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 most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A happy initiate and a sober warning

"Wonderwork" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 18, 2010:
Hi there,

I am a relatively a new student – not a US citizen.

Before I joined I was reading several parts of this discussion forum. Some of it is quite interesting, but it also sounds quite indoctrinating. Anyway it has made me curious about the school. I thought of joining for a while and finally I joined less than a year ago. Recently I was visiting Apollo for six weeks – one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have met the most sincere, gentle and pleasant people I have ever met in my entire life. It is also a sort of a convent. Yet, it has a reasonable code of behavior, and I noticed that people in-charge use moderate approaches toward the rules. So far the advantages of being in the school are by far surmounting the flaws.

This school is really focusing on being present; It is a challenging and inspiring path. I have no doubts about the sincerity of students in relation to this idea no matter what some of you might say.

Though I cannot know for sure, I do believe that some of the testimonials written here might be genuine, yet I am quite positive that there is a lot of distorted and hearsay stuff written here as well. One can sense that from the way some people are expressing themselves in these discussions.

About morality and human values:

The US armed forces have been killing and torturing thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and nothing substantial has been done against these actions. Yet no one here in this discussion forum has ever mentioned it and no one is calling anyone to renounce their US citizenship and leave the US.

The fact that you are not going against these actions and send back your passports to the US state department shows that you can live with it!!!

Well I can live with some of the accusations against the teacher and enjoy the great spiritual benefits of the school.

"Ames Gilbert" responded to "Wonderwork" (above), on November 20, 2010:
Hello, Wonderwork (#97-115), and welcome to the discussion.

I still remember the sense of wonder and good fortune I had when I joined in 1978 and for the first few years, so I appreciate what you are feeling now. If you did due diligence (for example, asked yourself questions such as the list I made for prospective members on page 23-169 of this discussion, and suggestions by others in the same vein), and carry on asking yourself hard questions about the nature of verification for yourself (not Girard Haven’s idea of verification as I discussed in 86-154, and the observations of others on the same subject), then maybe this experience is right for you.

You do not state your sex, but I am curious as to what you think about Burton having sex with many of his male heterosexual followers from either a male or female viewpoint. And, if you are female, how do you feel about being told that there is zero chance that you will ‘wake up’ (whatever that means) in this lifetime? (And if you are male, what do you make of that, anyway?) What do you think about what you have been told (and this is all it can be, unless you are that rare person who can recall previous lifetimes from direct experience) about multiple lifetimes and Burton’s ideas of some kind of advancement through them?

I appreciate what you say about the nice people. They are all very earnest and helpful, aren’t they? But if you have indeed read through all these pages, surely the ideas presented have made you aware how dangerous entering such an insular, self-reinforcing system of beliefs can be, the pitfalls of isolating yourself in subtle and ever deepening ways from what is pejoratively termed ‘life’ influences, including your family and friends? What system of checks have you put in place to avoid being trapped in the bubble?

If you are like me, you are probably what is referred to as an idealist; maybe that means something to you, perhaps not. What I can tell you is that the Fellowship of Friends seemed to fulfill many dreams and needs for me. And although Burton told me that the FoF is not a community, for me it certainly was, and your words about all the nice people leads me to believe that you might feel the same. If you look up the definition of ‘community’, it would seem to fit.

I also know that for many years I was unwilling to accept the reality of the Fellowship of Friends, and when Burton’s misdeeds became known, I at first refused to face what this meant, and what I was doing to try to ‘hold everything together’. So I ask you, do you think that the huge inequality of power between Burton and any of his followers allows any kind of meaningful relationship? Do you feel awe, gratitude, or fear when around Burton? Under such conditions, do you think sexual relations between Burton and his male heterosexual followers can ever lead to anything good?

You appreciate the intense focus on ‘being present, but is not the purpose of the FoF to make people ‘conscious’? What do you believe that ‘consciousness’ means? What do you think of the fact that the only person in the FoF who believes that he has become ‘conscious’ is Girard Haven? Do you want Robert Burton or Girard Haven to teach you to become like them? What do you think about the others that Burton claimed had become ‘conscious’ over the forty years that the FoF has existed? Do you understand what Gurdjieff meant by the necessity for individuation? Do you ever envisage graduating from the ‘school’ and going off to make your path as an individual? If not, why not? And if you subscribe to Burton’s theory of ‘multiple lifetimes’, why do you do so? And if you don’t, how do you deal with the chasm between Burton’s claims and your own beliefs, in this and in other areas?

Lots of questions here, and why should you answer them? Well, you are investing a substantial amount of your time, life energy, efforts and money in this enterprise, and I’d suggest these are actually a minimum. There are people in the FoF who have been there ten, twenty, thirty, forty years and have not attained the goals they entered with. Why is that? What does it say about the efficacy of Burton’s methods?

There are many other questions, and at some point they will have to be answered in full if you are to be honest with yourself. Why not start now?

I wish you the best,

Ames Gilbert

More from "Ames Gilbert ," November 26, 2010:
I wrote this on another Thanksgiving day (as celebrated in the U.S.A.)

Today, and every day, I am thankful that I’m no longer a member of the cult called the Fellowship of Friends. I feel lucky.

Daily Cardiac [blogger, Fellowship defender] and many hundred others are thankful that they are followers of Burton. They feel lucky—and special. And so they should. They believe they have been chosen by angels from nearly 7 billion doomed humans now alive to become ‘immortal’ (whatever that means). Now, that’s special!

Thank you again, DC, for laying out your belief system so directly. Anyone interested in or considering joining the Fellowship who does due diligence will appreciate your efforts, and hopefully see them as they are. Your post #86–73 could hardly be clearer; it is a catalog of your articles of faith. If anyone who has had no connection to the FoF, but is interested in that organization reads this, I’m writing this for you.

If you want to join a group of people like DC, mostly sincere, nice, well–meaning folks, but whose entire ‘spiritual’ center of gravity is based on faith, know that in advance—and accept the consequences. Look through these pages for posts by Daily Cardiac, an excellent representative of the typical follower’s point of view. Know that many of us (I dare say, probably most) who have ‘been through the mill’ have concluded that the leader, Robert Burton, is a sexual predator, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and that having sex with large numbers of the heterosexual young men who depend on him for spiritual guidance is his chief occupation, and has been for forty years. Know that if you are a young, even moderately good-looking young heterosexual male, you will most probably end up having sex with him. Know that your fellow followers will approve of this, encourage this, and the less than good-looking ones will envy you (though these are few, Burton’s tastes are very catholic). In other words, in their world–view, this is completely normal and expected. Know that he has no control in this matter, and has never demonstrated will or restraint. Know that his followers excuse and even justify this ‘supersex’ (as he terms it) because he is a ‘conscious being’.

Know also that Burton is a life–long misogynist. He has no use for women as women, unless they have money or influence. Moreover, he states that they cannot ‘awaken’ as women in this lifetime. This means that if you are a woman, you will (according to Burton) definitely have to wait for a ‘role in a future lifetime as a man’ (with the sole exception of Elizabeth I, Queen of England, for some reason) to be able to ‘awaken’, whatever that is.

If you happen to be here because you are interested in the Fourth Way, know that, apart from words freely borrowed from the Fourth Way, this cult has no connection with the Fourth Way whatsoever. The Fourth Way terms are bait, pure and simple. There has been no transmission of knowledge or energy from Alex Horn to Robert Burton. Nor was there a transmission from J.G. Bennett to Horn (whose entire experience of the Fourth Way in the direct line was as a three–week drop–in at the end of one of Bennett’s courses in England). Horn had no contact with Rodney Collin, whatever Burton claims or insinuates. The rest came from books or odd meetings with others interested in the Fourth Way. Whatever the level of Horn, Burton failed miserably to fulfill the task given to him, to cease his sexual pursuit of male fellow ‘students’. And, Burton himself is openly proud of the fact that he has never read any work of Gurdjieff. His quotes of Gurdjieff’s words come from his brief encounters with Ouspensky’s books and what he has picked up from his more organized or intellectual followers. He has yet to explain the vast gap between his being a self-proclaimed Man number 7.9, or whatever, and the next and only ‘conscious product’ of his organization, the infamous Girard Haven, official hagiographer, Man number 5 point something. Remember the Fourth Way idea that one has to help put someone in one’s place before one can ‘move on’?
As a particular example, the meaning of the word ‘verification’ has been turned on its head. As you inevitably reorient yourself to the Fellowship groupthink (your new friends are so nice, so helpful, so knowledgeable, and you are so eager to learn, to please, to fit in…), you will be persuaded that ‘testing’ hypotheses according to reason and the scientific method is faulty thinking, emanating from your ‘lower self’. Instead the major part of your ‘work’ is to first accept given/revealed articles of faith as true and then strive to find evidence for them. Failing that, you are to ‘observe and record’ and put any doubting thoughts ‘on the back burner’, or, as you become more advanced, dispense with them altogether because they are generated by your ‘lower self’. When the back burner is full, you will be kept so busy you won’t notice the older thoughts ‘to be worked with later’ permanently falling into oblivion. Know that the many general ‘exercises’ given out by Burton are a miraculous one–size fits all. Any individual attention that each follower may need is farmed out to one or other of the 44 angels, the discorporate remains of (mostly) white, male Europeans who have left a historical record. More than strange, huh? Almost all the personal exercises given by Dear Teacher are of the “C-Influence wishes you to internally consider me, give up your body for my pleasure’ type. Though, for variety, there are the never–ending requests for more money, gifts, favors of all kinds, or ‘You should marry this person or that’.

Know that Burton is probably the most superstitious person you will ever hear of or meet. This ‘conscious being’, having lost his own internal way, relies on external signs of every type, from chance license plate numbers to a grotesque numerology and symbology, whose significance is supported and ‘researched’ by the members themselves, and as stated above, always seeking ‘proof’ to support the pre–conceptions. One example among literally thousands: Burton interprets the number of rhino poops in prehistoric cave drawings as messages the artists intentionally left for him across tens of centuries! Based on this rare sensitivity, Burton continually makes prophecies, whose record of complete failure (including highlights such as the drowning of California in 1996, nuclear Armageddon in 2006, the production of seven ‘conscious beings’, and so on) he petulantly explains in terms such as, “C–Influence has humiliated me”. At the same time, mirabile dictu, Burton claims that every jot and title of existence is preordained, a ‘play written by the angels’. In his universe, he supplies the ‘crazy’ while his followers infer the ‘wisdom’, so all in the narcissistic dance are happy. Oh, and you’ll be glad he has made improvements to the Fourth Way apart from inventing angels whose sole welfare is those who write checks to Burton, and who will attend the complete destruction of the rest of humanity. For example, unlike Gurdjieff, Ouspensky or Bennett in whose teachings conscience is as important as, and inseparable from, consciousness, Burton has little use for the former. In fact he says, “Conscience is just a collection of I’s. Anyone accumulating too much should leave the school”. One less thing to worry about, huh? And as strong an indicator as any that he doesn’t have conscience—and hence, consciousness—himself.

If you indeed value the Fourth Way, then before you consider joining the Fellowship of Friends, you owe it to yourself to find out everything you can about them. There is much more in these pages and elsewhere. I know, it is quite an effort to go through them. But the time you invest doing this is miniscule compared to the time you will waste and the harm that may befall you if you join the cult. I’m not claiming you will learn nothing, just that you can achieve better results in far less time elsewhere, without paying the price the greedy and literally insatiable Burton demands.

So much for the Fourth Way. How about the Second Way? If you take a masochistic satisfaction in being told what to do in all areas of your life, have blind trust in authoritarian structures, have faith in revealed truths, and desperately need to cultivate obedience, you’ll certainly be interested in some form of the Second Way. But why not just join the Carthusians or some other group with a good record? For a start, they are much quicker and more efficient. You have the possibility of reaching salvation during or at the end of this lifetime. Not so Burton’s religion. He claims you will need many lifetimes of unremitting toil and devotion to counter your built–in weaknesses and achieve immortality. Meanwhile, Mr. “Do as I say, not as I do” trusts not to the future, but lives the life of a spoiled potentate right now. He will use your money to live luxuriously. He may use your body for his sexual pleasure. He will travel widely at your expense. He will dress in the finest and most expensive clothing, silken underwear, drink wine worth hundreds of dollars at every meal, drive the best cars, travel first class everywhere, and give rich gifts to his lovers—while he favors them—all from your earnings. His followers exist to hang on every word, gratify every whim, and worship him as “the brightest light in 2,000 years. Not so incidentally, he is ‘beyond Judeo–Christian morality’ (though he has yet to formulate a successor).

Why would you want to dive into the fantasy world of this twisted, lying madman, who seems to exist solely for the titillation of the nerve endings in his penis and anus—and for shopping? Rather, go join an order of nuns or monks. If you are interested in experiencing the state popularly known as consciousness, study Zen or become a Buddhist.

Otherwise, stick around back here with the rest of us and try to do the best you can for yourself and your fellow humans with love and integrity, living life in all its juicy mess, ups and downs, accepting the need for risks, facing the unknown and unknowable with all the courage you can muster.