Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Essays from "Waking the Midnight Sun"



[ed. - "Cadeveo" writes about the Fellowship of Friends on the blog Waking the Midnight Sun.]
When the Rain Comes: An Encounter with the Fellowship of Friends

Mar 18th, 2007 by cadeveo

There’s a great conversation going on here re: the Fellowship of Friends cult, a psuedo-Gurdjieffian Fourth Way School. For those who don’t know, Gurdjieff was a Russo-Armenian esoteric philosopher/magician/former Orthodox priest-in training/ spy/rascal who was responsible for introducing quite a few potentially useful and powerful esoteric concepts and techniques from the East to the West during the first half of the last century. Among some of these teachings, which still retain their ability to shock even at this late date are the idea that most of us are alseep [sic], that we have no real “I”–but lots of competing little “I”s and that we do not have a soul, but through conscious suffering and self-remembering, have the possibility of creating one. These teachings and the techniques for awakening that he disseminated have been called the Fourth Way (dinstinct [sic] from the ways of the monk, fakir and yogi).

In contrast, the Fellowship of Friends is a dubious “Fourth Way” school run by a shady man named Robert Burton (no relation to the Renaissance author of the Anatomy of Melancholy), a sociopathic character who is the subject of persistent rumors of sexual abuse of his followers. The Esoteric Sheik of Inner Confusion’s write-up of his own personal experience re-awakened me to my own encounter with the FOF in Japan and rather than clutter up what’s already a three-post-long discussion at Aminam Recro, I’ve decided to put my experience here.

Esoteric Want Ads and Bronze Dogs

I’d gone to Japan for a few reasons. I knew what I wanted to pursue, career-wise for myself (writing and the performing arts), and had a vague sense of what I wanted to pursue personally (creative arts and also inner strength, spiritual awakening and community; also, yes–development of all those siddhi powers the Buddha poo-pooed). I knew where to pursue the career stuff, but had no confidence in what I might do to make a living there (in New York or Chicago), so I took a cue from a friend who’d gone to Japan to teach English. And, knowing little, my mind made the naive leap: Japan-Buddha-spiritual, despite what a Ba’hai mentor had cautioned me about Japan, like the U.S., being very barren in terms of genuine spirituality in its mainstream culture.

So I went to Japan and worked, teaching long hours and picking up overtime whenever I could. And I spent most of the rest of my time, after a very important friend invited me to move out to his place in my third month there, reading, having long-late night conversations about life and literature, writing and fumbling my way through solitary, improvised experiments in meditation, prayer and introspection (and managed to not get to any Buddhist temples for most of life there). But it was through my personal, routine that I came across a copy of Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous at a used bookstore in Ebisu. It was my first thorough introduction to the concepts of the Fourth Way and to Gurdjieff. And upon reading ISotM, I became taken with the idea that I was playing at the idea of spiritual awakening/strenghtening [sic] due to my isolation, obvious inexperience, etc. I coined a term for myself–poseur of consciousness, taking to heart the idea, expounded by Gurdjieff as told by Ouspensky, that in order to make any real progress I needed to be part of a group, a community of people with a similar goal, led by someone who actually knew what they were doing–a guru, an enlightened person, a teacher. And drunk on the Fourth Way theories of Ouspensky’s book, I decided that whatever that group and teacher were, they’d probably have to be “Fourth Way.” (Yes, lots of unexamined assumptions there, but we were young(er) then.)

Imagine my surprise–and convenience!– when, while reading through a free, English-language/gaijin magazine I picked up in Roppongi, I found an ad, basically saying what I wanted to be said at that period in my life/mind. It informed me that a Fourth Way School in the “tradition” of Gurdjieff-Ouspensky was “now accepting new students.” And it included a phone number. I made my way to a pay phone, called the number, and spoke to a very pleasant Japanese woman who asked me my age, what I did, and then informed me that someone would be in touch with me. A few days later, I spoke to her on the phone again and an appointment was made for me to meet with members of the group by the statue of Hachiko outside Shibuya station on a Wednesday evening.

I remember arriving fifteen minutes early to the meeting spot, making sure to breathe, squinting in the dark to scrutinize the people who passed by the bronze dog, as if any of them might be a “Fourth Way”er observing me surreptitiously. After a few minutes, feeling foolish, I dispelled this thought and contented myself to just patiently wait without knowing what to expect. When they finally arrived, I found myself in the presence of the very gentle Japanese woman with whom I’d spoken on the phone, who was attractive and well-dressed. She shook my hand and then acquiesced to the two men in her company, a stalky Japanese guy about whom I remember little, save that he had a very good suit, and another well-suited Japanese man who looked young despite a salt-and pepper moustache. It was apparent that he was the man in charge.

After the introductions, I followed the three as they took me to a cafe, where we sat down, got some tea and began the formal meeting. The salt-and-pepper moustache explained that they usually conducted three introductory meetings with prospective students and that I needn’t make any decision one way or another until the third meeting. Then they began to discuss the ideas of man’s mechanical nature and how their group utilized certain exercises in order to grow aware of the machine part of themselves while separating themselves from it. The one example of such an exercise told to me by salt-and-pepper moustache was sitting with one hand on each thigh, striving to be aware of their location and making sure that the two hands did not touch each other. They would watch each other to be sure how each was doing. During the course of the conversation salt-and-pepper did happen to touch his two hands together, at which point, the stalkier man passed a hand past his face, a reminder that he’d “fallen asleep.” Salt-and pepper moustache then smiled wanly and replied, “Thank you.”

The one other notable memory of this first meeting in my mind is the fact that when salt-and-pepper moustache talked, he referred continuously to their teacher, without naming him. Except once–the name “Robert Burton” slipped out of his mouth and immediately, he stopped himself. He smiled a cipher’s smile, looked straight at me, and then continued speaking. I couldn’t really tell whether the slip had been calculated as some sort of test or if he had honestly revealed something he ought not to; but it reminded me of a passage in ISotM when Ouspensky first comes across Gurdjieff and describes the mage as very intentionally (ridiculously?) taking on the manner, garb and airs of a charlatan. In retrospect, I think that passage of Ouspensky’s book is exactly what that particular moment in that Japanese cafe was intended to remind me of.

Salt-and-pepper explained that to engage in the Work, one was required to pay for it–that this signified one’s commitment and seriousness in really waking up. The payment would be 10% of my yearly salary. I was asked if I was still interested in pursuing the group further. I said yes.

We arranged my second meeting. We left the cafe and I headed back to Shibuya station. On the way, I stopped by the statue of Hachiko and patted his side, tired, but ready to do whatever I needed to do to really pursue self-awakening and stop being a “poseur of consciousness.”

Hiyoshi Station and Back

The second meeting took place in Hiyoshi, in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. I met salt-and-pepper moustache outside Hiyoshi station, near a large, metal orb between the station entrance and the mall. We walked, mainly in silence, down various side streets, going downhill, then uphill, far past the lights of the main district of Hiyoshi, into an area that had fewer lights, wider, lonelier streets and many more trees. At one point he broke the silence to mention something about signs or coincidences that one might find during everyday life–in coversations [sic] overheard, on billboards, in movies–signs that pointed toward the Work messages from the conscious circle of humanity.

He mentioned Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life as an example.

We finally came upon a very large, white apartment complex. This was the meeting site. And I remember, as salt-and-pepper moustache buzzed for the outside elevator to take us to the proper floor, that I had a moment’s trepidation. I thought to myself, “I could so easily be jumped or killed here.”

We rode the elevator four floors up, exited and walked a few steps to an apartment. We took our shoes off and left them in the walk-way and entered the apartment proper. The place was very clean and simple, but with expensive-looking decorations in several places–a very black and heavy looking vase on a table, a beautiful painting of a woman on the wall in the living room. Inside, there was a tall, white man with white hair and a moustache, even better dressed than the three group members I’d met previously. He wore a dark gray suit and an impeccable red tie. Salt-and-pepper moustache introduced me to him, but his name eludes me now.

They offered me something to drink before we began–tea, wine or water. I opted for water, out of politeness and also out of habit. We waited for a couple of other people to arrive, which didn’t take too long. A beautiful gaijin woman and and the stalky Japanese man from the previous meeting, entered after a few minutes and both were greeted in a very familiar manner.

The full company assembled, all of us now entered a separate room, set up as for a tea ceremony. There, Tall White opened a book containing color photos of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, explaining that they were the founders of the path they journeyed and that their teacher had been the only person since then to reach the same heights of “beingness” as them. Tall White, although he seemed to be the authority in the room, brought the focus to salt-and-pepper moustache to begin the second introductory teaching.

Salt-and-pepper brought out a deck of cards and began to lay them out, explaining that originally playing cards had been designed to encode certain esoteric information about the “types” of people. He reopened the book containing the pictures of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky to a page showing the Enneagram, a nine-pointed figure within a circle, that I had encountered while reading ISotM. Salt-and-pepper then showed me different cards-the Jack, the Queen, The King, and one by one explained how they corresponded to certain psychological types found on the Enneagram. He then elucidated the types by reference to certain celebrities, though at this moment I can only remember him referencing Arnold Schwartzenegger, but I suppose I wasn’t sufficiently awake because I don’t remember, all these years later, what “type” Arnold fit.

After the presentation, Tall White said that they would leave it up to me as to whether or not I wanted to have a third meeting, which would signify my intention to join the school. He said I should give it a few days to think about and then contact them, but that the time to do so was short and I was given a new telephone number, which I presumed was for the apartment where we sat.

Tall White asked me if I had any questions. In reply, I asked what had led all of them to the Fourth Way, but I would get no answer. Tall White simply said, in what was intended as a joke, but in a tone that belied some irritation, “Well, if we were to get into that we would have to order a pizza and be here until the morning, but perhaps you’ll find out for yourself.” Tall White then offered to walk me back to Hiyoshi station. I said my goodbyes, put on my shoes and we were out the door.

On the way back to the station, Tall White mentioned one method of self-remembering that I had remembered from ISotM. It involves attempting to remain in a state of thoughtlessness, while walking, until you reach a spot that your eyes have chosen. Upon reaching that spot–it could be a street sign, a tree, a mark on the street–you then choose another spot and repeat the exercise. He suggested that I make this effort as we walked back and so I did.

As we reached the lights of the central Hiyoshi, he Tall White broke the silence:

“Well, did you remember yourself?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Hmmm,” he replied.

We reached the station, he bid me a goodnight and that was that.

Less than three days later, I called the number and found myself speaking with salt-and-pepper moustache. I told him my intention to engage in The Work and we set up my third meeting, where I would give my first payment of 10% of that month’s salary.

I hung up the phone, calculated precisely the amount I’d need to take out of the bank and then waited.

When the Rain Comes, It All Washes Out

A Friday night at 7pm: I arrived back in Hiyoshi with money in my wallet to begin “The Work.” I had written down the address of the apartment complex and felt confident in taking the path back there for the meeting, which was to begin at 7:30pm. However, as I walked it began to rain, lightly at first, then a bit harder. I found myself winding around long, corners, going up and down hill, but totally unsure whether I now wound the right corners or went up or down the right path. I became terribly lost. And it began to rain harder. I looked at my watch and it was now 7:23 and I recognized nothing. There was no way that I would find the apartment complex in time. I had no cell phone and there didn’t seem to be a pay phone in sight. Feeling frustrated and angry with myself, I turned back, wandering in the rain until I finally came across a street with a ramen shop and followed it in the direction that I thought Hiyoshi Station lay. Luckily, I was right.

I reached Hiyoshi station around 8:15pm. But before entering, I remembered the name: Robert Burton. Across from the station was a building with several department stores where I had checked my e-mail on several occasions when I’d been in the area in the past. I entered, took the escalator up to the floor with the display computers and got online. I made a search for “Gurdjieff-Ouspensky” groups and the first thing I came across was this page, which states at its top:
This information is presented so that you may make informed decisions. We can not and do not make recommendations as to which groups to join.
And then the following Bible quote followed:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Matthew 7.15—20
And below that, under the heading “Some fruits by which to recognize degenerate groups,” I read certain things that made me realize the operators of this site, while not naming names, were describing the very “Fourth Way” group I’d encountered.

My next step was to do a search for “Robert Burton.” Needless to say, I found quite a lot of information on this one-time elementary school teacher that opened a big fear in my belly

My feet and my gut and the rain–they all wanted me to get lost that night. And I thank them for it.

"TmR" commented on When the Rain Comes: An Encounter with the Fellowship of Friends May 27, 2007:
I enjoyed reading this post, well written and reminds how i met the “School”…

"cadeveo" wrote on When the Rain Comes: An Encounter with the Fellowship of Friends May 27, 2007:
Glad you enjoyed the post, TmR. By the “School,” do you mean the FOF or another group? (Sometimes it’s hard to tell these things on the internet sans the tonality of spoken communication!)

Come by again!

Peace,

cadeveo

"artn" commented on When the Rain Comes: An Encounter with the Fellowship of Friends, May 29, 2007:
Hello cadeveo,

Nicely written account of your experience with the Fellowship of Friends. Thanks for posting this.

One outright lie from Salt-and-pepper was that you would need to pay 10% of your income to remain in the group. Payments are much more than that — anywhere from 15% to 25% depending upon your salary (the higher your salary, the lower the percentage).

In addition to the above, you can easily spend another $500 to $1,000 per month on dinners, receptions, meetings, concerts, and other events, which are necessary for ordinary participation (i.e., you will have very little contact with other members if you choose not to attend these events). So the costs commonly reach anywhere from 25% to 35% of your net income.

Of course, for those who believe the high cost of membership shouldn’t matter, the Sheik’s blog also reveals many disturbing facts about where the money is going — and about the leader of the group, Robert Burton, and the negative impacts of this man on the lives of members, their families, and friends.

Thanks again, and best wishes.

"artn commented on When the Rain Comes: An Encounter with the Fellowship of Friends
Hello,

As a former long-time member of the FOF, I strongly suspect that TmR [above] IS referring to the FOF when mentioning “the School.” The term has a definite hue to it, which is why he/she placed it in quotation marks.

The Fellowship of Friends has its own lingo, which unfortunately is part of the group-think. Phases such as “how I met the school” are fairly common in the Fellowship, and the phrases sometimes imply certain unspoken meanings. For example, “how I met the school” (and this is why TmR places the term in quotation marks) seems to imply that “meeting the school” is an extremely important moment in one’s life — which, by the way, is being “directed by Higher Forces.”

“One is given an opportunity” at that moment to “begin work on oneself.” As one “joins the school” and develops “valuation for the work”, “one learns to “accept one’s role” in “building an ark” and “creating a new civilization” following “the fall of California” in 1998, and nuclear war in 2006.

As members of the Fellowship of Friends, “we are not better than life, we are just luckier.” The term “life,” by the way, is referring to the entire population of the Earth other than “members of the school.” People in life are sometimes called “life people.”

Anyway, you get the point. There’s a certain acceptable method of speaking in the Fellowship of Friends, and if you use the lingo — which is usually referred to as the “work language” — you are probably a “good student.” Those who ask questions such as, “Why does Robert Burton travel around the world with an entourage of 9 or 10 young men?” are usually criticized and “photographed” for “lacking valuation.” If they continue asking those questions, they will most likely be “expelled from the school.” Another term for this is “being released from the school by Influence C.”

It goes on and on.

By the way, the idea that spiritual beings are guiding the show is not so far-fetched to me, but the difference in my attitude and the attitude of “the school” is that I believe “the school” does not own a copyright on this possibility. Whatever beauty and spirituality that exists on this planet, exists for all of us.

Cheers,

Artn

Cult-Sure: Further Thoughts about Society and The Individual, Inspired by the FoF

May 31st, 2007 by cadeveo

I recently received a new batch of thoughtful comments to an old personal essay I wrote about my own brief encounter with the Fellowship of Friends, a pseudo-Gurdjieffian cult which has spawned a very extensive on-going discussion over at Animam Recro. Among those thoughtful responses was one by a reader who goes by the handle artn.

I’ve excerpted the portion that has inspired some thoughts I have regarding cults and our Cult-Sure:
The Fellowship of Friends has its own lingo, which unfortunately is part of the group-think. Ph[r]ases such as “how I met the school” are fairly common in the Fellowship, and the phrases sometimes imply certain unspoken meanings. For example, “how I met the school” (and this is why TmR places the term in quotation marks) seems to imply that “meeting the school” is an extremely important moment in one’s life — which, by the way, is being “directed by Higher Forces.”

“One is given an opportunity” at that moment to “begin work on oneself.” As one “joins the school” and develops “valuation for the work”, “one learns to “accept one’s role” in “building an ark” and “creating a new civilization” following “the fall of California” in 1998, and nuclear war in 2006.

As members of the Fellowship of Friends, “we are not better than life, we are just luckier.” The term “life,” by the way, is referring to the entire population of the Earth other than “members of the school.” People in life are sometimes called “life people.”

Anyway, you get the point. There’s a certain acceptable method of speaking in the Fellowship of Friends, and if you use the lingo — which is usually referred to as the “work language” — you are probably a “good student.” Those who ask questions such as, “Why does Robert Burton travel around the world with an entourage of 9 or 10 young men?” are usually criticized and “photographed” for “lacking valuation.” If they continue asking those questions, they will most likely be “expelled from the school.” Another term for this is “being released from the school by Influence C.”

It goes on and on.

The Cult-Sure and Its Miniatures

In my experiences, cults often have their very special jargon, not unlike the “corporate world” or many other groups. My feeling is that, in NLP terms (a.k.a. NLP jargon!), this specialized terminology is about “reframing” someone’s reality through language to sort of trick or finesse social cohesion and unity, a.k.a. group think. That could be good and that could be bad. Words are quite literally magick (that’s why we spell them) and so certain jargon is often required in order to conjure a “group reality” into existence. Of course said “group reality” is not really any more “really real" than a zillion other group realities, although each partakes of that “really real” reality to some extent simply by existing.

These “group realities” exist via consensus, a consensus often based upon overt or covert coercion: implied or actual psychological and/or physical violence. The most basic type of this coercion can be demonstrated by the ancient practice of banishment: “Either you stay within our group reality, accepting all its obligations and performing all the actions that entails, or we will kick you out and you will starve. A variation on the theme is: “…or we will kill you outright/ ruin your standing within the group/ severely limit your ability to attain food/sex/ shelter. ” One can argue, as certain old, dead philosophers have, that this is exactly how society at large works: like a cult. Yet the larger society refuses to acknowledge the Cult in the Mirror, pretending to somehow be above such an identity.

That’s why I call it Cult-Sure.

The major difference between our Cult-Sure and all its sub-cults, the groups we faithful Cult-Sure members more easily call cults (e.g. FoF, the Reilians, the Moonies, etc.), is that the latter have more limited access to a magickal-energetic food supply. Having cut themselves off from the greater mass of individuals as magickal food-source, the “cults” tend to demonstrate the negative aspects of group cohesion in a much more concentrated and extreme way. The sub-cults are much smaller with a considerably more meager energy base upon which to feed. Thus, retaining the cult’s food source, the individual member/magickal-energetic livestock, becomes increasingly important and, in turn, a far more immediate, and desperate, need. It’s no surprise, then, that each individual is more important to the sub-cult than they ever were in the Cult-Sure at large. Every sub-cult, even the wealthiest, stands ever on the verge of disintegration, of potential famine for the feeders/leaders at the top of the cultic pyramid.  Thus, the feeders must ensure that their food source does not get away while simultaneously scrambling with increased desperation to acquire more food. In the long-term, it’s in the interest of a sub-cult’s leaders/feeders to domesticate their magickal-energetic livestock, keep it controlled and drugged literally, hypnotically or both. In this way, when the livestock breeds, the leaders will have ensured the future of their food supply via the offspring of their cattle.  And if the feeders’ efforts are pursued assiduously enough and the sub-cult grows, it may one day hope to become the Cult-Sure, with the feeders’ descendants enthroned at the top of the food chain. (In case you didn’t noticed: the “cult” has the character of the feudal/plantation model of society.) The probability for this kind of success is quite limited, but may be increased somewhat to the extent that the feeders/leaders of the sub-cult (your Robert Burtons, et.al.) perfect their ability to cast jargon spells with words, while innovating other, subtler forms of coercion and compliance.

By contrast to the most “cult leaders”, the Bushes, the Astors, DuPonts, Rockefellers and yes, that dual sub-cult and global Cult-Sure High Priest Sun Myung Moon, can totally afford to have thousands of their magickal-energetic livestock walk away, turn off and drop out. After all, the feeders at the top of the Cult-Sure (and the Archons of Power that, in turn, feed upon them) always have plenty more magickal food where the drop-out came from…so why unnecessarily turn on the overt violence?…unless that individual is particularly influential and likely to ruin their great pyramid scheme or if, in unleashing the violence, they can ensure a greater feast of energetic food. In this case, the increase in “food” is attained via the energy released by massive bloodshed, plus the increased birthrates that result when their surviving livestock’s reproductive-survival drives are kicked into high gear by the increased psychic anxiety caused by all the in-your-face death, real and/or threatened, that surrounds them.

Often, those who drop out or escape the Cult-Sure, still carrying its code within their hearts, know nothing else than to recreate its structure in miniaturein the form of a “cult,” individual founders of this new, sub-cult either taking on the role of leaders/feeders or maintaining their conditioned status as the fed-upon. This doesn’t always happen, though, sometimes those who escape the Cult-Sure retain or regain their natural, spiritual essence enough to create true conscious communities, living, vital and love-based. In either situation, though, the Cult-Sure is likely to ignore both the sub-cult and the conscious community because they do not really represent any competition, are usually little known within the Cult-Sure itself or if known, are feared for their real or imagined excesses. However, when the rate of escape or de-domestication of the livestock reaches a tipping point within the Cult-Sure wherein the entire pyramid threatens to collapse, this often results in overt violence, instigated on a mechanical level by the feeders/leaders who are, in the end, the most dependent members of the Cult-Sure.

And one last interesting thing about the Cult-Sure and all its sub-cults. As implied above, by their very nature, they ensure that some individuals will wake up, destroy the totalitarian programming within themselves, and truly get free to create living communities with true individuals. It’s a small possibility, but nevertheless exists. And if that possibility did not exist, the feeders/leaders and the Archons of the sub-cults and the greater Spectacular Cult-Sure, would have no market for their snake-oil.

Sometimes a blow to the head doesn’t knock you out, it wakes you up…

Discuss.

"artn" commented on Cult-Sure: Further Thoughts about Society and The Individual, Inspired by the FoF, May 31, 2007:
Hello Cadeveo,

Your Cult-Sure essay provides more evidence that we — i.e., the members of the Fellowship of Friends — are not immune to universal laws. This is pertinent because there’s a tendency for those of us within the FOF to believe we are somehow unique and above all of this. Both you and Sheik are doing a good job at pointing out the obvious — that we are definitely not unique.

There’s another post in Sheik’s blog that relates to your essay(although with a different emphasis). The post discusses “the divorce of words and meaning” in the Fellowship of Friends. The writer also refers to an essay by George Orwell called “Politics and the English Language”.

Here’s the post:

http://animamrecro.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/the-fellowship-of-friends-discussion-part-3/#comment-4058

Here’s Orwell’s original essay, written in 1946:

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

Thanks again,

Artn

p.s. especially good ending to your essay

Once More with the Fellowship of Friends: An AntiClimax and Prelude

July 16, 2007 by cadeveo

The rain and the world were with me when I got lost on the way to joining the Fellowship of Friends. But if one truly desires to dive into delusions, even the guidance of saints and ancestors, friends and the elements, won’t keep one from the chosen appointment.

After the FoF encounter, I ended up, through the byways of choices and fate, in the den of a gypsy “psychic” who certainly had her street hypnosis skills sharpened to a very fine point indeed. She worked me over pretty good, using false either/or dilemmas, high pressure tactics akin to the sleaziest and most successful of salesmen, repetition, reinforcement, and a whole slew of other lesser black magical tricks. I eventually found myself, after several months, a few thousand dollars poorer when I finally snapped out of it. But, of course, cons of this kind, magickal or not, all require that first act of consent from the would-be “victim”: the willingness to say “Yes.”

You’ll hear more of this at another time. It’s a long story and if I’m going to tell it, I’d prefer to craft it to engage your attention properly.

The point is that I learned a lot. Those two thousand dollars, in the end, was money well spent. The experience of falling for a street hypnosis con, coupled with my close-call with Robert Burton‘s vanity operation, and a re-read of Robert Anton Wilson’s own mystical adventures in Cosmic Trigger, led me down my own very interesting path to knowledge, if not enlightenment. (Alas, we’re still working on enlightenment with fits and starts. And I’m willing to entertain the possibility, like our man at Church of the Churchless has concluded, that the goal of enlightenment is yet another illusion.)

So it was that I arrived in New York, having missed the Big Horror by a few weeks. And two months later, I found a very familiar ad in the Village Voice about a “Fourth Way School” in the tradition of “Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.” I knew right away that it had to be the Fellowship of Friends, but wanted to confirm it physically. Not just confirm it, though: I wanted to prove that I could make a different choice this time around. Because I had already chosen to join the Fellowship of Friends back in Japan. It had been my getting lost, and the intervention of the rain that had blocked that decision, leading me to that computer inside the mall in Hiyoshi where I learned what I needed to know about the sinister aspects of the Fellowship. It might seem irrational, but I wanted to make sure that I could make the right choice again, without outside help.

So I called the number on the back of the Village Voice and waited for a “Gurdjieff-Ouspensky” school representative to pick up the line.

As I had in Japan, I spoke with a woman, with whom I set up a six-thirty meeting for the very next day at a diner in Chelsea, her suggestion.

I arrived well ahead of time and went to the poorly-lit old Catholic Church on the previous block. I looked at the statuary and stained-glass with its Passion scenes. I lost myself in the dance of the flames in rows of red votive candles in the back, incense snaking languidly. I sat down, listening to the familiar sounds of creaking pews and elderly believers clearing their throats and coughing, the echoes reverberating through the mostly empty space. I collected my thoughts and observed my breathing.

It’s amazing how timeless a breath can be.

Just as I reached a state of contented relaxation, that time-obsessed voice inside me, installed long ago I’m sure by my father’s example, told me to check the little alarm clock in my backpack. Five minutes to six-thirty. I exited the church, on my way taking a small card with St. Anthony’s image on it, and walked the half-block to the diner.

When I entered the diner no one looked up, save the hostess.

“I’m meeting some people.”

“Of course,” she said, and led me to a corner booth in the back where I ordered tea. I resumed breathing deeply, slowly, calmly. Observing. I had the best vantage point from which to see people entering the diner, so I began to watch the door.

For a second, I wondered if I might see the same individuals I’d met in Japan and began to wonder if this little excursion of mine was unwise. I shook the thought loose by telling myself that as a matter of probability, despite the Fellowship of Friend’s small numbers, it was still a very remote chance.
After about eight minutes, a tall, well-dressed white man and a woman in a conservative dress walked through the front door. Having learned a little about Fellowship members, I assumed them to be the right party. I put my hand up.

“I’m here, ” I said.

“Mike?” the man asked as they walked over.

This was the name I’d given on the phone.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, isn’t that amazing?” the woman asked, “We’re already connected! You knew who we were right away.”

“Maybe,” I replied.

“Well, we have about a half-hour, so we’re going to order something and get started,”the tall man smiled.

They ordered coffee and I continued with my tea.

The two gave me the same basic overview as I’d received from the Fellowship of Friends members in Japan: “Fourth Way school, as distinct from the ways of the faqir, the monk and the yogi”; self-remembering and The Work, “a process of waking up” and the like; the necessity of having an “authentic teacher, a person of being,” etc. They were, of course, “in touch with such a one”. My original conclusion after reading the Village Voice ad had been confirmed. I sat sipping tea in the presence of two emissaries of the FoF. Again.

Only this time around, while I smiled and played the innocent, more than anything I felt detached. I was playing a role, but not feeling it. At least, not much.

One small part of me wondered: what if I followed through? What if I joined the Fellowship, knowing what I know now? What can be gained from entering into a cult with full knowledge that it’s a cult–could one learn how the psychological tricks work and yet not get taken in by them through sheer duress?

But no, that’s not what I walked into that diner for, was it?

“Well, would you like to meet with us again?” the woman asked.

“Sure”, I said, “but I want to think about it a little first.”

“Okay, but don’t think too long!” the man laughed. “Well, anyway, you have our number, so you can call us.”

“I will,” I said.

“It was great to meet you Mike,” they each said, shaking my hand.

“Likewise,” I smiled in sincere agreement, although I had no intention of doing it again.

***

Three days later, the woman called and left me a message.

I never returned it.


What It Feels Like…for a Cult Leader

July 20, 2007 by cadeveo

Ted Heistman asks two pretty good conversation starters in the comments to the last Fellowship of Friends essay.

He asks:
Ever entertained the idea of becoming a cult leader? Or at least imagining what it would be like one?
Those are two great questions, not just for me but for all of us. Because it may require reflection and compassion of a very high order. At least, that’s where my initial reaction leads me, so I figured I’d address it, but also open up the conversation to see how others would answer this question for themselves.

Have I ever entertained being a cult leader? Yes, though I don’t feel I have the requisite fortitude for the kind of magickal self-and-group deception it would take. And I can’t say that it particularly appeals to me to develop it–it seems like a lot of hard work with a payoff that, ultimately, strikes me as pretty depressing. Sure, you might be able to buy an island like Adi Da/Bubba Free John/Franklin Jones, or while away your days reading all the books you want while high on laughing gas like Osho/Rajneesh, have your very own private intelligence organization like “Leon LaThule” or the late Mr. Hubbard. Then there’s all that sex and money. But ultimately, I feel these end up being so many empty toys and narcotic distractions from the utter emptiness of cult-leadership. And not the emptiness of the Zen Master, but the emptiness of the dried husk, the broken and hollow shell.

Being a cult leader is very hard, lonely and, ultimately, unsatisfying work, I suspect. Cult leaders get caught in a sad bind because, usually, they are not what their followers believe they are and need and want them to be, which is an enlightened being permanently vibrating on the purest of divine and loving frequencies: a true isht-deva worthy of the devotion, capable of elevating the disciple to similar heights.

Cult-leaders cannot be what the followers desire, cannot fulfill the promise of their own marketing, so they become caught in a trap of negative symbiosis. The result: the cult leader must constantly perpetuate the lie of his worship-worthiness by increasingly more elaborate and desperate means. While he’s doing that, he often grows to feel disdain for the followers. It is a disdain that is rooted in shock and disappointment at how easily the followers are manipulated. It is a disdain also rooted in how much the followers need the cult leader to continue to manipulate and lie to them, to sustain their artificial identities and self-delusions of privileged salvation. Even more deeply, the cult-leader disdains the followers because he needs these sad, tricked, needy people even more than they need him. He has become addicted to feeding upon their devotional energy like a junkie on pure-grade smack. Knowing his dependence on those he does not respect, the cult-leader’s disdain is tinged by self-hate, the realization of which must constantly be numbed through greater quality and quantity of the disciple drug. And like any junkie, the cult leader, in his addiction, forgets how to generate that same energy within and for himself. He’s trapped. He can’t take off the false guru-god mask even though it distorts and destroys his ability to express his potential authentic self. To take off the mask would mean going cold turkey and feeling a pain far worse than any the heroine addict locked in a bathroom for three days of puking, defecating, screaming, and clawing-detox will ever experience.

That is hell. Moreover, that is tragedy, awful and unnecessary.

Cult leaders, I suspect, are much worse tragedies than the people who get hurt by them. The victims can snap out of it, walk away and, eventually, recover from the experience having learned some very hard, valuable lessons that can make them stronger and more fully human and compassionate beings. The cult leader seldom sees the possibility of snapping out of his self-constructed world and leaving it for healthier, more beautiful and loving ones. And, ultimately, this is a fate, whether conscious or not, that the cult leader has chosen.

But maybe that’s just a story I’m telling.I welcome hearing how all of you out in the electronic-ether would answer this question, including you former, future, anti- and non-cult leaders.

***

For thoughts in the same vein, but on a different level, you might check out this essay.

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