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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Due diligence before making a leap of faith

Beware of false prophets...
[ed. - Ames poses questions that likely many of us wished we had asked prior to joining The Fellowship of Friends. "The Fellowship of Friends 'come-on' " to which Ames refers is appended at the end of his post.]

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 15, 2016:
I posted this list of questions in 2007. In view of Asaf’s continuing efforts to establish himself as a teacher, not to mention the dozens of new Esoteric Startups™ that spring up every year, I think that such questions are still relevant!


Dear all,

The Fellowship of Friends “come–on” (#23-144, or thereabouts) stimulates me to offer a list of questions that a prospective student should ask, in one form or another, before joining. I started this list because a friend who has been through the Fellowship experience joined another 4th Way group (started by an ex–FoF student!) and had some second thoughts, and asked for input.

I’d say that any prospective student owes it to his or her self to not only get answers (and write them down, in detail, for future reference), but to have someone less partial go over the answers with them. Ideally, some one who joined would also have a “buddy” to check in with after agreed periods of time to see if pre–stated aims and directions were being adhered to, and in general provide a ‘reality check’ and grounding. Ideally!

This list can surely be improved, so I put it out there as a group project…

Some questions to ask before making a commitment to a ‘spiritual teacher’ or ‘teaching’—


Mechanics and set–up of group/school:

  • When and what was your last paying job?
  • Do you rely completely or partially on the contributions of your students to pay your personal expenses?
  • How are payments structured?
  • Is the group organized legally as a non–profit or church for IRS purposes?
  • How transparent is the accounting?
  • What power does any board hold?
  • Do you serve at the pleasure of the board?
  • Exactly what degree of independence does the board have?
  • Please give examples of when the board effectively countered your decisions?
  • Are board meetings open to students, or do students have access to minutes of board meetings?
  • If there is no board, what steps have you taken so students can hold you accountable for your actions, including financial decisions?

Relationship with teacher:
  • How do you measure students’ abilities beforehand to undertake difficult work?
  • What methods, in detail, do you use to prevent students entering a dependent role?
  • How do you prevent infatuation?
  • How do you deal with fear?
  • How do you prevent ‘spiritual materialism’ developing in ‘your’ students?
  • Do you feel invested in the success or failure of your students?
  • What do you do with failures?
  • What value do you place on the idea and practice of personal verification?
  • Are your students required to give up their will to you, as their teacher? If so, is this permanent or for a set or limited period of time?

Sex energy:
  • Are you married?
  • Do you claim celibacy?
  • Do you undertake to never have sexual relations with your students?
  • Please give examples of tasks concerning sex energy.
  • Describe how you presently channel/use sex energy, and will you describe your history in that regard?

  • Do you give out generalized/group exercises?
  • Are any exercises individualized?
  • What are the criteria for making such exercise ‘individual’?
  • Do you fully explain the purpose of the exercises beforehand?
  • Do you have helpers, and if so, what are their qualifications, and are they permitted to set exercises themselves?
  • Are there rules or codes of behavior that must be followed by school members? If so, what are they and how are ‘infractions’ handled?
  • Is there any appeal from your decisions, and if so, how is this handled?
  • Do you and your students work with the Fourth Way idea of Good Householder, and if so, what forms does this work take?

Dynamics of student body/school/group:
  • Is there a limit to the number of students you are willing to work with?
  • Is there a hierarchy?
  • If so, what is its basis?
  • What steps do you take or intend to take to prevent the needs of the organization overtaking the needs of the students with time?
  • Are you prepared to dissolve the organization if this happen?

Measurement of progress:
  • How do you test for the necessary ‘normalcy’ required of prospective 4th Way students?
  • What do you do if mental illness manifests nevertheless?
  • How do you describe the nature of the risks necessary to face before graduation?
  • What criteria do you and the student use to measure progress?
  • How do you empower students or teach them to take back/discover their own power?
  • How do you define conscience?
  • What is the use of conscience?
  • What are your teachings regarding conscience?
  • How do you separate conscience from subjective morality?
  • At what point is there graduation?
  • What happens to graduates?

On asking questions:
  • Will there ever be any questions on any subject that are unsafe, unpalatable, or otherwise objectionable if asked in good faith?
  • Will you take personal questions, that is, questions about your path, your conduct, your history?
  • Do you make contracts with your students, specifying goals, payments, efforts, limits, and results, concerning the temporary giving up of will to the teacher apparently requested of 4th Way students, and what steps are taken to ensure that this is indeed temporary and results/goal driven?
  • Do you in any way put pressure on students to limit their contacts with non-students, family?
  • What are your policies regarding talking about the work, exercises, meetings, experiences with the teacher, with non-students?
  • With ex–students?

Group work:
  • Do you organize group projects?
  • Do you join in them yourself?
  • Do you join students in experiments whose outcome you do not know (take risks)?
  • What is the primary objective/aim of your school?
  • What are secondary objectives/aims of your school?

Your work:
  • Do you believe the ends justifies the means? Regarding awakening?
  • Do you have a sense of humor?
  • Do you encourage a sense of humor in your students?
  • Do you regard yourself as still being on a journey yourself, or do you regard yourself as in any way ‘completed’?
  • Do you believe that you can learn from students or situations as they present themselves?
  • Do you claim to be conscious or enlightened and, if so, do you classify yourself (per the Fourth Way tradition) as a man #4, 5, 6, 7 or 8?
  • Do you think the idea of lineage and direct transmission of knowledge important?
  • Who are/were your teachers and what is their lineage in relation to the Fourth Way or other schools of awakening?
  • Why did you decide to become a spiritual teacher?
  • What are your personal goals/aims as a spiritual teacher?

Other sources, inspirations, teachings:
  • Apart from your own publications, do you use or recommend other 4th Way books?
  • Those by Gurdjieff? Ouspensky? Bennett? Orage? Nicol? Others?
  • How do you feel about other teachers, other teachings, other traditions?
  • Do you ‘mix and match’, and if so, what are your criteria?
  • Do you require exclusivity? That is, can I also study/meet with other teachers/traditions while studying with you?
  • Do you make specific claims about your ‘level of being’?
  • Do you claim powers?
  • What levels of obedience do you require (tasks, suggestions, orders, etc.)?
  • Does your school have a ‘task’ or aim beyond teaching paths to increased consciousness of students?
  • Do you consider your school to be a ‘Fourth Way’ school?

Access to students or graduates:
  • Are there students available who I can talk to, over a period of time, so I can judge their degree of dependence or infatuation or fear myself?
  • Who can (voluntarily, of course) speak something of results gained, states attained, exercises and tasks they have undertaken, and results gained—or are they asked to withhold this kind of information? I’d also be looking for differences between ‘resident’ and ‘non-resident’ students, including, if possible, results.
  • Do you have any objections to me asking the questions below of current students?
  • What do you think of these questions?
  • If you were asking questions of a teacher or students, what would they be?

Relationship to students who have left:
  • Do you maintain meaningful contact with any ‘graduates’ of your school?
  • What is your policy regarding the relationship between current and former students?
  • If there are restrictions, what is your policy if those rules are broken?

  • What methods, in detail, do you use to prevent becoming dependent on the teacher?
  • How do you recognize and prevent infatuation?
  • How do you recognize and deal with fear in the student–teacher relationship?
  • What limits, if any, do you place on what the teacher asks you to do in order to awaken?
  • Do you think that you have an operating conscience?
  • Do you think that conscience can be developed?
  • Do you believe the ends justifies the means? Regarding awakening?
  • Are you willing to act on your conscience if it tells you that the teacher is wrong, or is setting you wrong tasks?
  • Are you willing to leave the school if your conscience says you should or must?
  • Do you think you will be in this school for the rest of your life?
  • If not, how long is the most you will stay?
  • How do you think you will recognize that you are ready to graduate?
  • If you believe that you are ready to graduate, will you act on that, or wait for the recognition or permission of the teacher?
  • What methods do you use to prevent becoming dependent on the group?
  • Would you take a paid position with the group?
  • If so, what precautions do you or would you put in place to prevent you becoming dependent on this position a) psychologically, and b) materially?
  • Do you have a position of authority within the group? If so, please describe your role and its importance within the organization.
  • If not, would you take a position of power/responsibility with the group?
  • If so, what precautions do you or would you take to avoid becoming corrupted by the power?
  • How long would you hold such a position?
  • On what basis would you or do you hold or transmit authority within the group?
  • Please describe the chain of authority between the teacher and you.
  • How do you view the legitimacy of each person in authority of those ‘below’ the teacher and ‘above’ you?
  • What do you think of these questions I’m asking right now?
  • If you were asking questions of your teacher or students, what would they be?

…a lot of questions to be sure, but you are putting your time, money, effort, body and even your life on the line, so why not try to make the right decision? You cannot have too much information in these circumstances.

From someone who’s Been There and Done That,


"Bares Reposting" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 26, 2007:
[From] Robert Earl Burton

Robert Earl Burton is a spiritual teacher and founder of the Fellowship of Friends. As a young man, Robert studied intensively the teachings of the Fourth Way, as presented to the West by George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky. He focused on the practical side of this teaching, and quickly grasped that self-remembering was the basis of the system. His book Self-Remembering, published in 1991, provides a collection of personal insights into the practical nature of this spiritual work and its application in daily life.

The course of Robert Burton’s life as a spiritual teacher is indistinguishable from the growth and development of the Fellowship of Friends. Robert has worked single-mindedly to create an environment of inspiration at Isis that is conducive to awakening, and at the same time he has labored to extend his spiritual teachings to interested people around the world. Through the efforts of Robert and his followers, the Fellowship has opened and continues to maintain centers in dozens of cities on every continent. The Fellowship became, and remains to this day, international.

Throughout the years, Robert’s spiritual teaching has never strayed from focusing on the practical moment-by-moment efforts necessary to awaken from sleep. He has taught the same message at all Fellowship gatherings, and has striven to be personally accessible to each member of the Fellowship. He has tirelessly sought new inspiration, introducing fresher approaches to each member’s internal efforts, and always providing loving guidance and support.

Robert has come to understand the esoteric nature of all spiritual teachings throughout recorded time. He has concluded that all religious traditions are the same and that the basis of all great spiritual work is the same–to escape from imagination and the lower self and to awaken and recognize one’s Higher Self. Today the Fellowship focuses on these basic spiritual ideas common to all esoteric traditions.

The Work of Our Spiritual Teacher

The principal work of our spiritual teacher is to initiate and prolong Divine Presence in the lives of Fellowship members. He does this in many ways: by conveying special knowledge; by offering exercises, personal tasks, and opportunities to work; and by simply being and allowing us to be. All such efforts spring from his own Divine Presence, and his desire to convey this reality to us.

How does he work in the moment? At one level, he may use an inspired reference to something close at hand as a way of bringing a person out of an inattentive state and more deeply into the present. At another level, he may use all methods and instructions as a way to sustain presence once it has been achieved.

After a period of sincere effort, a member comes to understand that awakening is neither the practice of one exercise nor the overcoming of one obstacle alone. It is a way of life. Awakening has become the way of life of our Teacher, and he invites us to join him in this life.

Our Teacher provides direct instruction. Direct instruction means both using words and communicating without words. It would seem that the use of words is more direct, less subtle and easier to follow. Yet all forms of instruction and learning require effort, and each person must learn to learn. Learning to learn means recognizing and acting upon the obvious, as well as acknowledging subtle, wordless indications that lead to presence. Each person must value his or her time with the Teacher, be it several days or only a few minutes, to garner what he or she can and make further use of it. In addition, a person must recognize opportunities for effort without expecting the Teacher to request them.

Awakening is a personal experience, and our Teacher can provide each member with lessons that are subtle and direct, and unrecognized by others. A simple indication or request, if followed, can open the door to new worlds and possibilities. The Teacher is motivated to work with and for his students because, though he is more advanced, he understands that a sincere person trying to awaken possesses the same potential that he does and will at some time attain what he has attained.

Members have the opportunity to verify that the Teacher is more knowledgeable and experienced in awakening than they are, and that he is even more interested in their spiritual growth than they are. It is on this basis alone–on the verification that one does not know as much as one’s spiritual teacher with regard to awakening–that a right relationship can develop.

Great sincerity is required to accept that although we originally formulated the aim to awaken, our own desire is insufficient. And yet we are never closer to the truth than when we remember this.

Developing a personal relationship to the Teacher does not depend upon proximity to him. His influence permeates through all aspects and dimensions of the organization he created, and the moment a person connects to this organization through any channel, he or she will experience the Teacher’s loving influence directly.

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