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, April 23, 2008

The Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog's premature post mortem

[ed. - "Just Another voice Out Here" offers their closing arguments. Over four years later, "Just Another Voice Out Here" would return, this time as "Life Person," and express their incredulity that the discussion continues. See below.]

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 23, 2008:
The blog bears almost no resemblance to what it was a year ago, and the circumstances surrounding it, even less. Then, there was an enormous pent-up need to discuss, divulge, and unburden about matters for which many had had no meaningful outlet, in some cases for thirty years or more. There were many former and existing members who knew a lot less than they know now. There were members who knew, but lacked sufficient motivation to leave. There was a public that had no means to learn the truth about an organization they might consider joining.

All of that has changed. The stories have been told; any left untold are unlikely to reveal anything radically different, although they may well be therapeutic for the teller. No one within the Fellowship can any longer claim convincingly he or she doesn’t know. Many then-members who were on the fence have either left, or made their peace. Many former members who had held their pain or outrage inside had an opportunity to get it out and start healing.

Much of this occurred within the first six months, and although there remain people who are just discovering the blog, presumably their numbers have dwindled. There may remain members on the fence, but they are not likely looking to the blog for impetus to leave.

The blog itself morphed from a forum where anyone could learn new information, post a story or impression, stay a while, interact, get their bearings, make things uncomfortable for the Fellowship power structure, and move on, into a social club consisting of a handful of people who seem to read and post almost daily about any subject that appeals to them, recycling the same material like a cow chewing its cud. The transition took place as individuals, one by one, saw the blog as a place where they could satisfy their personal emotional needs, without regard for whether the satisfaction of those needs served any other purpose. Originally, everyone was welcome, since there were no “insiders”—it was a completely open forum. Over time, some were more welcome than others; anyone thought to be spouting the Fellowship party line were indignantly shouted down, and eventually others who weren’t considered one of the gang were given little energy, so they had little reason to stay unless they were willing to make a project out of being accepted.

For those who are now in the blog Inner Circle, the blog appears to fulfill a deep-seated need for validation and company, for an identity as someone who sees the truth and isn’t afraid to express it, or to feel special, exchanging one form of group membership for another. Some see themselves in a new, improved spiritual enterprise—a school without dues, hierarchy, or responsibilities, but informed by a greater understanding of what’s really important. Some seemingly are as yet unable to get on with their lives; as Gurdjieff used to say, some people will give up anything except their suffering. The blog was a halfway house that became much more comfortable than either life in the Fellowship, or life entirely without the Fellowship—an endless limbo of unresolved feelings. Some continue to want to destroy the Fellowship, and for lack of alternatives view the blog as an effort in that direction.

The end result is a fishbowl in which the self-selected residents swim and circle, waiting for the next bit of food, and the rest glance at it every once in a while to relieve the tedium, and occasionally toss in a few morsels just to see what happens.

"Rear View Mirror" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 23, 2008:
It’s quite interesting to note… Oh, crud, excuse me… Must have been reverting there….
Ok, let me start over…

I personally believe that some of the actions we take don’t have any initial, obvious positive impact on anyone, but over time they may. And we may never even know it, or we may know it, but those results may be completely invisible to most others, or even to all others. (which makes our pitiful little egos wonder, “Uh, why did I bother with that? What glory in that?”)

I personally believe that the blog, to this day, continues to be a positive influence overall, and I’m glad it’s been here for as long as it’s been here. Meanwhile, I see the fof as a continued and persistent journey toward the edge of a very high and steep cliff, and eventually all the way over and onto the rocks, and into the ocean. (And I’m not going to insult sheep by using the typical analogy, because at least sheep are true to their nature unlike we pathetic chosen ones… “I think I could turn and live with animals.”)

Whatever the blog is, here it is. It keeps going.

I agree with much of what you wrote JAVOH in 14 [post at top of page], but other people keep saying (offline and online) that this blog has “run its course” and doesn’t serve a useful purpose anymore. But I still imagine just one person — just one more person — by chance, taking a glance at this one day, and combined with many other experiences in the fof, finally realizing that it’s time to leave.

Not in good time, not after the full moon, not when they find a new job, not after they get divorced, and not when the triad is right — but right now.

THAT is “divine presence” — to find your “divine presence” within yourself, and not in the approving glances of a very dysfunctional society led by a very sick man.
Barely a word of what’s written here will ever — EVER — be uttered at a Fellowship meeting. That, in and of itself, is something to value about this blog.

Valuation is what you want? (speaking to you Robert)

Well, I have never valued anything you have said, or anything that your former cult members have ever written or said, any more than right here… in this little box, right here on the internet. Imagine that. Not one page of finely printed materials from countless Town Hall meetings, with beautiful four-color printed photos of fine art dazzling us on the cover… Not one “Renaissance Journal” has the “higher hydrogens” that could come even close to the “higher hydrogens” — the finer energy — that you find right here.

Not one candlelight dinner with Puccini playing in the background, accompanied by poetry readings, and fine wine, and fine food, and fine china, and seemingly thoughtful glances across the room. None of that comes even close to this blog. None of it has touched my soul as much as anything written here.

THIS is Love.


Alright, everyone. Onto another topic, or onto no topic. Have fun. It’s ok. I am very glad that all of you are here. Even you in your lashing out. ALL of this is infinitely better than the finest the Fellowship ever had to offer, or ever will.

"WhaleRider" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 23, 2008:
just another voice out there [responding to post at top]:

Hey, despite what you say, even though it is largely true, the blog is better than watching television, that’s for sure! (I am dyslexic, reading is difficult for me.)

As far as chewing cud, well, that’s the process of digestion, isn’t it? For many, sometimes it takes a while. Understanding comes two years after experience, right? And what’s the problem with recycling? Near as I can tell, life is suffering, so to give up on that would be to give up on living. (Keep posting Zoecan1, hang in there sock monkey!!!)[bloggers] Everyone has needs, too, some more than others, but that’s human, just like you have the need to reflect back to us what you perceive about us on the blog, for which I am grateful. Really. I saw a lot of myself in your post. That’s cool. I can work with that.

To me the blog is whatever you need it to be or BEEEE, as the case may be…or not to be….or Auntie Bea…or whatever.

But you are right, the stories have been told…many, many people have posted so much useful and not so useful information, creative insights, quotes, gripes, pain, flames, etc….yet the Fellowship still continues business as usual. That’s an unresolved dilemma for me. I care about my community. You and I have supported (some say pimped for) a sexual predator in the guise of a spiritual leader, and much harm as occurred and is still occurring. So who is responsible? The Pope? We are!

I recommend anyone just tuning in to also spend time reading from the beginning of the blog, too. I can’t see how anyone in their right mind would want to stay a follower after reading all this. But that may not be enough to wake every follower up to the fact that Robert is a cult leader, not a teacher in any real sense of the word. We need to show them that we are just as, if not more evolved than them. How do we do that? Do we crawl under a rock to do that? Or do we accept our humanity as perfectly flawed (like they do) and stand up for ourselves and our community? I don’t plan on going quietly into the night as I did when I was younger and left ranks.

You are not just another voice out there. You are more than that!

People evolve and change for the better by taking a good long honest look at themselves, which is what you, Vena and others are doing for us right now, and what the Fellowship and Robert are unable to do. So rock on, my friend. Sure the blog has changed, because people change…and grow. It’s an inevitable organic process, and thankfully so. I am all for change. Change is good. Even my spell check has a ‘change’ button, for which I am grateful. I am certainly experiencing lots of change in my personal life, and I am beginning to feel better for it, too (thanks to The sheik tells me that WordPress has changed their overall format which is why this page is all messed up…now that’s synchronicity for you.

Time for change. Let’s do it…together.

"lauralupa" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 23, 2008:
I personally like to view the blog as a river, and I find that, although trying to define and discuss its flux may be an interesting exercise now and then, generally by the time we are done, it’s already changed once again. IMO the best remedy against pollution and stagnation is pouring fresh water in it, come on rain, come on new feeders!

Just another voice, maybe I am missing something, but I write here quite often, and I am not aware of an inner circle either excluding or including me (or unaware of me?). I see separate people, I can hear their different voices; some over time sound repetitive, others refreshingly unpredictable. I am not happy about the fact that at periods only a handful of people are posting, but that’s when I feel even more compelled to keep writing. IMO this blog still serves a purpose as an interface between “innies” and “outies”, and as an informal meeting ground for us “outies”, and it would be silly to let it dry up until at least one of our common aims is reached. Personally, I am not going to let go until I see the petition off the ground.

The introduction of this concept of “Inner Circle” goes in the direction of creating even more division amongst us, do we really want to do that to ourselves?

"veramente" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 23, 2008:
This is a sort of a miracle indeed this blog continues to exist.

There is no moderator and hardly any rules, the Sheik has been hosting us without interference.

Regardless of the dissonant voices, the fights, the high and the lows, we do have a common wish, yes?

"ouspensky question" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 23, 2008:

Thank You Ralph B for 7.

Blog's main theme was FOF. Now main theme is half a dozen active Personalities that have FOF in common. Becoming soap opera of offended people and self indulgence reinforcement network (just look at wierdo poetry ).

Nothing new. This is normal. Few needy and unhealthy people take much space, others keep quiet or go away.

"arthur" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog April 23, 2008:

The Greater Fellowship site is always available for chatting or serious discussion. However, it’s not for public viewing, therefore the “Inner Circle” of the Robert Burton Church cannot participate. Or, can they?

Anyway, for me and my kind, one day (all of us-I’s) will sit under a Kopeck, Banyan, Bodhi or whatever tree Buddha sat under, and drink a cup of ayahuasca to celebrate endings and beginnings.

Actually, I think the Buddha sat under a Mesquite tree.

"Rear View Mirror" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussionblog, April 23, 2008:

“weird poetry”? Hmm. I’ll take any of this poetry over the most beautifully read Whitman or Shakespeare at the Academy.

Yes, lots of “personality” here as you said. A lot of fighting. A lot of unleashing of anger. Seriously, did you expect anything else given the history of this cult? And is that so bad? Or are you still holding to the notion that any contention or disagreement is “bad for your work”? :)

“Needy and unhealthy”? Remember, you’re talking about people who once languished in the fof prison. This is pretty bad sometimes, but it’s fresh air and powerful healing compared to that. Not always healthy, but even the most abrasive comments here are head-and-shoulders above the poisonous ideas of the fof.

I still find it interesting that people come here and feel the need to defend their past in the FOF, or their past in studying Fourth Way ideas. This is typical of former cult members, myself included, who do not want to face the pain that they made a mistake. It’s a sign that we’re still mired in the same patterns of thinking that we learned in the fof, and that we’re still healing from it. We made a mistake in joining this cult, and remaining in it, and it takes time to see that.

By the way, it’s a cult, it’s a cult, it’s a cult. The extent that we debate this fact, is the extent that we’re not escaping from the “cult think.” It’s not a group. It’s not an organization. It’s a cult. And you and I joined it.

"veramente" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 24, 2008:
37 WR [responding to WhaleRider]

“Student: Why is it that the soul takes only one female body during the course of its nine lives?

Robert: To strengthen and soften the higher emotional center.”


How did I miss this one from mister misogynous? only one female body during the course of nine lives to develop a soul? (lies anyway…)

The “guy” is really confusing, was he a “goddess” in a man’s body atone point?

[ed. - Appearing at intervals, the person behind "Psychic," Someone," "Samson" and other pseudonyms can be counted upon to bring a curious, often shrill voice to the blog. Always virulently anti-Ex-Fellowship and anti-blog, yet speaking as if concerned for the former members. The posts offer little substance, but I thought I should include a few examples.]

"Psychic" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 23, 2007:
This message is addressed to those visitors who are now reading this blog while searching for inner work on themselves.

Dear visitor,

The Fellowship of Friends is a school for reaching Divine Presence within one. It is led by Robert Burton, the spiritual teacher and founder of the Fellowship of Friends.

The art of reaching Divine Presence is the highest art on earth. Man in his ordinary state of consciousness cannot even imagine what it is and what is possible for him.

In order to reach Divine Presence and prolong it one would need reaching a much higher place in oneself.

However, one has another part in oneself that dominates one’s life and that is the Lower Self. This part is not interested in the art of reaching Divine Presence and if one attempts to seriously work in order to reach it, the Lower Self would do anything in order to ruin such work.

This blog is presenting posts of many former members of the Fellowship of Friends who left the school and started slandering it. This is a sheer example of how the Lower Self works after it takes over and crowns sleep to rule, sometimes forever.

Our Teacher has asked his students not to enter this blog in order not to give even more space to the Lower Self beyond what it takes anyway.

I am writing these lines in order to create a small spark of opportunity for you if you are interested.

So you are invited to visit the Fellowship of Friends web-site:

"Samson" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 18, 2008:
Haven’t been here for over a year now. What the fucking shit are you still doing here? I see here almost the same poor Ex-FOF addicted rewriting themselves to death. Get out of here, have a life. Why spending the rest of your lives on this shit you left & hate. Don’t give me that bull that you care about those who stayed. Give me a break, you are here because you are addicted. Nothing will pule you out of this shit hole but yourselves. I see a student who’s daily shitting on your heads and like good communist party members you all say that it’s raining. Yeh, Yeh, your tender souls are hurt by Robert’s prick…poor souls… A bunch of moron losers, that’s what you are.

"Someone" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 7, 2014:
Tempus Fugit,

You left the FoF in the early 80’s and you still have them in your mind. Why carry them inside for so long? They are not worth it.

The FoF are ~1500 people worldwide – they always have been around 2000 or less. Their average age in OH is probably 60.

RB is an old man and the number of member isn’t going to grow.

After I left I heard rumors that many young people are joining in other countries. Now I think they were mere rumors. Why waste time, thoughts, emotions and energy on the FoF? I am entering this Blog once or twice a year because I care about those who are wasting vital energy on the FoF.

Though they are harshly against the FoF, it’s still a waste of life energy. I lived in OH for many many years and now I rarely think of it. This Blog was opened 7 years ago during the big leaving. Since then the FoF size stayed almost the same. Perhaps they managed to bring in 50-100 new members, yet more members died of old age. Taking into account Nature’s course, in 10 years time the FoF will be left with perhaps 500-600 members worldwide.

Why bother?

"Life Person" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 31, 2012:
I haven’t checked out the blog for several years, but a friend mentioned to me that one of my earlier posts had been reposted recently, so I checked in to find out the context.

I’m amazed that, in this day and age, there remain people who continue to believe the Fellowship narrative–Burton as Conscious Being, the organization as Vessel of “C Influence,” members as the Earth’s Elect, the whole thing. Back when I joined in the 70s, cults were sprouting up like mushrooms everywhere, and I for one hadn’t heard very much about how common it was for leaders of such cults to be outright frauds, how abusive they could be, etc. I didn’t even know there were other “Fourth Way” groups out there. Burton was completely unknown–his image was never shown until after a person had joined the cult. But that was decades ago.

Now, anyone can easily find out that Burton’s been sued up his well-traveled wazoo; that he’s a compulsive sex addict who preys on heterosexual men in his thrall; that the Fellowship as an organization has essentially failed–the vineyard, into which I and thousands of others poured effort and cash, left as a fire hazard and symbol of the founder’s folly covering the hillsides; membership slowly sinking; predictions exposed as pretentious twaddle. Anyone who wants to can discover that there exist countless reputable groups practicing “presence,” as well as other practices, using methods that have been taught for centuries, but without the culty baggage–the abusive butt-fucking; the endless “donations” to have your picture taken next to the Great Man (what next? a smaller donation to rent a blow-up Burton doll for photo-ops?); the vain self-regard of the pseudo-Elect peacocks sipping their wine; the pathetic sun-scorched compound with its faggy Apollo-topped columns and ejaculating palm trees; the paranoid delusions about the End of the World; the sad spectacle of aging, impoverished, disappointed hippies slowly discovering they’ve wasted their lives and now are impoverished and have been kicked to curb by their cherished Leader; the embarrassment of chasing members by trying to hitch its wagon to passing fads like Eckert Tolle [sic], or waving green cards at third-world seekers, or changing its name and the name of its Exclusive Compound every few years; and most ludicrous of all, the outright stupidity of what now passes for “teachings.”

If a person who’s actually heard those “teachings” can’t recognize them as bullshit, who’s seen Burton up close but still can’t see him for what he is (or isn’t), with the benefit of forty years of easily-available history, just accept that the person is a self-deluding fool. In my experience, most people stick around the Fellowship for long periods of time not because they’ve been duped, but because it feeds their “features.” They like feeling special. They like–or aspire to–the relative power of being more senior to someone else. They’re afraid of life on its own terms, afraid that the C Influence Boogeyman will take away their evolutionary chances, afraid to admit they’ve been duped, afraid of having to support themselves. And so on.

Don’t you remember how it was when you were a member? No one could tell you squat. You’d found the One Conscious School. Everyone else was sleeping, food for the moon. Your former friends, your family, other spiritual teachers–all idiots, now that you’d found the Fellowship. Criticizing the Fellowship was the unassailable proof that a person didn’t Get It.

Until, eventually, you realized just how ridiculous the whole thing was, and were willing to deal with all of the propaganda in your head designed to keep you making teaching payments. Until you were willing to admit to yourself that you’d made a mistake, willing to grow up.

You can’t force a person to grow up, you have to trust that they will, or accept that maybe they won’t.

"Tempus Fugit" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 9, 2014:
191. Someone [quoting above]
Tempus Fugit,

You left the FoF in the early 80′s and you still have them in your mind. Why carry them inside for so long? They are not worth it.

….. Why bother?
 Thanks for posing this question, although myself and others have addressed this topic before I feel it is an important one.

In some ways I think my FOF experience will always be on my mind. My experience was serious, lengthy, and traumatic. My psychological understanding of those years is still yielding important insights into who I am. After all, it’s not so much “them” that I carry inside, rather it’s “me,” and understanding myself is worth everything.

Why was I taken in by a charlatan? How could I deny and lie to myself for so long and stay in the cult for years and years? How do I learn to trust myself and my judgment after such brutal mistakes? How do I understand the truth of the FOF and Burton without being stuck in an anger and hatred which will only poison me? How do I take responsibility for my own decisions and choices and at the same time give proper responsibility to Burton and others who took advantage of my ignorance and naivete?

My understanding of that time has changed a lot over the decades, and the FOF is by no means the most important time of my life. Still the tree of suffering bears fruit, and I choose to pick it.

This blog has been very helpful in my recovery, and my thanks to all of you. The time I spend thinking and writing here is certainly well compensated in the knowledge that I gain about myself and my life. I hope my contributions have helped you in return.

And finally, again, I love the fact that this blog is a light to those still trapped in this horrible cult or even just in danger of the spider’s web, helping some to leave, and others not to join.

To think that relatively small efforts here may spare others from years of abuse is pretty cool. Really damn cool!

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