All great saints and sages have been karma yogis for they truly perform perfect actions without the slightest hint of egoism. They work for the sake of the work and often help others to raise themselves above the mire of social conditions or spiritual poverty. Perhaps one of the most well known examples in this century is Mahatma Gandhi.
Throughout his life, Gandhi performed incredible amounts of work, for he was very little influenced by personal likes and dislikes, whims and fancies. He cleaned his mind of the dross that clutters the mind of most people. Because of this, he was able to view the problems of India and the work that was his duty with pristine clarity. He was able to see only the facts of a situation, without the superimposition of his imagination. His mind was like a magnifying glass - able to see all the details of a situation with heightened clarity. Most people have a mind that is like a misted magnifying glass - only able to see a distorted picture of things because of inner problems.
Most decisions in the world are influenced by personal friendships and enmities. Gandhi was able to overcome this one-sidedness, and it is through this that he obtained his strength. He had no real personal friends in the usual sense of the word, for all people were his friends, even his so-called enemies. None of his actions were done as a favour. He acted because something needed to be done; the situation demanded it to be so. He did that which benefited people in general, that which was for the overall good of the people of India. Some people say that he was stubborn, but actually he did things because he knew his own mind, could understand the mind of other people and the world situation in a clear light and not in a distorted light. He was a politician who had a strong mind, yet he showed deep and sincere compassion for all. By vocation he was a politician; by aspiration he was a great karma yogi.
Mahatma Gandhi achieved what he did by cleaning out his mind, by continuous effort, and by karma yoga. Because of this, he did tremendous amounts of work, both efficiently and without leaving things half done. He never seemed to tire of his work, unlike most other people who do an hour's work and then lose interest or become fatigued. Why was this? The answer of course lies with the mind. Gandhi, through relentless practice of karma yoga, backed up by other forms of yoga including bhakti and kriya yoga, was able to clean his mind. A mind that is calm can do the most intense work for long periods of time without fatigue. It doesn't become diverted by external distractions or inner disturbances. It remains focused on the work in hand. Most people waste their energy on useless petty egotistical arguments, or heated discussions about nothing. Their mental energy and in turn their physical energy, is dissipated in all directions. Little or no power goes towards the work that is to be done. If it did, then large amounts of work would be done; each and every person would be transformed into a Gandhi.
The combination of concentrated power and detachment becomes almost irresistible. It moves mountains, as the saying goes. Gandhi clearly illustrated this, and we emphasise once more that detachment doesn't mean disdain for the things of the world. Gandhi, though he was surely detached, nevertheless felt and expressed overwhelming compassion. Detachment is the attitude of mind where no matter what happens, there is no negative repercussion and resulting mental disturbance in the mind. One does the best that one can do with one's ability, but at the same time one doesn't allow external events to unbalance or 'throw' the mind. This attitude can be slowly developed and applied as it was so successfully done by Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi saw that every action he did was part of the divine process of the universe in accordance with the will of the cosmic consciousness. He was only an instrument, a mere witness of his actions.
There are many other people, both famous and unknown, who have shown that karma yoga is not just an unrealistic ideal, but that it is possible. Saints like Swami Vivekananda and Swami Sivananda expressed total egoless-ness in their interaction with the world - perfect expression, perfect response to given circumstances. What these people have done, you also can achieve. The path and the possibility are open to everyone. Each person can develop a powerful one-pointed mind. Each person can awaken intuitive faculties. Each person can become a karma yogi. All that is required is the urge to attain perfection, together with relentless and continuous practice.