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.

Friday, May 18, 2007

On Being a Man #7

"Traveler" posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 18, 2007 at 6:58 a.m.:

The topic tonight is Consciousness!

What does it mean to be a conscious being? Let’s see what Gurdjieff and Ouspensky said about it, as they are conscious beings helping the Fellowship of Friends, according to Robert Burton.

I want to summarize the fourth way teaching on consciousness, and I hope I’ll get this right and we’ll all agree. Please help me if I’m wrong. According to the System and Robert Burton’s teaching, there are different levels of consciousness for man on Earth: men numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 (and I believe RB later added man number 8). Men numbers 1, 2, 3 are pretty similar, but the successive levels differ from each other in development as much as human does from animal. Man # 4 has his center of gravity in work on oneself, which is supposed to describe most FoF students, man # 5 is the first level of conscious being, who has awakened higher emotional center and can remember himself whenever he wants to, but can still lose everything because nothing is permanent in him, man # 6 has awakened higher mental center and achieved everything possible for a human (Girard Haven had been pronounced by Robert Burton to be a man # 5 and after his stroke a man # 6, although I have heard him continue to include himself in “we men number four” when he spoke at meetings), man # 7 is one in whom these two higher centers have become crystallized and permanent and is thus immortal within the boundaries of the Solar system, that is, will not die for many eons. Man # 8 are Jesus Christ, Moses and Plato, according to RB, I don’t have an explanation for how this is different from man # 7 except that it is somehow even higher. And Robert Burton is supposed to have referred to himself on various occasions as man number seven-point-something (on his way to eight).

When he first started to teach in 1970, he called himself a budding man number five, which I take to mean man number four on his way to becoming number five. At some point he must have become man # 5. One second-hand story is that one day he was staring into the fireplace and got up with tears in his eyes and then later declared that this was the first time he had experienced his higher centers. If anyone knows more about his becoming a man number five, please share. Later on he is said to have received an omen from influence C in the form of an advertisement for the company ‘Union 76′ written on the side of a truck, which meant to him that his higher centers would fuse (union) and he would crystallize in 1976. Somehow he picked a date for his crystallization too, probably through another omen, and the whole Fellowship was preparing a festival and eagerly awaiting the crystallization of the Teacher. Big disappointment, Robert came and said it didn’t happen. But a few days later, he says, he was lying in bed at night and there was great pressure in his head, like something waiting to be born, and he felt like he was shot right through the eyes and he was still standing, his higher centers were just there looking out. So he became a man number six and the school celebrated. Then, it was 1989 or so, and Robert was once again sitting in a plane on the runway in San Francisco, and a large earthquake struck. As he later found out, the earthquake was of magnitude 7.2 or so on the Richter scale, which, he told his students, was a sign from the Gods that he had become man number 7.

I’m sorry if I got any stories wrong, please correct me if you know them more accurately. Also we never went into the details of the fourth way theory in the FoF, and yet this theory underlies everything about Robert Burton’s teaching on consciousness.

So here we are with a system presented to us, in which Robert is a man number 7, crystallized in his higher centers, and since the lower cannot see the higher, verifying that he is a conscious being will necessarily be ‘challenging’ according to the FoF website. The solution FoF offers on the same website is that if you feel you’ve become more conscious in the School, the question of his consciousness becomes somewhat irrelevant.

But still, it gnaws, the assumption contained in this solution is that, whatever happens to your level of being in the school, happens because of the influence of the Teacher. Therefore you are actually being asked to assume that – if I feel more awake than before, it must be indirect proof of the consciousness of the teacher. Could be some truth to that, but the evidence is circumstantial. Let’s suppose for a second that everyone has their own speed of growth and that exposed to a different set of circumstances, you might also similarly feel you have become more awake over time. I know a number of people who feel they have progressed spiritually over the years, without ever having been in the FoF.

Let’s say that I’m not satisfied with brushing the question of the Teacher’s consciousness aside, and I want to be sure that I’m benefiting more by putting myself under his influence and his guidance, and by paying him $500 per month, than by just being in ‘life’ and being educated by its ordinary slings and arrows. So I come across this:

#9/228 Anonymous Says: [blog page, post number and blogger]
From day 1, the Teacher’s being conscious is presented as a theory to be verified. If you just accepted it, you were a fool.

It was only AFTER 25+ years that I came to understand that he is conscious. Those who ‘accept’ or believe in his being conscious without checking it out thoroughly (20 years is nothing in this business) are bound to come a cropper.

Understanding that he is conscious is a moment-to-moment experience — not something you do once and can then coast on.
Excellent! Finally someone who says with conviction that he has understood the teacher is conscious. All other students have been such wimps and have always gotten out of it by saying, well, it’s a theory.

First, though, I’m somewhat disheartened by the statement that it will take 25 and more years of being a member to understand this essential thing, that Robert is conscious. And that even after 25 years, it will be something I will have to keep re-verifying, I won’t just know it for a fact. I assume it is so difficult to verify that Robert is conscious because the lower cannot see the higher. Since I know that I’m a man # 4 and Robert is a man # 7, what seems like silly ideas of reference to me is just the way his higher centers work, I can never know for sure about his higher level of consciousness, because I know that he is at a higher level of consciousness, which I can’t verify to begin with. Wait a minute… Eeer… This is beginning to cause mental anguish, I should better just drop these I’s. Anyway, Anonymous does seem to encourage me to continue to ‘check it out thoroughly’, even if it will take me 25 years, so I decide to go for it.

I do end up with a lot of questions. What aspects of Robert’s consciousness should I try to understand and verify for myself? Can I verify any of the following, and how:

- There are two kinds of people: conscious, immortal crystallized men, and unconscious men, who are destined to be ‘recycled’ when they die.

- The majority of humans on Earth are unconscious.

- I’m also unconscious, but there are few others who are conscious and who can help me become conscious too.

- There is a ladder of levels of consciousness on which I’m at step # 4 and there are 3-4 more steps above me.

- Few exceptional individuals currently on Earth are conscious, notably Robert Burton, and to a lesser degree Girard Haven and maybe Alex Horn.

- An unconscious being generally needs the direct help of a conscious being to become conscious himself.

- Robert is a man number 7.

- Robert’s interpretations of signs are objective.

- Robert’s interpretations of signs come from something called ‘higher centers’.

- Influence C, who are conscious beings once lived on Earth, now disembodied, speak to Robert to give him instructions.

- Immortality is within our grasp.

- The sequence is irrefutably objective truth. (Love, Robert)

- Fellowship of Friends is guided by a higher school of conscious beings on an astral plane.

It seems that verifying all this is what makes the School unique and of central importance in one’s life. You have to verify C Influence, an older student told me, or nothing makes sense. If you did not verify this, you might ‘lose the School’ as you would not value it enough. So how do we verify it?

I can’t help but associate to evangelists who approach you to ask you if you are saved, and if you have no idea what they’re talking about, they will kindly educate you that Jesus is your savior and if you believe in him you can become saved like them. Create a need, and then fill a need. Marketing experts understand it too.

I’ll venture to assume that when Anonymous says he understood personally that Robert was conscious, he is not talking about having a sudden revelation, heaven’s gate opening and trumpets announcing “yes, Robert is a man number 7”. So what, exactly, does it mean when he says he knows Robert is conscious? I’m asking Anonymous or anyone else who shares that opinion. You speak of a moment-to-moment experience – is it an emotional bond that is created between you and Robert in that moment, an understanding of him, a feeling of connectedness, a feeling of sharing the same space, same aims, both being part of something much greater, feeling that you are giving up your small will for something bigger, feeling that you can rely on him leading you down the right path…? What is the experience, if you don’t mind answering? And how does it lead you to summarize it in the words “Robert is conscious”? What does ‘conscious’ mean to you in this context? Do you feel you are ‘conscious’ in the moment you are verifying this?

As it is related, I would like to also address # 9/233, Hava Nagillah [blog page, post number and blogger] Says:
“The Sequence is a deeply rooted esoteric method to eliminate imagination and reach presence. It has been a major part of many traditions for thousands of years. Robert Burton did not invent the Sequence and YES it IS meant to reduce “thoughts” and increase wordless presence. This is the whole aim of the school.”
Dear Hava Nagillah, I totally agree that the Sequence is designed to stop thought and I do believe you are having some success with it. If you don’t mind, I’d like to deconstruct how you know about the Sequence’s ancient origin. Then you can correct me if I got something wrong.

“The Sequence is a deeply rooted esoteric method… major part of many traditions for thousands of years…” I assume you don’t speak with C Influence directly, so your knowledge of the Sequence and its historic import comes from Robert and through him from C Influence, which is unquestionably the most authoritative source on the matter. At some point, Robert or one of his researchers found a quote in the Philokalia that presence is reached in a sequence of six steps. As we know that Influence C communicates with Robert through numbers, he got quite excited about this and started looking for other ancient sources containing the number six. Of course he found many, specifically in Egypt, and then extended this to all multiples of six to mean the sequence. Work I’s were assigned to each of the steps, and with the help of the group of researchers and personal experimentation they were changed several times before the last version came out. Robert then started teleologically looking for more evidence confirming the role of each of the work I’s in the sequence, and even when the images didn’t quite match, he explained that the ancient civilization had cleverly hidden the key by making a mistake. In other words, his interpretations were still right. Keying was further perfected by assigning sequence-related meanings to other numbers that were encountered, namely, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, ~30. Robert declared that anything depicted in ancient Egypt had an esoteric meaning. Proofs of the sequence were found in ancient images around the world. This culminated in the discovery that the sequence was used even by prehistoric peoples, and though they did not have a written language, they attempted to communicate to us about the sequence by painting six hands or six animal droppings on cave walls. Soon we had enough knowledge to be able to have meetings with the topic of “Antlers”, which had six divisions.

Now obviously if Joe Blow from Dobbins started seeing a connection with number 42 just about everywhere and concluded that it was a divinely inspired message, an ancient code for objective truth, perhaps the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything, it wouldn’t mean much because he’s not conscious, right. Only conscious beings see the world objectively through signs and symbols.

So, since all of your knowledge about the Sequence being thousands of years old and an ancient tool for awakening, comes from Robert’s interpretations of pictures and symbols, and from other students repeating what Robert says, and since you seem pretty sure that it’s very true, you must have also verified that Robert is conscious and that his interpretations are objective. In that case, could you please look at the questions for Anonymous above and see if you would like to answer any? Thanks.

I’m sorry for all the “mud-throwing” that some people feel is going on between “innies” and “outies”. I suppose that “outies” feel sorry for the “innies”, and the other way around. Each thinks that the other is deluded in some way. And then they accuse each other of condemning and judging. All based on fear. Nevertheless, I assume most “innies” are here because they’re not afraid to look at their beliefs a little deeper. So why not engage in a little soul-searching. But if you want to go away from the blog calling out “only presence is important”, and yet need to stay in the Fellowship and don’t care about its core values, fare well. It can be scary to give up a belief without a feeling that there will be something to substitute it.

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