Back in my true believing days, I used to enjoy feeling that what I was doing was an act of service to my guru.
This, of course, is a decidedly Eastern perspective. Western religions don't have living perfect masters, who often are considered to God in human form.
But Christians seem to feel much the same when they perform charitable acts in the name of Jesus. Just as I did, they get enjoyment from acting with the thought that someone they love is being pleased.
Now that I've entered my churchless phase, I don't believe in the value of seva (an Indian word meaning selfless service) as I did before. As noted in a "Morality has nothing to do with religion" post a few years ago, selfless service has many guises.
Speaking of painting posts in our carport, I said:
I knew that my wife was going to like the new look of the carport. So would anyone else who lived in our house (we're planning to live here for many more years, but, hey, you never know what the future will bring). I put more care into my painting than the job really required, because I had a feeling that the work I was doing could easily live on after me.
So I wasn't doing it just for myself and my wife. Back in my devotional days I would have dedicated this seva (service) to my guru, or to God. However, today I simply painted with the same quasi-selfless attitude of "not for me, but for thee." The only difference is that I didn't personalize or particularize "thee."
Today I had the same feeling as I took advantage of a sunny dry late November day (fairly rare here in western Oregon) to mow and edge the lawn.
Now that I'm sixty-one, I've come to realize that one day there won't be another day for me.
Or at least for the things I enjoy doing around our rural non-easy-care house. This sense of finitude makes simple chores a lot more meaningful, god or guru not being required to produce virtually the same seva sensation I enjoyed for decades.
As I guided the mower around our large yard, I thought, "Eventually there will be the last time I do this. I could die suddenly. Or get infirm slowly. Regardless, most likely I won't know which is the last time. So this could be it. Right here, right now. The last grass mowing time."
I visualized having a massive heart attack, collapsing by the mower just after I'd finished. When the ambulance (or hearse) arrives, the driver says, "Hey, that lawn looks pretty damn good."
Of course, the purest motivation for doing something is just to do it. Or even more, to do it without really doing it (wu-wei). I'm not there, for sure, because I still get enjoyment from knowing that what I'm doing will benefit others.
This is natural. People like to help other people. We're social animals, not lone wolves.
Religions, recognizing this, channel charitable impulses for theological purposes. Doing good works for goodness's sake gets redirected into "act in the name of Jesus" (or the guru).
Sounds nice. But what the heck does it mean?
I didn't ponder this much in my super-seva days. Now, I can't understand why someone -- which included me for many years -- would consider that a divine being needed or wanted something done for him/her/it.
My wife likes our house kept neat, clean, and tidy. When I painted the carport posts, I knew that she was going to enjoy their new look. However, I'd be hard pressed to explain why God in heaven or a guru in India cared what the posts looked like (assuming they knew the posts existed).
Religion makes people do strange things. Irrational things. Unnecessary things.
Watching sports on TV, I frequently see "sky pointing" after an athlete has scored a touchdown, hit a home run, or some other noteworthy accomplishment. It rubs me the wrong way.
So God supposedly is responsible for your athletic prowess? God acted through you, giving you some special dispensation that the guy defending you, or pitching to you, lacked?
Where's the humility in that attitude? Where's the sensation of service to your team, or the fans? It's all about you when you point that finger at the sky. It isn't enough to just toss the football to the referee or run around the bases. You've got to make something divinely special out of a simple natural act.
Which, I realize now, is what I did myself during many true believing years. My sky pointing was inside my head, so it wasn't blatantly visible to others -- as the gesture of a football or baseball player is.
But it was there.
And now it isn't. Thank goodness.