by Jennifer Miller, Reporter (The Whistler Question)
Spontaneous donations being forwarded to Whistler-area non-profit groups
With the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, black bears, Black Tusk and many others, Whistler has no shortage of icons. But there’s a relatively new one in town that’s quietly spreading luck, goodwill and community support — all while simply sitting outside a Village store. The “Laughing Buddha” statue that holds court outside The Oracle gift shop, located across from the Celebration Plaza site near Marketplace, has long garnered belly rubs, photo opportunities, and interest from tourists, locals, children and even dogs, said the store’s owner, Kelly Oswald. “He gets his picture taken all day long,” she said. “Children kiss him; they call him Santa.”
But it wasn’t until the squat statue was replaced last summer that people also started putting spare change on the symbol of good luck, she said. In just less than a year, the statue has collected about $1,000, which has been donated to charities such as Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), the B.C. Cancer Foundation and charties in Indonesia and Mexico. This summer’s proceeds are going to the AWARE Kids Nature Club, which is in need of funding, Oswald said.
The Oracle has pretty much always had an outdoor Buddha statue, but with the frequent belly rubs, the effects of weather and wear-and-tear from wheeling it in and out of the store each day, the statue needs to be replaced with a “fresh” one every year or so, she said. Last July, a raffle was held for the Buddha that was on its way out. Oswald said within moments of the replacement statue being rolled outside the store, someone had placed a quarter on the top of its belly. More than $11 in change was collected on the statue by the end of that first day. “It was like a different energy (from the previous Buddha),” Oswald said. “We don’t really know who started it.” Every day, more people contribute spare change on the statue, with some kids also helping themselves to a few coins from time to time, she said. The largest single donation to date was a $20 bill, which was tucked into the flowers that accompany the statue. Oswald said other people have left little notes, crystals and even candy on the Buddha.
The sensation continued when a staff member started a Facebook group called “Experience the Whistler Buddha” and two postcards were designed for sale at The Oracle as mementos of the statue and Whistler. The current 300-pound concrete Laughing Buddha will be raffled off next month to make way for a clean, new statue that’s already in The Oracle store waiting to take its place. Raffle tickets are available at the store for $2 each or three for $5.
Oswald said she hopes the new statue continues to encourage people to donate their spare change, which will continue to be donated to community groups and charities. The Laughing Buddha, also known as Lucky Buddha or Hotei, isn’t the traditional Buddha that people pray to, Oswald said. The Laughing Buddha is believed to have existed in China more than 1,000 years ago as a Buddhist monk who traveled the land giving gifts and food to the poor. His large, fat stomach is a symbol of happiness, luck and abundance, and it is believed that rubbing the Buddha’s belly brings good luck and wealth, she said.