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.

Monday, November 14, 1994

The Ames Gilbert Letter

From the Fellowship of Friends Discussion
14 November 1994

Here are some thoughts I am circulating among a few friends:

There have been quite a few letters and other materials passed around in the last few weeks, and I have been responsible for some of this. I felt that spreading information was the most practical act of regeneration to counteract the crimes of closing down and censorship that have been taking place in the Fellowship, spreading light to counteract darkness. Because I have nothing to fear and nothing to be ashamed of, I have taken full responsibility for my efforts by signing my name to everything that I originated, although I also re-printed and circulated anonymous letters when I felt it was right.

You may have heard about the meeting last Saturday, led by Linda Kaplan with the help of Girard Haven. If you have not, I feel you missed an unusual happening, and I advise you to talk to someone who was there. I feel that we were all given a great gift, that there was a demonstration of the rigidity of the form and its mechanical response to what Gurdjieff called the sacred cry from below against the unbecoming manifestations from above. I also feel there was a demonstration that we all get exactly what we ask for. Some have asked for the courage to obey the Master within, our consciences. Others sought an important external role; they have been given it, and they demonstrate daily how they use the opportunity. Some wanted to give up all responsibility for their evolution to others; their wish has been granted. A few wanted to buy an insurance policy to heaven; they are comforted in their illusion. Some gave themselves unconditionally to support someone else’s vision, believing it to be noble. They are noble slaves. And I believe the majority of students have some or all of these aspects. They see some of the dichotomies, and are sincerely struggling to resolve the good they have verified with the difficulties they see. They want to stay positive and comfortable. I understand. I want the same.

You may not know that the next day after the meeting, Howard Kingston, Stephen Merryweather, Ramona Merryweather, and Emily Gordon were given lengthy leaves of absence from the school. Cynthia Kingston was asked if she wanted to take a leave of absence, and I was told to leave the school permanently. You may not know that the day before, James Battaglia was given leave of absence for distributing copies of a telephone conversation with Robert. If you wish to ask the others the reasons they were given for these actions, I invite you to ask them individually. The reason I was given by Robert via Peter Bishop was, “Ames does not understand the purpose of meetings”. I have been trying to make transcripts of some of the “exit conversations”, and these may follow in due course; they may help you see the situation in a new way. For me, these dismissals constitute crime by the organization against the school, and the crime emanates from the highest source of authority, Robert. If you have any doubts, please study the situation—and please tell me if you reach different conclusions. At any rate, for me it is right action and regeneration to expose these crimes, and others, and shed light on them.

The rest of this letter constitutes my personal opinion about the situation in our school. But, these conclusions are not pleasant! Please believe me when I say that I am writing from a good place, the best that I can find. I acted and continue to act according to my conscience, which I came to the school to learn to do. I am confident that when I decided to act, I was given the help that I needed and asked for. I am confident that this will continue. I do not claim to be right, only that I must act according to my conscience, no matter what the consequences, and that is the right way for me.

My own difficulties with the form began fifteen years ago when I was at Renaissance. Robert entered the bedroom of my good friend John M., in the London teaching house. Robert was nude, armed only with an erection and overwhelming psychological power. He told John that he was an angel, and that C-influence wanted John to have sex with him, that he should externally consider the needs of his teacher. As a result, my friend left the Fellowship in agony. But, I personally did not act. I abhorred what had happened, and yet justified it by telling myself that I was getting great benefit from the school, and that I was not personally harmed. And this pattern has repeated itself many times since: each time, though, I was left more distant from the form.

I feel that we are in the hands of higher forces, and that a great play is unfolding for our benefit. The play so far has been a mixture of hope and tragedy in the finest tradition. I have come to think the following. With the help of higher forces, Robert was allowed to start the school for reasons that from the beginning were not entirely altruistic, and this has spoiled the possibilities for him, and at the least delayed them for us. The average student, like myself, came to the school with a spiritual longing. We also came with psychological dysfunctions of varying severity, problems from our previous life that we had not resolved. And we dumped all responsibility for the answers we sought on Robert Burton. For most of us, this was not the careful, partial and temporary lending of will advocated by the system, but the giving of everything, including the individuality we are supposed to reserve to ourselves. Robert even told mothers to give up their children, and many did! I know how this can be, because I too gave up almost everything in the name of something higher.

To try to understand what is happening now, I looked at Robert’s past. According to my sources, Robert Burton was asked to leave Alex Horn’s school after eighteen months of work on himself. He was given the task of not sleeping with other men, and failed this task from his teacher. But, Robert is very intelligent and had learned the outward form of how to run a Fourth Way school from Alex Horn. He had enough theoretical material, he was mechanically a gifted teacher, he felt qualified to teach others. Perhaps he hoped, as ordinary educators do, that he could stay one step in advance of his pupils, in this case a spiritual step. And, because he was emotionally centered with chief weaknesses of dominance and greed, he saw the opportunity to have others support him materially. However, Robert from the beginning mistook the weakness of signals from his poorly developed conscience for impartiality, and then took this sense of impartiality as an objective indication that he was free from certain laws. Please understand that he carried with him the part that won out when he failed his task; he brought his weaknesses. And I believe he did continue to work on himself, but only in order to learn to intentionally use World 12 creative energies, which are accessible to everyone unconsciously.

However, he soon began to take advantage of the enormous accumulation of trust, power and money that came with the complete abdication of responsibility by his students. Each time he ignored his conscience, it became weaker, and Robert’s conscience became completely buried after about ten years. He started to explore new areas of power with complete impunity. He found that because of the blind adoration of his students, every action remained unquestioned, and in fact students eagerly leapt to provide explanations that defied commonsense. He found that every indulgence could be satisfied. Anything could be explained by appealing to the inexhaustible credulity of a group of people that deliberately trained themselves to excuse everything in the name of ‘crazy wisdom’. His instinctive center started to enlarge, as it perceived it had no limits, unrestrained by increasingly feeble messages from his emotional center. At this point, his psychopathic development was complete; he is now a part of a group of people who are often intelligent, personable, charming, charismatic—a typical cult leader. They just happen to be devoid of conscience. The intentional absence of precautions against sexually transmitted diseases is just one aspect of this. There are now thousands of people who have had direct and indirect sexual contact with Robert. The implications are horrifying.

With the acquiescence of Fellowship doctors, he became addicted to painkillers and to Valium, a drug that allowed him to maintain a calmness we mistook for spirituality. At some critical point (between 1979 and 1981, in my opinion), his emotional center lost all contact with his instinctive center, and started to starve. His conscience is now inaccessible to him; buried under layers so thick that nothing but melting energies from higher forces can penetrate. The ‘emotional’ and ‘spirituial’ energy we think we are receiving is now being emanated from his instinctive center, his new center of gravity. And, his instinctive center is addicted to unlimited sex, money, and power, so it works to attract these things to itself, day and night. We are seeing him possessed, truly a blind Christ.

However, Robert is a very clever man, and we are very gullible. Once his quiescent conscience was buried, he had lost his internal guide. Se he started to look for signs outside himself, and there are plenty of signs if one looks for them. This has become a major interest for him—you cannot have failed to notice. Now, no longer a teacher, he encouraged his students to start looking for a guide outside as well. And all the while, higher forces are indeed managing the play! They gave signs, not necessarily the right ones; the rightness depended on whether the higher or lower was looking at the time. Those students seeking something higher received beneficial shocks, as many as their being could use. Those seeking self-aggrandizement received confirmation of their sense of self-importance. And now we have an organization where conscience is credentialed, a religion or cult, alongside a school where, if one wishes, one can verify that consciousness cannot be credentialed. Ah, the sweet beauty of Howard Kingston’s photograph to us all! How can we tell if another person is a man number five? Why would we believe Howard? Why would we disbelieve him? And, how can it matter to anyone else but Howard?

Consider the current situation. We have Robert Burton, who celebrates his consciousness in outward displays—parties, announcements, even estimates of degrees (7.3 last month); we have Girard Haven who coyly announces last week that he is a man number five. We have a teacher who says he is needed to tell some one that he is, or will be conscious, and that consciousness cannot be achieved without his intercession. Robert claimed last week that we only achieve higher states because of him! And at the same time we have people genuinely trying to work on themselves, students that are making progress, who have verified that they are being helped, who are clearing away the rubbish of false personality from around their consciences. From time to time, some of them stumble across their conscience when it has grown too large to ignore. This is a critical point, and for me there is nothing more important in one’s evolution than what is occurring at this time. If we take Robert’s direction, that is, we accept his claim that he is the centrally important guide or permanent star in our spiritual firmament, then we must squash conscience. You might be interested in these words from Peter Bishop. Last Sunday, he delivered Robert’s message to leave the school. He was asked, “What is conscience?”, and replied, “Conscience is a collection of subjective I’s. If a student accumulates too much material there, he should leave the school.”!!!! Well, I say, on the contrary!! I say if we realize that there can be no external master, and that our highest duty is to serve the Master within, then we are finally safe, we have found what we are looking for! And certainly, we cannot serve two masters at the same time.

So here we are, in a marvelous situation. It seems higher forces used Robert to gather 1900 students together, for reasons not yet fully apparent, and the process affected and linked multiple thousands more. Robert withdrew from his conscience into his fantasy. Higher forces are now withdrawing their support for him. His play is being made manifest to us. Unfolding before our eyes, if we wish to see, is a play of epic tragedy, a lesson for the ages. We are seeing how power attracts the corruptible, and how absolute power attracts the absolutely corruptible. We are witnessing the absolute of corruption, and we must learn the lesson, embrace the pain, allow it to penetrate the very core of our being. Then, when we in turn are tested to see if we have learned the lesson, at those moments of choice when our fate hangs in the balance, we may be able to turn the powers offered to us and dedicate their use to higher service.

What now? If these theories have any basis in reality, we can expect Robert to become more and more frightened, because he has nothing real to retreat to. We will be able to feel the fear emanating from the center. For example, today (11/18) Michael Goodwin called ex-students in the area to tell them they were forbidden to cross the property to come to La Cucina, a public restaurant. Bizarre, and illegal! We can look for and expect the actions of a scoundrel, a psychopath. There are several possibilities.

Robert might announce his retirement, on his terms. This would be a slow-motion, but nevertheless large-scale looting of resources. Such a turn would make him conveniently inaccessible, even more unaccountable, but with access to the same large amounts of money, power and sex. Or, he might liquidate all the assets he can here, including the Ming furniture collection, borrow as much from his American students as their credulity, savings, and credit cards will allow, and abscond to Europe to reign in the relatively undisturbed feeding grounds there. Perhaps he will try to hold out, exhibiting increasingly bizarre and out-of-control behavior, by clamping down on all dissent, increasing his reliance on external signs, making more claims of near-divinity to bolster his weakening authority. If he takes this course, it will probably end in both external and internal tragedy. There are other options. Whatever happens, I think it will happen quite soon and quite quickly. The structure he has created is too inflexible, too fragile, and his compulsions too great to allow the present illusions to continue for much longer.

Friends, it is of critical importance for us and for him that we do not let Robert go on his terms. It would be the end of all possibilities for him; that is, he would have lost his last chance to ask for help from higher forces and from us. And, he cannot receive help unless he asks for it. Even the angels must obey that law. And for us, we would have no way to repay the help and high favors we have received, form him and from higher forces. This mess is not Robert’s alone. There is only one of him, and thousands of us. It is our mess, too, and each one of us bears individual responsibility for feeding his addictions. We dumped all our problems on him. We gave him our birthright of power and individuality. We gave him huge resources; our time, our money, our labor, our love, our obedience, and some of us, our bodies. He could not resist the temptation, and is corrupted. There have been many warnings. We would not listen. We swallowed a ball of dung because it was gilded with gold. We heard voices, our consciences, tell us something was wrong and getting worse. We pushed those inner voices away, and sinned by using those most precious and beautiful gifts, the system and the tools, to explain away the discomfort.

My conscience surfaced for what I intuitively knew would be the last time, a few weeks ago. I knew that if I pushed it under one more time, it would become so weak that it could not speak to me again. I knew this was my last chance. I am so glad I took that chance! And so, I appeal to your conscience. I do not advocate those in the Fellowship leaving, or those outside the Fellowship taking action, or indeed taking any particular course. I just appeal to your conscience. It will tell you what to do. When you obey it, you are obeying the only true Master, the Master within. Trust it, and you can make no real mistakes. And this is true even if, and perhaps especially if, everything I have put forward about Robert and the state of the school is mistaken.

I do not seek to destroy the Fellowship, as Robert and the hierarchy that support him claim. I cannot be a “traitor to C-Influence”, as Robert has claimed before, even if I wished to. Think of the scale—how could an atom betray a man? It is my school, too, and to harm it would be like cutting off my arm. But the form is crumbling, according to immutable laws, as energy is withdrawn from it. All external structures descend. That the body of the Fellowship is throwing out healthy cells in such numbers, turning on itself, is a signal of present and impending trouble. There may now be more being outside the formal Fellowship than inside it. And if my own actions, which are internal, are wrongly perceived as external threats against the organization, there is indeed rot, and the form is tottering.

For myself, I pray that we will bridge this interval in the octave of the school together. I pray that the affirmative forces that Robert represents can be harmonized with the denying forces that have arisen to meet it, that both “sides” can come to see that they are both necessary for a healthy future. If either of these forces overwhelms the other, the school will be destroyed. We know that there must also be a reconciling force. I pray that I can recognize it and align myself with it. I pray that Robert will ask for help, and allow higher forces to redeem him, and that he can rediscover his Self. I pray that when my tiny mite of help is asked for, that I will not turn aside. I pray that Robert will be able to resume his Path, that he will be able to see that his journey is by no means completed. Indeed, I feel that the longer we support what he has become, the further back on that Path he will have to go. I pray that we can continue the journey together, helping each other as we are able, learning to love and care for each other, able to explore our humanity fully, but fully understanding that we are alone and responsible for our Selves and to our Selves, and that our plays are in the hands of higher forces, not in the hands of an external teacher.

Whatever you do, and whatever you think about this letter, please heed James Battaglia’s splendid advice. Keep you eyes and ears open, and try to be in the moment. Please do not copy or distribute this letter, although you may let others you trust read it.



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