Facing the barrel of a gun: How high-flying banker became Buddhist nun

Emma Slade was a successful banker and accountant before turning to Buddhism

It is 1997 and Emma Slade is in the Indonesian capital Jakarta for a business visit.

Returning to her hotel to unwind, the former pupil of Canterbury’s Barton Court Grammar School turned high-flying banker is suddenly confronted by a terrifying sight: a man in her room brandishing a firearm.

He sticks the weapon into her chest before ransacking the room and holding her hostage. She pleads and begs not to die before Indonesian police rescue her three hours later.

Emma, who is now 51, believed that these were to be her last moments alive. The episode, however, changed her life as she undertook an extraordinary conversion to Buddhism.

It forms the basis for her recently published book, Set Free: A Life-Changing Journey From Banking to Buddhism in Bhutan. She will be signing copies of it at the Canterbury Wholefoods shop in Iron Bar Lane next month.

Emma Slade in her banking days

In it, Emma explores how being taken hostage at gunpoint reshaped her outlook. She said: “Difficulty isn’t the end of your life, it could be the start of something.

“Ironically enough, I am deeply grateful the hostage situation happened otherwise I would just have carried on in that way acquiring more suits and staying in fancier hotels on business trips.

“That was never going to bring me to the person I have become now. It was like being a confused child, wanting lots of toys.”

The Cambridge University educated chartered accountant, who worked at an international fund management company, began to realise that the trappings of material success did not lead to a fulfilling life.

“I wanted to explore more what it is to be a human being and what is this strange feeling of kindness we can have to each other even in these situations,” she said.

Emma underwent therapy and rehabilitation for post-traumatic stress disorder before ditching her career.

“I just felt I was worth more than that because I had not died,” she recalled. “I had survived this experience and I wanted to explore more of what I could potentially do with my life.”

She travelled the world and took an interest in yoga. The reference to Bhutan in the title of her book derives from the fact that Emma visited the the tiny landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas in 2011 and underwent Buddhist instruction there.

Emma now divides her time between Bhutan and her home in Whitstable, where she had attended Joy Lane Primary School as a child.

She has been a practising nun for five years and is the only woman to have been ordained in Bhutan. Her only set of the clothes are the yellow and burgundy robes she wears.

Emma’s devotion to the country has seen her raise money for disabled children there. To date, her charity Opening Your Heart to Bhutan has raised £250,000.

Costa staff bemoan the theft of the charity box

Unhappily, a collection box left in the branch of Costa Coffee in Whitstable High Street was stolen last week.

“That’s sad,” said Emma. “Whoever took it must have been pretty desperate.”

Emma hopes her book will be an inspiration to others.

She said: “Sometimes it seems easy to connect through the written word than the spoken.

“I hope after reading my book people will feel we have had a profound and inspiring connection.”

Emma will be signing copies of Set Free: A Life-Changing Journey From Banking to Buddhism in Bhutan at Canterbury Wholefoods from 10.30am to 4.30pm on Friday, May 4.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here