If I'm not mistaken, this 300 BC Chinese philosophy is strikingly modern.

世之所贵道者,书也。书不过语,语有贵也。语之所贵者,意也,意有所随。意之所随者,不可以言传也,而世因贵言传书。Source: 轮扁斫轮 http://baike.baidu.com/view/238082.htm

For example, until one sees the colour red, he will never know what the colour red is. No verbal explanation can take the place of a demonstration.

In another example, no one can learn how to swim by just reading a book.

I wonder what exactly 意 means.

3 Answers 3


Modern translation of colloquial saying considered to be 意义 here, which in english is meaning, sense, ignificance, importance, bearing or something else. But ancient words are very abstract, abbreviated, modern meanings can't mean the meaning itself.

  • Thanks @user6365. Significance is very likely. Then what's the difference between 意 and 意之所随? Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 8:47
  • 意之所随者,不可以言传也 means: You won't understand what I mean only by my words. or What this means if hard to explain by speak. There is another explaination for this words: 只可意会,不可言传,whick is : Which can't be teached can only be tasted. Only to be sensed, not explained. It's perceivable but indescribable. Just like that.
    – user6365
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 9:02
  • 1
    There is realy pain of explain 意 and 意之所随, for just the explaination itself is in the condition of it's meaning. And, if you understand what is only to be sensed, not explained, you know how my feeling is about these ancient words.
    – user6365
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 9:16
  • I think this may be a better translation: The valueable things in a book is the words, but the valueable things in these words is the meaning inside, the meaning has it's keypoints, and these keypoints are hard to be explained only by what's written. But people only pay attention to the words and written them into book.
    – user6365
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 9:27
  • Thanks, @user6365. If you feel the pain, you have some good company. archive.org/stream/BertrandRussell-AnInquaryIntoMeaningAndTruth/… Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 17:35

As a programmer it makes me think of a joke: "to understand recursion, you have to understand recursion first".

To know the 意 of 意, maybe it is inappropriate to ask this question in the first place.

The closest synonym I could think of it's: spirit. which represent fundamental, basic or even simple truth underneath the hood.

"That's the spirit" people often say. And this word also means alcoholic beverage. Why exactly? I do not know but I do know if someone is asking this question he is not getting it, it he? :)

  • Good point. Time to reconsider it under the influence of some spirit. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 18:37

To best understand the meaning of a word, it's best to first understand the context in which it is used.

意 can generally mean idea, concept, meaning, thought, to think, wish, intention, will, to expect, to anticipate, etc. which is quite a lot!

Also, 意 is not usually used singly. It is most often used together with another word, which probably helps add depth to the actual meaning. For example:




Being a 武侠迷, I can best relate "意" to the classic novel《倚天屠龙记》.

In a particular scene, a 100 year old martial arts expert 张三丰 was imparting his newly conceived, and interestingly slow-motioned swordplay 太极剑 to his grand disciple, 张无忌.

And the words below were exactly how "意" was used to illustrate the essence of 太极剑:


  • I like your answer until the picture starts. The last sentence is exactly the kind of language I try to avoid. Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 2:06

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