Swami Vivekananda began working on Karma Yoga when he returned to New York from London in December, 1895. It was not his habit to do much actual writing himself; a stenographer was employed to record his lectures. It is thanks to the efforts of the stenographer, J. J. Goodwin, an Englishman who became Vivekananda’s disciple, that Vivekananda’s teachings, including his exposition of karma yoga, have survived. Karma Yoga is one of four volumes by Vivekananda describing the different paths to enlightenment in Vedanta. The other volumes are on raja yoga (the principal system of yoga as taught by the ancient seer, Patanjali), jnana yoga (the way of knowledge), and bhakti yoga (the way of devotion).
Karma Yoga is divided into eight chapters. Vivekananda’s style is simple, straightforward, and logical. In almost every chapter, he includes a story or anecdote from the Indian tradition to illustrate his main point. In keeping with his universalist outlook, Vivekananda also alludes to the Buddha and to Christian teachings. Sometimes he throws in an analogy drawn from science, especially physics, to make his point.