There is a lot of focus on telling Sikh youth about how they should appear. Sometimes we guilt or shame them into becoming what we want them to be. So when the child grows up and makes his or her own choices, for example the boy who becomes a teen and cuts his hair, we are disappointed, shocked, and angry. We didn’t realize the tactic of coercion to get our children to do things doesn’t hold up very long. Maybe we force him to keep his hair, but then he is only Sikh in his appearance and not internally. I think its important that rather than just focusing on the external things, let us create a love for Sikhi inside the child. A love so deep that if challenged or questioned, that they will find their way back again. In order to do that, we need to focus on the qualities of a Sikh, the basic teachings. The teachings of treating each person with respect, being accountable for your actions, quality between men and women, standing up for what’s right, never giving up or giving in. There is no use in putting on a false appearance if the inside is nothing.
Many of us live behind a mask. They want everything to look good to an observer from the outside, and that’s all that matters. Maybe you didn’t notice your mask because you use it so much. It’s the “fake self” that smiles when you are falling apart inside, that lies and pretends to be someone it is not. The mask can be anything anyone wants it to be, whatever is convenient and will help to gain an advantage. This is successful, no doubt. I’ve seen a lot of people pretending to be someone they are not and being successful in building a career or getting superficial things and becoming popular. They don’t share their real challenges or hardships, they brag about their achievements and possessions. They justify their fake life by these outer signs of success, and maybe because the fear that actually being their real self will lead to rejection. If a person rejects the mask it doesn’t matter. If you are trying to be a real Sikh and standing by your values, you will be forced to stand up for your actions and decisions and that can be hard. Maybe you aren’t prepared to actually do that work, you think coasting through life is a better plan. After all, no one is giving you a medal for working harder than everyone else by being your true self.
If I lost you with the idea of the mask I’m going to bring in some cultural examples of how we are putting on appearances instead of actually living the values of Sikhism. Shame drives a lot of the behaviors in our culture. In western culture its about guilt. In our culture its about honour and shame. A person can do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t bring shame to the family. They can be the biggest criminal, do the worst possible things, as long as they aren’t caught, it is fine. It brings them the fancy cars and the mansion so it looks great. But the minute that person is caught, they are nothing to their family because they brought shame to the family. When do we stop focusing on appearances and earn an honest living like Guru Nanak Dev Ji taught us? We teach boys its ok to date as many girls as they want as long as they marry the quiet daughter-in-law that knows how to cook and clean and doesn’t stir up trouble, because the appearance of having that daughter-in-law matters. We teach our girls- our sisters and daughters that are the victims of sexual violence to suffer in silence. If she speaks up, at the time she needs the most support, she is abandoned and blamed for something that she had no fault in. “She brought shame to the family”, “what will people think”, “she is nothing to us” brings about disgusting behaviors like so-called “honour killings.” What a tragedy. How can we do this to our daughters and sisters and still be called Sikhs? So when do we stop focusing on appearances and support our daughters and sisters?
The person who wears the mask attends the gurdwara to show off their fancy clothes and brag to other people. After all, again, its about what other people would say or think if they didn’t do that. Being a Sikh is not about the appearance of attending the gurdwara. Its not about the show, its about what is in your heart. Going to the gurdwara is about sangat. Its about the power a group of people there for the purpose of advancing your knowledge in spirituality, just like we go to school. Instead of really understanding the meanings of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, we have started to just worship, which is not what the Gurus taught us. We need to learn and use the knowledge.
I’m here reminding you that that mask is preventing you from having a true connection with anyone. That the mask is defeating our life purpose. The greatest way to serve God is living the Sikhi values. God gave us this mind to be able to make our own decisions and be accountable for them. Life is about making decisions that further the soul to be one with God, everything else is an illusion and will go when you die. Don’t let the core of the being be lost to Maya- the illusion of this world (lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride also known as kaam, krodh, lobh, moh, hankaar). We weren’t born as Sikhs to hide behind a mask. Being true to yourself will get your soul somewhere that the mask can’t. Pretending you are something you are not is just doing harm to the true purpose of that soul. In order to teach our children, we have to walk the walk and throw the mask away.