The background story of this Koan
Shuzan held out his short staff and said:
"If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact.
Now what do you wish to call this?"
This short staff symbolizes the status of a master. It's like the golden cross of a bishop. Some Master hold it in front of them when they enter the meditation-hall. In some ways the staff represents the masters state of enlightenment.
Just to call it a staff is to ignore it's spiritual significance. But however you call it, it's just a piece of wood.
This Koan again tries to drive you mad. Shuzan liked do to that. Just another example.
Question: What does the empty heart take as its essence?
"The old monk is at your feet", replied the master.
"Why is the venereal sir at the students feet?" asked the monk.
"Because it is known that you are a blind fellow", replied the master.
What to do after such an exchange? Just forget your intelligent questions and respond to the world as it is.
The original Chinese Goang
Venerable Shoushan picked up his “bamboo comb” and said to the assembly,
"You people of various ranks, if you call out ‘bamboo comb’ you butt your head into the norm.
Not calling out ‘bamboo comb’ you turn your back to the norm.
You various people, just say what do you call out?”
Traditional Commentaries and .... Poems (Gata)
If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact.
It cannot be expressed with words and it cannot be expressed without words.
Now say quickly what it is.
To call out “bamboo comb” you butt your head into the norm. Not to call out “bamboo comb” you turn your back to the norm.
It is not proper to have words; it is not proper to be without words.
Speak quickly! Speak quickly!