Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970.

Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and an ominous, yet unspecified new threat late in 2018.) While non-believers shall perish, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (including his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers will be spared, founding a new, and more perfect civilization.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws
on official Fellowship publications and websites,
news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the (former) Fellowship Wikipedia page, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wiki project, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lessons learned in the Fellowship of Friends

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the - Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 7, 2008:
Daily Cardiac [Fellowship member and blogger], I will now join you in pointing out just some of the good things that happened to me, or rather, that I learned and earned, in the Fellowship. You say you have come to expect brickbats if folks speak well of the experience; I don’t. But if they do, let them fly, and lie, where they may!

I got what I came for, and left. It took me a long while to recognize that what I came for was imaginary, and that which I had been looking at for a long time was exactly what I needed and failed to recognize as such. I thank the experience of the Fellowship for providing the milieu and such amazing obstacles, unnecessary as many of them were. I hasten to say that the unnecessary obstacles taught me much, nevertheless. For example, they taught me that Burton is no true teacher, only by accident, that he had no particular aim in setting up many of the obstacles, and that when he did, they were designed to hide and obfuscate the truth. That is, they helped sleep rather than awakening, hindered rather than helped.

I learned that the ends never justify the means, that they shape the ends. I saw before my very eyes this truth, and because the Fellowship of Friends is a small, isolated group, I saw this truth playing out from beginning to end many times.

I learned that I am connected to everyone. In a larger pond, this might not have been so clear, but in the Fellowship I learned some of the consequences of my actions—and inactions. I learned the rewards of my efforts, and the price of my complicity.

I learned to work hard, physically and mentally. I learned the limits of my cleverness with my hands, and was forced, in self–defense, to learn to use my intellect better. And I learned the limit of my intellect and learned about the wisdom—and stupidity—of groups. I learned to get on with people who I’d normally have avoided, and was forced to realize I had a lot more in common with them than I’d anticipated. All the interactions, good and bad, made me more emotional, and I needed and profited from that.

I am grateful for the new experiences, and for learning the value—and the pitfalls—of working as part of a group pursuing larger goals and ambitions. I helped plant a beautiful vineyard, I helped harvest grapes from the first to the sixteenth, and I tasted the results of my labors, sweeter for knowing how those results came to be. I’m sorry that Burton never realized that when planning any endeavor, one must assign more resources to maintenance than to building. He has never learned that lesson, despite hundreds of opportunities.

Of course, I missed many experiences I would surely have had if I’d not joined, but one can’t be in two places or times simultaneously!

I stopped smoking. In my first year and a half ‘on salary’, working up to eighteen hours a day, and once five days without sleep at all, I had learned to consume three packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day. This was a tremendous gift, and I am forever grateful. I am grateful to have borrowed Burton’s will and used it for my own purpose, and to the many people who went through the initial sufferings with me. I am sorry that success went to Burton’s head and made him more imperiously bold, demanding and unaccountable.

I made new, unusual and interesting friends. This partly makes up for the unusual and interesting friends I gave up when I joined. The good news is that many of the latter were willing to take things up where we left them, and forgive me my trespasses. The bad news is that the former gave me up for good, which is as well, since I had grown to be suspicious and distrustful that they sincerely and unconditionally supported my spiritual welfare.

I saw a flawed and tragic man set himself up as something more than human, and collect others around him to support his fantasy. I saw and engaged in a macabre dance of reflecting masks and personalities that were in no way real or worthwhile. I saw this up close, and consider myself privileged to have studied egoic structures being built where reduction of the ego was preached. I saw the results of a house being built upon the sand. I could not have hoped for such an education, and am truly grateful.

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 7, 2008:
97 Ames [above]

…thanks, and to add a few lessons my membership in the Fellowship of Friends helped me learn:

1) that I was unhappy because I could not accept myself as I was, so I was attracted to a situation in which I could more easily imagine that I was not only acceptable, but superior to almost everyone else on the planet, and that this was childish;

2) that I had issues with my father, and it was easier for me to adopt a seemingly kindly, seemingly accepting, seemingly perfect father-figure than do the difficult work of relating to the father I had–who I later realized was far more mature, courageous, and loving than the self-serving fop I’d tried to replace him with;

3) that Truth is instantly accessible, but there are no shortcuts;

4) that adopting the attitude that all that matters is my own “evolution,” and that what happens to others is their problem, when properly understood leads to compassion for others demonstrated through action and a loss of concern for one’s “self,” and when improperly understood leads to a grotesque perversion of “spirituality”–in fact, its opposite;

5) that it actually does matter whether a person, in his private as well as public behavior, tries to be scrupulously honest, refuses to take advantage of those who are gullible or vulnerable, and tries to serve the interests of others without thought for personal gain of any kind;

6) that absolute power really does corrupt absolutely;

7) that there is no connection between artistic taste and emotional maturity or any other desirable quality;

8) that when a person consistently acts in a way that appears to lack character, such as being greedy, it’s because he’s greedy, and not because he is trying to teach me something;

9) that the belief that all that ultimately matters is being present comes from the ego and strengthens it;

10) that the belief, hope, or expectation that I will awaken is a hoax perpetrated by the ego in order to strengthen itself;

11) that no amount of money, physical labor, emotional suffering, or struggling to be present will ever be sufficient.

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