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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Facing the dilemma: to stay or go?

"Deeply Disillusioned" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, February 18, 2007 at 11:18 p.m.:

Funny, your question...sounds like so many students, who, when you ask painful questions they can’t answer, burst out, “Why don’t you just leave!”

It’s a particularly cruel and heartless question — even if blurted when they are cornered — because the sad truth is, most of us CAN’T leave, at least not immediately. So it’s a bit like jeering at a cripple because he can’t dance.

Every time we have had questions in the past, we were told that the answer was to invest more heavily in the Fellowship: make a bigger donation, remarry, build a big house near the property, direct a center, serve at the Galleria, wash dishes for the fundraising dinner — et cetera, et cetera.

So now when the questions have hit a critical mass, we find we are enmeshed in the nets we have created. All our friends are Fellowship students. We work for a Fellowship student or employ Fellowship students, we have children in the Fellowship school who are deeply embedded in their friendships and community, we have a husband or wife who doesn’t (yet) share our thinking, or our children have joined the Fellowship. It takes time and care to disentangle oneself without ripping up our lives yet again (most of us have done it several times already in the name of the “Work”), and ripping up the lives of people we care for, many of whom (i.e., the children) are the victims of our decision-making.

Our cars are repaired by students, our hair is cut by students, our plumbing is fixed by students, often at discount rates we couldn’t afford if we had to leave this charmed circle. Our houses are built by students, or rented from students. For many, that makes it hard to leave without leaving the community, and many can’t afford the deposit on an apartment in Sacramento, or even Grass Valley.

Oh yes, a huge sub-category is those who gave it all up to move to Isis, especially for the 1998 prediction, who no longer have any resources to leave. Interestingly, the wave of recent departures consisted largely of people who own their own homes and have some financial independence. For the most part, the people “on salary” aren’t leaving. They can’t afford to ask questions. They are living on substandard wages, stringing out their existence month to month. Many of them count on the Fellowship for their visas.

It takes years, in many cases, to untwist all this stuff from your DNA. So it’s a bit odd when someone says, as a friend did recently, “They just drift away!” As if they became vaporous or hypnotized, and wander into the woods, never to be seen again.

No. They are rebuilding their lives so that they can HAVE choices again. They are reconnecting with old business acquaintances, sending out resumes, househunting, renewing old friendships. After offending and alienating their “life” families for many years, they are making amends, hat in hand. They are building bridges before they saw off the one they are currently standing on. That takes time, attention, and effort. You have no idea how much — especially for people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are having to admit they made a big mistake and start over.

If we could “just leave,” of course, people would accuse us of being “in the queens.” So they have us both ways. But if we have spent 10, 20, or 30 years in the Fellowship, it stands to reason it will take a few years to get out. After all, this is the philosophy we had subscribed to heavily. “Leaving” is a slow intellectual process as well, of asking questions, initially resisting the obvious answers, and then coming to see what we had buffered was, in fact, the truth. It was in front of our faces lo these many years.

There’s remorse, too, for the cold way we treated those who said, years ago, the same things we are saying now. Were they (gulp) right all along? We remember the people we cut off, whose phone calls we no longer returned. In many cases, we criticized or defamed them. They were in their “king of clubs”, we said — not like us! (And whose side was the king of clubs on — those who were risking everything to start over, or those who chose to squelch the uncomfortable questions so they can maintain a comfortable, if colorful, inertia?)

The ex-students have a joke, you know:

Q: What is the difference between a student and an ex-student?

A: Time.

You’ll find that the exit from the Fellowship isn’t a door — it’s a journey.

"Vide" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 11, 2007 at 11:27 a.m.:
Dear ……,

Re: abuse

I worked with the FBI for 6 months following my departure from the FoF regarding these and other issues. If you have information regarding sexual abuse I can put you in touch with agents who would probably be interested to investigate.

Eventually they wanted me to return to the FoF and wear a wire; however, I did not feel right about going that far.

One positive change I had hoped would happen was the financial abuse that students on stipend had to endure. The FoF was lying to the government about the wages they were paying them. I was told that after the investigation those people who were here on stipend would begin receiving minimum wage and workmen’s compensation (in the case of being injured).

Please omit my name from any posting but you can share my story if you like. Below you will find the name of one of the special agents that I was working with. Interestingly I had a very nice discussion with the agents at a library here in Chico about consciousness.

They know a great deal about the Fellowship and whether or not she is still working on the case no doubt would direct you to the correct agent.

I hope this will be useful information and that if there is someone who needs help, they will benefit.

I will not return to that land until the evil king has been thrown down and his minions scattered. My own play there involved some deep connections to the inner circle and I saw all that I needed to see to understand that. That is why I refused to become one of RB’s boys, because I could see the corruption there and RB could see in me that I would never accept it….


If you would like the contact information for the agent please contact me on:

"No person" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 23, 2007 at 4:24 a.m.:
Dear Howard [blogger], hello!
I have to disagree with your generalization that “The ones who stay do so because the school is the all and everything.”
Certainly for some it is true, and I am actually happy for them – people are having a great time, good for them.
But there are many, many others who are not sure why they are staying in the Fellowship of Friends now. They are not at all happy campers. They are disillusioned and disappointed but stuck. Some start to see the teaching as faulty and are appalled by the lies. But most are not sure, scared, confused and are in lots of emotional pain and suffering.
How do I know? I know. I was recently one myself, and it was hell. And now I am in touch with quite a few. You may be surprised how many are actually now unhappy “fence sitters”. They are not waving any flags, you know.
So for these guys the spell is broken – they know too much to quiet the voice of conscience within. More of exposing truth about Robert and Fellowship of Friends helps them to make a healthy transition. You don’t want them around anyway – right?
I totally agree with Ames that persuading satisfied students to leave is a waste of time and is just silly. I don’t think anyone here is trying to persuade you or Siddiq [blogger] or any other happy student to leave. Why would we? You guys are satisfied with the teaching and the school is obviously working for you. Keep up a good work, I mean it sincerely.
Most of these postings are for friends who need them to make their decision. Also for new potential members as a fare warning.
It’s nice to let our stuck friends know that here are other wonderful spiritual opportunities, nice friendly people and simply full juicy life outside of the FOF. Amazingly, when you quit judging “life” you may see it as something beautiful. And when you quit obsessing with states and “being present” you may discover that presence had been there all the time… Unnoticed.
And it’s nice to get to know the real face of the FOF too- not the smiley one. This face is kind of ugly. Here’s the latest KGB attempt to control our free discussion:
Our friend V. (professional programmer) amongst others was recently asked by Kevin Brown to do some HACKING on this blog to trace who is writing there and basically spy on friends. He refused to do it and left the school.
Nice going, Kevin! Looks like you really sold your soul together with your conscience… What’s next? Whom are you going to hire – snipers, may be? ;) I already heard some very funny/scary threats coming from “inner circle” towards some bloggers… Not scared, sorry. You guys are simply disgusting… And pathetic.
Dear V., I absolutely admire your noble behavior. You are a hero in my book. Come visit us any time please.

"Rita Penfold" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 23, 2007 at 1:36 p.m.:
Dear No Person [blogger above],

I also know many students who are staying in the Fellowship of Friends for the reasons which are related not to ‘awakening’, but to their job commitments (i.e. working for other students); because they have settled around Isis [Apollo, Renaissance, etc.], having family, land, houses there; their children go to the LC [Lewis Carroll] school. Some stay because they love their friends and don’t want to leave as they think they’ll lose contact with them (I was one of those and I think it’s the main reason for staying after disillusionment and seeing things as they are in the school and Robert Burton for who he is). And there is fear of being left alone, without communal support. ‘Where would I go?’ question.

One of my friends from a European centre called me recently saying that his centre is so far removed from the main stream events, that they hardly know all those things which are going on in the school now. Sometimes they don’t have enough English to read the blog.

I am in contact with several students, all of them have their reasons to stay. I don’t hold it against them, they do what they have to do. My only reservation about it is that with their money they support the whole thing rolling on. As far as I understand, Robert Burton will ‘teach’ until he runs out of funds.

Thank you for letting us know of V.’s leaving, I am so glad that he didn’t commit to something so vile. V., you are my hero too!

"Luke" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 4, 2007 at 4:22 a.m.:
I’d like to share a theme which has become prevalent in many recent conversations with members, though not always made explicit. This theme deals with one of the primary difficulties in leaving the group: the fear of isolation.
To give some background: in the fellowship, we have an ongoing exercise (or task) to cease contact with members that have left the group. The more fundamentlist members of our group have deep-seated negative beliefs about ex-members, and attendant fear and discomfort at even crossing paths with these individuals. At another end of a wide spectrum of beliefs are members that have little regard to the task, albeit in most cases, maintaining their friendships with ex-members very privately. Members maintaining contact with ex-members are subject to warnings and are ultimately asked to leave the group if they are openly non compliant.
Regardless of a member’s position on this or other tasks, one underwrites the view, promoted by those in charge, that ex-members have lost the “most precious gift in the universe – the opportunity to awaken”. In general the outsider or non-member is devalued; in spiritual terms, he or she is considered only a possibility, whose true potential is dependent upon living in the fellowship. Fellowship rhetoric does, after all, frequently imply the group’s spiritual hegemony over all other groups in relation to the divine. The ex-member, then, is considered someone whose possibilities have ended. The ex-member is assigned the very particular status of being cursed. Again, it is important to mention that this is not representative of the deep-seated beliefs of all, but it is the view promoted by the leaders and is publicly accepted by many.
That said, many of us are at a turning point after 15, 23, or 30 years in the group. For a variety of reasons, the least of which may be the aforementioned dillema, we want to move on. Having arrived at this point, which may involve the undoing of financial or practical ties, we are left with one very large fear – that we will lose most of our friends.
Traditionally, long-time members leaving the group have moved away to some place where they could start a new life, especially if they have hitherto lived in or close to the community. There are however, those ex-members that have remained in the area, and to a greater or lesser
extent, they exist with the stigma of being outsiders. It seems now that this is changing.
Now many members associate with the growing number of ex-members living nearby – these are after all, old friends that may have shared a good part of their lives. Beliefs are challenged by simple human facts; that members care for, and are inspired by their friends. In the recent words of one member, toward an ex-member and friend, “love and friendship are beyond all that”.
Some members have remade friendships after years of – at best – cordial hellos at the post office. Others are unable to revive lost relationships. Emotional breakdown sometimes occurs in cases where, having seen through their divisive attitudes, members are unable to repair historic divisions within friendships, marriages or family.
Five years ago, my good friend left the group, and in his case, I have privately maintained contact. For five years I have watched him flourish spiritually and emotionally, and this has subtly challenged my beliefs every step of the way. The belief that by following the task I protect my self and my ‘work’ from lower influences and deviations is melting down. An alternate view of the task is that of a device, that helps solidify the fellowship beliefs that are promulgated by the leaders. Moreover, the fear that is a product of such beliefs might mitigate the unthinkable – that I may someday find it not only acceptable, but even desirable, to leave the group.
If we reach out, we find that the concepts of inside and outside are dualistic in nature, limit understanding, and in many of us, engender fear. This serves the instinctive needs of the group while compromising the individual. To put a different spin on a oft-quoted fellowship jingle: the King of Clubs is keeping us in the school.
For many years I privately held the view that only formatory mind was capable of alienating ex-students. While underwriting the central beliefs of the group, I espoused a value system of my own. Now I am forced to consider a whole framework of school beliefs, which encompasses those aspects I still value, as well as those which I find reprehensible. I no longer enjoy the luxury of compartmentalizing concepts to make them fit inside my head. It is my good fortune that the remorse is not causing emotional breakdown, as I have seen in some cases; After all, I shared a special language and mentors – to whom I would now refer as The Great Explainers – that gave me permission. We spun contradictions variously as ‘work on attitudes’ and ‘feeding the higher self, not the lower’ and when the buffer succeeded, we called it ‘separation’. Clearly the Work ideas have practical and useful applications in our group, especially when second line and first line are healthy. What cannot be ignored however, is the growing tendency to use ideas without reference to context in the present moment. Good ideas become degraded by misapplication and by self-serving use. Self-reinforcing logic becomes the only frame of reference for many members, effectively disconnecting them from broader and deeper thought.
The so-called work in this paradigm is in many cases defined not only by superficial, but deeply psychological forms of exclusion and exclusivity. When we realize this, we are forced to confront, and perhaps to reconcile the contradiction; well-learned dissociative behavior has become the seedbed for misconception.
One of the many outcomes of this illusory construct, which develops over many years, is the fear of isolation. The cornerstone of that construct, to playfully misquote Gurdjieff, would read something like this: “Life is only real, then, when I am – in the fellowship – “.
If we are prepared and willing to bring more of what we can plainly see to bear on our psychology, a disquieting storm starts to gather, and what we thought was solid ground begins to fall away from under us.
In the words of Mark Twain:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure, that just ain’t so.”

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