Karma Yoga Book Summary : Swami Vivekananda (English)

Karma Yoga Book Summary – Do you feel burned out or unmotivated at work? Do you feel like you are not appreciated? Do you feel like you deserve more recognition? If your answer is yes, then this is the book for you. Swami Vivekananda will teach you about the love of work, duty, and greatness. You will learn how to be more productive and fulfilled with what you do.

Who should read this summary?

  1. Wage-earners
  2. Members of the workforce
  3. Housewives
  4. Breadwinners
  5. Anyone who wants to learn Karma Yoga


Swami Vivekananda is a great monk and a teacher. He is the first to preach Vedanta and Yoga to the modern world. He traveled all over America and Europe to give lectures. Swami Vivekananda believed that to serve God, you should serve the people. His teachings are valued not only in India but also in other parts of the world.

Karma Yoga Book Summary: Swami Vivekananda


This book is a collection of lectures given by Swami Vivekananda in New York. He spent two and a half years in America where Swami was greatly received. His students raised money so that they could rent an apartment. It is where Swami held free lectures every day. Compiled in this book are all his lectures on Karma Yoga. You will learn about the importance of work and duty. You will learn how to love your work and expect nothing in return. You will learn how to accept duty and fulfil it with your whole heart.

Karma in its effect on the character

Karma came from the Sanskrit word “Kri”. It literally means “to do”. Karma also means “the effects of all actions. In relation to yoga, karma means work. A man’s character is the sum of all his experiences. Whether it’s pleasure or pain, happiness or misery, all of these shape his character. These experiences move him from ignorance to knowledge. What is the true motive behind your actions? People always work with certain motives. Some people work for fame. Some people work for power. Others work for wealth. Some people work to go to heaven. Others work for penance. But the noblest of all is to work for the sake of work. For example, there are people who help the poor. They don’t work because of fame or recognition. They just do it because they believe in good and they like to do good.

Does a man who works for work’s sake gain anything? Yes, in fact, he gains the most. Unselfishness is good for the body, mind and soul. But it takes a great amount of self-control to practice it. Imagine working for 5 minutes without any selfish motive. That is already hard. It is hard to work without thinking of any reward. And so, unselfishness is a manifestation of power. To work for 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 days without any motive, proves a great amount of self-restraint. It takes a strong will and a strong character. Try as much to work without selfishness, without thinking of any reward. A great man plants a lot of good seeds.

He takes care of them every day. But he doesn’t sit and wait for the plants to flower and bear fruits. The man just keeps on working and planting more good seeds. If you want to help a person, do not think about what his reaction would be. Do not wait for a thank you or a return for the favour. If you want to do good work, just keep on it. Instead of waiting for rewards, think of more good things to do. Today, you are driven by selfish motives. But with practice, you will be able to perform unselfish work. Try to practice self-restraint every day. Soon, it will become your habit then it will be part of your character.

Each is great in his own place

Each of us has our own roles and ideals in life. One cannot judge or impose his own ideas on another. If this is the role given to you, strive to fulfil it in the best way you can. Do not try to be somebody else. You are doing well by fulfilling your own role and bringing yourself as closer to the truth. For example, a householder must serve his parents, his wife, children, relatives and neighbours in the best way he can. He must provide for all their needs and protect them. That is his duty. A sannyasin, meanwhile, should fully renounce the world. He should not think of taking a wife or any possession. It is his duty to worship, study and serve God.

The householder and the sannyasin cannot be told to take up the other’s role. Each of them should do his own responsibilities. By doing so, the man achieves greatness. There was once a King who asks all the Sannyasin who came to his land. “Who is the greater man, the Sannyasin who renounces the world or the householder who lives in the world and fulfils his duties?” Some of the wise men answered that Sannyasin is greater. The king then demands proof. When they cannot do it, the king orders them to finally marry and become householders. Some of them answered the householder is greater. When these wise men cannot bring proof, the king also told them to get settled and start a family. Now, there arrives a young Sannyasin who answered that both the sannyasin and the householder are great. Each of them is great in his own place.

The king then said, “Prove it.” “Come and take a journey with me so that I can prove this to you.” the young Sannyasin said. And so the King left his land and all his servants to travel with the Sannyasin. They walked for miles and miles until finally, they arrived at a great kingdom. In that beautiful land, the princess is looking for the right man to marry. She hosts a ceremony every day to find the perfect man. The princess is very beautiful. The man she chooses will rule beside her when the time comes. But she has rejected all her suitors. Many men have presented their selves to her but still, the princess didn’t find what she was looking for. Then one day, she saw a very handsome Sannyasin. The monk just stopped by the kingdom to watch. But the princess fell in love with him at once. She went down from her throne and approached the handsome Sannyasin. She put a garland around his neck which means that she had chosen him.

The handsome Sannyasin was bewildered though. He threw away the garland. He exclaimed, “What is this nonsense? Can’t you see that I’m a Sannyasin? Marriage means nothing to me.”The minister said, “Young man if you marry the princess, you will be the ruler of this whole kingdom.” But the Sannyasin is not moved. He quickly turned around and ran away. The princess cannot take it. She is madly in love. She said, “If I don’t get married to this man, I will die.” And so, the princess ran after the handsome monk. Now, the king and the Sannyasin who came into this land were observing the events all along. They decided to follow the princess and her beloved into the forest.

The handsome Sannyasin knows the forest so well. He found his way out of it and out of the kingdom. He continued on his sacred journey. The princess looked everywhere. She is very exhausted. She sat under the tree and cried for her lost love. She is lost and she doesn’t know what to do. The king and the sannyasin approached her. They offered to help her find the way. But first, they must rest because it’s already dark. They can leave the forest in the morning. And so, the wandering king, the sannyasin and the princess rested under a big tree. There on the top of that tree lived a bluebird, his wife and three kids. The bluebird looked down from the nest and saw the three humans.

The bird said to his wife, “My dear, what are we going to do? We have guests and we do not have a fire for them. They must be freezing on this winter night.”So the bird flew down and picked up a burning branch. He carried it with his beak and brought it in front of the guests. The humans added more branches to it and made a nice bonfire. But still, the bluebird was worried. The bird told his wife, “My dear, what are we going to do? We have no food to offer our guests. They must be really hungry.”And so, what the bird did was to offer his own self. He plunged straight into the fire. The three humans tried to save him. But the fire roasted the father bird at once.

The mother bird thought that there are 3 guests. One bird wouldn’t be enough for them. She thought that it is her duty to help her husband. And so the mother bird plunged into the fire as well. The three little birds are left in the nest. They saw what their parents did. They all agreed that they should carry on the duty of father bird and mother bird. The three little birds plunged down and let the fire consume them too. There are now 5 roasted birds. But the king, the sannyasin and the princess cannot bring themselves to eat. They were amazed at what the birds did. All three of them endured their hunger and let the night pass by. At first light, the two men helped the princess to go home. She returned to her kingdom and her father.

The sannyasin now explained to the king. “My dear King, now you have learned a good lesson. Each person can be great in his own place. There is no need to impose the duty of one person on another.”If you want to live in the world, you should be like the birds. They are ready to sacrifice themselves in the service of others. If you want to renounce the world, you should be like the handsome sannyasin. The most beautiful woman and the richest kingdom meant nothing to him. Fulfil the duty that is given to you. Strive to be the best. Then you can live in peace and be closer to God.

The Secret of Work

Expect nothing in return. That is the secret of work. That is how you will succeed in any career or vocation you choose. Just love your work. Love what you do. A slave is bound in chains that’s why he drags his feet to work. His products are low in quality because he is just forced to do it. And so, work as a master. Do your best and just be happy with your tasks. Once there were 5 rulers who gave a huge feast for the poor. They also showered the poor with plenty of gifts of food, clothes and money. This is in celebration of a great battle that the nation has won. The people of the land felt deep admiration for the 5 rulers.

Then, there arrived a strange mongoose. Half of his body is gold while half of his body is brown. The mongoose went to the middle of the great hall and spoke. “All of you are frauds. This is no sacrifice” he said. The people think the mongoose is crazy. They told him, “Can’t you see the many gifts showered to the poor? The rulers performed the most wonderful sacrifice we have seen.”The mongoose began to tell his story. He came from a small village. There, the mongoose met a Brahmin and his family. He has a wife and two sons. The Brahmin family is poor. They only make small money from teaching and preaching in the village. They live in the simplest way.

But then, there became a famine that lasted for three years. The Brahmin and his family suffered even more. They had nothing to eat for several days. One day, the father came home with a bag of flour. He is very fortunate to have it. The Brahmin divided the flour into four equal parts so his family could have a decent meal. They prepared the floor and got settled at the table. Just as they were about to eat, someone knocked at the door. The Brahmin opened it and saw an old man.“Come in, sir. You are our guest.” The Brahmin said. It is Indian custom to treat a guest very well and to serve him in the best way possible. And so, the Brahmin invited the guest to the table and offered his meal. The old man finished the food at once. He said that he had been travelling for 10 days and he has not eaten anything. The old man is still very hungry.

The wife also offered her meal since the Brahmin has nothing to give anymore. The guest also ate it up but still, he is hungry. The older brother offered his meal also. He said that it is his duty to help his father on his obligation. When the guest has finished the third portion, he is still hungry. And so, the younger brother offered his. Finally, the guest was full. He thanked the family for feeding him and went on his way. Now, they had nothing to eat. The very next day, the Brahmin, his wife and two sons died because of starvation. That is when the mongoose came into their house. The mongoose saw a few bits of flour left on the table. He rolled his body on those. He was surprised because his feathers turned to gold. The sacrifice that the Brahmin family did for the guest is golden. But the mongoose cannot find anything like it in the whole world. That is why only half of his body is gold. A work that is done with love is gold. It is free of any selfish motives. It is free of any negative feelings. The world would be a better place if more people love their work.

What is Duty

Once, there was a young Sannyasin who lived in the middle of the forest. He spent his days meditating and practising yoga. One day, he rested under a tree. Suddenly, dry leaves fell over his head. The Sannyasin looked up. He saw a crane and a crow arguing on top of the tree. They are scattering dry leaves everywhere. The Sannyasin got angry. He shouted, “How dare you throw leaves at me!” He looked angrily at the two birds. The Sannyasin was surprised. The crane and the crow burned upon his glaze. They were turned into ashes. The Sannyasin became very happy with his power.

The time came for him to leave the forest. He went to the town to beg for food. He knocked on a door and said “Mother, please give me some bread.”The woman inside the house replied, “Wait a minute, my son.” The Sannyasin thought “How dare this woman make me wait! She has no idea how much power I possess!” The Sannyasin didn’t voice it out. But then the woman spoke again, “Son, do not think too much of yourself. I am not a crane or a crow.” The Sannyasin waited for a few minutes more. When the woman finally came out, he asked, “Mother, how did you know about the birds in the forest?” The woman replied, “Son, I have no knowledge about the yoga you practice. I am just a simple housewife. I asked you to wait because I am serving my sick husband.”

The woman explained that all her life, she strived hard to fulfil her duty. When she was young, she served her parents. Now that she is married, she served her husband. That is all the yoga she practices. She became enlightened. That is why she can read Sannyasin’s mind. The woman knows what he did in the forest. She advised the Sannyasin to go to the next town. There is a Vyadha there who can give the Sannyasin more wisdom. The Sannyasin thought, “Why should I seek a Vyadha to get more wisdom?” But he went to the next town anyway. He arrived at the market and there he saw the big fat Vyadha. The butcher is cutting his meat and tending to his customers. The Sannyasin thought “God help me. I am going to talk to a Vyadha. He must be the incarnation of the devil!”

As the Sannyasin was standing there, the Vyadha saw him and spoke. “Swami, are you the one that the woman sent here? Please wait for a little. I must serve my customers.” When the Vyadha is done, he picked up all his earnings and asked the Sannyasin to follow him. They went to the Vyadha’s home. He asked the Sannyasin to wait once again. At home, the butcher took care of his old parents. He bathed them both and changed their clothes. He cooked for them and fed them well. He made sure that they are comfortable. After that, the Vyadha talked to the Sannyasin. He said, “Swami, what can I do for you?” The Sannyasin asked the Vyadha some questions about God and the soul. The butcher derived his answer from the Vyadha Gita of the Mahabharata. The Sannyasin was surprised. It seemed like the Vyadha has great intelligence and wisdom.

The Sannyasin asked, “Sir, why are you in that body? You have deep knowledge and yet you do very filthy work.” The Vyadha replied “Son, the truth is that no duty is filthy, ugly or impure. I am born in this circumstance. As a boy, I learned quickly how to be a butcher. I try my best to fulfil all my duties.”The Vyadha does his responsibilities as a householder. He serves his father and mother in the best way he can. He is not a Sannyasin. He did not renounce the world to live in a forest. Yet, the Vyadha feels a great sense of duty and he gives his all to accomplish it.

The lesson here is to treat work as a prayer. Focus on it. Think about your work and nothing else. Just keep on working. Do not think of rewards. Do not think of the hardships or the results. In the story, the woman and the Vyadha performed their duty with their whole hearts. And because of that, they were enlightened. The worker who is attached to the results may complain about his duty. He will not be happy because he is seeking some recognition. But for the unattached worker, the duty is happiness in itself. He accepts the duty given to him and does his best. He lives in peace and contentment because he embraced his duty.

We Help Ourselves, Not the World

Once, there was a poor man who desires wealth. He heard from somewhere he should get hold of a ghost. He could order that ghost to give him money or any possession he likes. And so the poor man asked the help of a sage. He told the sage that he really needs to capture a ghost. The sage told him not to bother with it. The poor man should just go home. But the poor man still insisted. He kept on begging the sage. “Sir, please, I need to have a ghost. Please help me.” He said. The sage was annoyed. He finally gave instructions to the man. “Take this charm with you. Hold it tight while saying the magic words. A ghost will show itself to you. He will follow everything you say.” “But remember, ghosts are dangerous. You must keep the ghost busy. You must always give him something to work on. If you fail, that ghost will take your life.”

The poor man said that it will be easy. He has many things to ask from the ghost. He will not fail. And so, the poor man went deep into the forest. He held the charm and said the magic words. Suddenly, a huge ghost is floating in front of him. The ghost spoke. “You have captured me with your magic. Now, you must keep me busy or else I will kill you.”The poor man gave his order. “Ghost, build me a palace”. In just a second, the palace is there. The ghost said, “It’s done.” “Ghost, shower me with money and pieces of jewellery.” In just a blink of an eye, the man is surrounded by gold, silver and gems. “It’s done.” the ghost said.”Ghost, bring this forest to the ground and build a city on top of it.” In just a second, the city is right there before the man’s eyes. “It’s done.” the ghost said. “Is there anything else?”

Now, the man is scared. He cannot think of anything to ask from the ghost. “Give me something to do now or else I will eat you.” The man is terrified. He ran as fast as he could. He did not stop until he found the sage. “Sir, please! Protect me!”He explained to the sage that he has no orders anymore from the ghost and that it is going to kill him. The ghost arrived then and the man hid behind the sage. “I will eat you.” the ghost kept on saying. Finally, the sage told the man, “Listen carefully. Look for a dog with a curly tail. Take your sword out and cut the dog’s tail. Give the tail to the ghost and order him to go straighten it out.” The man did what the sage said. He gave the curly tail to the ghost and said, “Straighten that out for me.”

Every time that the ghost tried, the dog’s tail kept on curling up. He cannot make it straight no matter what he does. Several days passed by and still, the ghost couldn’t do it. Finally, the ghost was exhausted. He said, “I never had a difficult problem like this in my existence. Let me have a compromise with you.” The ghost told the man, “If you set me free right now, you can keep all the riches I have given you and I promise never to harm you.” The man is pleased with the agreement. He let the ghost go.

The world we live in is like a dog’s curly tail. Many noblemen have tried to straighten it since the beginning of history. But once they let go, the world curls up again. Therefore, it is better not to concern yourself with the immorality and mistakes of the world. Just let it be. Instead, focus on the things you can control. Focus on improving yourself and your work. Strive to be calm, fair, and loving. Serve as many people as you can. The world would still be curled but it is already a noble duty to straighten yourself.


No matter who you are and what you do, you can achieve greatness. You don’t need to be a monk. Even if you are a housewife or a wage earner, you can be enlightened. What’s important is to serve with all your heart. Work for work’s sake. When you don’t expect any reward, then you can truly be happy. You will know peace and you will be free.

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