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.")

But 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.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws from official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated 2007) Fellowship of Friends Wikipedia page, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship. Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

George Gurdjieff and a warning about The Fellowship of Friends

[ed. - On disinformation, Alex Burns writes a biographical sketch of George Gurdjieff, including a warning concerning the Fellowship of Friends. The "About Cults" link below leads to an Internet Archive copy of Stella Wirk's former Geocities website. The page also features links to several now-defunct sites of former Fellowship members: Theodore J. Nottingham, Greg W. Goodwin's The System, Charles Duncan's Fourth Way Gurdjieff Ouspensky School, and the contemporary Fellowship of Friends page (which cites the teachings of Gurdjieff as the Fellowship's foundation.) Bolds added.]
Take the 'wisdom' of the East and the 'energy' of the West and then seek.
~~ Gurdjieff
From his first appearance in Moscow and St Petersburg in 1912, the enigmatic philosopher and memetic engineer George Ivanovich Gurdjieff attracted the interest of occultists and the Western intelligentsia. His teachings (often referred to as the 'Gurdjieff Work' or 'Fourth Way') became widely known through the writings and lectures of his pupil, the famous Russian mathematician and journalist Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky, and were later propagated by Alfred Richard Orage, John Godolphin Bennett, Rodney Collins, and Dr. Maurice Nicoll.

Utilizing 'stolen' teachings from a wide range of groups that he had encountered (including the Yezidis, the Russian Orthodox Church, and Sufi 'Bektashi' and 'Naqshbandi' sects in the Hindu Kush and Pamir regions), Gurdjieff developed a unique system designed to enable individuals to overcome ingrained cognitice defects, become more conscious, and awaken the seeds of the Higher Self's Objective Conscience.

Recognizing that all spiritual movements eventually succumb to entropy, Gurdjieff ended his masterful use of PSYOPS adversity and confrontation at his 'initiatory laboratory' in Fontainebleu (France), concentrating upon conveying his worldview through the mammoth portable mythos 'Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson' (1950), which developed deeper esoteric themes drawn from Sufi, Zoroasterian, Sumer, and Egyptian literature.

His later work with small groups in Paris during the 1930s and 1940s, the subsequent books, the sacred dances, the piano music composed with musician Thomas de Hartmann, and the now extensive biographical and critical literature serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of this Magus. Many of Gurdjieff's concepts influenced Twentieth Century culture, including the Leary/Wilson/Lilly models of 'conscious evolution', the revitalisation of Gnostic Christianity, scientific research on 'split brain' neurology and 'multiple intelligences', Gaia eco-consciousness and the reciprocal maintenance of natural systems. Popularisations of Sufi Initiation occurred via Oscar Ichazo's 'Arica' Institute, the 'false Sufism' of E.J. Gold, and the stories of Idries Shah.

After his death in 1949, Gurdjieff's legacy was disseminated through many people, coinciding with the fragmentation of groups into secular denominations. It was further obscured by personality cults such as Robert Burton's Fellowship of Friends (Renaissance), and identifications with Gurdjieff at the expense of his ideas. Derivative movements have used isolation, group think, authoritarian power structures, and other 'unmasking psychology' methods for re-programming individuals. No one group can claim absolute control over or knowledge of Gurdjieff's teachings, and the interested practitioner is warned to exercise caution and common sense.

To quote Gurdjieff: "Beware of someone who wants to teach you something." The first rule of many 'Fourth Way' groups is: "There is nothing compulsory. One is not asked to violate cherished beliefs or accept any of the ideas presented. Rather, a healthy skepticism is encouraged."

About Cults: Fellowship of Friend
The 'Fellowship of Friends' (Renaissance), founded by self-styled 'Fourth Way' teacher Robert Earl Burton is one of the most controversial contemporary groups. Burton never studied directly with Gurdjieff or Ouspensky (he did study with Alex Horn), and is not recognised by the Gurdjieff Foundation as a legitimate heir, but has promoted himself as a self-proclaimed 'Teacher' who became notorious when his Edgar Cayce-like prophecy of California falling into the sea due on April 11th 1988 failed to occur (he also claimed to be founding a 'New Civilization' that would survive an Armageddon). The FOF promotes itself by leaving 'Gurdjieff/Ouspensky' Centres bookmarks in stores, despite several disputes with publishers and authors. This site by Stella and Harold Wirk (who met Burton in July 1970 and studied with the FOF until 1982) describes how this esoteric school began to turn into a cult within three years, the group dynamics and 'authoritarian power god' processes underlying this transformation (the school forgets its original aim and exists only to survive/propagate itself), and the inevitably decline that followed. Exercises designed to increase awareness of neuro-physiological, social, and individual limitations became extremely regimented (see the Wirk-Sheet and famous Hell Letter). This site contains letters, e-mail, and distinctive portraits. An important reminder that the Gurdjieff Work does not have obedience, faith, or blind belief!
Screenprint of Alex Burn's article on George Gurdjieff and links to Fellowship of Friends spin-offs. Source: disinformation

"the Sheik of Fatigue and Esoteric Knowledge" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 26, 2006:
Seriously watch out. First decide whether you truly do want to join a group, the history is full of people who managed great things on their own. There are also other ways to meet like-minded people than to join a group that may be potentially harmful to you. The Feollowship will be harmful to you, you have been warned.

If you still wish to join a Gurdjieff group, you might want to have a look at: [pictured above]

If you don’t mind me asking why have you decided to seek help in your search for enlightenment and what do you think it is that the Fellowship has to offer that you can not get on your own? – as to the truthfulness of the Fellowship of Friends, it is a lie that you can not do work on yourself alone. If they lied once, who is to say how much of what they say is true.

Saturday, July 14, 2001

Trouble in St. Petersburg

The following was posted by "innin" on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
some more history …

Strange I did remember there were brave questions about RB & sex around 2000 and some Russians were immediately asked to leave but I complet[e]ly forgot the main theme. It was an early chall[e]nge of the “advaita” approach.

see the discussion list July 2001:

“From: “Vladimir Smirnov” [ed. - aka "Volodya"]


Subject: [FoF] A message from Saint-Petersburg

Date: July 14 2001

Dear friends, all who read this discussion list and those who have received their personal copy. (Dane, Rulik, Girard, Synthia, Carlos, Thomas, Robert, Rowena, Peter and Victor).

Thank you for your sincere help in the past and understanding in the present. Read the following carefully and use it to your best. Recently when being in one of so called intervals when the machine is stressed and trying to understand what the next step is, something changed and a new teaching appeared face to face.

The document which was sent to the list yesterday contains the excerpts from it. It is the teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi, he is probably a complete man #7 in our terms.

A man who experienced a state of objective consciousness and after that spent next 50 years of his life sitting near the mountain and teaching all those who wanted to be taught.

The idea is to make efforts to keep your mind quiet, separate from the physical objects, entering through the five senses and ask every thought with words “Whom is this thought for? Is it me? Who is this me? Who am I?”

This very effort will bring one to the realization of one’s Self. And this Self is GOD and it is your true nature, for GOD is not outside, but inside of you.

The illusion arises because I (that is You) identifies itself with the body, when at the same time the Absolute is shining alone within one’s machine. (It reminds Gurdjieff saying that higher centers are fully functional and working, but one does not listen to them).

Consciousness is not the functions, but they are connected. As Ouspensky and Girard pointed, there is no greater stimulus for the machine other than the presence of consciousness.

If one identifies with one’s eyes, the objects become real. Than the forces that make the machine work and all its results become real. Its likes and dislikes become real. You start acting. Success of it brings joy, fault brings suffering. Understand the illusory nature of things and your suffering goes away. It is hard to separate from negative emotions, when you believe into the reality of their subjects, but if you remove the objects – you are free.

Buddha, Meher Baba, sufi masters and other great teachers say that if you separate from this body and all what it brings with it, you will come to the realization that all the visible world is just an illusion, maya, play of the mind, whereas the Absolute is like on ocean where souls are like drops.

There is no me looking for God and trying to be present to the world around, but there is a drop which looks for the ocean, when it is already there, being part of it. Read Rumi, Lao Tsu or Hafiz to understand what this experience is like. It is that very state where endless consciousness, unity, love and will live.

When Jesus said “I am the Son of my Father and I am Him” meaning that he is in the state where he experiences himself as the Absolute, when he is the Ocean and not the drop. It makes one compassionate to look at the drops in the ocean and see how they believe to be individuals.

Now, when having modern science and Rodney Collin books, we can understand it with our intellect. However, experiencing is not the intellect. Here one can see that the system of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky is just a brilliant package of objective knowledge acceptable for western mind, because western people are too much in “Me” to understand that there is no “Me”. And self-remembering helps to understand that there is no me, I’m just a point from which the awareness comes and that’s it. From here we start.

Now, what the school and the teacher are for?

To create conditions and opportunities for those who want. If one understands that one’s Self identifies itself with the body and it is in the prison of the physical world, one needs something, which will destroy this identification.

Thus, one forgets about things that support the reality of the sensible world and looks for something which frees his consciousness. Gurdjieff was laughing if hearing someone delighted with works of western art, as he saw it as fully subjective. Real art, he said, is created to help. It is based on objective laws and contains within it a higher state (and not the machine, but consciousness).
Immediately, a lot of the things about our School became clear and obvious. Some are helpful and cannot not to be easily found outside (that is, the students and their efforts) and others proved their nature today at the meeting led by Robert.
Many things were earlier had to be adjusted to fit into the picture. But for the last two weeks it seems to become more and more clear that the essence of attitudes is the same as of buffers. That is, if one cannot handle something, one is forced to do something with it. If you have no will not to express negative emotions, you believe thinking that you are always right or you have to use your king of hearts to help you and create a working attitude. If your will is strong, you simply separate from the machine and it will separate you immediately from its senses, objects they perceive, reactions to these objects etc.

If one is conscious, one simply becomes separates and controls it, without thinking or feeling. Many of Robert’s actions were earlier explained using the idea of the machine being separate from consciousness and therefore doing what it’s doing when one is simply observing it.

However, who said it? Ouspensky said that even the smallest change in one’s level of consciousness changes the machine a lot. Its functions work better, it’s usual I’s disappear and new ones appear. All the ancient teachers say that an awaken being can be recognized by his behavior. This behavior is based on complete non-attachment, desireless and absolutely equal attitude towards any object. The Master sees everything including his body as a visible expression of the Absolute while being himself united with IT internally and invisibly. He is like a crystal through which the light comes. This is called being objective.

Today the meeting started with Robert’s words about Influence C. Then, a question:

“Robert, after watching recent videos I feel that our School direction becomes more and more religious, as you offer ideas which cannot be verified as clearly as others. So, it involves belief, which is opposite to the Fourth Way principles. For example, the idea of Influence C working directly with us. What can I do with it?”

It was asked in English and Robert made a mistake – he asked it not to be translated into Russian and than said that he didn’t like the question and wants to skip it.
We moved further and he expressed his I’s about having a little time and using our time wisely without asking “wrong” questions. After a few of his angles a new question asked:

“Robert, you pointed out that immortal Gods are working with the School directly. Then, what is the main reason that in these 30 years none of your students became a fully awaken?”

This time Robert lost.

His calmness completely disappeared and he repeated that the questions were wrong and not helpful. He was touched. After a few words he said that he was that one who was a fully awaken being. Then he added, that the meeting at Apollo was also somehow strange and he thoughts that it is a good idea to have a list of questions before the meeting so he could skip wrong questions.

Then we moved our usual way speaking about Plato and Influence C. There were mostly Robert’s words and one question about taking practical aims because awakening seems to be too far. Robert spoke about using the body for creating third state, developing Apollo etc. Then he said about being present to the beauty of the room and enjoying arts. Than he moved to the efforts to separate from the negative I’s and I gave an angle based on the teaching expressed:

“If one is consistently trying to separate from I’s, keep the silence inside and separate from the objects which come through the senses, one can come to the realization of one’s true Self. And from here one sees that there is no “Me” and “You”, no world, but just an illusion, maya, and one is that very consciousness that perceives it”.

The angle is neutral and there is nothing to add or remove from it. It belongs not to mine, but to a higher level of being. Robert looked up, said “Yes…” and continued further:

You, I, real school, angels in the room, sleeping machines and the other things that make this world seem real and you as one of its objects.

Than, another question:

“Robert, why to you make your male students to have sex with you?”

Robert was digesting for a while, but he looked ready and gave a long thread starting with the idea of people interested in other people’s sexual life and little by little moved to Plato, Leonardo and Shakespeare having sex with males. Then he said about Sappho being a beautiful lesbian being. Then he said it was the most beautiful part of his life. And what can be more beautiful that being present to your lover?

Than he added that those males who were having sex him, had a sex with an angel in the human form. We are accustomed to the unconscious sex and he has conscious sex.

Few more angles, one from the jack of hearts, so every laughed and felt easy and than the angle that the meeting was for some reason very different and strange with too many wrong questions at it.

Than a poetic quote and the end.

It is 99.9% probable, that you will never see this meeting, even though it was recorded.

At this meeting Robert betrayed himself.

All of my previous attitudes to Robert (which were sometimes not easy to create after working at the Academy and looking at him closely) are ruined. The attitudes about the form of the School and not expecting it to be perfect either.

All the Gurdjieff’s words appeared as alive: Western art is totally subjective and based on imagination. Greek-Roman culture was that very culture which brought more harm to the humanity than any other. Greeks destroyed the objective knowledge by their philosophy.

Romans destroyed human conscience by their behaviour. It and many others things can be all found and understood in his “Beelzebub’s tales”.

And after that Robert’s words that he was not sure if Gur[d]jieff was a conscious being at all and that Ouspensky did a mistake on every page of the “Fourth Way” to escape formatory thinking and that many conscious beings were naive saying different things because Influence C kept they away from the truth.

Recently he said that he might become a man #8 depending on the hydrogen warfare.
Earlier, when he was giving his first meeting, he said:

“It began in Russia, and it will end in Russia”.

When he was asked about the meaning, he replied that he didn’t know, but these words appeared in his head and he said them which gave him the creeps.

After today’s meeting it does seem to be true. I guess, it would be useful for all of us have this message printed in our Forum, but somehow this idea seems to be a very naive one.

All these words are just I’s of this machine, but they reflect other.

If you wish, you can contact me at

With love and friendship from Saint-Petersburg,

Vladimir Smirnov

P.S. Practicing the method explained above gives a very strange feeling that I’m addressing it to myself. As if it is one big thing remembering itself in different forms.

Quotes to Sri Ramana Maharshi:

1. What is the nature of the Self?

What exists in truth is the Self alone. The world, the individual soul, and God are appearances in it. Like silver in mother-of-pearl, these three appear at the same time, and disappear at the same time. The Self is that where there is absolutely no “I” thought. That is called “Silence”. The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is “I”; the Self itself is God; all is Siva, the Self.

2. Of the devotees, who is the greatest?

He who gives himself up to the Self that is God is the most excellent devotee. Giving one’s self up to God means remaining constantly in the Self without giving room for the rise of any thoughts other than that of the Self.

3. What is the relation between desirelessness and wisdom?

Desirelessness is wisdom. The two are not different; they are the same. Desirelessness is refraining from turning the mind towards any object. Wisdom means the appearance of no object. In other words, not seeking what is other than the Self is detachment or desirelessness; not leaving the Self is wisdom.

4. What is release?

Inquiring into the nature of one’s self that is in bondage, and realizing one’s true nature is release.”

"No person" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 24, 2007:
Dear Innin, Thanks for the post #191, no matter how lengthy. I had no idea. Volodya was a very good friend of mine, we spent lots of good time together in St. Petersburg when I was a director there. He was a very young solar-lunar guy with glasses, very smart and sweet, and he lived with his parents in truly horrible communal apartment with few other elderly strangers… When this whole “thing” happened in Russia, I was already residing in US, and it was presented to us quite differently (I didn’t get the chance to read the original on discussion group). I was told that a bunch of students got extremely negative, attacked Robert, and it was a process of crime. And they all got kicked out of school, and now smoke cigarettes and express negativity. (I really was told this AND COMPLETELY BELIEVED IT.)

Later I heard it many times, as soon as someone left – that he got negative and it was a process of crime. Friends told me that when it was my turn to be kicked out – exact same things were spread around… Extremely negative, and process of crime. So not true!.. But this is pretty powerful thing to say, isn’t it. Who wants to talk to negative criminals?

Shamefully, at the time (in 2000) I totally believed it, and easily renounced my friend (please forgive me if you can), and never ever contacted him again… I believed that he truly became extremely negative and criminal. I was not interested in talking to him and asking what actually happened. Official version (A LIE) was enough for me then and fully satisfying.

I had no idea that this is actually what was asked at the meeting… Those were sincere questions, nothing was wrong with them. Where is the crime? Why can’t you ask this?

I see more and more that FOF is not about presenting the true story, it is really not. They present you with what they want to present you, just like the images for the meetings – often are altered using Photoshop to make them “fit”- all this to keep you under control. Lies, lies, lies. And buffers. I cannot believe to which degree I was actually brainwashed. It is very humbling to see it now.

In a way, it’s all funny and doesn’t quite matter now – I couldn’t obviously act differently then, otherwise I would have. I am just so happy for Volodya to stumble upon Ramana Maharshi back in 2000. I had no idea it was part of the mix. Good for you, Vovka!

"Rita Penfold" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 24, 2007:
Dear Innin (#191),

Thank you for posting Voloda’s letter. I remember him well, although I only met him a few times. I wasn’t at that meeting in St. Petersburg. There was a student there, Olia, whose husband was and is with Robert. She asked one of those uncomfortable questions and was asked to leave the school afterwards. What is incredible is that after the meeting Robert sent some people to the airport to get Olia’s husband who was coming from abroad, before she reached him and tell him that he can’t see her anymore, as she is not a student and is negative towards Robert and participated in the play of crime. I don’t know whether they met or not, but they separated and he still lives in Isis. Who is criminal in this story?

There is another story I want to tell, of my friend Ivan from Vilnius. We were attending perspective lectures together; and he had to come all the way from Vilnius to Moscow to do that. When I lived at Apollo, Ivan came there with his wife. A few days after his arrival he came to say goodbye to me. He had just met Robert who asked him whether he is willing to have sex with him. Ivan firmly said no to that and Robert then replied that Ivan is never going to be close to him anymore and his chances of evolution are now very slim. Still, Ivan left. I remember how much I cried that day. Ivan was a very close friend and although I didn’t care that time about Robert much (I came from Moscow where my centre director was much more important figure to me than RB. Also, to me work on myself was very important, as well as my friendships and my relationship within the school), I suffered Ivan’s departure and I knew that he was right in his take on Robert.

Altogether, I know only of 3 Russian men who said no to Robert. There must be more, but I don’t know their stories. I have so many friends who had sex with Robert and I don’t know any one who would do it for money in the beginning. I see how all my friends went there out of the naïve belief that they have to submit their will to the teacher. It takes a while for them to get corrupted or broken. I haven’t met any of them who are not traumatized by having sex with Robert, in one way or another. It really breaks my heart to think of the harm that was done to those men. Really, even when writing about it, the desire to ‘bring the bastard down’ comes back with full force, and I thought it was gone!

Dear Ames, thank you for sharing your amazing story. You are indeed incredibly lucky!

"Joe Average" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 22, 2007:
...I was not in Oregon House at the time of the dramatic meeting in 1994. [ed. - See The Ames Gilbert Letter.] I heard rumour only that something controversial and quite out of the ordinary had happened. Despite asking many people I could get no real accounting. Finally one person described it as a bunch of people declaring themselves men number five at the meeting and demanding to be heard, while angelic LT [Linda Tulisso/Linda Kaplan] patiently guided the meeting back on course each time. I was told nothing of the actual content of what these people said. Case closed.

There was a similar meeting in Russia, I think around 2000, when several Russian students asked Robert directly why he found it necessary to have quite so many young lovers among his students. They were, of course, also excommunicated after the meeting. The only reason I heard about that one was that one of the students involved managed to write about it to the former FOF discussion list before being expunged.
So please do not assume that everyone knows or that another old story will not help. It will. Robert has thrived on silence for 35 years. He is terrified of open communication. You will not “bring him down”, but you will help a few more people crack open their cocoon of buffers and rationalizations by the sheer weight of open testimony.

"David D" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 22, 2007:
And here is an e-mail that came out a month or so later. I don’t remember how much discussion the petersburg e-mail generated, but things got heated enough to justify this;
“Hello friends,
The Teacher reminds us to be intentional when using the tool of e-mail. He asks that we avoid unnecessary talk and use this form of communications for true personality.

In particular, Robert observes that those of us with power features need to be especially careful in our use of e-mail.

Robert further suggests that we can help C Influence with their work by not using this medium for sharing insubstantial ideas”

"ryanopoo" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, December 19, 2015:


One brave young woman piped up at a meeting in St. Petersburg. She asked Bob why he had sex with so many of his students. Struck me as a reasonable question since he’d just seduced her husband or fiance. Bob was celestially flumoxed, never having had a real question to deal with. Told her she was poison. The video of the event was destroyed, she was booted out later that day, though Bob kept her husband……..and after that, all his events were scripted, people read quotes from sanitised cards thereafter which he would interpret in unhindered, puerile magnificence.

There were many who finally saw the transparency of the charade, but to my knowledge only that one person who had the guts to ask “What are you doing to us?”

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Celebrating Apollo's "Pearl Anniversary," 1971 - 2001

[ed. - A former Fellowship member alerted me to this rare gem offered on eBay.]

 Meetings with the Teacher - Vol. 1


Excerpts from Meeting of January 1, 2001:

  "The Most Important Questions a Man Can Ask Himself"

Excerpts from Meeting of January 12, 2001:

  "What Is the Miraculous?"

Excerpts from Meeting of February 25, 2001:
"Giving and Receiving Photographs"

Excerpts from Meeting of March 18, 2001:
The 25th Crystallization Anniversary

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of Apollo. In that time both the Fellowship of Friends and the property have undergone great changes. As if mirroring the evolution of the Teacher and his students, the untamed hillsides have slowly been enriched and refined, the undulating rows of the vineyard, the maturing beauty of the trees, the enchanting rose gardens of the Academy all becoming a visible allegory of the transformation of essence. Yet in the midst of these impressive changes, the heart of the Fellowship - as revealed in these excerpts of meetings led by the Teacher - has remained focused on that which is unchangeable and invisible.

As we labor to build our Theatron, and our selves, let the words of Socrates guide us: "Through earthly beauty, we glimpse eternal beauty."

[ed. - Frankly, I think there was more "earthly beauty" in those "untamed" hills before they were ignorantly "enriched and refined." Indeed, the scarred and barren slopes of "Dixon Hill," once teaming with native vegetation and wildlife, may well be a "visible allegory" of Robert Burton's Folly.]