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 an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will 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
on official Fellowship publications and websites,
news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, 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.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Philip's story

"Philip" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 19, 2007:
I’m a new contributor to this blog (or any blog for that matter). I’m writing to express an insight I’ve had about what keeps students in the Fellowship who sense that it may be time to leave. If you are in the school and feel stuck, I hope you will find this helpful. And if you’ve already left, I would be interested in your response to this post. First, some personal context:

I joined the Fellowship when I was 24 years old and was a devoted member for 22 years. I left a little over a year ago. During my time in the school I lived in various parts of the world to support its centers. Eventually I opened and directed two of them. I also lived at Renaissance/Apollo/Isis for 12 years. I worked in the vineyard, landscaping, and the winery, regularly gave angles at meetings (even led a couple), and participated in the performing arts. I also answered the Fellowship’s 800# for a couple of years, did tons of research for the Galleria meetings, and was a member of the Fellowship Council for a while.

Through all these years of effort, I would from time to time become disappointed with my progress toward awakening and would think about leaving the school. Then I would begin to feel disturbed about the Teacher’s personal life. What kept me in was always some version of this thought: “The reason you haven’t awakened yet isn’t because there’s something wrong with the school or the Teacher, it’s because you haven’t made enough efforts, haven’t made enough use of the opportunities that the school provides for working on yourself. After all, how can a ‘sleeping machine’ such as you know what’s right in regard to awakening, or for that matter, in regard to a conscious being’s private life?”

About 4 years ago I became disappointed again and gave myself the same answer as usual. But this time I decided that I was through with the school trying so hard to wake me up and with me failing both it and myself. I proceeded to make efforts as never before, increasing my volunteer community service to as much as 70 hours a week (which often meant only 4 or 5 hours of sleep at night), and amassing a sizable credit card debt in order to attend every meeting with the Teacher and many of the other events (including the international meetings in Greece and Egypt).

After a few years of this, the day came when I took a look at my progress toward awakening and once again felt disappointed. States? yes. Understandings? yes. Awakening? still far away (similar to post #88). This time, however, there was no doubt in my mind that I really had done all I could with the opportunities provided by the school. Why wasn’t it working? I had to admit to myself that my failure to awaken wasn’t my fault; for the first time, I wondered if it might be the school that was failing me (as in post #96). In terms of the car-in-the-garage analogy from a couple of days ago, I peeked in my garage and found a car there (thanks for those images, post #’s 97 & 99.)

I still had to deal with thoughts like, “If you’re asleep, how can you know what the problem is or whose fault it is?” But luckily, enough of a ray of light had entered my awareness that I began to realize something new. It was not so much about the school itself, as about the fourth way in general. And what follows is I hope a useful response to David’s post #66 (which brought up the point about the fourth way being introduced as only fragments).

The fourth way, as presented in Gurdjieff’s and Ouspensky’s books, the can’t work. Why not? Because it is based on selfishness. Just look at the language: “self-remembering,” “self-observation,” “becoming immortal within the limits of the solar system,” etc. Because of this selfishness, one will always get in one’s own way. Ego can’t awaken. “Trying to awaken” is a Tantalus-game (so beware of fourth way ideas, post #101).

In the end I had to cut deeper than the school in order to get out of it– I had to find a way out of the fourth way.

I just read Keith’s post #126 about the fourth way working, and, I’m wondering, Keith, how does it work for you? Do you believe that you have “awakened”? If you’ve found it to be useful in some way, I’d really like to hear about your experience.

I appreciate very much those of you who have mentioned that resisting evil only makes it stronger. Whether it be an esoteric school, a spiritual teacher, or certain posts on this blog, challenging it only makes it bigger in your mind. As the Buddha said, “Hate never yet dispelled hate, only love dispels hate, this is the eternal law.”

Thanks too to those of us who have pointed out that it may me right for some to stay in the school for example in post #’s 108 & 112, and in particular to Ellen of post # 50 who seems to be a living example of that.

Also, someone in this blog mentioned that there are those who, though they see that the school is not what it purports to be, stay in it anyway in order to help others who are suffering there. I have heard that about some current members and was glad to hear of it again here. It sounds heroic.

And as to the pursuit of awakening, to which so many of us have dedicated a great deal of time and energy, I have been helped by something else the Buddha said: “If a man thinks he has attained Enlightenment, he has deceived himself, although he may be moving in that direction.” A contemporary spiritual teacher helped me understand this when he said, “It’s not you that wakes up; it’s reality that wakes up, the truth wakes up. You are not enlightened, enlightenment is enlightened.”

I agree with our host, the “Sheik,” who wrote earlier today that, “the only source of truth and happiness is in every each one of us.” Expanding on this, I’ve learned that everything and everyone you perceive and experience is you. So, if you think the fellowship is a cult, or evil, that’s you, and if you think it’s something else, that’s you too. Reality is all coming from you.

During the past year since I left the school I’ve learned from a number of spiritual teachers and they all seem to have one common thread of truth running between them. It is that you already have all truth, beauty, wisdom and consciousness. Just relax, practice stilling your mind (and, as post #60 says, “trust your heart”).

And to post #54, you won’t be harmed if you leave. The truth is that nothing can really harm you. Deep inside yourself, you know that.

To you and to Susan of post #125, here’s my advice: just sit quietly for a little while today, say half an hour, and let yourself be without your worries, thoughts and emotions. You will rediscover peace and truth. For a little while, let yourself be just your awareness – that’s the real you.

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