Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970. Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Saturday, November 2, 1991

Robert Earl Burton's Self Remembering First Edition is published

Fellowship of Friends cult leader Robert Earl Burton's first edition of Self Remembering
[ed. - A sampling of Amazon customer reviews:]

"Ivan Osokin" [ed. - Likely our friend Greg W. Goodwin] commented June 25, 2000 :
The Book Proclaims One Ideal, But the Author Lives Another

The words in Burton's book sound very fine and uplifting, but we know from the public record that the author Robert "Bobby Earl" Burton does not in any respect live up to the expressed ideal. A book titled "Self-remembering," and supposedly containing instruction on how live in a higher state, would be more valuable if it were written by someone capable of self-remembering. One of the powers Burton claims to have developed from self-remembering is the power of knowing the future, in the book he openly declares himself a "prophet," he also predicted the "fall of California into the Pacific Ocean in 1998." Like Burton's efforts to self-remember, there is a strong discrepancy between the claims and the reality.

"Peter den Haring" (Dutch Society of Libraries) commented on August 20, 1999:
Review from the Nederlandse Bibliotheek Centrale:

The Fellowship of Friends is a worldwide philosophical community and school, founded in 1970 by Burton and following the tradition of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky that is called the "Fourth Way." Burton has a brilliant and stimulating vision that evokes all kinds of experimenting with the "machine," with one's ego structure: "The soul, like any pearl, must be created by transforming irritation. Voluntary suffering can serve this purpose." Try sitting in an uncomfortable way - for example, on a cassette - for fifteen minutes; then try something else. Turn your heater down. Create friction. Avoid self-pity. Hide your suffering. Burton stresses educating and disciplining the emotions and being permanently alert - i.e., self-remembering. "What one gains, all gain," he says as he explains personal transformation for his group of pupils. In an equally compelling way, he describes "Influence C" - conscious, immaterial beings who assist man. An extensive glossary describes the specific terminology of the Fourth Way.

"Secondhand News" commented on April 25, 2000:
The purported author of this book, Robert Burton, is the leader of a classic California cult known as the Fellowship of Friends. (Those familiar with the cult and its methods will recognize that most of the other reviews, and the book's introduction, were written by Burton's followers.) The book discusses the technique known as "self remembering," a form of meditation Burton learned from the works of George Gurdjieff and his disciple, Peter Ouspensky, and now teaches to all dues-paying followers.

While myths abound regarding Gurdjieff's own sources (Sufism is often mentioned), self-remembering has been taught for centuries in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as other Eastern traditions. Simply put, it is the experience of being aware of the present moment, of your internal and external environmental right now. It is greatly to Burton's credit that he seeks to spread the practice of self-remembering, which is every bit as powerful as he asserts. However, this former Arkansas schoolteacher writes in the affected, precious style of one who equates a newly-acquired, superficial "refinement" with moral superiority. The book itself contains nothing that cannot be found, more clearly expressed, in Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous, or Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

"A customer" commented on October 5, 1998:
Burton is an "influence B" teacher. Use with caution.

No doubt people who are unacquainted with Fourth Way primary resource materials - Gurdjieff in particular, but also Ouspensky and Maurice Nicoll - will be impressed with the depth of wisdom here and the practicality of it. Those who know the primary resource materials thoroughly and compare this book with them will have some concerns. The real meat of the book is, of course, entirely from these other sources. What Burton brings to it that is purely his own is often a good example of the Fourth Way teaching that esoteric teachings, once released into the world, descend the octave of transmission and get watered down and distorted. Burton himself, as a teacher, is not an example of what the work teaching calls "influence C", but rather what it calls "influence B". That certainly doesn't mean he has nothing of value to say. But readers need to keep the situation in perspective. Do not expect the fruit of a real esoteric master, but only esoteric teaching in a form that is secondhand. Use with caution.

"Peter Ingle" commented on June 12, 2000:
A teacher conveying his understanding to students

Being intimately familiar with the writings of Mr. Gurdjieff and Mr. Ouspensky, I can say that Robert Burton's teaching is a direct extension of everything those two men practiced and taught. Also, as a 25-year student of Robert Burton's, I know that nothing is easier to misunderstand than a teacher and a school. Mr. Burton's book, Self-Remembering, is a pure encapsulation of how he teaches and how he himself works, and the fact that self-remembering is the hub of practicing the Fourth Way. But, more importantly, this book offers readers an emotional--not just an intellectual--handle for determining whether they see something unique in the idea of self-remembering, and in the idea that an individual cannot work or evolve alone; that a school is necessary for establishing a correct foundation of knowledge, methods, and guidance. Readers may also want to keep in mind that this book was not written originally for publication, but for Mr. Burton's students. It was not intended to persuade anyone of anything, but rather to convey the understanding of a conscious teacher to his students, largely as a reminder to them of how to re-connect emotionally to their own need to make efforts to actually awaken.
[ed. - Peter Ingle subsequently left Robert Burton's teaching, a fate Burton declares that is "worse than death.]

Friday, November 1, 1991

Fellowship of Friends, Inc. v. County of Yuba

[ed. - From the Internet Archive. Description from Archive page: "1991 California Court of Appeal decision that the Goethe Academy was not entitled to a State tax exemption as a museum because it was closed to the public five days a week and only open by appointment two days a week. "The purpose of the exemption was to encourage the display of art and other items of value to the public. That purpose is not served by granting tax exemptions to warehouses where art is stored. . . .". Also see: California State Board of Equalization documents, Fellowship of Friends Appeals denial of Goethe Academy exemption.]

Full text of Fellowship of Friends, Inc. v. County of Yuba"
Plaintiff and Appellant,


COUNTY OF YUBA, Defendant and

Civ. No. C007151.

Court of Appeal, Third District.

Nov. 1, 1991.

Religious organization sought reimbursement of taxes paid for building which housed collection of fine art and other artifacts, alleging that the building was a "museum" and thus exempt from taxation. The Superior Court of Yuba County, No.39021, Robert Lenhard, J., found that the building was not a museum, and thus denied reimbursement, and organization appealed. The Court of Appeal, Raye, J., held that building, which housed collection of fine art and other artifacts, was not a "museum."


Skjerven, Morrill, Macpherson, Franklin & Friel, Charles D. Chalmers, Formaciari, Zuckerman & McQuiller, Michael J. McQuiller, San Francisco, for plaintiff and appellant.

Daniel G. Montgomery, County Counsel, Yuba County, David A. Sandino, Sp. County Counsel, for defendant and respondent.

RAYE, Associate Justice.

In this opinion, we consider the definition of "museum" as used in article Xm, section 3(d). [PNl] of the California Constitution and Revenue and Taxation Code section 202(a)(2) [FN2] which together exempt from taxation property used for "museums that are free and open to the public." Plaintiff Fellowship of Friends applied for a property tax exemption for the years 1985-1986, 1986-1987, and 1987-1988 for one of its buildings as a free museum open to the public. Defendant County of Yuba denied the exemption. Plaintiff filed the instant action for reimbursement of the taxes paid for the three years in question. After a court trial, judgment i was entered for defendant. Finding the trial court properly applied the constitutional exemption, we shall affirm.
FNl. All references to article XIII pertain to California Constitution, article XIII, section designated, unless otherwise indicated.

FN2. All statutory references are to the Revenue and Taxation Code unless
otherwise indicated.

Plaintiff Fellowship of Friends, a religious organization with centers around the world, is exempt from state income tax under Revenue and Taxation Code section 23701d. Plaintiff owns approximately 1,400 acres of property known as "Renaissance" in Yuba County near the town of Dobbins, about 30 miles from Marysville. As part of its beliefs, the organization collects fine art and other artifacts to preserve them for future generations and to change the viewer's emotional and spiritual state. This collection, the artistic value of which is undisputed, is housed on the Yuba County property in a building known as the Goethe Academy.

In 1983 plaintiff decided to open the collection to the public. The Academy was thereafter opened to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with no admission charged. Initially, because of security concerns and limited personnel, plaintiff required visitors to make appointments in order to visit the Academy during open hours, although staff attempted to accommodate drop-in visitors. Plaintiff abandoned this "appointments only" policy in 1987.

The Academy is a 5600 square foot building. The art objects were displayed in designated rooms on the first floor. These rooms, comprising approximately 60% of the total floor space, were not segregated from the rest of the academy. Robert Burton, the founder of the Fellowship of Friends, resided in a portion of the Academy, although business travel caused him to be out of town at least half of the time. The rooms he frequently used as his living area were not part of the tour for museum visitors. The basement area also accommodated several other people who stayed on the premises for indefinite periods of time and assisted in the maintenance and security of the property. While the Academy was closed to the general public, except in connection with the display of art works, many other Fellowship activities took place there and on the grounds, including group dinners, lectures, concerts, music recitals and weddings.

Plaintiff advertised the art display in the Yuba-Sutter Arts Council newsletter, a quarterly publication, since 1985. Plaintiff prepared a video of the "museum" in 1985. Two articles, one about the museum and another on specific works of art at the Academy were published in 1985 and 1986 in Apollo magazine, an international art magazine. Since 1985 the plaintiffs placed a listing in the Yellow Pages under "museums," and, at the time of the trial, plaintiff had begun recently to advertise weekly in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. No signs directed the public to the museum, and no signs were placed on the building itself to identify it as a museum until approximately the summer of 1987.

Records presented to the trial court indicate the Academy's art display attracted approximately 300 guests per year for the three years in question. The first year, almost 60% of those visitors were Fellowship members. The second year, the ratio was approximately 20% members to 80% non-members. The third year for which the trial court had records showed a ratio of about 93% non-members to 7% members as museum guests.

On or about March 15, 1985, plaintiff applied for a property tax exemption for the tax year of 1985-1986, asserting that the academy existed as a free public museum, pursuant to article XIII, section 3(d) and section 202(aX2). The application states the primary use of the property is as a public museum/religious academy with the incidental use as a parsonage. The application requested the exemption for about 63% of the building, or that portion open to the general public, plus 100% of the approximately 3.1 acre parcel on which the building is located, which showcases the rose garden, also open to the public. The county denied the exemption, as well as subsequent exemption applications for the years 1986-1987 and 1987-1988.

Plaintiff paid the taxes assessed for those years, and then filed a complaint for reimbursement of the taxes paid. After a court trial, the court held that plaintiff had failed to establish the "predominant use" of the property in question was for public museum purposes. Plaintiff appeals from the judgment entered in defendant's favor.


[1] Article XIII, sec. 3(d) of the California Constitution, provides: "The following are exempt from property taxation: ... (d) Property used for libraries and museums that are free and open to the public and property used exclusively for public schools, community colleges, state colleges, and state universities." (Cal. Const., art. XIII, § 3(d).)
[FN3] This provision is codified in section 202(a)(2). [FN4] The constitutional provision is self-executing and no legislative action is necessary to trigger its application. (J. Paul Getty Museum v. County of Los Angeles (1983) 148 Cal.App.3d 600, 604, 195 Cal.Rptr. 916.) We first consider the meaning of the term "museum" in the context of plaintiffs assertion that the trial court erred in construing the term to require exempt property to be used "primarily" or "predominantly" as a museum.

FN3. The exemption for free museums was added to the Constitution in 1894. The "improvement of educational opportunities for the people of the State of California to the end that they will become more useful and productive citizens" was the stated purpose of the exemption. (Assembly Interim Committee on Revenue and Taxation, Taxation of Property in California, Vol. 4, No. 12, p. 67 (1964).) "The exemption depends on usage; ownership alone will not qualify the property for exemption." (California Constitution Revision Commission, Revenue and Taxation Revised Background Study 2, p. 7. (1969), emphasis added.) We discuss the question of "usage" infra.

FN4. Revenue and Taxation Code section

202(a)(2) provides: "The exemption of the following property is as specified in subdivisions (a), (b), (d), and (h) of Section 3 of article XIII of the Constitution, except as otherwise provided in subdivision (a) of Section 11 thereof:

"(2) Property used for free public libraries and free museums."
[2] "Words used in a statute or constitutional provision should be given the meaning they bear in ordinary use." (Lungren v. Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735, 248 Cal.Rptr. 115, 755 P.2d 299.) If the language is clear and unambiguous, we look no further in discerning the provision's meaning. (Alpha Therapeutic Corp. v. County of Los Angeles (1986) 179 Cal.App.3d 265, 271, 224 Cal.Rptr. 498.) We are also constrained by the "general rule [that] constitutional provisions and statutes granting exemption from taxation are strictly construed to the end that such concession will not be enlarged nor extended beyond the plain meaning of the language employed. [Citations omitted.]" (Honeywell Information Systems, Inc. v. County of Sonoma (1974) 44 Cal.App.3d 23, 27, 118 Cal.Rptr. 422.) Nevertheless, even a strict construction must still be a fair and reasonable construction. (Id. at p. 28, 118 Cal.Rptr. 422.)

Both parties cite Webster's New Collegiate dictionary for the definition of museum as "an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value. " Defendant concedes that the Academy is a building whose various uses included the display of artistic works, but asserts that during the time periods in question it was not "devoted" to artistic displays. Thus, according to defendant, because the property had multiple uses, most of which were unrelated to museum purposes, the trial court properly denied plaintiff's exemption claim.

Defendant's argument can be criticized as requiring an excessively rigid adherence to Webster's definitions. The term "devoted" does not appear in the definition of museum offered in other dictionaries. [FN5] Moreover, it is unclear whether the Webster's definition is a reference to the organization responsible for the display, or the building which houses the organization. [FN6]
FN5. E.g. Webster's New World Dictionary (3d.College Edition): "an institution, building, or room for preserving and exhibiting artistic, historical, or scientific objects."; Webster's Third International Dictionary (Unabridged): "an institution devoted to the procurement care, and display of objects of lasting interest or value ... a room, building, or locale where a collection of objects is put on exhibition" (emphasis added); Random House Dictionary of the English Language (2d Ed. Unabridged); "a building or place where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed." But see. Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged): "A
building devoted to the collection and preservation of works of nature, art, and
antiquity, or to the exhibition of rare and intricate articles in the arts, science, or literature."

FN6. Museum is defined as an "institution" devoted to certain described
purposes. The term "institution" can refer to either "an organization having a
social, educational or religious purpose" or "the building housing an organization." (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)
[3] While defendant may rely too heavily on Webster's, its argument is nonetheless sound. A museum, is more than a room with paintings on the walls. If that were not so, most office building lobbies would qualify as museums. Every description of property by its function assumes that the described function is a primary use of the property. Thus, a clock is an object primarily used to display the time of day. That it may also be used in the lurch to affix nails to a wall does not make it a hammer. [FN7] We therefore agree with the trial court that in ordinary parlance a museum is a building whose "predominant purpose" is to house and display objects of lasting value. Property used "for a museum" must be used primarily to house and display objects of lasting value. This does not preclude other uses, but requires the use as a museum to be primary.[FN8]
FN7. Plaintiff notes that "[w]e often ascribe words to things by reference to the thing's recognized form, irrespective of how it is actually used," and suggests that a hammer remains a hammer even if its principal use is as a paperweight. While such an ascription could be made, the constitution clearly describes exempt property by its function-not its form. Thus, under the approach used in the Constitution, an object used primarily to hold down papers might be regarded as a paperweight even if it has a handle attached to a metal head.

FN8. This definition comports with the definition of museum adopted by the State Board of Equalization in Regulation No. 1586, the regulation which exempts works of art which are purchased as part of the permanent collection of a museum or nonprofit corporation. Regulation 1586(b)(2), adopted in 1988, states in pertinent part: " 'Museum' for purposes of this regulation means a place specifically designated for display of artifacts or objects of art which either: (A) has a significant portion of its display space open to the public without charge during its normal operation hours; (B) has its entire display space open to the public without charge for at least six of its normal operating hours each month of operation; or (C) has its entire display space open without charge to a segment of the student or adult population for educational purposes." (Emphasis added.)
[4] We turn then to the question of whether the primary use of the Academy was as a museum. There is no conflict as to the pertinent facts and under such circumstances the question is one of law. (Engs Motor Truck Co. V. State Bd. of Equalization (1987) 189 Cal.App.3d 1458, 1464, 235 Cal.Rptr. 117.) We therefore undertake an independent review of the trial court's decision, applying the constitutional provision to undisputed facts.

[5][6] Exemptions from taxation are narrowly construed in favor of the state. (Alpha Therapeutic Corp. v. County of Los Angeles, supra, 179 Cal.App.3d at p. 270, 224 Cal.Rptr. 498; Honeywell Information Systems, Inc. v. County of Sonoma, supra, 44 Cal.App.3d at p. 27, 118 Cal.Rptr. 422.) The taxpayer has the burden of showing it clearly comes within the exemption. (Alpha Therapeutic Corp. v. County of Los Angeles, supra, 179 Cal.App.3d at p. 270, 224 Cal.Rptr. 498; Campbell Industries v. State Bd. of Equalization (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 863, 870, 213 Cal.Rptr. 533.) Did plaintiff meet its burden? The trial court thought not. We concur.

[7] In concluding that the Academy was not a museum, because the predominant use of the property was not to collect and display art, the trial court was impressed by the many other uses of the property. The "museum" portion of the building was confined to the middle of the first floor and was not segregated from the rest of the Academy. The remainder of the Academy was used for a variety of purposes.

It served as a residence for the founder and leader of the Fellowship, living quarters for other members, and a place for dinners, conferences, lectures, weddings and concerts. All of these uses predated the establishment of the museum, and continued thereafter. Accommodations were made to insure that the non-museum uses did not interfere with the museum. It appears, however, that little accommodation was necessary because of the museum's limited hours and patronage.

During the first year for which an exemption was claimed, the museum was open to the public two days a week by appointment only. During the second and third years, the appointment only policy was discontinued, but the museum remain closed to the public five days out of the week.

Contrary to plaintiff's suggestion, the court did not hold that the use of the Academy for other purposes precluded award of the exemption. Nor did the court appear to view the other uses as interfering with its use as a museum. The court acknowledged that multiple uses were permissible. The issue is whether the Academy's use as a museum was its principal use. Evidence regarding the other uses was probative on this issue. Evidence of plaintiffs appointment policy, the isolated location of the Academy, the lack of publicity and the museum's hours of operation are also relevant in determining the extent to which the property was used as a museum. All such evidence suggested a limited use of the property as a place to store and display the art housed there.

The trial court concluded plaintiff not only failed to establish the property was used principally as a museum. "[P]laintiff also failed to establish that the property was used even 'significantly' or 'substantially' as a museum." On appeal, plaintiff insists the court's conclusion is premised on another definitional error: the trial court viewed a museum solely as a place where art objects are exhibited and ignored the function of a museum, as a collector and repository of art for future generations. Plaintiff is mistaken.

[8][9] The court noted that "[t]he museum portion of the Goethe Academy contained many examples of high quality artwork, books and furnishings...." and acknowledged that a "true museum" both "house[s]" and "display[s]" works of art, and other items of excellence. That it chose to focus on the "display" function reflected two realities. First, the quality and value of the artwork was undisputed, and the consequent value of preserving such work for future generations could be assumed. There was no need to dwell on that fact. Second, as between the function of a museum as a repository and its display function, clearly the latter is of paramount importance for purposes of the exemption. The purpose of the exemption was to encourage the display of art and other items of value to the public. That purpose is not served by granting tax exemptions to warehouses where art is stored, even if such buildings are "open to the public" and no admission is charged and notwithstanding ) the public benefit accruing from the preservation of the building's contents. A museum must function both as a repository of art or other items of lasting value, and as a place where such items are displayed.

We conclude that the trial court correctly determined plaintiff failed to establish the property in question was "used for a ... museum" within the meaning of the Constitution. Given this conclusion we need not consider the closely related question of whether the property was "open to the public."

The judgment is affirmed.

PUGLIA, P.J., and DAVIS, J., concur.