SATHYA SAI BABA AND BETEL
Date: October 1, 2004
Visitor: What is that?
Sai (in English): That is the nut. This is the leaf. See, the leaves, and this is the betel. This is not a bad habit. If it were a bad habit, Swami would not chew it. The leaves, their juice purifies the blood. The nut digests. Here, even with the little puppies, they mix the nut and give it for digestion. And the other thing that is put is calcium.
The three mixed make red colour. This is Indian. (The foregoing was said with joking voied lime predominantly calcium hydroxide), to which tobacco is often added.
Other ingredients and flavouring agents can be included according to local preferences and practices.
The habit to chew betel is not unique for India. It is widespread in the south and southeast of Asia and for the last decades has been quickly spreading among Asian immigrants living in Europe and the USA. Accoce, accompanied with merriment from the foreign visitors).
J.S.Hislop. Conversations with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. SSS Books and Publications Trust. India (Year is not indicated). p.19.
Many of those who have been to India may observe people in the streets who chew a masticatory mixture, which makes their mouths brightly red. From time to time those people spit saliva as red as blood. It is a so-called betel. In India a lot of modifications of this mixture are in use but a standard mixture, which makes saliva red, consists of betel leaves (Piper betle, a plant of the pepper family), areca nut (seeds of the palm, Areca catechu) and slaked lime (predominantly calcium hydroxide), to which tobacco is often added. Other ingredients and flavouring agents can be included according to local preferences and practices.
The habit to chew betel is not unique for India. It is widespread in the south and southeast of Asia and for the last decades has been quickly spreading among Asian immigrants living in Europe and the USA.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UK is the main importer of betel outside Asia. It is believed there are hundreds of millions of betel users worldwide. In some parts of India, almost one out of three children and teenagers regularly or occasionally chew betel.
Why do people chew betel? There are several reasons indicated by the WHO. Firstly, the mixture gives a stimulant effect. Secondly, it is believed it can satisfy hunger. Thirdly, it sweetens the breath.
Fourthly, it is just a social and cultural practice.The trouble is that this practice is far from being safe for health. There is a branch of the WHO, which is called International Agency on Research of Cancer (IARC). Below we refer to the results of this agency research, and its press release can be found on:
As far back as in 1985 it was found that betel containing tobacco was carcinogenic. It causes oral cancer, cancer of the pharynx, and cancer of the oesophagus in humans. But recent researches have shown that even without tobacco betel leaves (so called betel quid) and the areca nut are carcinogenic as well. Striking evidence has emerged from Taiwan, where the incidence of oral cancer in men has tripled since the early 1980s, coinciding with a steep rise since the early 1970s and predominantly among men, in the practice of chewing betel quid. Tobacco is not generally added to the betel quid in that region.Let us go back to the quotation with which we started our article.
This conversation occurred in 1968. Sathya Sai Baba, whom his followers accept as a Divine Incarnation (an Avatar), justifies use of betel on some medical grounds - purification of blood and improvement of digestion. Even if we did not know anything about the WHO researches, a relevant question could be put: why does this Avatar use betel? Does he have any problem with his blood or digestion? But taking into account what we know about the results of the WHO researches, the question should be formulated differently: did not SSB know that chewing betel is a cancer-causing habit?We do not know when SSB started using betel. In 1968 he was 42 years old. It is known that now SSB does not chew betel.
It is unknown when he stopped doing it, the reasons for that are also unclear. Robert Priddy suggested one of the possible explanations:Anyway, the situation itself is ambiguous. If it is not a bad habit why did SSB give it up? If SSB changed his mind and believe it is harmful, why has not he declared it to his followers? The book from which we took the quotation goes on being published in thousands copies in India and abroad encouraging distribution of this harmful habit. I think that if SSB and his worldwide service organization, in which, by the way, there are many medical doctors, removed this passage from the book and publicly apologized for promoting this bad habit, it would be an action of good will in the spirit of true service.