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.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Link to the Sheik's blog is "made massively available"

"Traveler" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2007:
Hi all – the link to this forum was made massively available today by somebody who mailed it to the entire list of FOF email addresses. Thank you all for the honest stories and posts. I am myself a fence sitter and on the way out, and now able to admit it frankly to myself. I joined at a time when I was in a bad place psychologically and the students in the school have been wonderful in helping me become more balanced, helping me to observe and understand myself and human relationships better. There are definitely things to be learned in the Fellowship, depending on where you are starting from. In the process, my whole external life has become wrapped around the FOF, so it is not an easy thing to leave. Like others, every time in the past I have felt this deep rift within myself trying to reconcile all the good positive experiences with all that was bizarre about the FOF, the answer was, like Philip said, to put the blame on myself: I must not be making use of all the opportunities presented to me; why do I think it will be better elsewhere if I’m not totally committed even to this path and am not using this school fully. As someone said somewhere else, there are many good people in the Fellowship trying to make the best out of a bad situation. And so you go about your days suspending judgment on the form of the teaching, trying to get inspired by Robert’s words, trying to translate his pronouncements into something that will make sense to you, explain them away, accept them somehow because after all that’s how Robert’s higher centers see the world, and if I lived from my higher centers I would understand. How is that different from “the Bible is right because it says so in the Bible”? And for periods at a time, I forget about the inner conflict, I buffer it, out of some sort of mental laziness, since I’ve already created my little world with my friends and events and that is taking me somewhere, the teacher is breaking ground for us so we don’t have to. Like hiring someone to manage your investments: in the same way you are paying to be in the school so your evolution is being taken care of. Now if you ask students, of course they will tell you that to make any progress, you have to not only pay teaching payments but also participate and make your own efforts. But subtly and in practice, laziness often creeps in. A kind of forgetfulness and preference of status quo. Don’t want to go through the mess of looking for a path again, or I’m too busy with my life right now to be thinking about these things, or yeah, a hundred people have raised this issue before, but the school still goes on, so what (as if that invalidates the issue). And of course, if you’ve invested 5, 10, 20 or more years of your life in being a member of something, well it could be a pretty big blow to imaginary picture of yourself if you had to admit that you were protecting some nonsense. I identify with a particular social group and so I start defending and downplaying the aspects of it that deeply and privately bother me, but I prefer not to think about disliking them because that would discredit me and my membership. And if I start disagreeing, it’s dangerous, who knows what my lower self will do next, mustn’t allow it any space to breathe. It is the Enemy! Others have amply described this good-bad type of self-censorship, so I will not repeat it. Anyway, the Fellowship is a fascinating and complex kind of sociological phenomenon. Someone should make a case study out of it.

Consider this: Robert’s decision to leave behind Gurdjieff and Ouspensky seems to have opened the door for this wave of non-dual understanding that appears to be sweeping through the school right now and causing people to distance themselves from the teaching or leave. And to me, the change is just wonderful. Robert said something to the effect that the time has come to go beyond Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and maybe what is happening is the result of the going beyond. People leave not because they are not able to adjust to the new form, as someone said in a previous post, not because they are so hung up on the old system, but because they too have been feeling that Ouspensky and Gurdjieff had been exhausted and it was time for something new. When Robert officially declares no more G&O, the floodgates open and new worldviews are suddenly possible. Not necessarily worldviews promoted by Robert any more. People raise their head look around, and it becomes more apparent that the answer is not in battling the “enemy” and making more “efforts” to produce more “states”. It is more love, compassion and release of self-preoccupation. The missing ingredient. Charles, you mentioned in a previous post something very interesting, something about Indian sources and how they describe several different possibilities what can happen after a person has had a spiritual illumination. Could you explain in more detail, please? It might help me make sense of what is happening here… I’ve kind of always believed that Robert is not intentionally misleading us, that he really believes what he says and is doing his best to communicate something to us, however clumsily.

Rita suggested yesterday to have another place for reflection, since this single-page blog is getting longish and hard to read, and she asked if anyone knew how to do this. If you like, I can create a web-based discussion group where you can read posts on the web, or you could also receive emails if you choose to.

Again, thank you all for sharing your candid stories and for maybe getting to know you better than I ever knew you in the Fellowship. I am programmed to be very careful and tend not to express my doubts freely with people I don’t know that well, so I didn’t even realize how many others are out there with similar feelings.

[Maybe a defender:]

"move on" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2007:
In my humble opinion, and since most of you, posters, seem interested in esoteric/spiritual knowledge and experiences, why not stop criticizing what you are NOT interested in and instead put your creative energy toward your spiritual quest. Move on, and seek the teacher that you think is right for you.

"John" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2007:
I am not a member of the FOF though I have lately attained an introductory meeting. I was reading what people wrote here and I became quite puzzled.
I read that people are being confined to stay in the FOF by creating fear to lose their friends and comfort of life. This seems to me coming from said people’s faults and not the FOF. I really do not have much respect to the person who claimed here that he is staying in the FOF in order to help his friends. That sounds like a big lie and I just don’t buy that. I think it is an excuse to cover other personal reasons with which that the FOF probably has nothing to do.

If you are pleading others so strongly not to join the FOF and you are still there it means you are lying both to yourself and to others. Why don’t you just get up and leave now? Maybe deep inside you, you feel that it is your weakness and not the organization’s?

Reading Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’s books, they are describing exactly people like the ones who are going against the work on consciousness. I can see that I have inside me what they call I’s.

I can see that if I am not attentive in the moment I am day dreaming all the time. That is what I really liked in that introductory meeting and I felt they were quite sincere about not being in that day dreaming, which they call imagination.

In a strange way what I read here helps me to go for it and join and see how it is for me. I know one person who is in the FOF for 17 years and he is the only sane guy I know in this world. He told me that it is true that Robert has sexual contacts with a small group of people and it is not imposed if they do not want to. I do not like that part, yet I am not a fearful person and sexual activity is not a negative thing.

"Anonymous" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2007:
From the responses here and the fact that there are such resentful reactions, it looks as if some of those who are former followers of Robert Burton are still attached to him only in an resentful way.

I think that these people have not completely left Robert Burton in their minds. Otherwise they wouldn’t occupy themselves in writing here.

Am I right?

"Traveler" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 2, 2007:
In relation to some recent posts a few thoughts come to mind that might be worth sharing:

#19 another FW student says that the button of our sexual morality is being pushed and asks why do people have a problem with it, we should observe ourselves instead.

This is an example of a typical argument given in the Fellowship. Talking about the teacher’s private life is gossip, we are told. So we learn to conform and to not talk about it. But to use some fourth way language, gossip consists in the third force behind your actions. Talking about the teacher that is “gossip”, for the sheer enjoyment of scandal, is only a subset of all possible talk about the teacher. The two need not be confused.
The other typical answer to the issue of RB’s sex life is to imply that the asker must have a problem with homosexuality (politically incorrect almost anywhere) and they should observe themselves more in that area.

This is a fallacious argument and is based on misrepresenting the question as something other than it is. Often, even if the question is not aptly expressed (we dance around delicate subjects), the concern is not Robert’s sexual orientation, nor group sex. Rather, the concern is who is doing this, with whom and in what relationship. If he used to tell students that he was celibate, forbade extramarital sex and branded homosexuality as false personality (probably an attitude created by Alex Horn), all the while having sex with young male students, doesn’t that raise questions about his credibility? If a number of young heterosexual men found themselves brought to his bedroom in an attitude of complete trust in his spiritual guidance, having no idea that he was going to pull down their pants next, without any forewarning, and use their body as a sex object, doesn’t that make you ask what his human relationship to these people could be? Did he have any respect for them, or was he capable of relating at all? If, when they felt uncomfortable and tried to object, he would tell them to just let go of their body and that having sex with him is the will of the Gods, isn’t that the ultimate appeal to authority? You wouldn’t want to go against the will of the Gods, and the will of the Gods is what I say is the will of the Gods. Poor guys. I understand Robert was abused by his mother as a child (so they say). Poor Robert.

As for them having no problem with it, so why should we. Well, yes, if you have the attitude that any circumstances you encounter in your life are a tool for learning, and you use this experience to be humiliated and drop your ego and identification with yourself and just observe as the play unfolds – well, good on you. But Robert’s teaching part in this story was at best circumstantial, and more likely he used you for the gratification of his desires with no concern for you as a fellow human. If you are strong enough to emerge from this unscathed, then you probably don’t need Robert to teach you in this way in the first place. But more often, people are na├»ve, confused, inexperienced, trusting, and get damaged in the process.

This is my take on it, but then again, I’ve never had to have sex with Robert. If any of the guys who have, is reading this, and feels their experience has been different, perhaps personally meaningful, I sure would like to hear from you.

#18 Anonymous [above]says people who have left are still resentful, that’s why they’re hanging around this forum – an indication that they’re still attached to him.

Dear Anonymous, that may be so. It is quite likely that most of us have some soul-searching to do before we are able to not speak about the Fellowship again. You see, it was and is a very large part of our lives. If you had a very important and dear person in your life for example who suddenly died, or who turned out not to be who you thought they were, would you just move on tomorrow and never give it a second thought? Or would you need to go through a process of transformation and trying to integrate the meaning of the whole episode into the story of your life?
I don’t see resentment in this forum or its contributors (for the most part). In fact, it strikes me as one of the most intelligent and thoughtful exchanges I have heard on this topic. Rather than being a place for ex students to rant about their frustrations, this forum serves another useful function: it is a venue for open and plain critical analysis of the Fellowship that has never been so openly available before (to my knowledge). Critical thinking is discouraged in the Fellowship, it is the lower self, you should focus on having no I’s and being present now. So some things just never get evaluated the way they deserve.

#23 Robert’s sex life says this board is promoting neo Advaita. There have been plenty of sexual and financial scandals connected to Advaita teachers.

As the moderator has said, there is no single entity representing this board that is promoting anything. Every opinion is being heard.

As for the sex scandals of Advaita teachers, if I understand the intention of your statement correctly, you seem to be saying that because of this, Advaita teaching is in some way the same as Robert’s teaching because both are connected with sex scandals.

It is good to realize there are two separate things on the table here: one is a teaching or a system of thought, the other is people who are attaching themselves to a name and calling themselves a “teacher of x”. Personal problems of a particular teacher say nothing about the validity or non-validity of a particular tradition. Although I would seriously doubt the ability of a teacher to successfully convey and teach a system if it was plainly apparent that they were having glaring unresolved issues in their own personal life. That goes for Robert as well as any other teacher of any other tradition.

#24 The Master of Bullshit Says why focus on the lowest aspect of someone who has successfully devoted his life to bringing out the highest in others?

By what yardstick will we measure success? By the percentage of students who leave (was it 80%?), not because the school has successfully fulfilled its function and now they no longer need it, but because they’ve become disappointed, disillusioned, or just felt that this wasn’t working out for them? Can you think of one student who left happy, feeling that the school had served its purpose successfully? Well, perhaps the recent departees fall into this category, saying that it took them so long to realize it was all going in the wrong direction, so they were glad to have spent the time in the Fellowship to learn this.

But really, how do we measure “successfully”? This is very subjective. Personally I’ve never been able to relate to the teacher and his way of teaching very well, I kept telling myself there must be something wrong with me because I don’t fall into this trance that people describe he produces at his meetings, and that I must be “brain-dead to not see” the radiant glory of his successes. (For those outside, he has a penchant for declaring every year that this has been the most successful year in the history of the school and has exceeded _our_ expectations.) For me, it’s been the students who have helped to bring out the highest in me, sometimes. We help each other, as often as we forget. I feel it is a matter of your own inner willingness, being ready to choose the higher at the slightest provocation, so to speak. No one can coerce you into acting from what is higher.

Wish you all a pleasant day,

[ed. - Below, a predecessor to the Greater Fellowship social networking site is announced.

"Jeanette" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 1, 2007:
Hello everyone,

I was just made aware of this blog the other day and so have been catching up on alot of reading. I will post more of my own experiences as an ex-member later but for now I just want to inform those who are interested that I started a Yahoo group ages ago for ex-FOF members, hoping to reconnect with old friends. Well, I have been lax in keeping up with it (there are only a lonely 5 members now), but here is the address [Link no longer active]

I believe you need to submit a request to become a member. I am looking forward to hearing from some of you posting to this board.



"Tommy" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 4, 2007:
Hello friends,

I am an older student and this is my first letter to the BLOG.

I’d like to thank those students that massively distributed the address for this forum. I believe this is the natural result of 35 years with no alternative means of expression available to us.

We all know that any writing we’d like to share with our friends in the group is first subject to inspection and censorship before a decision is taken as to it’s publication. If the text contains any ideas that do not correspond to the Official Interpretation of the World and of Internal Work, it will be rejected.

If it contains any questions related to finances or the use of our funds it will not be published. If it contains any comments about Robert’s daily behavior it will also be rejected. We’ve lived for many years with this situation and have become accustomed to it. We consider it normal – but it is not.

History shows us that man can so easily be fooled and can live for a long time under various types of domination. But history also shows that from time to time, gradually or suddenly, something awakens that allows us to look for a way out of the situation.

When there is a high degree of alienation, a man may be completely unable to see the situation he lives in, and he may even believe that his circumstance is in his best interests. Until recently this seems to have been the case for us.

Yet help has arrived from without, and I doubt we would have though to start this forum ourselves.

I appreciate the inspiration that came through the Sheik, who made possible an open dialog without distinguishing between students, ex-students, and non-students.

I think only now do many of us realize that that we’ve lived under a very strong and unnecessary pressure, almost unaware of it.

The Council reacts and threatens, acting like any other repressive organism within a totalitarian society, using apparent great power and fear.
But the movement in a new direction has already started, and cannot be stopped. It is a natural movement.

The School is entering a new phase that will change the course of it’s history. We recognize the taste of something we’d forgotten many years ago, and I believe the time is near wherein we will start to express ourselves more freely, supported firmly by our own common sense and in our own understandings.

Even if in some cases this manifests by our leaving the School – it is about our selves and our lives.

Courage my friends,

From my heart,


"one student of 2200" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 4, 2007:
Dear Sheik,

have you never considered that Robert Burton might be a real teacher? At least as part of trying to be objective. Are you aware of what kind of role you are playing? The fellowship has over 2000 members, many normal people who believe in Robert Burton and the school. Maybe for you it is just another interesting activity, but in fact you try to destroy an existing organisation and the current life(style) of hundreds of students and families. Both links you offer about inside information about the FOF are from people (Rick Ross and Steven Hassan)who are rated as false cult experts from . (

Please have some more tolerance. If you read this posts carefully (as you probably do)you won’t find any real first hand experiences that are intolerable. Most stuff comes from hearsay (we know how this things get inflated) or from anonymous web sources.

May you become the Sheik of Inner Clarity

"After the FOF" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 30, 2007:
Hello all,

Some of you may have heard of Jeanette’s “aftertheFOF” Yahoo group: Link no longer active]

For those of you who are interested but who are unfamiliar with Yahoo groups, here’s some more information:

You can connect with former members without posting any comments on the “aftertheFOF” message board. In other words, when someone posts his/her name and email address, you can connect with them by sending a private email.

Sheik’s blog is posted “in the clear” for everyone surfing the internet to see. However, only members of the “aftertheFOF” group can view comments on the “aftertheFOF” message board.

Similar to this blog, you can choose an anonymous screen name. Members can’t view your name and email address until you post it on the message board.
Only Jeanette will know your name and email address initially after signup.

If you are not ready to communicate with group members, you can simply view comments on the message board...

...On the aftertheFOF home page, Jeanette wrote: “This is intended to be a place where former members of the group, Fellowship of Friends, can find each other. It can simply be a point of contact for people, since we are spread out all over the world, or can be used to post questions or discussions. While we all have something in common this is not intended to be a place for discussing the FOF, we have all moved on, and I would love to hear of what people have found since leaving the group.”

The group currently has about 20 members. The number has steadily increased during the past month. Looking forward to hearing from you!

[ed. - This group's successor, The Greater Fellowship, would go on to attract over 1,000 members.]

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