The name and signature of any particular element is of primary importance in changing a cultural, psychological or technical system. For instance, these days the main problem in discussing Indian religious and secular culture is semantic confusion. Terms like "religion" are used from a purely Christo-Islamic perspective, rather than understood from within the 'pagan' Indic context. 'Hinduism' is called a "religion" by secularists, and 'Hindutva' fundamentalism is compared to Islamic fundamentalism. This is ludicrous. Similarly, within the cacophony of 'Hindutva' aspirants, many do conflate reinforcement of tradition with an all-inclusive eternal philosophy, thus justifying the reservations some opponents may have. [See 'Triangulating Hindutva: The Fundamentalist, Reformist & Traditionalist'].
Two kinds of dharmas - faith-based and ethics-based
There are two main categories of Dharma (broadly, Ethics). In its most comprehensive and truly universal sense, it is One Sanatana Dharma (eternal Dharma), or the Philosophia Perennis that Western philosophers have tried to discern. Then there are the several dharmic applications that are bound by purpose, culture, etc.
Among these applied dharmas, there are again two types - those dharmas that are received as "managed" solutions for the individual or a society, and those that are received as "unmanaged" solutions for the individual or society. This blogpost focuses on these two.
Consider an analogy that is applicable to, both, the individual as well as a society. The figure below describes an operating environment. Its substrate is an operating system that provides an unlimited set of resources, mapping logics, etc. But at the very top, the actual observed behaviour only reflects that part of this fundamental system that is allowed to shine through. Even those parts that are allowed to shine through may be intercepted and over-ridden. Most other aspects may be suppressed, or masked.
When elements are deployed using an Unmanaged solution, the effects deployed over-write (not merely over-ride) any previous effects of the same name and signature within the environment.
Secondly, after deployment it is as if the initial solution's "wrapper" is of no consequence. It is discarded and the bundle of contents simply becomes part of the native environment and reacts with it like a solute does with a solvent.
In this way, the contents forever become part and parcel of that environment - they can never be deleted as a finite package of elements, but their net effect can be over-written or transformed based on future additions and reactions.
Since it over-writes (not over-rides) an element, the only way to restore that element to its pre-customized state would be to somehow re-connect with the fundamental systemic substrate wherever it may be accessible, query it, and then duplicate the desired element in the environment via a new Unmanaged customization.
When a bundle of elements is deployed using a Managed solution, then post-deployment it remains in its "wrapper", insulated from the native context of the environment it is deployed in. It seeks to stay as a bundle within its own bubble context, and duplicate its effects as is, rather than by adding to the net effect of the native environment. It uses the native environment's resources for its own operation, giving back only its intended effects to change the native environment.
Any chance interaction with the native environment through a hole in the wrapper can cause Byzantine behaviour requiring troubleshooting.
It over-rides (not over-writes) any corresponding elements of the same name and signature of past solutions, by superimposing its own effects as is. Only those effects of a past managed solution continue to shine through that are not explicitly over-ridden within the new managed solution.
If the managed solution is deleted then all its effects are deleted as if it were never there. Any effects of underlying system or older managed solutions then reappear in Application Behaviour (without having to reconnect or deploy another solution).
Another thing about Managed solutions is that they always need the external vendor (who built it) or his explicit legatee for any issue that crops up - hence it is called a 'Managed' solution. If the contract and dependency on the external vendor is broken, then the managed solution could stall and not yield any effects, or even create problems with no one to make even a show of troubleshooting. A period of such chronic misbehaviour ought to be a justifiable case for deleting it (or at least removing the wrapper and converting it into an Unmanaged solution). But hostile priesthoods and selfish anti-national politicians have a vested interest in reinforcing the wrapper by reinforcing isolation (ghettoization or caste-exclusivity) and contracting out to an elite core group.
Dharman is an Unmanaged Way to deploy different selected potentials of Brahman. Therefore in the Bharata culture, discussion of Dharman is anterior to Brahman. The human body and its cultural symbiotes are like the wrapper needed for the potentials to be deployed, and thereafter is of no karmic consequence to the actual realization of the potentials. Whereas in non-Dharmic "religions", the Brahmanic potentials are sought to be deployed without the context of Dharma, and therefore are deployed as managed solutions, in which the integrity of the wrapper is very important for predictable behaviour. Even without a hierarchical priesthood, when such non-Dharmic religions deploy themselves as a franchised network, their ideological integrity and sanctity of their idolized scriptures of personalities is of critical importance to their survival. Whereas in a Dharmic pantha those are only via media, intrinsic but not critical, because of the constant awareness of the Perennial Philosophy that is the real substrate, rather than obsession with a particular historical time, place, form or event.
Where the wrapper is considered fundamental, there karma is cumulative - whether it is good karma or bad karma. 'Wrapper' can be a particular book, personality cult, organizational hierarchy, caste system, etc. When the wrapper is not considered fundamental in an Unmanaged customization, there karma is being changed directly - either rightly or dangerously, depending on the contents deployed and the state of the context.
Tone of the Context
Lastly, it would be an omission to not acknowledge that if the environmental context itself comes alive and becomes an active participant in the process rather than merely a passive recipient, that is a real game-changer. If people spilled out onto the streets, beside themselves with humble joy and creative enthusiasm, it is a game-changer. Similarly, if bloody revolution and conspiracy is in the air, that is also a game-changer - and then it doesn't matter if the society is moving towards "democracy", because certain types of forces will win power anyway.
Priests, Politicians and WizardsClearly, one way the effects of a Managed Solution can be masked is by inventing and deploying another managed solution that hides and overrides it, element for element. But this is playing the same faith game, and susceptible to the same limitations as the problematic Managed solution. If the new managed solution is deleted then the older managed solution's effects again reappear. A cult that is tightly controlled by a priesthood can be deprogrammed much more easily than an ideology that survives as a franchised network that injects itself culturally into the mainstream discourse.
The other way to block its effects is to deploy new behaviors via an Unmanaged solution, which would have the effect of modifying the mainstream discourse itself in a way that inoculates it from evil invasion.
Using Managed solutions to modify and correct the evil effects of older Managed solutions is a typical dialectic process - it is unidirectional and can only move forward without ever regaining original virginity.
Using Unmanaged customization is double-edged - it depends on what is being injected into the mainstream, and whether there exists a real, live channel of communication with the fundamental substrate. Only that live channel can ensure right customization at any stage.
This is the task that must be accomplished by the interplay between a nation's governing Constitution, its public discourse (education, media, etc.) and religious movements.
At different points in the last 1400 years, the local System Administrators have cooperated in the deployment of different modules of certain Managed solutions that seek to suppress or exploit the native environment. Feudal Casteism, Islam, Christianity and now pseudo-secularist Marxism are cases in point. One finds that the priest-hoods controlling these Managed solutions jockey with rival priesthoods in a mutually convenient musical chairs, as long as the environment isn't fundamentally altered.
Thus, Dharma-friendly Managed solutions do need to be crafted in order to "contain" the more harmful and invasive effects of the exploitative Managed solution -- but only as a stop gap measure before all are deleted and the system is reset via an Unmanaged refurbishment. That deletion can safely be undertaken only after an Unmanaged component can be deployed that has a live connection with the fundamental substrate. E.g. Cloud Resource in the diagram above.
Buddhism itself was an attempt to reconnect with the fundamentals and reset the environment - but when Buddhism itself became a Managed solution and the sangha wrapper assumed ascendancy in league with mercantile or government interests, it only served to deracinate existing religious applications, without following it up with reinvigorating the fundamentals and re-aligning with Veda. I believe this happened partly because the tone of the environmental context was not optimal for the kind of discourse that could lead to real change; rather, it caused conservatism even when there was desire for political peace in the post-Ashokan period.
Secularism and Paganism
One can observe the operation of different memes based on how they were deployed, and the historical order in which they were deployed. India as a civilization is "wounded", i.e., it still retains its fundamental operating basis to a large extent, but has borne the brunt of every possible effort and stratagem to destroy that basis. Other civilizations are twice-deracinated - their fundamental operating basis has been ruthlessly destroyed by one Managed Solution and its Unmanaged counterparts, and then they have suffered a second round of the same. E.g., Russia and generally the Slavic nations were first deracinated by Christianity, and then by Communism. When Communism was deleted, the Church re-surfaced to some extent (modified by the mainstream discourse). The Islamic world is once deracinated, while within it subcultures like Persia are twice deracinated like Slavic nations. With the West the situation is still different for reasons of political economy, and there are ambiguous attempts to try to dissolve Christianity as an Unmanaged solution within its secular context. In each case, the solutions to return to a holistic state will be slightly different. In all cases, a return to secularism, or I daresay paganism, are important. In the case of India, this is important to consider as an advantage and a repository. Paganism is essentially the name given by hostile Managed solutions to native host environments.
Practically speaking, how to engineer the optimal dynamics between Managed and Unmanaged solution? Simply by preventing or countering the necessary things that a wrapped, bundled and strings-tied managed solution needs to deploy and survive. In this regard, the "neti neti" process is relevant in terms of self-definition, as an individual or as a civilization.
It would then be an interesting exercise to jot down how governmental policy can incorporate Dharmic ethics by being an able System Administrator with sound policy on the kinds of Managed and Unmanaged solutions that can be deployed in the system, as well as the relative order in which they are deployed.
As a guideline, a truly secular government cannot extend active support to Managed solutions, though it may have a policy of, say, incentivizing faith-based initiatives applicable to all. However, the government can actively ensure that all Managed solutions have a level playing field. Native Managed solutions must be protected from Managed solutions with wealthy and powerful foreign vendors and priesthoods. E.g., a principle of reciprocity can be introduced - if your country will not allow XYZ to be deployed in your environment, we cannot allow you to sponsor the deployment of ABC in our environment. Or, a low ceiling on foreign-funding to NGO's active in deployment of Managed solutions can be set by governmental policy.
However, a truly secular government can and must define its value system in Dharmic terms, in terms of its overall worldview. This worldview has, for instance, been talked about at length by India's Constitutional fathers such as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The revitalization of certain Dharmic memes in the mainstream are an important part of this. E.g., Dr. Ambedkar was a vigorous advocate of Sanskritization. [See 'Sanskrit 2.0 and Diversity Policy - 1'].
The government also has a responsibility to ensure that the 'PH value' of the Indic solvent remains Dharmic. That means not just in name but in actual values. Practically, that means that all pseudo-'Dharmic' impostor memes in our society need to be broken down, especially when they have outlasted their legitimate purpose and usefulness. That means any structures or forms that are obsessed with reinforcing the need for their "wrapper" - the fixed integrity of their priesthood, bodies and cultural exclusivity based on being legatees of some past vendor.
Rushdie and Naipaul
Salman Rushdie says regarding his transforming relationship with Muslim culture in the Subcontinent and Pakistan in particular, in his novel Shame: “I tell myself this will be a novel of leavetaking, my last words on the East from which, many years ago, I began to come loose […] It is part of the world to which, whether I like it or not, I am still joined, if only by elastic bands.” This mirrors the condition of Western 'secularism' and its relationship with Christianity. Many Indians from different communities would echo the same sentiment to some extent or another. On the other hand, V.S. Naipaul calls India a wounded civilization and wants to heal a historical wrong while criticizing the agencies of those crimes. A comprehensive Dharmic secularism should encompass both these good aspirations within a larger process.
Indian secularism does need some Modi-fication. A truly Secular Government would not discriminate based (primarily) on belief-system, but rather on its ethical effect in the environment. In other words, government should not practice मतभेद but rather धर्मविवेक. Secondly, government does this not by fiat, but by coordinating with grassroots Dharmic organizations and by stakeholders in the national discourse under an overarching constitutional framework.
The upshot of this is that no belief-system can consider itself immune to criticism or questioning, either in terms of its beliefs or the actions and opinions of its people.