The Buddha spoke of two kinds of selves. The first one is the personal self, or as some Buddhist refer to it, the conventional self. This is the one we know as our self. It has a history. I was born on such and such a date. It has feelings and moods. It has longings. It is full of passion and sometimes, despair. This is the self that goes to work and raises a family. This is the self that experiences suffering and gets sick. This is the self that ages and eventually dies.
Shut your eyes; feel your self. There is no escape from it. When you say, “I”, this self is saying, “I”. Or when you say, "I am not I,” this self is saying this. Of those who claim there is no self, it is the conventional self which claims there is no self. Paradoxically, we affirm and deny the conventional self with the conventional self. The self beyond the reach of the conventional self is silent and indifferent. It is undeniable, despite our denial.
Of the second kind of self that is beyond the scope of the personal, conventional self, it is absolutely unconventional. It is transpersonal and transcendent. In whatever direction we look, that is, either within or without, it is not there. It has no location. It was never born, hence, it cannot suffer or die. It is the noble witness, according to the Buddha. It is the lord of the conventional self. Nirvana is realized in the depth of this self. The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path is really a path to this transcendent self insofar as the seeker attains nirvana in this very self according to the Buddha. What else might nirvana be attained with if not the very self (pratyatman)? It surely cannot be attained by the conventional self which subsists on the corporeal, being subject to destruction.
We can only approach this self by giving up the conventional self; by letting go of it thoroughly and completely. According to Dogen Zenji, “If the Way (marga) were attained by knowing that the self (atman) is Buddha, Sakyamuni long ago would not have undergone the hardships”.
Many Buddhists, and for that matter, many non-Buddhists, are confused about the self (or should I say “selves”?). Suffice it to say that when we empty out every possible idea about a self; and we are looking at our body, marvelously, no longer belonging to it, as if now it belonged to another, we are on the right track.