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.")

But 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.

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 from official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated) Fellowship Wikipedia page, 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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Forsake verification: The Fellowship of Friends as religion

[ed. - The following was originally posted by Ames Gilbert. The posters "I in the Sky" and "Daily Cardiac" referred to in Ames' post are purportedly former Fellowship of Friends President Linda K.]
"fofblogmoderator" posted on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 18, 2013:
From an earlier page
“Any explorer coming to this page should be easily able to see what happens so often if one joins the Fellowship of Friends and takes the ever-changing whims of Robert Earl Burton, the psychotic leader, to heart. So, I’m speaking to you.

You have the opportunity right here that is hidden from you if you attend the “introductory meetings”, the opportunity to peek behind the scripted theatrical performance put on to you by actors who have rehearsed the scene times beyond counting.

You have the opportunity to meet and learn from one of the finest minds in the Fellowship, a representative sent out to battle with the forces of evil who manifest on this blog. You have the opportunity to engage, yourself, right here, if you are reading this while the page is current. I personally don’t know anything about the entity called, “I in the Sky”. But I can assure you, dear explorer, that I know a great deal in general, and I can give you some guidance about her motivations. This is because I was once an explorer just like you, seeking to find some answers to life’s Big Questions, just as you are. I was hoping for guidance on how to live my life more fully, how to bring some meaning to it that was missing. I was looking for some explanations that did not demand blind faith, that would engage much more of me than was required by conventional religions, that would be more practical than the output of western philosophy, no matter how closely argued.
Perhaps you are like I was, drawn to the Fourth Way, and hoping, like I did, that somehow there was a branch of it that yet still lived and that I would come to meet it.

So, I was ripe when I found a Fellowship of Friends bookmark in London in 1978. I was thrilled to go to the introductory meetings and engage with people who had apparently found some of the answers. And I felt lucky beyond measure when it seemed that I had stumbled upon a living branch of the Fourth Way, an heir and descendant of the System propounded by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

My friend (I think I can call you that because we may have a lot in common already), I joined, and stayed in the organization for sixteen years. So I write from considerable experience. Not as much, of course, as some. The Fellowship of Friends has been going since 1971, and there some who have been there twenty, thirty and even forty years. But I was there sixteen years, quite enough, more than enough, to thoroughly observe the organization from many viewpoints. I was not a casual onlooker, I took the opportunity seriously, and my membership was the central point of my life. I’ve written a great deal about the results of that experience on these pages.

Many of the bloggers on this page have similar backgrounds and experiences. We joined, were mesmerized for a while, learned, and left. Please value our efforts and the time we have spent trying to reach people like you. I know this is a huge blog; we are here on the 132nd page, and some of the earlier pages had six hundred entries! It is an enormous amount to wade through. But the common thread running through all these pages is the warning: Stay Away. There are arguments and counter-arguments, and you’ll come to recognize some of the Fellowship of Friends representatives, become familiar with their tone, and you’ll be able to note their shallowness and obfuscation, and how ultimately they have changed from being explorers with open minds, as I was and I hope you are, to pawns in a charlatan’s fantasy.

So, right now, please pay close attention to “I in the Sky”, who formerly posted as “Daily Cardiac” in previous pages. This is a chance to see the workings of the hive mind, the groupthink that has become the guiding philosophy behind the Fellowship of Friends. And ponder the immense changes that must have occurred to someone like I in the Sky. She thought she was joining an organization based on the Fourth Way, which has a core principle, “Verify everything”. Question everything. Get down to the bedrock, where do all one’s ‘beliefs’ come from, how are we conditioned, what is of value in our mentation, how can we learn to disregard the rubbish, what in us is reliable, and how can we nurture it. She started out the same as you and I. Yet, during the course of her long membership, she has turned into the completely opposite direction, and proudly defends and even prosetylizes a religion. A religion with a leader, a messiah, an object of worship, Robert Burton, who proclaims himself a living god.

And, get this. She thinks she is headed in the same direction as the day when she joined! She literally has no idea about the changes she has made in herself, how she has twisted her mind to force herself to think that Burton’s religious organization is the same as the Fourth Way ‘school’ that she thought she had joined. In a word, she is mentally ill.

So, observe closely this product of Robert Burton’s school. If you join, you will be under the influence of people like her and Burton, and soon you will be thoroughly immersed in the group fantasy, and you too will be headed in the opposite direction without realizing it. You too will have to bury your conscience, subject yourself to the whims of the madman Burton, give up your reason, your money, your time, your chances of individuation, and if you are a young attractive male, your body for his sexual gratification.

Why, in heaven’s name, would you want to do that?

"Tempus Fugit" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 16, 2013:
In response to:

“177. Nevasayneva [post number and poster] – January 10, 2013 [page134]
People who write in these pages have had a lot of experience of FOF – the good, the bad and the ugly. 
People must also have experience of putting it behind them and moving on. 
I don’t see it so much.”
Thanks, Nevasayneva, I’ve been wanting to talk more to the topic of recovery.

In the end, my experience in the FOF was highly traumatic.

You see, as I’ve said a few times and even recently, I was a TRUE BELIEVER.

I accepted fully that Burton was a “conscious being” and I had been blessed to find the “Teaching of the Age.” For the first few years I lived in this generally satisfying delusion.

Life got increasingly stressful and unhappy during this time but I did my honest best to handle my life and make my membership in the FOF work. I hoped my efforts would gain the “Teacher’s” attention and I might be invited into some more prominent role that would establish the I had entered the “Inner Circle” and was clearly on track to “create a soul” and achieve “immortality.”

That dream never materialized. Instead, I struggled more and more to support myself and make my “teaching payments.” But I couldn’t keep up. Eventually I ran out of money and was prohibited from attending meetings. One day soon after I was so far behind in “teaching payments” that I crossed the invisible line between member and ex-member, one day still in by a thread and the next day out.

No one pleaded for me to return. No recognition of my years of hard work or payments was given. I was simply out.

I felt this as a profound personal failure. I was sure, as Burton had guaranteed, that “C influence” would arrange a horrible fate for me.

One of the lowest points of my post FOF life, and a turning point, came just a few months later. When I left I lost contact with everyone in the group except for two close friends. Many members at that time took the “no contact with ex-students” very seriously.

So in an attempt to rebuild my life I called up “life” friends not seen in years (and tried to make new ones). One friend, who lived out of state, invited me to visit. Getting getting out of town and having some fun with an old friend sounded great so I booked a flight.

But on travel day my mood turned anxious. Constantly in the near background of my mind was Burton’s sadistic curse. As the plane taxied on the runway I was seized with panic. Clearly the promised punishment was about to be delivered. I looked around the plane with horror. Not only would the plane crash and kill me, but all these innocent men, women, and children would die too. Die because I had failed the “Conscious Teacher” of the “Teaching of the Age.”

Now, with the perspective of time and maturity, I’m amazed I really believed such nonsense, but then again, it makes perfect sense. As I said, I was a “true believer,” and took the “teaching” as it was presented, a matter of life and death.

Well, of course the plane didn’t crash. My friend greeted me warmly when I arrived, and the Light inside burned through the shell of Burton crud and announced Itself. My Spirit lived, as did my personal direct connection with God. The FOF delusion was cracked.

Sometime soon thereafter I connected with Stella Wirk and other old friends who were now “ex-students” (i.e., regular people!). Through them I found out the truth about Robert Burton that anyone can read in these pages.

But a few conversations were not enough to get well. The depth of deception Burton had perpetrated, my own naivete in believing his lies, the loss of a decade of youthful life, the loss of outside friends, the loss of many opportunities for timely education and professional growth, the pain caused to my family, the shame I felt at having proudly proclaimed my wonderful new spiritual life now crushed with the truth of the horror and degeneracy of the cult.

Perhaps that last sentence was not too elegant, but many of you know what I mean.

And I had to take responsibility for my own life and choices regardless. My personality and predispositions are what I brought to the table. Burton is not responsible for who I am – he is responsible for taking advantage of my youthful idealism and honest spiritual aspirations.

Many people say that no suffering is lost if we are capable of transforming it. I believe this is true, but sometimes that process takes decades and lots of hard work, support, and personal honesty.

This blog provides some of that support, and I am grateful for all of you who are willing to share. I hope my comments have helped some of you in return.

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 8, 2008:
194 brucelevy [post number and blogger]
196 somebody

When a person believes–or even accepts as a “theory”–the sort of nonsense illustrated in #196 and so many other similar posts, there are a limited number of possibilities. The person may be a young child. It’s perfectly normal that, before a certain age, a child believes in a literal Santa Claus, or that the moon is made of green cheese. It’s charming, in fact. He may have brain damage or be otherwise mentally impaired, such that he is not capable of consistently thinking rationally. He may be mentally ill, with similar effect.

Or he may have adopted his mental attitude, whether one of actual belief or of a refusal to acknowledge patent absurdity when it stares him in the face, as a result of religious conviction.

Ever read one of those Hare Krishna versions of the Bhagavad Gita that used to be handed out at airports years ago (well, handed out followed by a demand for a donation)? The ones with the brightly-colored illustrations of Lord Krishna playing his flute for the gopis? Some of those illustrations beautifully portrayed things that were so fantastic that I felt compelled to ask the Hare Krishna devotee “c’mon, tell me, for real–do you believe this is literally true?” And you know what he would always say.

It’s the same thing that millions of devoted Christians will say if asked whether they really believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead, or turned water into wine, etc. Because if you follow the religion, by definition you believe the dogma–otherwise that’s not your religion.

Religions of this sort are not looking for people who approach such assertions rationally or analytically. There’s no no place for that, it’s in fact counterproductive. A priest of such a religion has no reason to be rational; the whole purpose of putting irrational statements out there for consumption is to separate the wheat–devoted followers, who are welcome–from the chaff–people who insist upon rationality, who are not welcome.

There’s a reason for this that predates the conversion of these religions into self-perpetuating money-making machines. These religions were formed around certain methods. Christians believe that with prayer, anything is possible. Hare Krishnas are absolutely confident that chanting will lead to unity with Lord Krishna. Both are true, if practiced with sufficient devotion and persistence. That’s what Gurdjieff quaintly referred to as the “way of the monk,” and as he said, it’s a legitimate way.

The Fellowship has morphed over the years into a full-blown religion. One difference between the Fellowship and any of these other religions is that mainstream Christianity, for example, doesn’t pretend that its dogma is verifiable. In fact, it expects true followers to vehemently insist the dogma is true notwithstanding the impossibility of ever proving any of it. It’s a test of a follower, and a point of pride. As the Christian Church interprets Jesus’ teachings, having faith only in what makes sense is unimpressive–it isn’t faith at all. A real Christian believes in the impossible.

The Fellowship, to attract people who are religious followers at heart but can’t quite shake their Western belief in rationality (or the belief that true uncritical faith is somehow shameful), tells these people that they must not believe the dogma uncritically, they must verify everything. This effectively puts to sleep that critical faculty, since many people don’t really want to verify, but don’t want to admit to themselves that they lack the energy, courage, or mental independence to actually do it. The follower may now tell himself he is not in a religion, does not have faith, but verifies everything, as he bleats along with the herd.

Another difference is that the true “way of the monk” cultivates faith and worship of a diety for a practical purpose. The methods of these religions is to develop one-pointed concentration, whether through repetition of the Hare Krishna mantra or the Jesus prayer (in the Eastern Orthodox Church) or the image of the crucified Jesus, because when developed sufficiently, one-pointed concentration does produce an altered state of consciousness. The theory is that the end justifies the means–if the end is an experience of blissful oneness, there’s no harm telling fairy tales that help the devotee develop the necessary focus on the mantra or image.

The Fellowship tries to mix devotion to Robert Burton and similarly absurd dogma with a method–being present–that does not lead to, and is not designed to lead to, the one-pointed concentration that is the goal of devotion-based religions. The practices that “self-remembering” were based on, which have been central to Buddhism for over two thousand years, are designed to allow the practitioner to see things as they are, rather than to create a blissful altered state. So Fellowship dogma is counterproductive in the context of the method. It’s a predictable result of a deeply flawed leader, who has invented his methods and dogma as he went along, to serve his personal ends.

In any event, trying to discuss the Fellowship rationally with a devotee is exactly as productive as trying to debate with a Hare Krishna devotee whether Krishna really has blue skin, or trying to talk a devoted Christian into acknowledging that Jesus did not literally walk on water.

[ed. - For some who have experienced  The Fellowship of Friends and since moved on, it becomes clear that even as the outer form of Burton's so-called "conscious school" changes, the regimen of mind control remains consistent. They may recognize their own earlier naivete in this sincere follower's words.]

"Siddiq" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 2, 2007:
[Responding to] Tim Campion #724, Whalerider #729

I am not taking issue with your understanding which I am sure is valid for you in light of your history in the school, so please do not see this as opposite thinking.

For most in the school for more than the last decade, the sheer quantity of significant changes in direction of the teaching does not allow for settled beliefs and dogmas, yet this is something frequently assumed by those who have been gone for some time.

The school has rapidly evolved (I realize some will say “devolved”) in the last 15 years I have been here, and for example the idea of “44 conscious beings” has been left behind, and many new “conscious beings” are being studied (for example Rumi the great poet) without any numbering system, as well as many other changes.

So I think that there are few students now who will simply take everything Robert says as gospel to be “believed” (which would not go anywhere, I agree) but rather, people act from deeply realized and understood verifications–and as in the days of Ouspensky–the importance of our personal understanding and verification for what we are doing can hardly be overemphasized.

True, a number of ideas come out that no one, perhaps not even Robert, can verify, let alone prove, but this part of the Fellowship is currently so far removed from what we are doing, that it quite irrelevant even as these ideas continue and either inspire one or leave one indifferent.

I am writing this not to convince anyone of anything here and I am sure that this post will be ridiculed as I have before, but I feel it is important for me to share that this is what is going on as I see it.

I can understand your point of view, Whalerider, as well as Tim’s, but to me and I believe for many students, your speculations about Robert’s level of being are quite unimportant, as there exists a deeply held and understood verification what needs to be done, in my personal work–this is quite independent of anything Robert says or does not say about what cannot be verified.

I am sad that I cannot do justice to fully explaining (may be it simply cannot be done in this forum) how I believe the school works at this time–a time, when even being present during meetings with for example the Dinosour droppings (just to mention something that appears so totally ridiculous in this blog) feeds one’s work, even without being able to verify. And I am the first to admit that this is not always 100% of the time, far from it. A lot of the time, I spent puzzled or worse too!

I think the reason is that this seemingly contradictory teaching can work is because what is going on inside is truly more important now than what is going on externally…and then the whole picture changes as Ouspensky says.

It is a lot like being in love. You know you can move mountains, there is no doubt, and each moment is glorious. Is this not what we want?

Good luck to us all


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