World Religions 1: Buddhism Hinduism Sikhism June 2016

RSS09 World Religions 1: Buddhism OR Hinduism OR Sikhism
Report on the Examination
June 2016
Version: 1.0
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World Religions 1: Buddhism OR Hinduism OR Sikhism
General Comments
The standard of scripts was similar to last year, and showed a very wide range of ability with some
very impressive and maturely expressed answers.
There was a tendency to fail to take notice of the demand to ‘outline’ and ‘examine’ and to write too
much on the former and too little on the latter in relation to questions 1, 7 and 17. Also in response
to evaluation questions, students did not focus directly on the issue raised and failed to notice the
word ‘today’ in order to give contemporary relevance to the answer where this was required.
Section A Buddhism
This is the most popular section. It shows that students have understood the teachings and
practices of Buddhism clearly and are able to respond to the issues raised in evaluation questions
with an appreciation of the implications of these teachings for Buddhists today.
Question 1 Samsara and the three marks of existence
Part 01 was by far the most popular question on this section. All students understood the concept
of samsara as the cycle of birth, death and rebirth determined by the law of karma and the
defilements of greed hate and delusion. The experience and cause of samsara is vividly depicted
in the Tibetan illustration of the Wheel of Life. Some students used this image effectively to explain
the processes which cause and perpetuate the human condition in samsara. Although the
condition of suffering in samsara has some relation to the three marks of existence, ie dukkha,
anicca and anatta, as these are aspects of the nature and cause of suffering, some students
provided far too much unnecessary detail on these teachings and did not relate them to samsara.
More attention needed to be given to the implications of a belief in samsara for the Buddhist way of
life. This includes a motivation to escape this endless cycle of samsara by developing good karma
by following the eightfold path of morality, meditation and wisdom. Also a belief in samsara would
enable Buddhists to accept some of the suffering and injustices of present existence and even give
some an incentive to become a monk to devote one’s life to gaining freedom from the law of karma
and samsara.
Part 02 proved to be quite a challenging question for some students as an assessment of the view
that samsara can only be understood through experience required a reappraisal of those aspects
of samsara which are clearly observable and known in everyday life. This is the dukkha / suffering
and frustrations of life rooted in hatred and ignorance. Other aspects of samsara bound up in the
law of karma require wisdom and faith rather than experience to understand fully the meaning of
the concept of samsara. Those who were able to apply some philosophical principles about the
nature of knowledge through both empirical experience and contemplation of the Buddhist
dhamma gained the higher levels of marks. Also the role of meditation and the cultivation of
wisdom in fully understanding these complex truths was relevant to this question.
Question 2 The Four Noble Truths
Answers to part 03, examining the concept of nibbana, varied from detailed and in depth analysis
to generalised and superficial responses. It was clear that some students had studied a range of
different interpretations, with the basic Theravada being the foundation of their answers. Most
made a distinction between nibbana gained during this lifetime as a transcendent timeless
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experience and nibbana gained at point of and beyond death (paranibbana). Many also pointed out
the ineffability of nibbana as being beyond description.
Some well-balanced answers were presented in response to the statement in part 04 that ‘the main
aim for Buddhists is to achieve nibbana. Students wrote in a more informed and focused way than
in question 03. They argued for the ultimate status of nibbana as the primary aim as well as the
valid importance of living a moral life in order to gain a good rebirth to achieve nibbana in a future
life. Thus it could be an interim aim rather than a main aim. The better responses pointed out the
difficulty of achieving nibbana as it needs for seclusion and renunciation of social responsibilities
and the equally important Engaged Buddhism which aims to improve society on Buddhist
Question 3 The Eightfold Path
Part 05 proved to be quite challenging for some students as it required judicious selection of
material about the role of wisdom, morality and meditation in the eightfold path. There was a
tendency to describe each section of the path in detail without referring to the purpose of each in
attaining enlightenment. Some good explanation and examples were presented showing how each
of the aspects of the path interrelated and contributed to the attainment of enlightenment.
In part 06, responses to the statement that ‘Morality is more important than meditation for
Buddhists today‘, were, on the whole, good. Most were able to provide good arguments and
justifications both in support and against the statement. However, the higher levels were given to
those who explicitly included a contemporary dimension, for example the value and benefits of
meditation, especially mindfulness in the areas of psychology and emotional wellbeing, which are
widely appreciated and understood today.
Question 4 The Sangha
Most students were able to outline the discipline of the monastic community in part 07 but fewer
gave good responses to the ‘examine’ part of this question, which asked them to examine the
importance of monastic discipline in Buddhism. Whilst most recognised the significance of the
commitment and dedication required to follow the monastic way of life not many pointed out the
importance of the monastic life in Buddhism. The monastic discipline creates very high moral
standards and behaviour in the monks which is an inspiration and example to lay people and
monks (bhikkhus) represent and embody the qualities of the Buddha and are regarded with great
respect by lay people as they show the way (dhamma) and teach the means to enlightenment.
Some excellent answers were presented in response to the statement ‘Only monks can become
enlightened’ in part 08. These ranged from the view that it was only possible for monks due to the
necessity of renouncing world responsibilities and distractions, to those who argued that
enlightenment was equally possible for lay people who had to overcome the challenges of
involvement in the world. Although not on the specification, some students had an awareness of
other traditions in Buddhism where enlightenment is considered to be the goal for all beings.
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Section B Hinduism
The standard of responses to this section was generally very high and above average,
characterised by detailed and accurate knowledge as well as articulate and well-judged
evaluations of the issues raised in the AO2 questions.
Question 5 The Hindu concept of God
In part 09, most students were well informed about the qualities and powers of each of the major
deities of the Trimurti and showed very good use of technical vocabulary. The approach to the
importance of these deities in the Hindu concept of God was less clear. Some implied the
importance in the role and distinctiveness of each deity, whereas others more explicitly dealt with
the importance of the Trimurti within the Hindu concept of God. The Trimurti reveals the Hindu
understanding of how the concept of God is linked to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth of the
universe and human existence. The Hindu concept of God in the impersonal Brahman is beyond
full understanding so the Trimurti gives Hindus a means of understanding and relating to the
impersonal absolute in these three different personal forms.
Responses to the statement, ‘Since Hindus believe in the Trimurti they must be polytheistic’ in part
10, were very good. Students revealed their theological understanding in making clear distinctions
between monotheism, polytheism and henotheism.
Question 6 Means to Liberation in Hinduism
All the answers to part 11 on the three forms of yoga were answered well with depth and detail.
In part 12, responses to the statement ‘Yoga is essential for Hindus’, were well balanced in their
justifications, as each form of yoga develops a different aspect of human nature and experience.
However, the counter arguments referred to the fact that for many Hindus the practice of these
yogas is a personal choice rather than an essential element of their lives.
Question 7 Worship in Hinduism
Some excellent answers were presented in response to part 13 on the design of Hindu temples
and the purpose of the various features of Hindu temples. They linked the design features to
expressions of religious ritual or concepts such as darshan and the spiritual experiences which are
an integral part of worship.
Question 8 The Hindu Way of Life
In part 15, the roles of the various holy men in Hinduism were well understood and answered in
sufficient detail and depth by those students who were awarded the higher levels of marks.
Responses to the statement, ‘The way of life of the holy man is superior to any other way of life in
Hinduism’ in part 16 yielded some interesting and well-argued discussions showing independence
of thought.
It was suggested by some that every Hindu is a holy person if they fulfill their dharma
wholeheartedly and completely, and that even some of those consciously adopting the way of the
holy man have become egoistic and corrupt.
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Section C Sikhism
Question 9 The Gurus
All those who answered this question, which asked for an outline of the life of Guru Nanak and an
examination of his main teachings, answered part 17 very well but sometimes with too much
unnecessary detail and did not give sufficient attention to an examination of his main teachings
which required more than a general reference to equality and the nature of God. Reference to
Guru Nanak’s understanding of God as being beyond categories of male and female and as both
saguna and naguna ie with characteristics and beyond characteristics and his teachings about
becoming God–centred (gurmukh) instead of self-centred (manmukh) would have gained higher
marks. His teachings of (nam japo) keeping God continually in mind, meditating on gods name,
earning an honest living (kirt karo) and sharing the fruits of labour with others (vand kakko) could
have been included in the answer.
Part 18 was seeking a response to the statement, ‘Guru Nanak’s teachings totally challenged the
religious culture of his time’. This was not fully understood by some students who argued that he
challenged the caste system of Hinduism and some aspects of Islam. The key word in the question
was ‘totally’ and students needed to evaluate the extent to which he challenged as well as
assimilated aspects of the religious culture of his time. For example, he liked the Hindu and Muslim
sant tradition of bhakti and loving devotion of God through singing and worship and he
incorporated them into the forms of worship he initiated.
Question 10 Festivals
Part 19, on the significance of the celebration of Vaisakhi for Sikhs, was quite well answered by
most students. The better answers provided a good balance of historical and contemporary factors
which demonstrated the significance of this festival.
The responses to the statement that ‘the celebration of festivals is always significant in the lives of
today’s Sikhs’ in part 20, did not always fully recognise the focus of the question; which was about
the celebrations of the festival rather than festivals in general. Firstly, the emphasis was on today’s
Sikhs and there were some good arguments supporting the view that the celebration of festivals
was always important for today’s Sikhs to preserve their history and identity in a different culture
and historical epoch. However, the arguments against this were less convincing and reference
could have been made to the fact that Sikhs today have different priorities in the upkeep of their
faith and festivals are less important than maintaining Sikh values and spiritual traditions of prayer
and worship in the home and gurdwara. Also the more secular environment of modern Sikhism
makes these festivals have more of a social than religious importance.
Question 11 The Guru Granth Sahib and the Gurdwara.
For part 21, students were required to examine both the main features of the Golden Temple
complex at Amritsar and the significance of these features. There were some excellent answers
and some rather weak responses. The former were characterised by detail and accuracy and clear
links between the features and their significance in both spiritual and social ways, the latter were
vague and generalised.
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The responses to the statement, ‘The Golden Temple complex at Amritsar is central to the Sikh
faith’ in part 22, was generally good. The better responses made good use of the issues for Sikhs
in diaspora communities and the extent to which the Golden Temple complex was both highly
significant as a source of renewal of faith and tradition but also remote and unconnected to their
Question 12 Diwan and Langar
Part 23 required an examination of the concept and practice of sewa. Many answers to this
question lacked an appreciation of the spiritual purpose of sewa in contributing to the progress
toward gurmukh and lessening self-centredness.
Some good debate was evident in response to the statement, ‘For Sikhs, practising sewa is more
important than believing in God’ in part 24. Several students stated that the two aspects were
interrelated like the two wings of a bird and that they were more than equally important but closely
linked together.
Mark Ranges and Award of Grades
Grade boundaries and cumulative percentage grades are available on the Results Statistics
page of the AQA Website.
Converting Marks into UMS marks
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