ajo ’pi sann avyayatma
bhutanam isvaro ’pi san
prakritim svam adhisthaya
sambhavamy atma-mayaya

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 4.6

Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all living entities, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

The Lord has spoken about the peculiarity of His birth: although He may appear like an ordinary person, He remembers everything of His many, many past “births,” whereas a common man cannot remember what he has done even a few hours before. If someone is asked what he did exactly at the same time one day earlier, it would be very difficult for a common man to answer immediately. He would surely have to dredge his memory to recall what he was doing exactly at the same time one day before. And yet, men often dare claim to be God, or Krishna. One should not be misled by such meaningless claims. Then again, the Lord explains His prakriti, or His form. Prakriti means “nature,” as well as svarupa, or “one’s own form.” The Lord says that He appears in His own body. He does not change His body, as the common living entity changes from one body to another. The conditioned soul may have one kind of body in the present birth, but he has a different body in the next birth. In the material world, the living entity has no fixed body but transmigrates from one body to another. The Lord, however, does not do so. Whenever He appears, He does so in the same original body, by His internal potency. In other words, Krishna appears in this material world in His original eternal form, with two hands, holding a flute. He appears exactly in His eternal body, uncontaminated by this material world. Although He appears in the same transcendental body and is Lord of the universe, it still appears that He takes His birth like an ordinary living entity. And although His body does not deteriorate like a material body, it still appears that Lord Krishna grows from childhood to boyhood and from boyhood to youth. But astonishingly enough He never ages beyond youth. At the time of the Battle of Kurukshetra, He had many grandchildren at home; or, in other words, He had sufficiently aged by material calculations. Still He looked just like a young man twenty or twenty-five years old. We never see a picture of Krishna in old age because He never grows old like us, although He is the oldest person in the whole creation—past, present, and future. Neither His body nor His intelligence ever deteriorates or changes. Therefore, it is clear that in spite of His being in the material world, He is the same unborn, eternal form of bliss and knowledge, changeless in His transcendental body and intelligence. Factually, His appearance and disappearance is like the sun’s rising, moving before us, and then disappearing from our eyesight. When the sun is out of sight, we think that the sun is set, and when the sun is before our eyes, we think that the sun is on the horizon. Actually, the sun is always in its fixed position, but owing to our defective, insufficient senses, we calculate the appearance and disappearance of the sun in the sky. And because Lord Krishna’s appearance and disappearance are completely different from that of any ordinary, common living entity, it is evident that He is eternal, blissful knowledge by His internal potency—and He is never contaminated by material nature. The Vedas also confirm that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is unborn yet He still appears to take His birth in multimanifestations. The Vedic supplementary literatures also confirm that even though the Lord appears to be taking His birth, He is still without change of body. In the Bhagavatam, He appears before His mother as Narayana, with four hands and the decorations of the six kinds of full opulences. His appearance in His original eternal form is His causeless mercy, bestowed upon the living entities so that they can concentrate on the Supreme Lord as He is, and not on mental concoctions or imaginations, which the impersonalist wrongly thinks the Lord’s forms to be. The word maya, or atma-maya, refers to the Lord’s causeless mercy, according to the Vishva-kosa dictionary. The Lord is conscious of all of His previous appearances and disappearances, but a common living entity forgets everything about his past body as soon as he gets another body. He is the Lord of all living entities because He performs wonderful and superhuman activities while He is on this earth. Therefore, the Lord is always the same Absolute Truth and is without differentiation between His form and self, or between His quality and body. A question may now be raised as to why the Lord appears and disappears in this world. This is explained in the next verse.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

In this verse, he describes the manner of his appearance.

“Though I am without birth, I appear. I descend in the forms of devas, humans and crawling animals and other forms.”

“But what is remarkable about that? The jiva is also actually without birth, and is born again after the destruction of the gross body.”

The Lord answers: “I have an indestructible body (avyaya atma). The jiva is without birth in the sense that he is a soul apart from his body. He takes birth just because of his relationship with the body which produces ignorance. But my being without birth and my taking birth are not separate from my body, since I am the Lord. Both my birth and not being born are in the same form. As such a thing is difficult to happen, it is certainly astounding and inconceivable. And there is no worry that I will take birth in all sorts of wombs like the jiva who is under the influence of papa and punya, for I am the lord of all the living entities (bhutanam isvarah), not under the control of karma.”

“But the jiva receives bodies of deva, human and animal according to karma by his subtle body which causes his bondage. You, the Supreme Lord, are without a subtle body, and you are all pervading and control karma, time and all other elements. The Sruti says bahu syam: may I become many. (Chandogya Upanisad 6.2.3) From that, it is understood that you are the form of the whole universe. When you say ‘I appear in this particular way,’ I think that must mean that your birth means simply your revealing to people the multitude of varieties of bodies in the whole universe, which are also eternal as types.”

“But how can that be? I make my appearance, situated in my own form (prakrtim svam adhisthaya).”

If the word prakrti meant the external material energy, then its controller, the Supreme Lord, becomes, by inference, a material form, not a special object of realization. Therefore, in conformity to the dictionary meaning (samsiddhi-prakrti tv ime svarupam ca svabhavas ca), the word prakrti means svarupa in this verse. It does not refer to the material energy which arises from his svarupa. The Lord’s svarupa is sac cid ananda.

Concerning the word prakrti, Sridhara Swami says, “You are prakrti which is composed of suddha sattva.” Ramanujacarya. says, “Prakrti means ones own nature. Thus the phrase ‘Being situated in my nature,’ means ‘I appear with my svarupa by my own will.'”

Thus, prakrti means one’s nature, which is condensed sac cid ananda rasa, which is distinct from material energy. The word svam along with prakrti thus indicates “my own true form,” as distinct from others’ true forms.

For the sruti says:

sa bhagavah kasmin pratisthitah sva mahimni

Dear sir, in what is the supreme situated? It is situated in its own glory.  Chandogya Upanisad 7.24.1

Madhusudana Sarasvati gives the following meaning. “I appear, situated in my svarupa. Being situated spiritually, I act without duality of soul and body.”

“But if you have indestructible bodies such as Matsya or Kurma, then why do not your present form and the previous forms appear all at once?

“I appear through my maya coming from my self (atma means self, thus atma maya means my own maya), yoga maya, the function of the cit sakti, which both covers and reveals my svarupas. I appear revealing my present form, having covered the previous forms.”

Sridhar Swami says, “I appear by my energy of jnana, bala and virya which strongly manifest (atma mayaya).”

Atma mayaya can also mean “By my own knowledge,” since maya can mean knowledge in this context: maya vayunam jnanam. The usage is stated by Ramanujacarya: “He continually knows the sin and piety of all entities by knowledge (mayaya).” Madhusadana Sarasvati says: “Maya means the awareness through that body (atma) that I am the Lord, Vasudeva, devoid of difference between body and soul.”

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

4.6 Without forsaking any of the My special qualities, as supreme rulership, birthless, imperishability etc., I am born by My free will. Prakrti means one’s own nature. The meaning is that by employment of My own Nature and taking a form of My choice, I incarnate by My own will (Maya). The character of My own Nature becomes evident from the following Srutis: ‘Him who is of sun-like colour, beyond darkness (Tamas)’ (Sve. U., 3.8), ‘Him who abides beyond Rajas (active matter)’ (Sama; ‘This Golden Person who is within the sun’ (Cha. U. 1.6.6); ‘Within the heart, there is the Person consisting of mind, immortal and golden’ (Tai. U. 1.6.1); ‘All mortal creatures have come from the self-luminous Person’ (Yaj., 32.2); ‘Whose form is light, whose will is truth, who is the self of ethereal space, who contains all actions, contains all desires, contains all odours, contains all tastes’ (Cha. U., 3.14.2); ‘Like a raiment of golden colour’ (Br. U., 4.3.6). ‘Atma-mayaya’ means through the Maya which belongs to Myself. Here the term Maya is identical with knowledge as stated in the lexicon of Yaska: ‘Maya is wisdom, knowledge.’ Further there is the usage of competent people: ‘By Maya, He knows the good and bad of his creatures.’ Hence by My own knowledge means ‘by My will.’ Hence, without abandoning My essential attributes which belong to Me the Lord of all, such as being free of sins, having auspicious attributes etc., and creating My own form similar to the configuration of gods, men etc., I incarnate in the form of gods etc. The Sruti teaches the same thing: ‘Being unborn, He is born in various forms’ (Tai. A., 3.12.7). The purport is that His birth is quite unlike that of ordinary beings. The dissimilarity consists in that He is born out of His own will unlike ordinary beings whose birth is necessitated by their Karma. Thus constured, there is no contradiction also between what was taught earlier and what is taught later as in the statements: ‘Many births of Mine have passed, O Arjuna, and similarly yours also. I know them all’ (4.5); ‘I incarnate Myself’ (4.7); and ‘He who thus knows in truth My birth and work’ (4.9). [All this elaboration is meant to refute the doctrine of mere apparency of incarnations as taught by the Advaitins. Ramanuja, as stated in his Introduction to the Bhasya, upholds the absolute reality of incarnations.] Sri Krsna now specifies the times of His incarnations.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Because Lord Krishna has just confirmed he remembers many births it may be postulated how can He who is without beginning have a birth and how can he who is imperishable have repeated births. How can the Supreme Lord of all transcendant to all dualities such as virtue and sin be embodied like an individual atma or soul. Lord Krishna responds that he comes into being perfectly with all powers such a omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence by yogamaya which is His divine internal potency. It may be further questioned how can Lord Krishna who does not have even a subtle body composed of the 16 material parts be born at all? To assuage these doubts Lord Krishna reveals that from prakriti or material nature which is completely under His control He accepts the nature of sattva or pure goodness and incarnates Himself in His original form of sac-cid-ananda or pure eternity, knowledge and bliss.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

One may wonder that if the Supreme Lord Krishna is eternal then is His svarupa or transcendental body eternal as well? To this Lord Krishna replies that He is unborn. In this verse the words avyaya atma means the eternal body of the Supreme Lord. This also allows for the reality of His many incarnations such as Rama and Buddha. Just as it has been explained previously that the atma or soul being purely spiritual is without beginning and eternal, in the same way the svarupa of Lord Krishna should be understood to exist. One may further wonder how is it He appears to be born if He is without a beginning and eternal? The answer is He manifests Himself by His Self as pure sattva or goodness by His internal potency known as yogamaya through prakriti or material nature which is completely under His control. One may also wonder how it is He being eternal is able to manifest Himself through a material father and mother such as Vasudeva and Devaki? But as both Vasudeva and Devaki are also part of prakriti, Lord Krishna establishes them in pure sattva as well by His yogamaya potency and manifests Himself through them appearing to be born by normal human perception. It should not be thought that Lord Krishna is dependent upon anything or that He is ever born or that He ever dies nor should it be assumed that He uses the material elements of prakriti to create a form for Himself. His form is transcendental and completely in itself and prakriti which is the substratum of all material existence is subservient to Him. The Supreme Lord Krishna manifests His appearances and disappearances and the conditions necessary to descend and ascend by His own sweet will. Atma mayaya infers the consciousness of the soul. Since for material nature there is the distinct word prakriti, here maya is understood to be referring to yogamaya or the consciousness of Lord Krishna’s internal potency. This means that yogamaya arranges the situation and all the details with phenomenal alacrity and intricacy so that Lord Krishna appears to be born like a normal human being but factually this not so. He appears to be born from a mother and a father but actually it is not the case. Isha means great but Ishvara means greater than isha.Therefore it is stated that since Lord Krishna is superior to those who are isha such as Brahma, Shiva and Shesha, only He is to be known as Ishvara or the greatest of the great and none other.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

The question may be asked that if the Supreme Lord’s knowledge is not veiled like Arjuna’s then how is it that He manifests Himself? To alleviate this doubt Lord Krishna replies with the words ajo pi sann avyayatma meaning He is unborn having an imperishable body. His body is purely spiritual without being the result of any previous actions and manifests itself by His own potency for the benefit of all the worlds. Moreover the characteristics of the Lord Krishna’s svarupa or divine form have been well described in the Vedic scriptures the most precise being known as sac-cid- ananda or comprised of eternity, knowledge and bliss. He Himself declares that being the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Supreme Lord of all possessing unlimited forms, attributes and powers which contains the concentrated essence and the maximum of all essences when He manifests Himself by His internal potency known as yogamaya. There is nothing imaginable or unimaginable that is impossible for Lord Krishna. Some commentators interpret this verse to mean that Lord Krishna keeping the material nature under His control manifests Himself through it. But this interpretation is not valid and should not be accepted because it contradicts the Vedic scriptures of the Supreme Lord’s svarupa being sac- cid-ananda. If we are to accept that the Supreme Lord’s svarupa comes from material nature comprised of the gunas or three modes of goodness, passion and nescience then we must accept that it is made of elements like our human body and is perishable also and that is false. The Vedic scriptures state that one who accepts that the Supreme Lord Krishna’s svarupa is made from material elements should be excommunicated and considered as being outside of the Vedic culture and Puranic injunctions. Therefore it should be clearly understood that those that have faith and believe in the Supreme Lord and the eternal Vedic scriptures should accept only the commentaries descending through parampara or authorised Vedic disciplic succession and which are never contradictory to the Vedas, Puranas, Upanisads and other Vedic scriptures.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

4.6 Api, san ajah, though I am birthless; and avyayatma, undecaying by nature, though I am naturally possessed of an undiminishing power of Knowledge; and so also api san, though; isvarah, the Lord, natural Ruler; bhutanam, of beings, from Brahma to a clump of grass; (still) adhisthaya, by subjugating; svam, My own; prakrtim, Prakrti, the Maya of Visnu consisting of the three gunas, under whose; spell the whole world exists, and deluded by which one does not know one’s own Self, Vasudeva;-by subjugating that Prakrti of Mine, sambhavami, I take birth, appear to become embodeid, as though born; atma-mayaya, by means of My own Maya; but not in reality like an ordinary man. It is being stated when and why that birth occurs:

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

4.5-9 Bahuni etc. upto Arjuna. Indeed the Bhagavat is Himself devoid of all bodily connections on account of His having the group of the ‘six attributes’ in toto. Yet, out of His nature of stabilising [the universe], and out of compassion, He sends forth (or creates) that is which the Self is secondary. The meaning is this : He takes hold of a body, in which the Self, with the group of ‘six qualities’ in full, remains secondary because of Its role as a helper of the body. On account of this, His birth is divine. For, it has been created not by the results of actions, but by His own Trick-of-Illusion, by the highest knowledge of Yoga, and by the energy of Freedom of His own. His action too is divine, as it is incabable of yielding fruits [for Him]. Whosoever knows this truth in this manner i.e., realises in his own Self also in this manner, he necessarily understands the Bhagavat Vasudeva beng.

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

ajo ‘pi sann avyayatma
bhutanam isvaro ‘pi san
prakrtim svam adhisthaya
sambhavamy atma-mayaya

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

ajaḥ — unborn; api — although; san — being so; avyaya — without deterioration; ātmā — body; bhūtānām — of all those who are born; īśvaraḥ — the Supreme Lord; api — although; san — being so; prakṛtim — in the transcendental form; svām — of Myself; adhiṣṭhāya — being so situated; sambhavāmi — I do incarnate; ātma-māyayā — by My internal energy.