Karma yoga is a path to reach moksha (spiritual liberation) through work. It is rightful action without being attached to fruits or being manipulated by what the results might be, a dedication to one’s duty, and trying one’s best while being neutral to rewards or outcomes such as success or failure. Let me explain by using the example of Arjuna’s story from Gita.
Sri Krishna lays bare the very common situation that most of us frequently labor to choose a right course of action in many situations. Sri Krishna makes it clear that the enigmatic question – what is to be done and what is not to be done? what is Action and what is Inaction? has been a difficult puzzle even for learned sages. Sri Krishna gives Arjuna the complete formula to solve this puzzle from which he would be delivered from this confusion.
One has to know what is Action (Karma), what is Wrong Action (Vikarma) and what is Inaction (Akarma). The way and ramification of Action is very hard to understand (like a thick forest through which light cannot penetrate). One who sees Inaction when there is incessant Action and Action when there is Inaction (cessation of Action) is the wise man. He is situated in Yoga and all his actions proceed from this universal awareness. The awakened Sages regard a man to be wise when all his undertakings are free from eagerness for results and his desires consumed by the fire of the liberating knowledge.
The wise man is ever satisfied, does not need any external support, is not attached to the results of his action. Such a person, even while being engaged in action incessantly, acts only as an instrument of the Divine. He is action-less in his inner calm and homogeneity of will with the Divine. One who has no expectations, is not attached to his personal possessions, has a mind controlled by his Self, performs actions only by the body and does not incur any demerit. For one who is satisfied with what ever comes to him with circumstances, who is beyond dualities (success or failure), who is not jealous of any one, is not swayed with success or failure, does not get bound by merit or demerit of his actions though he is performs actions incessantly.
A person who is free from attachment, is free from dilemma of dualities, has his heart and mind established in Self-Knowledge, does all his work as a sacrifice (Yajnya). Thus all his work is dissolved (without any taint of merit or demerit, does not initiate any ripples of reaction). A karma-yogi displays five characteristics which are, a) emphasis on process than outcome b) obligation towards others c) to act with equanimity d) seek perfection/excellence in action e) to regard work as an offering to higher Self (Ishvarapranidhana).
In summary, doing actions without expectations and honoring ones duty. Swami Vivekananda description of this is “selfless service”. His motto and emphasis was Service to Men is Service to GOD. However, even now in modern day life as a Yoga practitioner if we promulgate Karma Yoga without expectations, we can still reap these benefits of Karma Yoga. It makes negative feelings like ego, hatred, and jealousy disappear. Thus inculcating good qualities like love, humility, and tolerance. This Karma Yoga path will make you look at life in a broader and more liberal manner.