not easily tempered. It is so easily distracted. Try sitting even for a few minutes closing your eyes and thinking of one thing, and the mind quickly jumps elsewhere. The mind both holds the key and presents the greatest obstacle. It quickly angers at the slightest provocation, becomes enamoured with the opposite sex, seeks to have all of that which it does not have, grows attached to that which it does have, and, worst of all, thinks only of its own immediate pleasures.
Sorat Mahala 9
man re, kon kumat tai leeni
Oh mind, where have learned such filthy habits
par dara nindia ras rachio
Engrossed in lust and slander,
ram bhagat nai keeni
You have refrained from meditating on Waheguru.
Though the obstacles seem insurmountable, Gurbani, the experience of the Gurus, can serve as a guide. The essence of being a Sikh is to allow the experience of the Gurus to serve as our guide. The Gurus have tread this path, faced these same obstacles that we face, and they overcame these obstacles and reached their goal, through both simran and seva, meditation and service. But, from the Gurus experiences, it is also clear that one cannot tread this path alone. One requires two elements in ones life. One is sangat, the company of those who also walk on this path. Our sangat, the people we hang around with, has such an influence over us that with time we begin to mould ourselves into the shape of our sangat. If our sangats focus is on sports, then we will mould ourselves to also enjoy those sports. If our sangats focus is on drugs, then eventually we will be led towards experimenting with drugs and maybe addiction. If our sangats focus is on reaching Waheguru, then the influence of that sangat will awaken a spiritual thirst amongst our own selves as well.
vadhbaghi har sangat bhavai
The very fortunate ones find the sangat that is focussed on Waheguru
bhagheen bhram chota khavai
The unfortunate ever dwell in doubt and confusion, and suffer pain
bin bhaga sat sang na labai
Without good fortune, one does not find the true sangat
bin sangat mael pareejai jio
Without such sangat, the mind is ever consumed by filth.
But Sangat is just one ingredient. The second is discipline. Reaching any goal requires discipline. Ask any olympic athlete how much discipline they have had to have in their own lives in order to reach the stage they have. The spiritual goal, perhaps more difficult than any other endeavour in life, requires much discipline in every aspect of our lives (emotional, mental, and physical). And, though the spiritual journey towards Waheguru is purely an internal one, the mind is so affected by external influences that one must seek to eliminate negative external influences in ones life and surround themselves with positive external influences that will assist them on the internal journey. Sangat, for instance, is one external influence. Receiving Amrit, one chooses to follow the Sikh way, and one adopts an external form that is intended to promote disciplined living. The kakkars, the daily routine of Nitnem, all of these should be used to ones advantage towards a disciplined lifestyle.
This is not to say that all of those that adopt the external form of a Sikh are living a disciplined lifestyle and making progress on the spiritual journey. Many, perhaps most, are not. The inward journey is so difficult that many who have sought to walk on this spiritual path have fallen from it, due to their inability to disengage their minds from the vices the mind covets, and the inability to temper their minds with love for Waheguru. For them, the external manifestations are all that remain to show that, once, they had attempted to walk on this path. For them, the external manifestations are a constant, daily, reminder that they must make the attempt again. They may fail again, but if the external remains, the self, which is so easily affected by external queues, will eventually pick itself up and make the attempt again to walk on the spiritual path. Life, for many who try to walk on this path, becomes a constant struggle, but without the external queues to remind them of their journey, there may be no struggle towards Waheguru at all. The one that has struggled but failed in the spiritual journey is richer still than the one that has never even attempted the journey.
Then too, many who have adopted the external form of a Sikh do so merely because it has become a tradition in their families. Perhaps, in many such cases, other than wearing the symbols of Sikhi, there is no evidence of Sikhi in their lives. Perhaps, one day, they will also attempt to tread on the spiritual path. Perhaps they will not.
Our minds, it seems, constantly seek out the negative in others, to convince ourselves that we are doing pretty well ourselves (even if we are not). Seeing other people engaged in things we perceive as wrong provides us an opportunity to forgive our own mistakes and feeds our egos. It is not "society", Sikh or otherwise, that is hypocritical. It is our own minds that are hypocritical.
Even my use of the word "our" in the above seeks to hide my own hypocrisy. I am the greatest hypocrite. I see only the weaknesses in others, and I overlook their strengths. And, I hide my own weaknesses from others, and present to the world only the facade that I consider my strengths.
man tu garab aitia garab ladia jayai maya mohni mohiya
Oh mind, you are laden with filth, and thus laden you will depart from this world, Maya (worldly attachments) the enchantress has trapped you,
phir phir juni pavayai garab ladia jayai
and it will cause you to traverse over and over the cycle of life and death. You walk forward loaded with filth
mugad man ant gaiya pashtai
oh foolish mind, in the end you will regret it
ahankar tisna rog laga birtha janam gavayai
Riddled with the disease of ego and desires, you are wasting your life
manmukh mugad chetai nahi agay gaya pachtavhai
The foolish person does not not remember Waheguru and later regrets it
eho kahe Nanak man tu garab atia
Thus says Nanak, oh mind, you are laden with filth,
garab ladia jayai
and thus laden you will depart from this world.
The important thing is to not look towards those who have fallen from the path and be disuaded from walking it yourselves, because on any journey, there will always be more people that attempted and failed than have reached their goals successfully. For the millions of children that toil with their footballs on a daily basis and dream of playing professionally, most will not succeed. But it is the few that do succeed that inspire others to continue to try to make the attempt. The important thing, in the spiritual journey, whether you walk on that path as a Sikh or otherwise, is to look at the example of those that have tread that path and succeeded, and to gain inspiration from them.