What is the Buddhist view regarding mimesis? Mimesis is imitation of nature. How might a Buddhist explain it?

At first glance, mimesis seems to be a stylizing of reality in which the ordinary features of our world are brought into focus by a certain exaggeration, the relationship of the imitation to the object it imitates being something like the relationship of dancing to walking. Imitation always involves selecting something from the continuum of experience, thus giving boundaries to what really has no beginning or end.

The wiki page also says "presentation of the self", so maybe it refers to formality in public. Perhaps it has many meanings. The feeling of catharsis comes about as a result. This seems more like fiction (drama), although the philosopher is quoted "drama is imitation of action". Regardless, I am primarily trying to understand the role of mimesis in regular life. Is it just faking and self-deception?

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    Combined with the second question (i.e. that "we have nothing to imitate"), the first question (i.e. the theory that "we are performing mimesis") sounds to me like "not even wrong". It seems to be assuming that "mimesis" is a correct description of something and then wondering what it's a correct description of. That's on-topic when it's asking about Buddhist vocabulary (e.g. "assuming that dukkha exists, then what is it a description of?") but I'm not sure this question is answerable.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 20, 2023 at 15:43

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure I understand the question but an answer might be Kalyāṇa-mittatā -- I think the doctrine says it's good or necessary to have an admirable friend, and my guess is that's partly or perhaps largely "as a role model" or "someone to imitate" or to learn from.

See also the paragraph about "conceit" in the Bhikkhuni Sutta (AN 4.159):

The thought occurs to him, 'The monk named such-and-such, they say, through the ending of the fermentations, has entered & remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & realized them for himself in the here & now. Then why not me?'

I suppose that's considered "conceit" because it's a form of comparison ("if he can attain such by doing that, then so can I by learning that practice too").

Like if you wanted to learn mathematics, don't just study the subject (mathematics): study the teachers (mathematicians).


This notion of mimesis, or imitation, raises interesting questions. In Buddhism, we speak of the concept of anatman - the lack of inherent existence of a separate self. All things arise due to causes and conditions, with no independent essence. From this view, what is there to imitate?

Yet we act as though there are enduring entities engaging in imitation and presentation of self. These acts could be seen as a form of grasping, of ego-clinging. We try to construct a solid identity through imitation or contrast with others. But this sense of self is a mirage, merely a coming together of components.

In drama, we may feel catharsis when connecting to the emotions portrayed. But connection does not require imitation or false presentation. With meditation, we observe the workings of our mind and see the emptiness underlying all.

As for regular life, skillful means may require some level of etiquette and formality to function in society harmoniously. But mindfully conforming to customs need not equate to falsehood. We act with compassion, without clinging to self-importance.

So in short, from a Buddhist view, mimesis points to the empty, interdependent nature of self. Some imitation serves a purpose, but we must see through the illusion of a permanent, independent self engaging in imitation. There is no true division between imitator and reality imitated. All is a play of causes and conditions


During one meditation session I experienced the cessation of Duḥkha (stress). I was very stressed out, and was lucky enough to find the mat. Becoming somewhat secluded from the external world, I was better able to collect my thoughts. On comparison, I perceived the cessation of stress. It was a strong feeling and I took solace. But the feeling was waning and I wanted more. I tried to delineate the cause, and recreate, unsuccessfully, the scenario that brought about the experience. Then I was very sad and got off the mat. To me, this is an example of mimesis - imitation of nature.

“The fact that feeling is inconstant, stressful, subject to change: That is the drawback of feeling."

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