Realizing dharma for modern yogis

My first inclination was to challenge her; that is none other than my mom. Which, if you grew up in Kolkata in the seventies and eighties you knew better, let alone if the topic involved homework, musical lessons, or yoga practice. My mother was reading us a story from Mahabharata (an ancient Indian epic), where one of the no-so-good prince cheated his way to sending his noble opponent and heir to the throne to fourteen years of asylum into an awful forest, along with his brothers. My question was simple – what’s the point in living a virtuous life if it brings about suffering.  
Now if you grew up in India, this is not an uncommon event: each summer my parents took me and my sister to visit our grandparents from both sides of the family, where we’d spend up to a week.  It was a lot of fun, although traveling in a stuffed train at over hundred degrees of summer heat for over four hours would be considered now-a-days far from fun.  And as it so happened, many of our uncles and aunts would also bring their families to visit grandparents, ending up in a giant gathering of family, countess cousins, sleeping under the stars, and listening to grandpa reading sections from a massive Mahabharata in the evenings under candlelight with everyone gathered around and periodic harassment from droning mosquitoes. As a pre-teen boy I loved the stories, but always wondered how those applied to my life, since I am not a king or prince, and do not ride around on horses, with gods disguised as charioteers!
As usual, my mother’s response was designed to create curiosity: when living in this life, under the circumstances and within the world that immediately surrounds us, we are unable to see the “big picture.” Just like a fish swimming in a river has very little perspective on the origin, the meandering, and the delta of the river, we each have very little understanding of the path and purpose of our lives, and more importantly of our soul’s journey through lifetimes, based on what we see, do, and learn in our immediate present. Yoga talks about Dharma.  Your Dharma is that bigger picture, the river-like confluence of your many lifetimes that continuously shapes the facets of your soul’s evolution.   
I have always enjoyed the movie Red Violin.  It is a collection of sequential short stories through centuries, where each story seems so discrete until you see that the threads of one weaves into the fabric of the other to make the journey of this violin.  Each distinct story brings different conditions, era, seeming fate and outcome of the violin, but the audience witnesses how each story is shaped by its previous, and ends up influencing the next.  Similar to an individual story of the Red Violin, the life of the ill-fated prince sent to fourteen years of asylum may seem unfair and undeserving, but the prince has to have perspective of the bigger picture to make sense of the present and find peace under the immediate circumstance.  That is one of the key morals of Mahabharata that keeps showing up:
following one’s Dharma and holding a perspective that there is a bigger purpose to the soul than what appears in a single lifetime between birth and death.  
Today each of our modern lives is filled with opportunities and challenges.  We are shaped by our likes and dislikes, and conduct our lives based on our individual belief system. Technology and profusely available information brings about emotions and reactions of harmony and conflict easily and abundantly. It creates opportunity to judge ourselves and others in the narrow and incomplete view, as if a momentary frozen snapshot is a complete indication of the entire video-stream of events.  Unlike the world in India that I grew up in, the modern western world poses the incredible challenge where the speed of events, circumstances, news, and opinions bombard and compel us to forget that each of these experiences are limited in their scope and hence not a presentation of the continuum. In fact nothing can provide continuous picture until we pause to look at our belief system and try earnestly to understand through the very limited and individualized tool available to us, that is our mind, how to see the world and all beings without our colored and biased lenses as part of a continuous evolution.
Purposeful living is to live from the perspective that every thing, every event, every one, and all circumstances are going through an evolution and what we see is simply a momentary photograph in this timeline. Just as a moment is a small part of a day, and a day is a small part of the year, similarly this lifetime of yours is a small fraction of the many lifetimes that is the evolutionary journey of your soul.  Just as a photo becomes richer when it captures a broader story of its subject, living from a place of harmony is to constantly hold the perspective that no matter how much you think you can see or capture in your experience, there is much more to it than what your limited mind and colored lens of perspectives can ever capture.
In the last chapter, the Red Violin ends up in a modern museum inside a glass case, after a gala auction.  And even though visitors to the museum can appreciate the red violin, none can possibly fathom the journey and soul-evolution it has gone through without witnessing it all, and perhaps never without experiencing the same in its entirety.  Only the movie-audience knows how much more there is to the story than what any museum visitor can possibly appreciate.  
You may be thinking that the sum total of what I have tried to say above is no more significant than well-known adages: don’t judge a book by its cover, or there’s more to the story than meets the eye.  So I leave you with this challenge: next time you are drawing a conclusion, making a judgement, loving or hating any event, news, people, or experience, pause and ask the question: what is the belief system and the color of your lens through which you are drawing your conclusion? Then know that everyone else has similar and different lenses as a result of their own evolutionary paths in their lifetimes. It does not make anyone right or wrong, friend or enemy, good or bad.  It is just that everyone is looking at a photograph, perhaps the photograph of his or her own life, and thinking that is absolute.   
Just as the prince in asylum you may be able to breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that your soul, and everyone else’s, has a bigger purpose or Dharma than any singular set of events experienced in a singular lifetime.