We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages.
From the Winthrop Sargeant translation of The Gita…
26. And moreover even if you think this
To be eternally born or eternally dead,
Even then you should not mourn for this, Arjuna.
27.For the born, death is certain;
For the dead there is certainly birth.
Therefore, for this, inevitable in consequence,
You should not mourn.
28. Beings are such that their beginnings are unmanifest,
Their middles are manifest,
And their ends are unmanifest again.
What complaint can there be over this?
29. Someone perceives this as a wonder,
Another declares this as a wonder,
Still another hears of this as a wonder;
But even having heard of this, no one knows it.
30. This, the embodied Self, is eternally indestructible
In the body of all, Arjuna.
Therefore you should not mourn for any being.
Notes on the Sanskrit:
For “inevitable in consequence” Sargeant translates that part in the straight translation (as opposed to the poetic translation), “inevitable in purpose.” The word is tasmaadaparihaarye ‘rthe: tasmaat= from this, for this, therefore. aparihaarye=in unavoidable, in inevitable. arthe= in purpose, in aim, in consequence. ”
Which to me has just a hint that there is a purpose and a meaning behind this cycle where there is certain death for the born and certain birth for the dead.
For “Even having heard of this, no one knows it” The “Know” there is the word veda as “he knows.” This is the same word as the scriptures the Vedas.
In that same verse I have also seen it translated as “some do not know it,” which matches the rest of the verse. It looks like in the Sanskrit, the word kashcid can mean either “someone” or “anyone.” This website has the verse as: “Some see the soul as amazing and others describe the soul as amazing; similarly others also hear of the soul as amazing and some even after having heard still have no knowledge of it.“
Commentaries of Gurus:
Verse 26— “In this way after establishing the eternal reality of the souls immortality according to the authority of Vedic scripture, the Supreme Lord Krishna describes that it is not intelligent to lament about it, even if one accepts the hypothesis of the Digambaras who believe that the soul is the same size as the body and is born and experiences death along with the body. This is referred to by the particle atha meaning if however, indicating according to another view. Accepting even this other view that the soul is constantly being born and constantly dying there is still no reason to lament about it” –Kesava Kasmiri
Verse 26—“Here the Supreme Lord Krishna gives Arjuna another reason not to lament for He states that even if one considers the eternal soul to be the same as the physical body which is subject to incessant births and deaths and not a separate and distinct reality; then still there is no need for grief because from birth the ageing of the physical body due to the passage of time leads to death and birth and death is a law of nature in the material existence and unavoidable.” –Ramanuja
Verse 27—“Why should one not grieve? Because a natural function is being enacted according to cosmic order.” –Madhvacarya
Verse 27—“It is evident that death of the physical body is inevitable to whatever is born and that there is no way to escape from this physical termination of the body. Similarly rebirth is unavoidable once one’s physical body has died. How can something which has been lost become again? It is conceivable that something which has already been to become again; but it is inconceivable for that which has never been to become. Therefore there is nothing that can come that has not been. What is known as birth and death is but just different modifications of an ever existing condition. Yarn and other materials exist but when they are woven into a fabric that is a particular arrangement of the yarn itself, it receives the name cloth in its modified state.” –Ramanuja
Verse 28—“Living entities like human beings though eternally existing due to the auspices of each one’s eternal soul have an unknown origin before birth, a manifest condition from birth to death and proceed again to an unknown existence at the termination of the physical body. Such alternations constitute material existence and are a natural law. This then gives no cause to grieve.” –Ramanuja
Verse 29— “…Others still misguided by erroneous conceptions and overpowered by false doctrines fail to realise the eternal soul even after correctly hearing about it, indicating that even with the opportunity of learning about the eternal soul does not insure that one can understand it fully.” –Sridhara Swami
Verse 29—“Among innumerable living entities rarely is one to be found who determinedly absolved themselves of all sinful reactions and has accumulated sufficient merit as to become self-realised enabling one to perceive the separate nature and the distinct aspect of the eternal soul within. Such a realised soul may attempt to give this understanding to another similarly disposed or one may make an attempt to understand it by hearing about it and so forth as examples in this verse. But only one who has acquired enough merit to realise the eternal soul within can possess the true understanding of the eternal soul and no other. The conjunctive particle caused at the end of the verse denotes that even among the philosophers, speakers and seekers of knowledge about the eternal soul; the transference of bonafide information given and received concerning factual knowledge of what the eternal soul actually is, is very rare.” –Ramanuja
Verse 30—“The eternal soul embodied within the physical body regardless whether it is a human earthly body or the physical bodies possessed by the demigods in the heavenly spheres; the immortal soul is eternally invulnerable even though the body perishes. Hence understanding this principle as fundamental whatever diversity and varieagatedness in the forms of bodies born from the womb of a female who was also conceived in the womb of a female that exists from the demigods down through the human species as well as to the animal species and the fish species and even including the immovable plants and trees it should be clearly understood that equanimity prevails regarding the essential nature of the immortal soul abiding therein whatever the bodily form and is eternal. Whereas the physical body is transient. So Arjuna is being instructed that factually according to this proper understanding regarding all living entities, he has no basis to lament for any being.” –Ramanuja
(This webpage also allows you to see the Sanskrit and hear it pronounced for every single verse: http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/Gita/verse-02-26.html Also, FYI, these commentaries are all part of various Vaisnava sampradayas).
If you’re enlightened, then sure I guess it seems silly to cry and mourn over someone who has only just stepped back stage for a costume change. But this shift of perspective is very challenging for those of us who are not enlightened yet!
I wonder why death has to be such a mystery. Why are we not allowed to see it coming and to peer into what we can expect? The greatest fear for me is stepping into the unknown, going somewhere new where I don’t understand what is expected of me. Whenever my fear of death comes up (which is pretty often) I tell myself that I won’t be alone, that Lord Shiva himself will come to guide me in the next step. I sure hope he does.