Yesterday a bit of work stuff threw me for quite a loop and left me feeling like the world and life were in complete tumult. Then, this morning, after the storm had somewhat subsided, Jim Burklo’s latest “musing” arrived and I thought “Gee, if only I had known about dorodangos and gombocs yesterday!”

So, just in case my friends at Tikkun Daily don’t know about dorodangos and gombocs, here is Rev. Jim Burklo’s latest musing.


Musings by Jim Burklo for current and previous articles

Getting Centered

A young friend of ours from Portland, Zack, stayed at our house for a couple of nights last week. He was in LA doing a photo shoot. Always fascinated with unusual technology, he’s now an expert at 360 degree and panoramic digital photography. I was showing him my first dorodango. It’s a Japanese art form. You take fine dirt – any kind of dirt – and make a mud ball out of it with your hands. Then you dust the ball with more fine dirt until it is dry to the touch, and then put it in a tight plastic bag in the fridge for several hours. It sweats out moisture onto its surface, which you dust and rub further till the surface is dry. You repeat this process many times until the dorodango is hard and stops sweating out moisture. Then you buff it out with a cloth until it is shiny. A good dorodango will look like it’s been glazed and fired in a kiln – but it’s nothing more than a ball of dirt. My first dorodango has a bit of shine to it, but I want to perfect my technique.

I showed Zack the progress of my second dorodango. This one is shaped like a pear, because I want it to be like a daruma doll. This is another Japanese tradition based on the legends around Bodhidharma, a Buddhist sage who was said to have meditated so long in the lotus position that his legs merged into his torso. The daruma doll is a painted papier-mache pear-shaped figure. The inside bottom of the doll has a weight that causes the doll to come upright if you knock it over. The daruma doll is a reminder to stay “centered” – to maintain equanimity of the soul through good times and bad times, through the ups and downs of life.

My daruma dorodango won’t stay centered, because it doesn’t have extra weight at the bottom. I pointed this out to Zack as I showed him my work in progress. “You should make it in the shape of a gomboc,” he told me. He put me in front of a computer to look at a video of a gomboc. It’s an object invented by Hungarian mathematicians who were on a quest to see if a three-dimensional object could have just one unstable and one stable point of equilibrium. It’s the only uniform-mass (non-weighted) solid object that will right itself if tipped over. It looks very much like a steep turtle shell – and that’s no accident, because turtles otherwise would have much more difficulty righting themselves when tipped over. Gombocs must be machined with extraordinary precision in order to maintain their “self-righting” quality. Invented only a few years ago, the gomboc intrigues mathematicians, engineers, and designers who are just beginning to find applications for it.

I don’t understand the mathematics behind the gomboc. But my intuition suggests that its shape has some kind of eternal, universal quality about it, as does a sphere or a cube. In some way, it must be a shape that describes gravity itself. It’s a shape that represents, but also actually embodies, one of the fundamental relationships forming the cosmos.

Perhaps also it evokes the shape of the soul, tumbled about by this rough world but created to right itself in relationship to its divine Source. Had Bodhidharma lived long enough, and meditated deeply enough, perhaps his body would have melted further into the shape of the gomboc. Then the daruma doll would need no extra weight at the bottom to get it to return to “center”!

Perhaps there is something like a gomboc at the center of who we are, attracting us always toward equanimity: toward kindness in the midst of anger, toward compassion in the midst of distress, toward calm in the midst of chaos. If we can follow that tendency toward the center, toward the heart of God, we can stay still while the world tumbles around us.

“Mud, when it leaves the mud, stops being mud.” This “proverbio” by the beloved poet of Argentina, Antonio Porchia, came to mind as I formed my first dorodango. Perhaps that’s just what happened when Gabor Domokos and Peter Varkonyl produced the first gomboc. We rise above formless chaos as we orient ourselves toward our cosmic Source, and then see more clearly our true nature.




  • Mon Feb 18, 6 and 7 pm
  • at St Michael and All Angels’ Church, 3646 Coldwater Canyon Ave, Studio City 91604
  • 6 pm ticketed wine/finger food reception – 7 pm free public program
  • Individual tix: $35, Couple: $60, Student: $20
  • Speakers:
    • La Mikia Castillo, policy analyst, LA County Dept of Public Health
    • Patrisse Marie Cullors, performance artist (Stained: An Intimate Portrayal of State Violence and Mass Incarceration)
    • Sarah Nolan: Director of Abundant Table, Ventura County
  • Honorees: Rev Cecil Murray and Bishop Dean Nelson

AGENDA FOR A PROPHETIC FAITH: Progressive Christians Uniting –

  • Lecture series – in Claremont, Pomona, and LaVerne
  • James Hansen – Romal Tune, Minerva Carcano, Norman Ornstein, James Carroll
  • Single lecture tickets, $10. Season ticket for all five lectures, $40.
  • Low-income and scholarship tickets are available:


This event is intended as a sacred re-affirmation of our social covenant to serve each other, and especially the most vulnerable among us, through our government. It will be a time to remember the blessings that flow from the taxes we pay: services to the poor and ailing; schools, roads, sanitation; public safety and defense; protection of the environment; and promotion of a healthier economy, to name a few. It is also a moment to recommit ourselves, as citizens and stakeholders, to shape the priorities that determine how our taxes are spent.


On the first Sunday in May (or other times during the year) – churches dedicate their worship to a celebration of our interfaith world. Progressive Christians thank God for religious diversity! We don’t claim that our religion is superior to all others. We recognize that other religions can be as good for others as ours is for us. We can grow closer to God and deeper in compassion – and we can understand our own traditions better – through a more intimate awareness of the world’s religions. On PLURALISM SUNDAY, churches celebrate elements of other world faiths in their sermons, litanies, and music; many feature speakers and singers from other faith traditions. Some congregations have exchanges with other faith communities, going to each other’s houses of worship.

Website: JIMBURKLO.COM Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
See my GUIDE to my books, “musings”, and other writings
Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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