How does one think about not-thinking? The Master replied, "Without thinking."
what this means is that context determines character. part of that context is the questioner's state of mind.
the master replies to the student's question rather than the student's question.
if a student reveals a nihilistic attitude, the master might say there is an essence to the person. if the student is bound to categories, the master might say there is no essence to the person. in this way, the master can more powerfully enter into the self-constituting of the student's own experiential flow (we always carry our baggage). by seeing the student's perspective (empathy), the master can modify that perspective as needed. thus, zen strives to return to the point at which experience, including thought, initially occurs. this emphasis on without-thinking is what is distinctive in the zen understanding of the person.
zen follows the nay of thought.
heidegger helps here: Das Fragen ist die Frömmigkeit des Denkens.
the zen context of a person is mu or "nothingness."
through mu the student achieves personal-meaning. at the most basic, it means (hishiryô) without-thinking. at first, it may seem odd to regard hishiryô as a relationship.
in zen situations, however, personhood is grounded in without-thinking rather than thinking. so there is necessarily a gap between the zen buddhist's own without-thinking experience of relationships and an outside observer's objectified, thinking characterization of them. this is the essence of anatman.
in a sense the zen buddhist does not have a different meaning in each situation. it's like mr. X with different roles during the day: father, driver, student, cook, etc.
a person doesn't have meaning or relationships; rather, a person achieves meaning through relationships.
in the words of taoist zhuangtzi:
If you talk in a worthy manner, you can talk all day long and it will pertain to the Way. But if you talk in an unworthy manner, you can talk all day long and it will pertain to mere things. Tao and things—neither words nor silence are worthy of expressing it. Not to talk & not to be silent—this is the highest form of debate.