Without doubt, virtues such as humility, sweetness, honesty, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, trust etc are greatly emphasized in Gurbani.
It is also said that spirituality cannot prosper in a life filled with vices. One needs to inculcate virtues to grow spiritually.
This condition makes some people doubt that virtues are the essence of spirituality. They believe that if one can inculcate these virtues through other means, one need not worry about spirituality or religion.
I believe that we are not entirely wrong when we say that virtues are the essence of spirituality because we know that God is the embodiment of all the virtues. So, in a way, becoming virtuous is becoming God like. In other words, when we acquire virtues, we get closer to our true self. And getting closer to our true self is the purpose of human life.
However, there is a critical difference between forceful enactment of virtues, which is the case in character building without spirituality, and the natural outflow of virtues, which is the case when we focus on spirituality. For example: water is the same whether it is in the tank or it is in the river. However, the crucial difference is that the water in the tank is not connected to the ocean, and is stagnant. Thus, after some period of time, the water in the tank gets dirty while the water in the river remains ever-fresh. To keep the water clean in the tank, ongoing efforts are needed. On the other hand, the water in the river remains clean without any effort.
Similarly, when one builds a character without its base on the spirituality, the person may acquire virtues, but to maintain those virtues, efforts or struggle is needed. Besides, there is a constant fear of failing since one can struggle only up to a limit. On the other hand, a spiritual or divine life is filled with virtues effortlessly. Just as there is no fear of light turning into darkness, there is no fear of divinity turning into vices. A realised person or a Saint is a divine light, and by his nature is full of all virtues.
In addition, a spiritual life is filled with endless peace, love, joy, and spiritual power, which is not the case for a person who is always struggling to maintain his character.
Thus, a life of virtues without its base in spirituality is no match for the enormity and greatness of a spiritual life.
Besides, a person of virtue does not realize his true nature and remains under the illusion that he is separate from God and thus, the universe. However, a spiritual person realized his oneness with God and thus, the entire universe.
So, we should strive not just to be a virtuous person but to realize our true self through spiritual growth. Of course, on the path of spiritual growth, trying to inculcate virtues through efforts is necessary till the time we touch on the fountain of virtues within.