Krishna is AtmA by S.N. Sastri
In the gItA Krishna speaks as Brahman and not as an individual or even as an incarnation. He is referred to in the gItA as bhagavAn which means saguNa brahman. The meaning of the word Krishna has been given in a popular verse thus: ‘kRRiSh’ stands for Existence and ‘Na’ for Bliss. The union of the two is Krishna, the Supreme Brahman. In Srimad bhAgavatam it is said – krishnastu bhagvAn svayam—Krishna is bhagavan Himself, contrasting him with all the other incarnations which are said to be only part-manifestations (amsha avatAra).
In gItA, 4.14 Krishna says:
Actions do not taint Me; for Me there is no hankering after the fruits of actions. One who knows Me thus, does not become bound by actions.
The verse merely says that one should know that Krishna is not a doer and that he has no desire for the fruits of actions. But how can such a knowledge alone make a person free from bondage? This is clarified in the bhAShya on this verse. It says:
Anyone else too, who knows Me thus, as his own self, and realizes that he is not a doer and has no craving for the fruits of actions [performed by the BMI)] incurs no bondage. His actions cease to be the cause of further birth.
Thus, what is necessary is the realization that, like Krishna, we are also the self and not the BMI. Here Krishna has been clearly mentioned as the self or AtmA.
The same reasoning should be applied in interpreting verses 4.9 and 9.11 even though Shri Shankara has not made this so explicit as in the bhAShya on 4.14.
In verse 4.9 Krishna says:
He who thus knows truly (tattvataH) the divine birth and actions of Mine does not get rebirth after casting off the body. He attains Me, O Arjuna.
The real meaning of this verse, if we apply the same reasoning as in 4.14, is that one who realizes that he too, like Krishna, is really the Atma and that he has neither birth nor any activity, because they pertain only to the BMI, will become liberated. The interpretation that by merely hearing the accounts of the Lord’s incarnations and the deeds performed by Him, which are narrated in the purANas, one can get liberation ignores the significance of the word ‘tattvatah’ which means ‘ in reality’.
In verse 9.11 also, what is said about Krishna should be taken as applying also to every individual. as shown below.
In Gita 9.11 the Lord says that fools disregard him, taking him to be just an ordinary human being. Interestingly, an almost identical statement is made by Kapila, another incarnation of the Lord, in Srimad Bhagavatam, Skandha 3, ch.29, verse 21. There Kapila says that he, as Brahman or Atma, dwells in every living being, but unaware of this, people worship only images, thinking that God is only there. A comparison of these two verses shows that the meaning of both is the same. The real meaning of Gita 9.11 is not that people do not recognize Krishna as the Lord, but that they do not realize that Krishna, as the Atma, dwells in every living being. It is he, as the AtmA, who has taken the form of all human beings. So we should see the same self in every human being. This is hinted at by the following statement in the bhAShya on this verse:
Foolish people, the non-discriminating ones, belittle Me, although I am by nature thus eternal, pure, intelligent, free and the self of all beings, and who have taken a human body common to men, i.e., when I act with the help of a human body.
It is this realization that will free one from bondage and not mere knowledge of God’s incarnations and the acts performed by such incarnations as narrated in the puraNas. The real meaning of the Gita verses 4.9, 4.14 and 9.11 is thus much more profound than what appears on a superficial reading.