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On ethics, the universe and Mayan cosmovision

By Jaclyn Anglis
On October 5, 2012

Amidst murmurs of Spanish conversation from the audience in the dimly lit Watson Forum, Carlos Escalante, a Mayan elder, spiritual leader and educator, stood confidently behind the podium.
Escalante, better known as Don Carlitos, spoke in Spanish about the concept of Mayan cosmovision and its application to the 21st century at on Tuesdays evening. Alejandro Puga, DePauw assistant professor of Spanish, translated the presentation into English.
Mayan cosmovision is an explanation about the development of the universe.
"The ethical, philosophical and mystical arguments of the vision of the world and of the life of Mayan culture can be found in different sacred texts, especially in the Pop Wuj," Carlitos said, as translated by Puga.
Adorned in a red and navy patterned sweater, jeans, and thin-rimmed glasses, Carlitos began the free public lecture by discussing the Pop Wuj, one of the most diffused ancient texts in the world, as the projector behind him displayed a colorful watercolor painting inspired by the text.
According to Carlitos, the Pop Wuj narrates the creation of the universe in the format of a mythical historical poem.
"Poetry - It is to create," Carlitos said. "It is the act of creating a new reality."
Carlitos said that myth in Mayan culture is an extremely complex reality that can be interpreted in several ways. But Mayan cosmovision constitutes more than an explanation of development of the universe; it also attempts to study energies and to recognize and observe life.
As the audience members gazed up at the projector screen, embellished with images of stars, Carlitos elaborated on the three essential points of the Mayan sense: ethics of birth, ethics of hope and ethics of the beginning. He also discussed the experience of living in cosmic vastness.
"Thoughts guide and cause elements of behavior and the destiny of the human being," Carlitos said.
In Mayan rituals and recitations, they reiterate their deepest sense of belonging to the universe in order to develop a just life. They do not follow any single religion, but instead believe in a spiritual energy that compels people to do their daily activities. In the Mayan ceremony, humans seek closeness to have contact with the creator of earth, translated in English as "a great man."
"According to cosmovision, we all come from a vacuum of pure energy," Carlitos said.
Carlitos works for a Guatemalan grassroots organization called DESGUA which is working toward sustainable economic development in Guatemala.
Glen Kuecker, professor of history and the organizer of the event, said that DESGUA was created four years ago out of a desire to replace the need for mass migration to the United States.
"They were following el sueño americano," Kuecker said. "They were following the American dream. And people now got to the point in Guatemala when they were saying, 'Maybe we don't want that. ... instead we want el sueño Guatemalteco. We want the Guatemalan dream.'"
According to Kuecker, Carlitos often works with children and educates the Mayan youth about culture and traditions that reach back thousands of years, some of which he discussed during his lecture.
"Don Carlitos is an organic intellectual," Kuecker said. "He's a professor who's schooled in community organizing, who's schooled in. ... regenerating culture and renewing that work."
Puga, the translator, commented on some of the repetitions that the audience members may have perceived when viewing the recitations and said that they were very much in line with oral tradition.
"They're not an accident," Puga said. "They're there to reinforce."
At the end of the discussion, Carlitos invited the attentive audience to reflect silently on how people can affect future generations as they enter a new era with more creative development toward reality.
"Contemporary youth has a new life to develop for the future," Carlitos said. 

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