Kalpana  shares a profound journey shaped by her Indian roots, familial experiences, and spiritual exploration. Born in Pune, India, she grew up amidst diverse towns and cities, heavily influenced by her father as her first spiritual guide. Her mother’s traumatic loss of an older sister cast a shadow, leading to a vow against temple visits unless her wishes were fulfilled.

The birth of Kalpana’s younger brother brought solace to her mother, yet confusion for Kalpana, as his name mirrored that of her departed sister. Her father subtly introduced her to the spiritual teachings of the Gita, emphasizing karma yoga—unattached, correct actions in the present moment.

Moving to Mumbai, Kalpana encountered Swami Chinmayi during her teenage years, sparking an interest in spiritual development. Her father’s wisdom, especially during his aging and eventual passing, deeply impacted her perspective, instilling a commitment to karma yoga.

In 1997, facing personal and professional struggles, including changes in medicine, Kalpana embarked on a quest for meaning. Driven by a childhood fascination with life and death, she pursued pediatrics but became disenchanted with managed care. Her husband’s health challenges intensified the search for spiritual fulfillment.

Turning to Chinese medicine, Kalpana found a connection to nature’s mysteries and a more profound spiritual experience. In 2005, a call to teach physiology at an acupuncture school introduced her to Buddhism. Facing family deaths and her husband’s illnesses, she confronted her original wound and sought solace in retreats at the One Dharma Center.

In 2012, overwhelmed by exhaustion and her husband’s recovery, Kalpana attended a retreat, marking a turning point in her spiritual awakening. This marked the beginning of her intentional journey towards self-cultivation and enlightenment.

Late Start

Kalpana reflects on her spiritual journey with a sense of gentle acceptance and being present in the moment. She sees the struggles and suffering throughout her life as necessary steps that prepared the path for her current state of understanding. The soil of her being has become porous through experiences, allowing her to absorb teachings more deeply.

Having matured over time, Kalpana appreciates that the process couldn’t have been rushed. She values the freedom to approach each moment without forcing outcomes or setting rigid goals. Whether engaged in studies or daily activities like gardening, she views each moment as an opportunity for Zen practice.

Kalpana emphasizes the importance of being absorbed in the present, acknowledging that richness in practice comes from the degree of absorption. She doesn’t constrain herself with specific daily routines but rather allows flexibility, even when caring for her grandchild. The essence lies in being fully present and absorbed in whatever activity is at hand.

Facing the potential challenges of aging, Kalpana remains unafraid, recognizing it as part of the journey. She values her current state, acknowledging the importance of cultivating life in the present moment, drawing inspiration from the simple wisdom of her dog: wherever you are, that’s the place to cultivate.

Kalpana is a former pediatrician
and now retired acupuncturist.


In 2013, Kalpana decided to attend a week-long retreat, initially planning to go alone. However, her husband, intrigued by the serene setting and nature-loving aspects, joined her. The retreat, set in a tranquil space with simple requirements, resonated with Kalpana. She found a community not focused on preaching but on sharing a healthy way of being.

Previously consumed by others’ health issues as a doctor, Kalpana discovered a new perspective on stillness and calmness within the alertness. Reverend Song’s teachings emphasized integrating calmness into daily life rather than fixating on prolonged sitting sessions. This approach appealed to Kalpana, who struggled with extended periods of stillness.

Moving meditation practices, such as Tai Chi and Qigong, became integral to her spiritual journey, seamlessly blending with the principles of Yin Yang from her Chinese medicine background. Kalpana embraced daily practices, finding moments to pause and regain composure amid life’s challenges.

In 2015, her husband faced a severe bone marrow disease, prompting a minister’s unexpected visit and healing presence. Witnessing their compassionate care, Kalpana felt a profound connection with these ministers, considering them her teachers. This transformative experience led to her family, including her son and daughter, joining a retreat in 2017.

Acknowledging her shift from a teacher to a humble student, Kalpana took the step of receiving a Buddhist name and undertaking daily practices. This formalized her commitment to the spiritual path in August 2017, marking a significant point in her ongoing journey.


In her interactions with the Sangha, Kalpana emphasizes the non-physical nature of their support, focusing instead on the exchange of ideas and experiences related to their spiritual practices. The Sangha members share their individual approaches, discussing obstacles and solutions, creating a valuable platform for learning from one another.

The exchange extends to exploring diverse styles of practice, with Kalpana being open-minded and inquisitive about how each approach works for others. There’s a mutual understanding that the goal is not to judge or compare each other’s levels of practice but to appreciate and learn from individual journeys.

Critical to this exchange is the practice of uncritical listening—a receptive and non-judgmental approach to understanding each person’s unique experiences and interpretations. Kalpana values inclusivity, letting each member express their thoughts without interruption or criticism. This open and accepting environment allows for a genuine sharing of perspectives.

Even during Zoom calls with ministers, this inclusive atmosphere prevails. Rather than interrupting or dismissing unconventional thoughts, the approach is to guide gently and bring the discussion back to center. This inclusive practice fosters an environment where everyone feels free to express themselves, share their thoughts, and be guided without judgment.

When I used to teach, I would still
my first year students without theory,
practice is dangerous and without practice,
theory is useless.

Science and Buddhism 

Kalpana shares her perspective on the intersection of science and spiritual truth, highlighting that science represents only one aspect of the broader truth. Drawing from her experience in medical school and the ever-evolving nature of scientific knowledge, she recognizes the essential truth about human beings that transcends scientific advancements.

Kalpana reflects on the limitations of medicine, especially in the face of mortality. She questions the pursuit of extreme measures in medicine and advocates for a more humane approach, acknowledging the unknowns and embracing humility. A good physician, in her view, acknowledges what they don’t know, demonstrating wisdom beyond technical expertise and fostering trust with patients.

She contrasts the technique of science with the humanity required in patient interactions, emphasizing the importance of understanding one’s own limits and being honest about them. Kalpana critiques the notion of absolute truth in biomedical science, noting the shift in her own journey toward studying Chinese medicine and exploring the energetic aspects beyond the physical.

In discussing the role of a physician, Kalpana stresses the importance of guiding patients in understanding themselves, cautioning against the dangerous belief that a doctor can “fix” everything. She challenges the compartmentalization of mental, spiritual, and physical health in medicine, advocating for a holistic and nuanced approach.

Ultimately, Kalpana underscores the potential for misuse and corruption when science, intended as a tool, transforms into a weapon. She encourages a balanced understanding of what science can and cannot achieve in various fields, urging ethical and thoughtful applications of scientific knowledge.


In reflecting on her intellectual and professional development, Kalpana notes that her foundation in medicine, including studies in Chinese medicine and Daoism, provides a rooted understanding of her path. She emphasizes the integration of theory and practice, asserting that without practice, theory is dangerous, and vice versa.

Taking a relaxed approach to learning, Kalpana chooses to absorb knowledge at her own pace, without the pressure of meeting specific study requirements. She views her current phase of life, in her mid-seventies, as a time to live in order to learn, contrasting it with her earlier years when she learned intellectually to earn a living. Kalpana expresses a shift towards retirement and a focus on continuous education, particularly in the depths of Chinese medicine.

Her philosophy centers on absorbing the beauty of life, whether through nature or understanding one’s innermost nature, aligning with the core principles of Buddhism. Kalpana emphasizes the significance of letting this knowledge sink in without the need for extensive coursework. She describes her current learning phase as a peaceful exploration, free from the stress of perfection, recognizing that each moment offers an opportunity to learn.

Kalpana appreciates the value of conversations, like the one with the interviewer, as a means of learning and gaining insights into different individuals’ journeys. She acknowledges that these interactions contribute to the gradual process of awakening, emphasizing the importance of absorbing knowledge peacefully and embracing the continuous journey of learning.


In discussing the teachings of Won Buddhism, Kalpana highlights the central principle of modeling oneself after the IL Won Sang, embodying the benevolence of heaven and Earth. This involves treating everyone with openness, devoid of discrimination, and recognizing the shared light within each individual. Kalpana emphasizes the authenticity of the ministers she encounters at the temple, expressing that they embody the teachings through their daily practices.

She shares a powerful teaching from the head minister about the flower opening and bacon sizzling, symbolizing the natural unfolding of things without forcing outcomes. Kalpana appreciates the ministers’ approachability and their acknowledgment that they, too, are learning from the community. The teaching style is not authoritarian, but rather a collaborative journey where everyone progresses together.

The concept of treating the whole universe as fellow beings, like brothers and sisters, is emphasized. Kalpana underscores the importance of respect and adherence to certain precepts and natural laws that contribute to living in harmony. While acknowledging imperfection, the ministers aim to model these principles, creating a theory that is simple to follow, fostering a sense of community and shared progress along the spiritual path.


In reflecting on the teachings of Won Buddhism, Kalpana emphasizes a transformative practice that she learned from the ministers. When faced with profound challenges or sensory conditions, akin to stress, she practices welcoming and embracing the difficulty instead of resisting or retreating. Using the metaphor of Taichi, she describes the approach of observing difficulties, bringing them close without agitation, and simply observing.

This practice, according to Reverend Song, is an opportunity to grow and learn. Kalpana illustrates how this approach helped her navigate her husband’s death and the challenges posed by the pandemic. She underscores the idea of finding grace within harm, a key concept in the teachings, and the importance of recognizing impermanence.

Kalpana extends this practice into her coaching and acupuncture work, helping patients deal with anxiety. She shares her personal experience of a fall, highlighting how the practice of observing without panic allowed her to calmly assess her condition. She relates this practice to the peaceful passing of her husband and expresses a hope for a similar peaceful transition when her time comes.

Additionally, she discusses the threefold practice within One Buddhism: cultivating personal understanding, knowing human affairs and universal principles, and making right choices and actions. Kalpana appreciates the practicality of these teachings, especially in dealing with everyday situations, political strife, and the polarization present in society. The approach encourages harmonizing perspectives and avoiding rigid adherence to opinions.

Won Institute 

In her role as a board of trustees member, Kalpana discusses her relatively new journey on the board, particularly during the pandemic. Serving on the development committee, she emphasizes the importance of sustainable growth, avoiding overextension that could compromise the organization’s effectiveness. The board’s focus is on maintaining a financially viable and well-organized institution.

The institute’s recent expansion has provided more space for community engagement, including classes, meditation sessions, and seminars. Kalpana highlights plans to host discussions involving various scientific fields, such as psychology, neuropsychology, neurosurgery, and immunology. The goal is to explore alternative approaches to handling life stresses, promoting mental well-being, and addressing community needs.

Regarding the spread of Won Buddhism, Kalpana modestly refrains from commenting, focusing instead on supporting the institute’s mission to serve the community. She personally attests to the transformative impact of One Buddhism, especially in her husband’s life, who was initially skeptical. Kalpana advocates for a gradual expansion, allowing individuals to experience the teachings firsthand, emphasizing the real impact on daily life and stress responses.

She encourages a grassroots approach, welcoming individuals one at a time, rather than relying on extensive advertising. The institute’s unique position as the only institution in North America offering a graduate course in Won Buddhism and acupuncture sets it apart. Kalpana underscores the importance of sustainable growth and incremental progress, aligning with the principles shared by Dr. Kim, the school president, who advocates for careful and steady expansion to ensure long-term success.

Race and Identity 

In discussing her experience with Buddhism, Kalpana reflects on the varying reactions she receives from friends and family. While her Jewish and Catholic neighbors and friends accept her practice without hesitation, she notes the raised eyebrows and questions from some members of the Indian community due to historical perceptions of Buddhism in India. Despite this, Kalpana feels no need to justify her choice and attributes her comfort to her diverse upbringing, having attended a Catholic school in India.

She emphasizes the welcoming and diverse atmosphere within the Buddhist community, where she feels a sense of belonging. Kalpana draws parallels between her upbringing and her current mindset, highlighting the importance of not getting stuck in opinions and the removal of obstacles in one’s path. She shares her understanding of the teachings, particularly the idea that the mind’s dwelling place matters more than the physical location. Kalpana suggests that embracing diversity and avoiding a fixed mindset is key to a harmonious and accepting community, drawing from her experiences both in medicine and personal life.


Kalpana recounts her son’s unique wedding experience, where he sought guidance from Reverend Song for a prenuptial session and a written blessing. The ceremony, conducted by a non-denominational officiant, followed Reverend Song’s script, emphasizing the importance of spiritual practice in married life. Kalpana expresses gratitude that her son, despite a demanding corporate career, recognizes the significance of maintaining a spiritual grounding.

Reflecting on her family, Kalpana notes her daughter’s grounded approach to life and her son’s involvement in supporting the Wuhan Institute to contribute to spiritual growth in the community. The family envisions establishing local spiritual growth programs, particularly for those dealing with addiction and PTSD. While her daughter has not embraced Won Buddhism yet, Kalpana values the freedom for exploration without any pressure, akin to how she was introduced to the practice.

With the recent expansion of the campus and the appointment of a Head Dharma Master for North America, Kalpana sees opportunities for one Buddhism to flourish. She believes in the practice’s integration with life, fostering personal, familial, societal, and global well-being. As she reads the scriptures, Kalpana emphasizes the vision of starting with oneself and gradually expanding circles for a harmonious and connected world.

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